I am a firm believer that anyone can get an A in any class, depending on how much time and effort you are willing to invest. I freely admit it—I was branded a “nerd” by my friends for most of my academic career, but it is also how I was able to maintain a 4.0 average for 3 ½ semesters as an undergrad—including earning an A in the elusive class called “Calculus.” The way I look at it, however, when you study, you are making the best investment you possibly could with your time: your education is like a fragile plant. Yes, you can put in the minimal effort to keep the plant alive, or you can devote yourself to its care and be rewarded tenfold over when, instead of a half-starved sapling, you have a thriving garden. Sometimes studying for a test in a subject you hate can feel like the most painfully boring action you can possibly undertake—but it also gives you the chance to the experience the euphoria of succeeding in something you always believed was impossible.
So, you’re pumped up, ready to study! But how exactly should you study effectively?
People learn information in three ways: through visual, kinesthetic, and auditory learning. The auditory aspect of learning is how we retain information in lectures. For a comprehensive mastery of the subject, you need to study the same material visually and kinesthetically as well. Here’s how.
1. Be Active.
First, you need to be actively engaged. Passively reading a page from a textbook while checking Facebook, watching TV, chatting on the phone, and listening to music is probably not the most productive way to study.
2. Choose the right environment
Find the study environment that works for you—some people need absolute silence (the 4th floor of the library is a good place for this!), while others need background noise (try a café).
3. Get colorful!
Highlighting information is a great way to retain information for several reasons. (If you rented your textbook, you might want to skip this step). First, your brain processes highlighted information differently than plain text; moreover, it separates the important facts easier. Furthermore, this targets the visual aspect of learning.
My textbooks look like a rainbow exploded on them by the time I’m done. Use different colors to help differentiate the information. For example:
- Use pink for key words and terms
- Use green for important facts
- Use yellow for important people and date
4. Write your own summary
Now that you have so colorfully highlighted your textbook, manually write out the information that you’ve highlighted. The active process of rewriting the information helps you retain the information through kinesthetic learning. For a 30 page chapter, you may wind up with only five pages of notes—the essential information that will most likely wind up on a test. It is much easier to study the night before a test from several five-page summaries than 200 pages of text. Write a separate list for key terms and a separate list for key people (you may want to make flashcards).
5. Quiz yourself
Flip through your notes and quiz yourself on information. Try to recall how the information is interconnected. But—oh no! You’ve reached a term, and you can’t remember what it means! Write it out on a separate sheet of paper, and return to it later. After you’ve finished reviewing, quiz yourself on all of the terms that you’ve had trouble with. Put a mark by each term that keeps giving your problems. Reread the sections of your notes that concern the terms with the most marks.
6. Study Groups!
This can be an amazing way to review, or a horrific mess—make sure the study group knows the point of the gathering is to study, not chit-chat. Talking about the information helps fulfill the auditory need in processing information. Also, they say that you have truly mastered the information if you are able to teach it—a study group is a great way to gauge your progress with the material. Are you more commonly asking questions, or helping your classmates with the material? If you find yourself leading the group as a teacher, you probably have a great grasp of the material. Congratulations!
Are my study tips overkill? Probably. But even if after subjecting yourself to such a rigorous study routine and your grade isn’t quite what you expected, you can at least be at peace that you’ve tried your hardest. I think that nothing leaves a more bitter taste than getting a lower grade than you wanted, and knowing it is the grade you deserved because you only halfheartedly applied yourself. However, in my experience, if you follow the above steps, you should walk into any test the professors will throw at you completely prepared.