Before I get into my study habits, I would like to elaborate on a few points.
First, a little note on the relationship between school and stress: the more work you put into your studies, the more manageable your stress becomes. This means that you will always experience some level of stress. However, this healthy amount of stress is what gets you motivated and productive. Being carefree is good and all, but if you are putting yourself through the trouble of attending college/university and paying for tuition, you might as well make it worth your while.
Second, this post isn’t about grades specifically, but I have managed to get A’s and A+’s by applying these techniques. Just for referral, I graduated with a cumulative GPA of 3.85 in psychology. I also worked part-time, on average 10 to 15 hours a week, including every two weekends (9-5/1-9 shifts). I never took more than 4 classes a semester because sometimes I added a couple of extra shifts to pay for tuition and monthly expenses.
Finally, I never pulled any all-nighters and never studied past 10:30pm. On several occasions I left an entire chapter to study the morning of my exam (because we all procrastinate), so instead I would wake up at 3:00am to study for that chapter. However, I made sure that I studied all the other chapters beforehand and they needed no more than 15-20 minutes of revision.
Obviously, this isn’t one of my study techniques; it’s just to show you that we all have different ways of studying and dealing with procrastination. It’s important to find what works for you, so here are my own study techniques that I have religiously applied since I was 17 years old.
Topics discussed in this post:
- What to include in your planner
- Writing complete summaries of chapters
- The 3-hour study rule
- Tools: voice recorder and white boards
- Types of teachers I had
Use a planner
Plan out your schedule as soon as you get the class outline:
- Assignment due dates
- Finals (as soon as you have the date available to you)
If you have a student job, keep your planner up-to-date with your work schedule. The same goes for extracurricular activities, volunteering, and personal events. Keep everything in one single planner. The less you have to carry around the better, so choose your planner wisely. I like mine lightweight (softcover) and medium sized.
Do your readings weekly
Do your readings weekly and preferably before the class in question, although it’s understandable that it won’t always be the case. If you do manage to complete the readings beforehand, not only are you prepared to ask and answer questions, but it will also be easier for you to follow along during class.
- As you read, summarize in key words and bullet points each paragraph or chapter section by using post-its or writing in the margins of the textbook. Doing so will allow you to understand and organize the information. Also, this is a time-efficient and practical tool when the time comes to writing up your notes.
- Tip: To save money, I would photocopy the textbooks that were on reserve at the library using the 2-page layout and 2-sided function (much quicker than photocopying one page at a time). Not only did I save hundreds of dollars, it was also preferable for highlighting and writing in the margins. Plus, I didn’t have to worry about selling my books. Obviously, some textbooks you cannot omit from buying (medical and law books). Other books are practical to have even after you graduate.
Make your own summarized (but complete) notes
Ask yourself this question:
If I have the choice between studying 30/40-page chapters or studying 5 to 10-page notes, which one would I choose?
I’d like to think that everyone would choose the latter…
If so, as soon as you complete your chapter readings, write your notes by hand or computer. If you are able to complete them before class, again, that’s much more beneficial to you since all that is left for you to do is add what the teacher says to your own notes. Many times (in my program) teachers have simply repeated the information found in the textbook, so don’t waste your time in class writing information you already have available to you and risk missing material that isn’t in your textbook (more often than not teachers like to surprise you with exam questions about what they mentioned in passing, so make sure you have it noted somewhere).
Materials used to write my notes:
- Voice recorder: Some classes I had no choice but to use a recorder because the teacher either spoke too fast, or there was too much to write. Other times I preferred having the recorded class as backup in case I needed the professor’s explanation or if I had miss-typed something.
- Computer: I mostly typed my notes when I had purchased to e-book version of the textbook. Not only is that quicker but you can simply copy paste the information and modify the text into your own words (make sure to always summarize the chapters in your own words so that you make sure to process and understand the material).
- Teacher notes: Sometimes teachers posted their class notes in PowerPoint format, other times they were posted as PDF formats. If the former were the case, then I would add the textbook material to their slides by computer. In the case of the latter, instead I would print them out and handwrite any additional information from the textbook.
Combining the professor’s notes with your own provides you with a complete, easy-to-use study guide for you exams.
Summarizing my own notes:
- Diagrams and lists : visual (images and numbers) and tactile (handwritten) cues
- Mnemonics : acronyms, letter associations*, rhymes
*Letter association example:
When learning about the ventral and dorsal streams, I had to remember that the parietal lobe corresponded to the dorsal/“where” stream and the temporal lobe corresponded to the ventral/“what” stream. In order to do so, I associated the “t” in what to the “t” in temporal. So now I will never forget that the temporal lobe processes object recognition (“what”) and the ventral lobe processes spatial information (“where”).
Plan your study time
***When it came to studying I never used my textbooks: my notes were always 100% complete, and instead provided easy to follow, abbreviated versions of the chapters. I was able to downsize a 30-page chapter to anything between 5 to 12 pages of notes. This is a huge time saver!
- I planned out 3 hours of study per chapter.
- 2 hours
- 1st hour: slowly read your notes and take the time to understand and reflect on the material.
- 2nd hour: spend it actually memorizing the material
- Repeat for each chapter.
Based on the course load, I would study 3 chapters a day for one class, or up to 6 chapters a day for another. Depending on how heavy the material is and the number of chapters on the test, make sure to reserve enough time before your exam date.
- + 1 hour
- 3rd hour: go over the chapter and focus on the sections you have the most difficulty with. Use this time to self-test as well and organize the information using diagrams.
Use a whiteboard
This is my favourite part of my study routine. You get to play the teacher and the student. You get to ask the questions, and guess what? You get to answer them as well! This is the perfect situation of testing using recall (instead of recognition). You are pulling out the information without having any cues like you would when shown a multiple-choice.
Also, speak out loud when explaining the material or answering your questions. In addition to having visual (what you write/draw on the board) and tactile (writing) cues, you have added auditory cues as well!
The more cues you provide yourself the easier it is when it comes to pulling out the information from long-term memory.
Types of teachers I had in university
School Study Success series