Ask any student what their least favorite part of school is and you’ll probably receive one prevalent response from most respondents: studying (or homework, but for the sake of simplicity we’ll lump that into “studying” here). With another semester (read: my last semester) of undergrad now behind me, I feel it appropriate to impart my incredibly valuable and not at all inflated advice/expertise in the area of studying.
For many, it can be something very daunting. How do you go about it? Do you wait until the last day and cram? People say that leads to poor grades. Do you then spend hours upon hours rehearsing the material until it becomes second nature (or second knowledge)? But no one has time for that, right? Fortunately, I developed my own method of reviewing material—I say review because studying is a strong word for what I’d actually do—that was both effective and timely. With the proper know-how and a fair amount of competence, you can be a student with a life outside of school and make good grades, too! I’ll provide some insight on the know-how; you’re on your own with the competence.
Relax. Yes, relax.
No, I’m not saying, “Don’t take it seriously. It’s only a test.” Well, that test is only one out of probably three or four for the entire semester, and it only takes one poor grade to pull that prestigious A down to a less satisfying B, which can act as an anchor that drags down your GPA if you’re a “star student,” as they say. What I am saying is that you have to bake a comfortable dose of relaxation in with your study time.
Research has showed—and I’m living proof of this—that techniques in which you study while allowing yourself some down time helps the brain absorb the material. My typical study session would look a bit like this: I sit down for anywhere between ten minutes and forty-five minutes (if that) reviewing my notes, which I preferred to type up on my laptop to keep them organized and legible (yes, my handwriting is appalling; so what of it?). I would then spend some time—a few minutes to forty-five—reading a book, eating a meal (which almost always went hand-in-hand with watching an episode of one of my favorite TV shows), playing a video game, playing guitar, etc. Basically, whatever you do to wind down, DO IT! Just make sure you’re alternating your relaxation with enough time to review the material. You might be surprised when you return that you already remember much of what you went over the first time around.
Emulate the testing experience.
Okay, I’ll admit I never altogether abided by this rule, but again, research supports this. It’ll be easier to illustrate this than to explain it, so here’s an example. You chew gum while you’re studying, maybe watermelon-flavored. Chewing the same flavor of gum while taking the actual test may help you retain the information. I won’t pretend to understand the psychology, neurology, whateverology behind this, but somehow the brain conjures up information better under familiar circumstances.
I’m not saying you have to sit in the same desk in the same room, but you get the idea.
Listen to music…without lyrics.
Didn’t always follow this one, either…but I swear it works. Admittedly, this one isn’t for everyone. Some people need to study in silence. For me, music always helped. However, music with vocals (choral vocals notwithstanding) always seemed to pull me away from the words on the screen and toward the lyrics being sung. That could just be me, and yes, I am aware this sort of contradicts the previous tip, since no teacher I know of will allow students to where headphones during tests. Music can calm the mind down and help keep the individual focused, though, especially if it’s soothing compositions by Beethoven, Mozart, or another brilliant Baroque/Classical/Romantic composer.
And yes, I actually do listen to that. Chopin’s a personal favorite.
Don’t distract yourself while studying.
Another I struggled with, but it’s important. I outlined above that you should allow time for distractions—and that time is not the time you dedicate to studying. If you follow the first suggestion, this shouldn’t be terribly hard. Attention spans for adults typically max out around fifteen minutes, so thirty or more might be a stretch, but let’s face it, no one’s going to study for fifteen minutes and only dedicate fifteen minutes to relaxation. If you can hang on for at least half an hour, you can then spend some time surfing the Internet. But yes, that counts as your down time, not your study time, so beware! (I know this one seems obvious, but let’s face it…)
Pay attention to the tests.
I think most students do this pretty well. Typically (in college), professors say the first test of the semester has lower scores, and I believe it’s reflective of students learning the professor’s method of testing. No two teachers test the same way, even if they both do fifty multiple choice question tests. Once you know how the teacher tests, you can gauge just which parts of the material to study. I had some who asked very specific questions about course concepts while others covered many concepts but asked generalized questions.
Caffeine IS your friend.
I grew up on soda, so this one isn’t hard for me. Still, at home I typically only drink water and milk, and I recognize others may be as cautious about soft drinks or coffee. The fact remains caffeine makes the brain more alert, and studying and testing while alert is beneficial. Just make sure you don’t overdose, otherwise you won’t be paying attention to much of anything.
Snacking strangely helps.
I don’t snack a lot. I did growing up and it’s something I don’t do at home. I make it simple by forgoing snack foods at the grocery store. But the few times I did eat a little something while studying, I found I absorbed the material better. Maybe it was a weird psychological thing exclusive to me, but I promise it worked.
Why are you listening to me? Find your own style!
In all seriousness, though, people are different. Maybe all of these work for you; maybe none of them do. You need to find your own methods. Others might argue a specific routine, such as begin studying at a certain time every day, is the best route. I never did that. It undoubtedly works for others, though. These are merely suggestions that could help your study habits. There’s no guarantee!
Now, perhaps you’re saying, “But I’m just not smart enough!” First off, cut the crap. I know how easy it is to make excuses and to give up because trying is too hard, but you either do it or you fail. I chose to do it. Secondly, I’ve come across a few things recently that supposedly can raise your IQ. Learning to play a musical instrument, exercising, and reading are all helpful. Gaming, despite the fleet of criticisms against its productivity, does stimulate the brain. Solving puzzles helps to breed quick problem-solvers, and those who game statistically make decisions quicker (maybe that’s why I’m a fast tester). Again, just suggestions.
Now that you know what this offers, it can all be YOURS for just $19.95…wait, I just told you everything, didn’t I? Crap!