Going back to school can be a pretty stressful time; never knowing how hard a class is going to be or if you are going to be able to keep your grades high enough to meet your personal goals. When I was growing up one of my coaches taught me the key to passing any class, he said, “all you need to do is show up everyday and sit in the front.” Now I was never a “bad” student but I still decided to put those two simple rules into practice to see if they could work for me, and they most definitely did. When you show up to every class, even if you aren’t really listening, you are bound to learn something, if you sit in the front professors will have to notice you and perhaps will challenge you to learn or be more willing to provide some extra help when needed. So since you now know how to at least pull a “C” in a class, I figured we could discuss how to raise that “C” to possibly an “A” by doing well on tests and quizzes. Throughout my academic career I think I’ve tried most studying techniques attempting to find the perfect way to learn material… and I found that there is not one perfect way to study; every course material is diverse and some things should be studied in different ways. So here are 5 basic study tips that have helped me get through school and should be universal:
- Go to Class and Take Notes in Your Own Words: I know, this is probably the most obvious and sometimes the hardest tip to do, but it is easily the most important. I have rarely been in a class where the professor did not offer some insight to what to expect from a test or quiz, and while you are in class you are forced to learn (for some this my be subconsciously). Note taking should be the foundation of your study, so why should you use your own notes and not one of your buddy’s? Because it’s easier for you to understand your own handwriting and, if you are like me, your notes will look pretty random to a stranger but your brain can clearly decipher them.
- Plan to Study and Do It: Studying takes time, and that’s one of the reasons why people don’t like doing it… there are so many other things we would rather do than study, but none the less you’ve got to make time for it, it’s crucial. So with that said set aside some time everyday that is dedicated to studying, just like you do for your favorite TV show or a meal. Are you really going to study everyday? No! But if you know you have the time to study it makes it that much easier to do.
- Get Your Hands on Old Exams & Quizzes: Many professors provide their students with study materials, USE THEM! Old tests and quizzes, even if they are not covering the exact material, will provide insight on how that professor asks questions and will bring some familiarity come test taking time, which will greatly cut down on your stress. If you are in a class that uses quizzes to build up to a midterm or final, go back and study those quizzes; even if the exact questions are not on the test (which a lot of the time they are) you are at least able recognize where you have made mistakes and what you need to put more focus on.
- Ask Your Professor for Help: You are always better off if your professor knows you and sees that you want to learn. This step kind of goes hand in hand with step 3, getting to know your professor may provide you with insight that you may not have gotten while in class. Most of my former professors had set office hours where students could drop in and ask questions, and nearly all of them actually want students to do this. Seeking help from a professor is a great time to ask for an old exam to study with. Showing your instructor that you want to learn will help them have a good attitude toward you, which in turn can sometimes help in free response question grading. Be memorable.
- Go Ahead and Cram: Now cramming is almost a taboo word when it comes to good study habits, and if that’s all you are doing I 100% agree, but if you have already put forth a good effort and followed steps 1-4, cram away! After diligently studying the core topics it does not hurt to take in all the material you can before a test. Sometimes you catch things that you would not find otherwise by skimming a large amount of material, plus if you went to class everyday (Step 1), quickly revisiting past course work will trigger memories of key points you learned in class. Now let me say this again, cramming is fine IF you already put forth a good effort to learn the material; do not expect cramming to work if you are not ready.
Everyone has their own styles of learning, some like visuals others need to read material aloud; there is no perfect study guide out there. When you find the best method of studying for you and go through the 5 steps you’ll see the difference it makes, at the very least it should take away a ton of the stress that studying always seems to bring.