The school year has officially begun for me, and, I am sure, for most of you as well. I decided to make one more “Back to School” post before we all get back into the swing of things, and I figured that one of the most important topics I could try to cover is how to study! I know when I started to take classes at my local community college and got into harder coursework, everything from taking notes to memorizing all of the content that would be in an exam was really overwhelming to me, and it still can be! However, over the past few years, I’ve developed some habits and tricks that have helped me to have a better handle on studying for classes. So think of this post as a mini guide of tips and tricks for studying! I’ll be covering note taking, reading efficiently, and memorizing for exams
Notetaking really intimidated me at first, but it’s just something that you kind of figure out as you go along. I’ve never had luck with trying to follow specific notetaking methods, such as the Cornell method, but it can be good inspiration to search up how different people take their notes on places such as YouTube. The way I approach it is, basically, summarizing what the teacher says as they speak. Eventually you become able to figure out what you need to remember and what is unnecessary, but for the time being, try not to worry about writing down every word! It will definitely make your life more difficult, so I would suggest trying to make the wording a lot simpler/cutting back on the amount of words you have to write to get your point across. It’s also helpful to, over time, develop your own “short-hand.” Some that work for me include writing “btwn” instead of “between,” “+” instead of “and,” and “w/” instead of “with.” I also like to keep a highlighter on my desk and add color to areas that are really important, so that the notes are easier to understand later on. Bullet points are also a great way to organize your notes.
The big thing I’m going to say about taking notes is to rewrite them! Once you get home, sit down with your notes and write them all over again. Elaborate what is necessary, cut back on what isn’t, make your notes look visually clearer, and make sure each new topic looks distinct from the last one. Just the action of rereading your notes and physically writing them down a second time is going to drill the information into your head a little more. I would also try to read your notes out loud; engaging all of your senses and abilities is a great way to retain information better.
The first thing I’ll say is if you can get your hands on an audiobook for the book you have to read, do it! This is less often possible for textbooks, but if you’re assigned a book to read for a literature class or something similar, you can sometimes find audiobooks for free on YouTube. I usually get distracted when reading a book about a topic that I don’t care about, so putting earbuds in and listening to the words while you read them is really helpful for staying on track and focused. I would also recommend highlighting/underlining parts that seem important as you come across them, as it saves time later. If you are borrowing the book and are not allowed to make marks in it, using little post-it tabs or post-it notes is an alternative. Whether or not you’ll want to take notes while you read a chapter for the first time will probably depend on the book. If it’s too distracting, you can always go back and take notes afterwards, but if not, doing so in the moment will save you a bit of time. If you don't have access to an audiobook, it can also be helpful to read the book to yourself out loud, or even ask a friend or parent to read a couple of passages to you.
When it comes to taking notes about what you read, I try to follow whatever layout the book is written in. If it's a text book, each chapter will usually cover one broad topic, and from there it will branch out into smaller subtopics, which you can tell from the titles, subtitles, and headers. I then summarize each section of each topic and subtopic, and make sure to make each section visually distinct from the last, so that all the words don't blend in together. Again, it's helpful to use bullet points to keep it organized. I also like to copy down any diagrams that the book has into my notes. For a regular fiction or nonfiction book, I'd approach it in a similar way: Organize the notes by each chapter, and move through each chapter chronologically, to keep things from getting confusing.
Memorizing for an Exam
To start with, see if your teacher will give you a study guide or a practice test. If not, ask your teacher what content will be on the exam. If you have to, make up your own practice questions, and see what topics you get right or wrong. From there, you can study a little for the topics that you already understand, but try to narrow your focus to the topics you don’t get right as often. At that point, there’s a few different things you can do. If there are facts that you’re forgetting, right them down over and over again on a few pieces of paper until they’re drilled into your mind a little more. Make flashcards and quiz yourself, or have a parent, friend, or sibling quiz you (I enjoy adding relevant color/doodles to my flashcards, as little things like that can sometimes make it easier to remember a specific flashcard during the actual test. Rewrite any notes of topics that you aren’t comfortable with, and reread passages on those topics from any assigned books you have.
My last tip for studying for exams would be to check out the website Quizlet. It makes it really easy and quick to make online flashcards, it will design practice tests for you, and it create games that you can play to memorize information. I find the website particularly helpful for studying foreign languages, but it’s really adaptable to any subject you need to study! It helped me immensely with my Spanish class last year, and I'll probably continue to use it for Spanish 2 this year.
And there you go! Those are my tips for notetaking, reading efficiently, and memorizing information for exams. Leave a comment below if you have any studying tips you’d like to share, or if you have ideas for topics you’d like us to cover in the future. Good luck with school this year!
My productivity series
How to Study Smart