Thursday, September 08, 2011

Back to School: Study Tips

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It’s that time of the year again! As much as it pains me to acknowledge the end of Summer, Fall is one of my favorite seasons for beauty and fashion.

Along with Fall comes back to school and in this post I am going to share some of my study tips in order to help you succeed and make the best out of this new school year.

As a seasoned student, I have spent many years perfecting my study regime and can narrow it down to ten tips.

Study Tip #1: Study early

This is probably the most obvious study tip but probably the least followed. As a fellow procrastinator, I fully understand the appeals of doing anything else rather than studying but you have to learn to prioritize and give yourself plenty of time to study.

Study Tip #2: Don’t cram!

Do not cram for a test/midterm/exam the night before! Studying last minute and cramming is not very helpful and will not help you excel on tests. Cramming is only beneficial to a select few, like people who have photographic memories or people who can process information so fast that it goes from short-term memory to long-term memory almost immediately.

Your brain is like a sponge, it needs time to absorb all the information you’re giving it. Most of our brains learn from re-reading and re-processing information, something that you can’t achieve in one night. Especially, if you’re trying to cram weeks worth of lectures and chapters in one night.

That’s why it’s important to study early (see study tip #1).

Study Tip #3: Find a good study space

It’s important that when you’re studying, you’re in a comfortable environment conducive to learning. That way you can concentrate and retain what you’re reading.

For instance, if you like to study in absolute silence then study at  home with all distractions (i.e. phone, TV, music) away or you can study in your school library’s quiet study room. If you prefer to study with other people, create a study group with a few of your classmates!

Study Tip #4: Study in the morning rather than at night

When you’re studying, it’s always better to study first thing in the morning than late at night. Of course this isn’t always possible because depending on what your schedule is, your study times may very. However, if you have the choice, mornings are always better!

The reason is because in the morning, your mind is rested and more alert. When you study late at night, your mind is tired -- I mean, you’ve just spent all day processing all kinds of information. It’s a lot more work for your brain to retain information when it’s tired, that’s why it’s better to study in the morning when your mind is like a fresh slate and ready for learning!

Study Tip #5: Always take breaks when you’re studying.

Now I’m not talking about studying for half an hour and then taking an hour break. I mean studying for a couple hours and then taking a 10 or 15 minute break. Grab something to eat, take a little walk, get some coffee, or watch some YouTube.

Short breaks are integral when studying they actually help you retain what you’re studying. Studies have shown that people who study continuously without stopping are less likely to retain information as time passes. Short study breaks rejuvenate your mind and will help you remember more information.

Study Tip #6: Use an agenda

An agenda -- whether it’s one you buy or one that your school provides you -- is a very important study and organization tool. There are lots of different kinds of agendas but they all do the same thing. Agendas help you keep track of all the important information, like any appointments you have, upcoming homework, or school events. Agendas are very helpful as long as you consistently use it.

Study Tip #7: Create a tracking sheet

A tracking sheet is a great tool to keep all of your homework/assignments/tests/midterms organized. The difference between using a tracking sheet and using an agenda is that the tracking sheet allows you to have your entire semester in one glance. It’s much easier to glance at your tracking sheet than to flip through pages of your agenda.

So what is a tracking sheet? Well, here’s an example (you can either do it on the computer or write it out):

This is just a sample one I made on Excel, your tracking sheet will be 
your entire semester so it will be a little longer :).



The first column is each week of your semester, the other columns are each class you’re taking, and in the boxes you can write any assigned readings, homework, presentations, quizzes, and midterms.

Like I said, it’s your semester at a glance! This way you can prioritize your time accordingly and make sure that you give yourself plenty of time to accomplish everything.

Study Tip #8: Cue Cards 101

Cue cards are an amazing study tool. They’re a great way to condense information so that it’s easier to study from.


So what to write on cue cards? Well, treat them like flash cards. I like to write a keyword on one side of the card and then the definition or explanation on the other side. So when I’m studying I will read the keyword, try to explain it, and then check if I got it right by flipping the card over.

A great way to keep the cue cards organized is by hole punching the corner and then putting them on book rings (you can find them here). This way all your cards are in one place. You don’t have to worry about dropping a card or mixing up the order. Plus it’s very easy to bring around with you to study. You can also put your cue cards in a cue card holder, this will also help keep your cards organized.


You can get different colors of cue cards! The different colors can be helpful if you want to differentiate what you’re studying.

For example:
You can use different colors for different classes
You can use different colors to represent different chapters
You can use one color for definitions and another color for concepts, etc.

So in order for cue cards to be effective, you have to use them properly. When you’re writing out information on your cue cards, make sure that you paraphrase it (i.e. re-write what you’ve read in your own words). You don’t want to re-write word for word what you find in the textbook on your cue cards because it will not help you when you’re studying later.

It is just much easier (and a better study tool) if you take the information from a textbook and re-write it into your own words on cue cards. This way it is in words you understand and when you’re studying you will know exactly what you wrote and you won’t be like WTF does this mean?

Also, you may think that there is no way that you have time to be writing a couple hundred cue cards right before a test just so you can use them to study. And you’re right, there is no way.

BUT here’s what I do: after a class (or at the end of the week) I will read over my notes and make my cue cards for that week’s lesson. This way when it comes to test time, I’m not scrambling to write up cue cards to study from because they’re already done ahead of time. AND this will also help you retain that information because you will have already studied it to make your cue cards.

So basically you’re killing two birds with one stone... you’re studying ahead of time and making it easier to review your notes when it’s test time!

Study Tip #9: Use highlighters

Highlighters are also a great study tool.


I use highlighters in a fashion akin to approaching streetlights when driving. When I’m reading over my notes -- I usually type my notes up and then print a hard copy, but you can highlight electronically, too -- I will use three different colors of highlighters: green, orange, and red.

Green for ‘go’ for the stuff that I do understand.
Orange for ‘caution’ for the stuff that I sort of understand.
Red for ‘stop’ for the stuff that I don’t understand.

Basically I am color coding my notes so that I know in what order to study concepts in. I will study the red first because those are the concepts that will probably take me the most time since I don’t understand them, followed by orange and then green.

This allows you to visually see how much time you should give each subject or concept when you’re studying. And if you see too much red on the page, then you should consider seeking your professor or your classmates for help.

Study Tip #10: Do your homework

Again, this tip is probably obvious but not a lot of people do this, especially in post-secondary when you have more freedom and you don’t have teachers hounding you to do your homework.

However, completing homework is important. Not only does it help you understand concepts but it also enables you to go to class prepared.

Homework will help you on future tests and assignments. Usually when you’re given homework it is taken up in the next class, when you don’t do the homework you are lulled into this false sense of security when you’re in class because it is easy to think that you can do a problem (having not even looked at it) when the solution is presented to you.

When you do your homework, you can truly see whether you understand a concept. If you don’t understand the homework, taking it up in class is much more beneficial for you because you are able to see what you did right, where you went wrong, and you will know for next time.

Okay, that’s it. Those are my study tips. You can also watch my study tip video below, if you’d like.



I hope that you found this helpful!

x Aleeza

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