What should I do to study for my test?
Teaching yourself how to study can be a challenge, but often it's more about changing your thoughts about learning. Hopefully, some of these tips will help you find a great way of studying that works for you!
I have noticed in the past that some students engage in passive learning and studying- meaning they are not engaging in the material with the goal of retention. I encourage students to highlight or rewrite notes, instead of just looking over them; taking notes or making graphic organizers while reading in the text; making flashcards, but then also asking themselves about the connections the terms have to other areas of the unit’s material. Also consider playing a game as you study- think of the Memory game you had when you were a kid and make a matching game with your unit flashcards.
You can also benefit from making connections to your own life. Can you think of a movie, book, or song that applies to the material? Strengthening your semantic memory (facts and information) with your episodic memory (memories of your life) will help you with recalling the information.
The science behind active learning is that your brain will create multiple neural pathways and connections as you read & write or as you process the information & match the cards. More neural connections will help you with recalling the details and will increase your performance on your tests and quizzes.
Read with a questioning mind
Reading a textbook or scholarly article is a lot more difficult than reading a novel. Because you can't rely on story to jog your memory, you may need to take some additional steps to help you recall the details for your test. Here are some steps that can be useful while you are reading for a class:
SKIM- Look over a chapter before reading. Look at the titles and subtitles to have an idea of what will lay ahead. You can also flip the titles and subtitles into questions that the reading will help you answer, which is also a great technique for taking notes.
SUMMARIZE- When you finish reading a section, chapter, or article, write a few bulleted point that summarize the material. It is also a good idea to connect these notes to your life because this will help you make the information your own.
QUESTION YOURSELF- After each section of the reading, you may want to pause and ask yourself, "What did I just read?" If you are unable to answer that question, you may need to re-read.
Make your notes memorable
Your notes are a learning tool and they should be designed to help you a few days or weeks after you have written them down. Think about all the text that you see throughout the day. The text that you are most likely to remember is not just a block of words- it has indentations, different color fonts, underlines, pictures, and other points of interest. Don't be afraid to leave white space. You may want to skip lines, draw a cloud around a picture, or write a title in really big letters. Make your notes memorable!
Also, it may be helpful to make notes to yourself in your notes. Think about drawing boxes in the margins of your notes and jot down things that you should remember in the future- "You'll never forget a hippo on a campus" or other silly things that your teacher might say.
Find a study buddy
The best way to learn is to teach! If you have learned some challenging material in class, talk about it with someone else. Call your Granny, chat with your dad over dinner, or teach your lesson to Rover while you walk him around the block. By teaching the material to someone else, you will reinforce the information in your own memory and it will help you recall for a test. And even better, if the family member or friend that you are teaching the lesson to begins to ask you questions, you will create even stronger connections that will serve you well in the future.
Study groups are also a great tool for reinforcing new material. Sit with some friends after school in our media center, at the Cameron Village Library or Starbucks. Drill each other, ask questions, make a Quizlet as a group. The trick is to find find people you like, but who won't distract you too much. Like the teaching suggestion aforementioned, quizzing with a pal will re-enforce the material in your memory and will help with recalling.
See what your teacher has to offer
After you have read your text, reviewed and highlighted your notes but you realize you need more assistance, see what your teacher has to offer. Many teachers host office hours or tutoring sessions to help students who need a little extra time with the material. I post my office hours on the home page of my website for each week. The hours do vary because of department chair duties and leadership team obligations. Before you visit your teacher, develop a list of questions that you have about the curriculum. It is hard for a teacher to assist you if you don't know where the disconnect is.
On many teachers' websites they include items that can help you study. On our site, we have links to textbooks to reinforce that material from class, copies of the presentations and handouts, due dates for the unit, videos to help you review, Quizlets or Kahoot! games, and links to other online games or quizzes. Using these tools through out the unit will be more helpful that just using them the day before the test. Also, if you find a really helpful tool, share it with me. Your classmates will only benefit from it.
Other online tools that can be helpful include Khan Academy for tutorial materials, Quizizz for pre-made quizzes on specific units for many different classes, CrashCourse videos on YouTube, and GoConqr is a site for making mindmaps and other organizational tools for studying. StudyStack is another online platform for flashcards, but in this program you can repeat missed cards until you have mastered them- repetition is the key to success here!
Spread out your studying
In 1885, a psychologist named Ebbinghaus researched the retention rate of memory with and without rehearsal over time. Through his experiments, he determined that we recall more information when we space out or review of the material over time. Therefore, studying 15 minutes every other night over the course of a unit (maybe a total of 1 hour of time) is more beneficial than studying one hour the night before a test. Many students don't think about reviewing a little through out and instead try to cram it all into a one hour power session. This is one of the reasons why I often make study guides due the class period before the test happens.
Finally, sleep is a vital step in studying. As we go through the fifth stage of sleep- Rapid Eye Movement (REM)- our brain revisits the electrical waves that were processed during the day. This repetition helps to process new information into our short- and long-term memory stores. Lost hours of sleep will negatively impact for over all cognitive functions and can actually impede your ability to recall learned material. So, be certain to catch your Zzzzs.
Limit screen time before bed! The blue lights that screens
Studying is a part of education and taking a little time here and there will help you tremendously in the end. If you are having trouble finding a great way to study, talk to your teacher, they are there to help you!
Handwriting v. Typing
In this digital age, more and more students claim a preference for typing over writing by hand. Reasons for this shift include reduction in handwriting instruction in the elementary grades, the easy of correcting mistakes on a screen, and even "saving a tree." All of these reasons a very valid; however, there are some very strong arguments for going old school and writing out notes and essays.
A 2014 experiment series conducted by researchers from Princeton and UCLA, showed causational links between taking hand-written notes and increased ability to recall. When subjects wrote out notes with pen and paper, they processed the information more deeply, which in turn helped to transfer the material from sensory memory and into long-term memory. Subjects who typed were more likely to record information verbatim. Not processing the notes or lectures into their own voice, meant that participants were unable to remember the details.
Typing does help students capture a lot of information quickly, plus there is an advantage to the manipulation of the details with a computer. Another series of experiments discovered that typing helps with quantity, but handwriting helps with quality. Students were asked to either type lecture notes or write them. Then, a test on the material was given shortly after class. Students who typed scored better on the assessment...initially. However, when the assessment was delayed, students who wrote out notes performed significantly better.
Handwriting also positively impacts brain growth and development. Researchers from Indiana University had children type, draw, or trace letters while in an fMRI scanner. The drawers had more regions of their brains processing than the other conditions, including the "reading circuit" of the brain. The psychologists concluded that writing informs reading, which could be a positive in learning. In addition, a 1990 study showed that handwriting increases spelling abilities and Dr. Sheldon Horowitz from the National Center for Learning Disabilities says “handwriting is a multisensory activity. As you form each letter, your hand shares information with language processing areas in your brain. As your eyes track what you’re writing, you engage these areas.” The use of multiple areas of the brain enhances the connections, helps to prevent early onset Alzheimer's, and improved recall and understanding.
Also, the use of digital devices increases distractions in learning. Humans are not wired for multitasking, which means that if we are typing notes and checking messages or Twitter, we are learning in the best way possible. Research published by Harvard University showed that students who texted during classes had lower quality notes, retained less information, and scored lower on tests. Studies show that students who use laptops are off-task more and pose as a distraction to peers in the classroom.
Lastly, putting to pen to paper is important for the development of fine motor skills and muscle growth.