Quizlet is proud to partner with real students and recent graduates to showcase authentic voices on our blog. This guest post is by Nicolette Kier, who just graduated from the University of Pittsburgh.
In college, you will run into at least one course where 90% of your grade comes from two midterms and a final exam. For me, it was modern physics. I don’t think any course was ever as stressful as that one.
If I had the chance to take it again, I would have done two things differently. First, I would have taken the class with a different professor. Second, I would have avoided all the mistakes I was still making as a sophomore in college.
Easy to say, hard to do. So to help you succeed in those stressful test-heavy courses (and to keep myself humble), here are the six study mistakes I made and how to avoid them this semester.
1. Just memorized material instead of making meaningful connections between concepts.
My contemporary art exams were split into two parts. First, we were shown images of artwork and asked to name the artist and the date of the work. In the second part of the exam, we had to choose from a few prompts and write an essay.
Of course, we had to do all this within 50 minutes.
For the first exam, I had just memorized names and dates related to each artwork. It was hard to remember meaningless facts and my essays were not very thought-provoking.
For the second exam, I memorized names and dates through thinking critically about what each work meant within the context of history. I also made meaningful connections between works, which helped me remember when works were created and really helped when I had to write comparison essays.
In classes where you have to remember facts like these, don’t just memorize them. Find a way to go deeper into the material so it sticks in your head long-term.
2. I failed to learn more about active studying techniques until later on in college.
The worst math requirement for my major was linear algebra (unexpected, I know). I don’t know why, but I struggled so much in that class. Redoing homework problems as a way of studying for the one and only midterm did me no favors.
But by the time I took differential equations, I knew more about active study strategies. For all the exams I had in that class, I:
- created entire practice exams for myself using all the textbook problems;
- studied problems in every single possible format that a professor could even think to put on an exam;
- taught a study partner how to solve different types of problems we might run into on the exam (using a whiteboard, no less); and
- derived formulas or problem-solving methods from fundamental concepts.
It was harder to study like this at first. But as I got more involved in my studying, my grades got much better. And honestly, I enjoyed my courses much more when I understood the why behind different formulas and problem-solving strategies, rather than limiting myself to just knowing how to solve problems.
How to use active studying in all your courses
Engage with your study material in a way that requires you to bring something to the table. Do challenging problems. Struggle with them instead of looking up the answer. Explain what you’re learning to someone else, even if they don’t really know what you’re talking about. Derive formulas or draw conclusions using only definitions, theorems, laws or givens, for example.
Also, I highly recommend only looking back at in-class examples and graded homework when you’re really stuck.
3. I didn’t take the time to consider my optimal study conditions.
I will never, ever forget studying for my first physics exam. It was midnight, I was with a friend who was not in that class, and we took an inordinately long break to eat Chipotle and watch Rick and Morty.
In short, I was a hot mess.
After much trial and error, I know that I study best with someone else in my class or alone. For me, it’s important to get up, get into the gym, get some coffee and a GoMacro bar, and sit myself down to study before 10 a.m.
(No, this is not a sponsored post. GoMacro bars are simply perfect and I will share this fact with everyone I possibly can.)
How to figure out your peak study conditions quickly
- Spend three hours studying for an exam by yourself, then three hours studying with others. Observe how your focus changes.
- Try different foods and keep track of your energy levels, then stick to what’s good for your brain and your taste buds.
- Do work in the early morning, afternoon and evening. Write down when you feel your best, mentally and physically. During test periods, try to arrange your *
- schedule so you can study during peak times of focus.
And, of course, find or create your special study space.
I never made the mistake of studying in my bed, but others have. Whether you’re at home or in a dorm this semester, study at a desk or somewhere outside your room.
4. I studied all exam material in equal amounts and in the same order.
This strategy might sound good on the surface, but it was actually counterproductive. I should have spent less time on the material I was comfortable with and more time on the things that tripped me up.
And if you study material in sequential order every time, like students often do with study guides, you can get thrown off when you get questions out of the order you studied them.
To avoid this pitfall and remember exam material with ease, try the interleaving study method. With this method, you retain more information in a shorter amount of time.
5. My note-taking habits were wack.
I really believe in saving paper, so much that I wrote my notes on any scraps of paper lying around. One time, I wrote notes for my psychology class on the backside of some junk mail.
At the time, I thought I was a hardcore environmentalist. But in hindsight, it was just wack. When I went to study for any kind of exam, I spent a lot of time sifting through random papers to find what I needed. Sometimes, my notes really were mistaken for junk and thrown away.
A lot of my friends also had terrible note-taking habits: bad handwriting, gaps in information, confusing notation, disorganization, throwing away notes after an exam, and more.
You should move away from your notes as you study, but they form a pillar of knowledge to draw from while you are learning the material.
How to take notes effectively
Write out your notes with a shorthand notation that makes sense to you. Use whatever tools are helpful, like colored pencils or highlighters.
Personally, I write out all notes for all classes (yes, I still learn after college) on loose sheets of paper and transfer them to a three-ring binder later on. I'm left-handed, so spiral notebooks are not for me.
In general, focus more on writing explanations that make sense to you than writing down every single word your instructor says. You just need concepts, not a transcript.
If you have trouble listening and taking notes at the same time, ask your instructor if you can record the lecture to reference later. Alternatively, ask if you can take pictures of the board during or after class. You can also ask to take a picture of a classmate's notes.
Consider transferring your notes to an online format after class. With Quizlet flashcards, you can write notation in any format and upload any diagrams from your in-class notes. Then you can carry your notes with you and study anywhere.
6. You wouldn't catch me in a review session.
For a long time, I couldn't make it to a review session or I thought I didn't need to. But review sessions are where instructors give insight into what exactly is going to be on the test (whether they actually mean to do this or not). Plus, other students have the same questions as you, and you can save a lot of time trying to get the answers you need if an instructor just tells you what you need to know.
If you can't make it to a review session, ask a very organized classmate to share notes from the session. You never know what gems of information could be in them.
I suffered from severe test anxiety, and didn’t address it until my junior year of college.
Not everyone struggles with a full-blown anxiety disorder. However, a lot of students who experience test anxiety don't really do anything about it.
Finally, in my junior year of college, after my grades suffered immensely, I made my way to the disability resources office. My disability resources advisor helped me set up testing accommodations.
I also found several other mental health resources in college. They helped me cope with all the stressors of college. And whether you have a diagnosable mental illness or not, these resources can help you too.
Good study practices are necessary for every student. From high school freshman to seniors in college, everyone should avoid the mistakes I made. Now gear up for midterms (or finals, depending on when you're reading this) and stay humble, fellow students.
Thank you!For your help a looking forward to more wonderful posts from you!
Thank you so much for this
Thank you so much for writing this. I have struggled for many months on preparing for exams, and always scoring low on them, and this helped tremendously!!
Thank you so much for this
Thank you so much for this
Excellent information. Thank you very much
And stay far away from people who need their mouths duct taped shut.
woah. C O L L E G E .
and im a little 7th grader........ yey.
thank you. i know better how i should help my students to don't get this mistakes
Leave a comment
Login to leave a comment