Knowing how to study allows students to set a strong foundation for academic success. Instead of feeling forced into cramming for a test, the highest achieving
students begin the study process long before classes begin–creating schedules, gathering tools, and developing study strategies. This comprehensive guide explores the
best methods for taking notes and preparing for exams and provides concrete strategies for dealing with test anxiety. By accessing the valuable resources contained in
this guide, students can take control of their study skills and keep their stress levels in check.
MSW, PhD, CSA
Dr. Amy D'Aprix, MSW, Ph.D., CSA, is a life transition consultant, author, professional speaker, facilitator, coach and expert in aging, retirement and caregiving. She is President of Dr. Amy Inc. and the Executive Director of the DAI Foundation on Caregiving. In the academic world, Amy has worked on both the national and international levels, teaching at UNC Chapel Hill School of Social Work, Skidmore College and for the Soros Foundation's Open Society Institute on topics such as Human Behavior and Aging. Through the Jordan Institute of Families at UNC Chapel Hill, she trained social workers on Geriatric Mental Health and Best Practices in Adult Services.
Being able to manage time well is an important skill for achieving success in many contexts, but when it comes to studying, it is essential. Students must know how to balance studying against other areas competing for attention such as friends, work, and family. Time management begins with becoming aware of where time is being spent and scheduling life accordingly. With strong time management skills, students can set boundaries to organize, prioritize, and succeed academically. Below are the four basic rules of time management
Getting organized includes determining how you are currently using your time and then setting priorities. It’s also important to choose planning tools to organize tasks and accomplish goals.Set a Schedule
Create a daily, weekly, or semester schedule outlining tasks to accomplish. A semester schedule should have general goals while weekly and daily schedules should be more specific.Be a Project Manager
It’s important to keep a mindset that life is your “project” and you are in charge of its success.Stop Procrastinating
Learn why you procrastinate and how to change it by eliminating external time wasters.
Found on many campuses, Student Development Centers often offer workshops on workshops on time management, as well as mentoring programs that cover managing time effectively.Advising Department
Student advisors can offer recommendations for campus and off-campus programs that focus on time management. They may even have seminars and workshops that can help.Tutoring Center
Students can get help with time management and organizational skills by visiting campus tutoring centers and taking advantage of study skills workshops and other services.
This guide from Dartmouth College features handouts, videos, and learning links for developing time management skills.Semester on a Page
This planning sheet from Willamette University lets students schedule a semester’s worth of work ahead of time.Time Management & Organization
Bucknell University publishes this comprehensive online resource for students. It includes PDFs to get organized and create schedules, as well as a video with concrete ideas to achieve school-life balance.Time Management Strategies
University of Washington Bothell provides a list of time management tips for students learning how to balance school work and free time.
Yes, time management was an issue when teaching college students and I used a combination of strategies to address it. The amount of reading in all of their courses was overwhelming, so I taught them to read differently. I explained that they couldn’t possibly do everything in detail, so it was a matter of figuring out what they needed to do and what they didn’t. I used the technique of reading chapter headings and conclusions to get the flow of the material. Then they could go back and review concepts they were unsure of.
I also taught my students how to set a schedule differently. Instead of focusing on getting a task done–which can be demoralizing because most of us are unrealistic about planning how long a project will take–I showed them that it’s more productive to work on a project for a certain amount of time. That way, if you spend 30 minutes, no matter what you get accomplished you can feel successful.
I think it’s important for students not to be so focused on taking notes that they aren’t listening. Instead of writing every word, it’s more productive to write down main topics and focus on the content. They can always go back and look something up later if they don’t understand. Outlining works very well with this strategy.
I’m big on using mnemonic devices and repetition. For factual information, I think flashcards are great.
I did have quite a few students with test anxiety. Personally, I took away the time issue out of the equation altogether when testing. I also taught students not to psych themselves out by using positive self-talk. “I can do this. I’m well prepared for this test.” A lot of anxiety comes from worrying about what happens next on a test, so I think it’s important to look over the whole exam first and then start with what is easiest.
How, when and why students take notes can mean the difference between scholastic excellence and academic mediocrity. Learn everything you need to know about taking notes below.
Don’t just write down everything the lecturer says. Instead, listen to what is being said and relate it to your own experiences.
Cognitive processing, or connecting to prior knowledge, means you are able to put the information in your own words.
Lecturers provide classic cues that identify the learning materials that are most important—vocal emphasis, pauses, gestures, and the amount of time spent on a concept.
Create a balance between listening for and recording main ideas and listening to pertinent examples.
Revisiting the material, highlighting, and recopying and revising notes all help you to remember the material.
Although there are many ways to take notes, individual learning styles determine which methods work best for each student. Read and write learners are more likely to find success with the Cornell Method or Outlining while visual learners may prefer mind mapping. Here are four of the most popular note taking methods.
Dr. Walter Pauk, a Cornell University professor, developed the Cornell Method for college students to organize their notes for future study. By following the steps in the Cornell Method, students can increase comprehension through active learning and critical thinking.
Prepare for recording notes by setting up the page. Draw a vertical line 2 ½ inches from the left edge of the paper. The area to the left of the line is the recall column. The larger, right column is for recording information from the lecture in outline or paragraph format. Leave space at the bottom to summarize your notes.
Review your notes as soon as possible after class, preferably within 24-48 hours, to improve recall by up to 80 percent. Write key words and phrases from your notes in the recall column, using the fewest words possible. Then summarize the discussion in your own words at the bottom.
Cue your memory by covering your notes and stating key words and phrases in your own words. If necessary, use the recall column as a trigger. If you’re still unable to recite your notes, read over them and try again.
After completing Stage 3, spend some time thinking about them. Determine which aspects you are strongest in and which you need to study more. Engage in the material by making generalizations and drawing conclusions.
Briefly review your notes to help retain the information you’ve learned. It will allow you to keep the information fresh and easily retrievable when you need it during the exam or class discussion.
|Chemistry Notes: Types of Matter|
Summarize lecture here after class.
Applicable for all subjects (Math, History, English Literature, Science)
Mind mapping is a visual tool, developed by Tony Buzan, used to structure and organize large amounts of information so it can be absorbed easily. Mind maps are helpful in many circumstances. When students use mind maps it students it makes it easier to take notes and retain information taught in classroom lectures by highlighting the relationships between different topics.
Turn a blank sheet of paper horizontally and write the major concept inside a circle in the middle of the page.
Add main ideas related to the concept and circle them. Each main idea should have a line connecting it to the major concept in the center. Use brief keywords and phrases rather than sentences. Highlight related ideas with the same color.
Each major concept will get its own mind map. Take notes on the side of the page to help you remember relationships.Example of Mind Mapping:
Applicable for Literature, Fine Arts, History, Social Sciences
This method organizes information into main topic, sub-topics, and supporting details, separated by indentations. The most general information is listed close to the margin with specific details moving outwards. Some students use bullets or numbers to make a distinction between information, but it’s not necessary if indentations are made. The outline method makes it easy for students to create study guides and to prepare for exams.Outline Example:
Applicable for History, Literature
The charting method works well with subjects that can be easily broken down into categories (date/event/impact, pros/cons, etc.). Students should create charts prior to the lecture for the best results.
Identify categories to be covered during the lecture.
Create a chart and label each category
Fill in information under the appropriate category during the lecture.Chart Method Example:
Alexander Graham Bell
Thomas Alva Edison
Thomas Alva Edison
Applicable for History, Science, Math
Campus writing centers offer workshops and other instruction covering how to take notes effectively. English graduate students are usually available to look over rough drafts of papers as well.Tutoring Center
Students can visit campus tutoring centers for personal assistance learning different note taking styles. Look for student study seminars specializing in note taking as well.Faculty
Your individual professors may have some great suggestions for the type of note taking that works best with the subject they are teaching. They may provide this info if they use smart boards and the like, or you can ask them for suggestions by making an appointment with them.
Dartmouth College publishes this comprehensive guide that teaches students how to record notes that make it easy to prepare for exams. It includes links to handouts, videos, and other resources.Notetaking
In this document from Willamette University’s Learning Center, students learn tips for taking notes in class.Notetaking Skills for 21st Century Students
Teacher Vicki Davis examines the best note taking methods for different types of learners.Note Taking Systems
The Academic Skills Center at California Polytechnic State University instructs students in the different note taking methods available to them.
Studying? Of course there’s an app for that! Since you’re on your phone so much anyways, why not download some of these helpful study tools?
After setting the timer on this app, students can focus on the task at hand until the alarm rings. By creating a running list of tasks and a certain time to complete them, it’s possible to focus on one project at a time. Students can adjust settings and set notifications as they adapt.
Students can locate, create, and share SMART FLASHCARDS on Brainscape to increase learning speed and study effectively. The app uses an interval formula to determine how often a concept is repeated.
Staying organized is easier when students can sync notes between all of their devices with Evernote. Between making to-do lists, checklists, and creating notes with 3D Touch, students can stay ahead of the game.
With many commonly-tested words from college and graduate school entrance exams, Exam Vocabulary Builder assists students in building strong vocabularies. The quiz feature tests student progress and a spaced repetition mode helps students memorize words quickly. The app automatically tracks progress and lists statistics.
Focus Booster strives to help students improve focus and productivity with the pomodoro technique for time management. Work sessions are broken into 25-minute intervals and separated by a 5-minute break to refocus.
This scheduling app helps students stay on top of their classes and assignments. Four buttons—Today, Calendar, Assignments, and Planner—can be located at the bottom of the screen. Students add classes, types of courses, and assignments. It’s easy to assign icons to match the categories.
Organizing thoughts, tasks, and projects is easier with the Outliner app. Students can create to-do lists, track projects, and share outlines with other users. Outliner syncs with Dropbox for online editing. Visual learners can track progress with a pie-chart of tasks and subtasks that displays percentage completed.
Students can create their own flashcards or use one of the millions of sets already created by other users. Study modes allow students to take multiple choice tests or participate in study games. This app is useful for any subject or grade level.
Simplenote is a free way to keep notes, lists, and ideas together, synching them to all devices. Students can organize notes with tags and pins, so it is easy to find them later. It’s also possible to share notes with other people.
Cloud-based Todoist automatically syncs notes and tasks between all devices to help students keep organized. Students can color-code projects, assign subtasks, and set due dates and reminders. Keeping track of tasks is simple with custom filters.
MnemonicsIn elementary school, students learn silly sentences to remember important facts. For example, the first letter of each word in “Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally,” represents the standard order of operations: Parentheses, Exponents, Multiplication, Division, Addition, and Subtraction. Another popular mnemonic is “King Paul Called Out for Gus and Sam,” for the division of the animal kingdom: Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, and Species.
Note Cards/Concept CardsFlashcards are helpful for memorizing concepts, facts and figures. Because they’re portable, students can carry them around and practice throughout the day. It’s always a good idea to shuffle flashcards instead of remembering them in order.
Read Aloud/Repetition Because reading material out loud improves memory retention, students should recite their notes for practice. Even reading their notes out loud two or three times a day can be helpful.
Mind MapsBy creating associations and connections, mind maps are an important way to improve memory. When using colors and images, mind maps help students make connections to the material.
Create Practice TestsDevising practice tests requires reviewing and making a connection to material. Students should come up with as many multiple choice questions as possible using their notes as a guide and then answer the questions based on memory.
Teach Someone Students can practice and manipulate concepts to help memorize what they’ve learned. Lecturing to the mirror and teaching material to other people are examples of experiential learning.
DiagramsDrawing diagrams helps to visualize information, making it easier to recall material during an exam. Practicing with diagrams is particularly useful for exams that require drawing or labeling diagrams.
Rewriting Some learners remember information when they write it out. Students can copy their notes over several times to memorize the material.
ListeningAuditory learners benefit from listening to lectures over and over again. Record the material once and play it back continuously while sleeping or driving helps students remember information. Some instructors permit students to record lectures.
SQ3RThis structured approach is useful for learning chapters or sections of textbooks.
S:Survey the chapter to get an overview, reading the chapter summary and headings. Briefly look over illustrations and tables.
Q:Develop questions based on the chapter headings, similar to what you would find on an exam.
3R: Read the chapter and answer your questions. Recite the questions and answer them from memory. Review your answers for accuracy.
Learning Resource Centers on campus promote student success for undergraduate and graduate centers by offering workshops and webinars on a wide variety of subjects including retention.Psychology Department
See if the psychology department at your school offers information, talks, seminars or other similar events on memory and retention.
The Global Community for Academic Advising offers online and institutional resources for studying.Memorization Techniques-Willamette University
This tutorial includes tips and strategies for taking tests from Saint Mary’s College of California.Study Skills Videos
Long Beach City College offers free online videos that highlight study skills, note taking and retaining information.
Are you doing everything you should be doing to study for that big test? Mark off tasks on a study checklist as they’re complete.
EXAM STUDY CHECKLISTDONE
Start studying one week before the test.
Find out what the test entails: How many questions? What type of questions? How much time will be given to complete it?
Create a comfortable study space free from distractions.
Identify the main points to study based on class notes, text, and assignments.
Develop a review guide that includes a summary of all important information.
Sign up for all available study sessions.
Read review guide aloud for practice.
Write out the review guide on paper to help you memorize.
Solve sample problems.
Test your recall of the important information.
Eat a healthy diet, exercise, and get adequate sleep the week before taking the test.
For students who suffer from test anxiety, exams can be a nightmarish experience, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Here are some common fears about taking tests and solutions for taking control.
Where should I start?
Look over each section of the test. Think about how much time you have to finish the entire test and budget your time. Focus on the sections worth the most points.
What if I don't understand the directions?
Read the directions slowly and carefully. If you still don't understand the directions, ask the instructor for clarification.
What if I forget what I studied?
On timed tests, don't waste time on difficult questions. Skip them and come back to them later. Remember what you do know about the subject, even if that’s not quite the question.
What if I have so much information in my head that I can't think straight?
When the test begins, use a piece of scrap paper to write down definitions or formulas that you need to remember. Use it as a reference during the test.
What if my body tenses up?
Breathe deeply and exhale slowly, allowing yourself to feel the tension draining from your body. Visualize yourself in a peaceful setting such as a sunny beach.
What if I panic as soon as I start?
Use positive self-talk: "I am prepared to take this exam." "I know all of the answers I am supposed to know." "I am going to pass, but if I don't it is okay."
What if I don’t know the answer?
Remember, you don't need to know the answer to every question. Use the power of deduction. Read each possible answer before making a decision. If you are still unsure, move on and come back to it later.
What if everyone else has already finished?
Stay focused. Ignore the other test-takers and concentrate on yourself. Chewing gum can help you relax, if permitted by the instructor.
What if I finish too fast?
Use leftover time to review your answers. Make sure you answered each multiple-choice question. Reread written answers and check for grammar and spelling errors.
What if I fail?
The best way to prevent a failing grade is to prepare ahead of time. Create a manageable study schedule that covers all of the information you are expected to know. Get plenty of rest the night before. If you do fail, remember you are capable of bouncing back.
Campus testing centers offer assistance with test-taking preparation. They have practice tests and should also have handouts about how to prepare for testing at your school.Career and Academic Success Center
Students can find help with test taking at campus career and academic centers.Course Professor
Your professor can help you prepare for exams by offering review sessions and study guides. If you need more help, make an appointment to talk more in-depth with your professor regarding upcoming tests.Disability Resource Center
Students with learning disabilities can get tips and extra help for taking tests in some instances.
This guide provides suggestions for dealing with test anxiety from the Upward Mobility Program, a joint venture of the State of Illinois and AFSCME.Test-Taking Strategies
These are concrete test-taking methods from Brigham Young University’s Counseling and Career Center.Study Strategies Resource Links
The Global Community for Academic Advising offers online and institutional resources for studying.Test-Taking Strategies
This tutorial includes tips and strategies for taking tests from Saint Mary’s College of California.