The paragraphs below give good advice from experienced teachers on how to approach the main areas of study. The links in the sidebar provide additional information.
Regardless of the classes you are taking, good note-taking skills are essential not only for doing well on tests and assignments, but also for retaining material over the long-term and properly mastering a subject.
One of the key strategies to developing good study skills is finding out which method of note taking works for you. There are many different ways to take notes, but every successful approach shares a common goal: recording and organizing class information in such a way that you will be able to understand it when you look at it later. This means you have to take the kinds of notes that allow you to do this: it is no use having pages and pages of writing from each day’s class if when you look back on it, you can’t be sure what the key points were, or what you have written down means. Just as copying a piece of text out of a book doesn’t mean that you have understood it, so being able to write down everything a teacher says word-for-word does not mean you have learned it.
The best note-taking strategies are the ones that rely on you developing your own system for explaining the class material to yourself. Below, you will find links to overviews of several of the most tried and tested approaches – whether the traditional method of taking notes via sentences, or more visual forms of taking notes through mapping and charting, or “summarizing” strategies, such as outlining, or column-based note-taking.
Remember: each of these (and several others) are valid approaches. The test as to whether you are taking good notes is not “do they look like the notes everyone else is taking,” but do they enable you to recall and define key concepts, and do they help you understand how the various topics you are studying in a class link together.
The nature of education has changed drastically in the last decade due to new technology and an emergence of hundreds of new computer programs and websites designed to help educators and students access and retain information. These new tools for reviewing material can be very helpful, but students should be make sure that they are used to facilitate learning and do not serve as a crutch. Websites like www.sparknotes.com have a wealth of information that can be used to review course material and prepare for standardized and in-class tests, but teachers and administrators often discourage its use because students have gotten into the habit of using SparkNotes as a first stop, instead of using it to supplement class work. Additionally, websites with user-generated content like www.wikipedia.org, www.youtube.com and answers.yahoo.com have millions of webpages full of information which are all available at the click of a button, but because of the nature of the content creation, the sites contain information that is not always as reliable as those found in more traditional sources. Despite these risks, new technology has proven very helpful in three areas of education: providing content that is easy to access, allowing students to quiz themselves or review in a more enjoyable or effective format than rereading notes or assigned reading, and connecting students online so that they can collaborate effectively on school work. To the right is a list of sites that you might find useful when studying material or reviewing for a test.
Study SkillsThe essential key to effective studying is not spending hours pouring over your notes, but rather, studying smartly. Though it may boost your confidence, studying what you already know is useless. Focus on what needs work, ask questions, and be proactive. It starts in the classroom. If you have paid attention in class, taken diligent notes, and have an organized notebook of old assignments, then you have already given yourself a great advantage. If you are lacking in any of the aforementioned areas (or, really, even if you are not), the next factor is communicating with your teacher. Instructors vary when it comes to how you are allowed to study (what resources you may use, including peers), and how assessments will be formatted. Know your format. Are you studying for a multiple choice test on science terms, or are you preparing to write an essay about literature? The format should determine the way you study. Next, and perhaps most importantly, you must get organized before you begin. Collect your old quizzes, sort through your notes with a highlighter, clean your study space, find somewhere quiet to work, close Facebook, silence your phone, and sharpen your pencil. Though getting organized may be time consuming, it will save you much more time once the studying begins. Numerous resources are available to you when it comes to studying in a variety of ways. With a few clicks, you can access online flashcards, audiobooks, articles, primary sources, summaries, practice tests, and so much more. Use them. Create for yourself the best study environment possible, figure out what tactics work for you individually, and make your studying efficient. Test Preparation
Getting ready for a test, whether on a chapter, a book, a multi-chapter unit, or an examination, begins with organization. Keep a notebook or folder with notes, handouts, graded homework, graded quizzes, and graded tests (if you are allowed to keep them) so that you can review consistently over a period of time. Having to assemble all your resources at the last minute is not
going to help you. Keeping up on a daily basis, making sure that you identify any questions or problem areas before they slip away into new material, is the best way to be ready for a test. Be sure to talk with your teacher about any questions you may have as soon as you encounter them
. These points are all a matter of general study skills, but they also have a big influence on your preparation for a test. If the teacher has given you a review sheet for a major test, be sure to work on it the first day you receive it. Take the information for which you will be responsible and divide it up into manageable units for however many days you have until the test. Be sure to use on-line resources when they are available and are genuinely helpful. Make yourself a study schedule, especially for semester examinations, and be sure that you set mastery goals for yourself within the time allotted (i.e., I’ll finish IDs by Tuesday, take a discussion question a day until I’m through with them, etc.). Most importantly, get a good night’s sleep before a major test or examination.