The Fourth of July was the first time I heard someone say, “Summer’s almost over,” and I thought it was too soon. But now it is almost August, and even though I don’t go back to school till September, some people will be having school start up in just a few weeks. So maybe summer is wrapping up, or summer vacation at least. For those who will be beginning college, I thought it might be good idea to share a few things that worked for me last year.
1. Don’t get hooked on one way of doing things
This lesson was the first I had to learn. I went to school with many ideas about how I would do things, but I had to throw them by the wayside after a few weeks. I tried to use a paper planner, for example, to keep track of due dates and events. It was a nice color with pretty paper on the inside, and I liked having a real handleable copy of my schedule. After a month, however, I finally admitted to myself that I was much better at using an electronic calendar on my computer. In addition, classes can be very different from each other. I don’t think there have been two classes that have needed the same study strategies.
2. Figure out when reading is important
I feel a little guilty for even saying this, but: I found that sometimes you don’t need to do the assigned reading. Don’t misunderstand me- in many classes reading is crucial, but if a class covers everything on the test in class, reading the text can just be redundant and time consuming. Other times, I found it worked out not to do the reading before class, but after class as a review. This was especially helpful when the text goes deeper into the topic than the class does (like my anatomy book), and I usually ended up being confused if I read it first.
3. Read the directions. Follow the directions. Double check if the directions were followed correctly.
A lot of the time I had points marked off on assignments, especially writing ones, it was because I had missed a small detail on the instructions, or didn’t follow them in a way that it was easy for the grader to notice. I found I needed to restate their question exactly with my answer. If the assignment said “Tell me your thoughts on X” my writing would have to read “My thoughts on X are ____.” I don’t usually like writing a sentence like this using such a formulaic, fill in the blank type response, but if I didn’t, I often didn’t get credit for it. It helped to remember that the teacher was grading fifty other papers besides mine, and needed to have an easy way to see that I read and followed the directions.
4. If you have to learn it, someone else did too-
-and they probably left you resources to help out! A friend introduced me to the site Quizlet, where you can make your own flash cards, and also use flash cards that others have made. I used cards I found there to memorize the twenty essential amino acid structures in biochemistry, and it helped me out a lot. I also found helpful phrases for memorizing lists of things online. For example, we needed to know the names of the twelve cranial nerves in anatomy: olfactory, optic, occulomotor, trochlear, trigeminal, abducens, facial, vestibulocochlear, glossopharyngeal, vagus, accessory, and hypoglossal. Those long words would have been impossible to keep in order without the mnemonic: Oh, once one takes the anatomy final, very good vacations are heavenly!
This is something else I didn’t figure out till the last month of college. Some students highlight in their textbooks, but I found it more useful to highlight and annotate my own notes. I shaved off some study time with this method, and I am definitely stocking up on multi-colored highlighters this year.
6. 10 minutes of study the same day of class is worth twenty minutes three weeks later.
This one was REALLY important for me, and again, I didn’t figure it out until the last month of school. Once I got in the habit of reviewing my notes the evening after class, the amount of time I had to study went down by at almost half!
7. Read through notes creatively-never the same way twice.
Skimming notes blankly without interacting with the text is a waste of time. I saved so much effort by reading through notes first as they were written, recalling the professor’s words as I went. Then I would read through them backward, trying to remember the point that came before the section I was reading. Then, I would summarize each section and important points as I read through them a final time, adding bullet points and underlining as I went.
8. Study on weekends-briefly but consistently.
Not many students want to hear this, but isn’t an hour of work on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday better than four hours cramming Sunday night?