What are the best study skills you can think of?
August 30, 2010 1:04 PM   Subscribe

What are the best study skills you can share with me? For knowledge retention, passing tests, hearing skills and the like...

I'm a high school student looking to work hard and bring up my GPA this year... what types of tips and tricks helped you work your way through high school and college?

Like for example, listening to audio books along with the actual reading to help you focus on the text.

I'm expecting great things from Mefi readers!
posted by ptsampras14 to Education (31 answers total) 47 users marked this as a favorite
Set aside specific time--with beginning and ending--for specific studying/reading. Be somewhere with no noise/interruptions allowed and focus on the task at hand. No exceptions. If you use audiobooks, close your eyes. Stop only to take notes. Studying hard is kind of like meditation.

All the best to you--and I was a Princeton Review teacher of SAT/GRE/GMAT for years and went on to have children. Believe me when I say I've seen (almost) it all.
posted by emhutchinson at 1:12 PM on August 30, 2010 [2 favorites]

This may be obvious and oversimplistic, but it's the best classroom advice I've got and I didn't figure it out until high school. It's that when they teach you notetaking skills and show you how to write everything in a neat outline form, that's not mandatory. You need to take notes in whatever fashion best allows you to get the information onto the page and then recall it later. My notes, for example, end up looking like abstract flowcharts, with boxes, lines and arrows flying all over the page, and I really don't care if other people can't interpret them, because the only thing that matters is that I can.
posted by Faint of Butt at 1:13 PM on August 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Check out the mentat wiki. It is chock-full of techniques to improve memory (memorizing numbers, facts, figures, lists of objects, whatever), math skill (roots, powers, multiplication), and other useful skills (creative and critical thinking, shorthand systems, learning languages, improving intelligence, etc.). You're sure to find a lot of useful techniques in there.
posted by splice at 1:13 PM on August 30, 2010 [3 favorites]

What worked for me: keep up with your readings and assignments from the very start. I know this doesn't sound like a "tip", but when you can get a full night's rest just before an exam while everyone else is cramming and trying to catch up on what they didn't do throughout the year, it feels really good and you concentrate so much better.
posted by Kurichina at 1:15 PM on August 30, 2010

Great question! Congratulations on taking the first step. I've been a tutor for years and these are the things that make the biggest difference for my students:

Take breaks! Set your timer for 20 minutes and concentrate completely on what you're doing - this means, no cell phone, no texts, no e-mail, no IM, etc. When the timer goes off set it for a 5 minute break. Get up from the desk and do something completely different like jumping jacks or dishes. The idea is to give your mind a break, so don't pick up a magazine or immediately start texting with your friend. You're giving the material time to soak in. Keep this rotation up until you're done with your studying. Adjust the length of the studying and break sessions until it's the right length for you.

When you're reading, turn off your phone. It's really hard to concentrate if you're constantly getting texts or checking to see if you've got texts. Even if you would never think to check what they say until you're done studying, the little noise it makes is enough to get your mind wondering what it says. Go all the way - don't silence your phone, actually turn it all the way off. This is also a nice signal to yourself that you mean business! It creates a space in your head for getting to work. It's also a good incentive to stay focused since you won't turn back on your phone till everything is done. If you're working on the computer, under NO circumstances should you have a chat window or your e-mail open. They're a constant drain of a little bit of attention every single minute they're open, even if you're not looking at them.

For Reading: Stop at the end of every page and summarize in your own words what the page said. This is an internal check to make sure that you were focusing and absorbing what you've read. It will also alert you immediately if you were unclear on something.

For Math: Make up problems. Do your homework and then make up a couple extras just to make sure you've got the method down. Sometimes your problems won't work out well (messy answers), but that's OK!

What subjects are you wanting tips for?
posted by stoneweaver at 1:18 PM on August 30, 2010 [2 favorites]

This guy's books are great:

posted by zeek321 at 1:25 PM on August 30, 2010

Before beginning a novel or play, or even a short story, read a plot summary. It's not cheating! You can notice so many more important aspects once you've got a handle on the storyline. You'll be more likely to note instances of whatever themes your teacher mentions in class.

If you're reading a novel or some poetry in a language class, find an English translation and read them semi-simultaneously. Zoom through a chapter in English, and then read it more deeply in the foreign-language version. This practice does seem like cheating to a lot of people, but I always read the English as a head-start, not a substitute for the assigned text. I believe I learned a lot more that way.

Schedule a set time everyday to sit down in a particular place and do schoolwork. Put your backpack there as soon as you get home. Don't take any interruptions during "study period".
posted by wryly at 1:27 PM on August 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Figure out what your teachers want to see from you & then give it to them.
posted by Dmenet at 1:27 PM on August 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

For me, what works is exposing myself to the information by way of as many senses as possible. I read it silently, i read it out loud. It also helps me a lot if I summarize and rewrite whatever it is I'm trying to imprint onto my brain.
posted by lemniskate at 1:28 PM on August 30, 2010

I went back to university in my 30's with no established study habits. Here's what worked for me:

~ Attend every class. Hearing the lectures gets the info into your brain one way.
~ Do the reading. That will get the info into your brain another way. (See? You've already covered the info twice!)
~ Figure out what works best for you - hearing the lecture then reading the material about it, or reading the material and hearing the lecture on what you've read.
~ Go through your notes with highlighter, then make notes on your notes.
~ Go through those notes with hightligher. Repeat until the exam.

Good luck!
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 1:29 PM on August 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

When reading or studying for long periods of time: work 50 minutes, then take a 10 minute break. Repeat as necessary.
When faced with an essay test: plan to spend half of your alloted time on an outline in the back cover of your bluebook (do they still use bluebooks?). Get it down to the paragraph level, if you can. You will be richly rewarded for having a plan before you start writing.
posted by Gilbert at 1:33 PM on August 30, 2010

Take notes in class by hand (not on your computer!). After class, read over your notes and re-tell yourself (aloud!) what you just learned. Because it is fresh, your brain will fill in the blanks between your notes for you.

And by re-telling yourself, I mean go in your room and set up some stuffed animals or pillows and lecture them. You'll never forget anything if you do this. Tried and true.
posted by whimsicalnymph at 1:35 PM on August 30, 2010 [3 favorites]

For math, science, and social studies: After lectures rewrite your notes. Buy a three ringed binder and a hole-puncher. When you're done with a unit write an executive summary of what you learned in the unit so you quickly go back and relearn the stuff. If you get a tough homework or test question add it and the answer to a question bank. Keep this binder organized.

For English: Write your paper several days ahead of time. Wait a day and reread it outloud. Rewrite it, or work on making it shorter (whatever works for you). Experiment with different techniques, for instance writing the first draft by hand.

And remember, the goal isn't just to get a good GPA, but to build skills for life. You don't want to pass calculus, then a few years from now have to do calculus and have no idea what to do. (this has happened to me with several skills). That's why your best study system involves writing notes to jog your memory as quickly as possible.
posted by earlsofsandwich at 1:40 PM on August 30, 2010 [2 favorites]

This one has taken me a long time to learn, but:

It's better to do a little work each day than a giant cram session all at once. This is not to say that you should never have long work sessions -- sometimes it's good to keep working when you're in the zone. But don't leave everything until the last minute. Papers will always take longer to write than you think they will, and you will retain knowledge better if you're exposed to it every day.

For memorization and studying, try a spaced repetition system like Anki.
posted by unannihilated at 1:42 PM on August 30, 2010 [2 favorites]

Seconding notes by hand! I think the brain processes them differently if they are written as opposed to typed.

Go to all of your classes, ask questions until you're sure you understand. Don't worry about looking foolish. If you don't understand something others in the class don't either.
posted by mareli at 1:43 PM on August 30, 2010

You've received some good advice upthread. I will add one reading strategy that works for me, and has helped me in preparing successful assignments.

When I am reading something for a class, I keep a spiral notebook with me and I divide the page in two, vertically. Whenever I come across a phrase in the reading that I feel strongly about (agree with; disagree with; don't know what it means; am confused by it) I write down the passage (incl. page number) and on the other side I write a (short) reaction to it--why I agree/disagree; or, write down the definition if I didn't know what it meant; or, why it confuses me.

That way, if I am writing a report or an essay, I don't have to go back through the chapter/book to find quotes and I have my own words to talk about the text, so I am less likely to cut&paste (plagiarize). If I am taking a test, I can review the definitions I was unsure of, and I know what I need to study to clear up any lingering confusion.

This is something I learned when I went back to school. It takes more upfront prep than a lot of people want to deal with, but it works well for me.
posted by beelzbubba at 1:43 PM on August 30, 2010 [3 favorites]

Do you study a language? If so, I can't say enough good things about graded repetition-style flash card programs like SuperMemo or Anki (a free variant).

You work at your own pace, you go over what you need to go over automatically without wasting time (basically, these programs ask you to rate how easy it was for you to recall something, with those being harder repeated more frequently), you determine the contents/sides/whatever of the cards, and you actually remember things.

I will never forget, for example, that the Polish word for trout is pstrÄ…g, or that brakes on a car in Spanish are frenos, despite that fact that trout is barely sold here in Poland and that I haven't needed to talk about driving and cars in Spanish for nearly a decade. And it goes beyond single words - throw a whole sentence on the card to show yourself a new grammar point, throw in sets of "matching" words ("to go over something" is clearly different from "to go about something") with example sentences...the list goes on and on.

I'm totally addicted to the Anki cards I've created here in Poland, and my Polish vocabulary is getting scarily big, to the point that with almost no formal instruction, I'm able to get the main idea of articles in newspapers and deal with most everyday tasks with ease; even though when I speak I am often grammatically incorrect, my relatively huge set of available words and phrases makes communication way easier.
posted by mdonley at 1:46 PM on August 30, 2010

As stated already, don't fall behind, stay on top of things and don't wait until the last minute to study. Studying 1/2 hour every day for two weeks will beat out a late night cram session every time.

For memorization of lists and other things, I'm a big fan of mnemonics...ROY G. BIV (colors of the rainbow) or the one to memorize the planets from the sun: My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas (Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and yes, I'm including Pluto. :-) Make up your own for things you need to study, they can be really helpful.

Also, do a "brain dump" when you go to take the test. By that I mean as soon as the test paper is on your desk, quickly write down anything in the margins (or the back) that you are afraid that you will forget (formulas, mnemonics, etc). This will reduce your test anxiety as well and you can focus on the rest of the questions.

Good luck!
posted by NoraCharles at 1:47 PM on August 30, 2010

Best study skills site ever, IMO.
posted by cross_impact at 1:55 PM on August 30, 2010

1. Go to every class regardless of how important you think it is, or how tired your are.
2. Record the class.
3. While in the class, do the readings (lectures/larger classes only, obviously).
4. Highlight sparingly while reading.
5. Listen to the recording, taking notes on important parts.
6. Read the notes from #5, and highlights from#4 to study for tests.
7. Get that 'A'
posted by hal_c_on at 1:58 PM on August 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

For subjects with large amounts of data to memorize- this may sound reaaaally dorky but I used to make up doggerel verse- I mean, AWFUL doggerel verse!- for things like the groups of the periodic table. Just the process of coming up with the rhymes seared the information into my memory. Also, drawing your own diagrams, seeing if there's a different way to arrange the data-- anything that forces you to reinterpret the information will make it more memorable.

If you're doing a language, music is an excellent mnemonic- there's bound to be Spanish or French artists working in a music style you like, and lyrics tend to be online.
posted by Erasmouse at 2:06 PM on August 30, 2010

Great stuff I'm seeing upthread! For those who are interested here's my course load:

Chemistry I
Algebra II/Trig
AP Human Geography
AP English Literature
Theology II: Morals and Ethics
Spanish II

Will definitely look into Anki.. although I'm not sure if the timeframe can be altered in which case I'm not sure its the best option..

I'm quite fond of Quizlet.com if anyone's interested in checking it out.

Thanks once again, hope to see more great answers
posted by ptsampras14 at 2:08 PM on August 30, 2010

One last one (specifically college-aimed). If there's only one hour left until the test, it's too late to cram. Take *at least* the last hour to calm yourself and get into the right state of mind. In my experience, that was always better than studying up until the last minute.
posted by Gilbert at 2:33 PM on August 30, 2010

I would recommend studying chemistry and Spanish with a friend (but make sure your phones are off so you'll be distraction-free).

Spanish II is a lot of vocabulary and verb conjugations, so study the vocab words on flash cards on your own, then meet up with a friend the day before the test and quiz each other. Flash cards are really good, because at the end of the semester, you'll be able to put them all in a giant pile to study for the final.

A lot of people have trouble with chemistry, and a lot depends on how effectively your teacher can explain concepts. Talking through the notes a day or two before the test with a friend will help you figure out what you do and

In my experience, talking it through with someone else - explaining concepts and asking questions of each another when you just don't get it - really helps to prepare you for the tests. In the end, though, your tests are probably going to look a lot like your homework problems, SO MAKE SURE YOU DO YOUR HOMEWORK PROBLEMS!
posted by genekelly'srollerskates at 3:56 PM on August 30, 2010

Doing well in your studies is not primarily a function of how bright you are but about how clear you are about requirements and how prepared you are to put in the effort required. The effort required will depend on how easy you find the subject.

In years spent in secondary and higher education as well as professional studies I have found a number of key points which would tend to get you through most courses and exams. But as others have said there is a difference between passing exams and learning and retaining that knowledge and skills. So please bear that in mind as well and indulge in reading widely around your favourite topics for example, not because it will help you get significantly better results but because it is enjoyable and you hopefully picked the class because you are interested in the topic.

1/ Go to every class and pay attention. Take good notes. If you understand the concepts early on it helps with any subsequent reading or question practice. It also makes it easier to get a tutor to help you later if you get stuck if you have actually been to the relevant class.

2/ For anything that requires manipulation or practice do the question practice.

3/ Exam technique - find out what is required and how the marking is going to work and be sure you deliver in line with the requirements. Do not waste time trying to answer one question perfectly but fail to pick up easy points on another mandatory part of a paper because you have run out of time - people fail exams that way. Practice exam technique a lot until you are good at it.

4/ Develop an efficient reading technique - you should never be in a position where you have spent an hour reading an article/chapter just to find that it is not relevant for the paper you have to write/the exam you are preparing for.

Read the abstract, intro and conclusion - Stop. Is it going to be useful? If it is not useful don't read it, unless you are in it for knowledge and/or plan a career in academia. If it is going to be useful skim the rest highlighting likely potential quotes. If you stumble across parts you don't understand read them in more detail. If you find that you disagree with the author's approach/findings/whatever read in great detail because the tutor will likely be familiar with the source and you need to be sure of your facts if you are going to criticise people.

Note that the depth of reading required varies with how detailed a piece of work you are preparing - any short to medium length paper (<>
And then there is of course the fact that you may be interested in a topic and may want to know all there is to know about it ;) That's great but may cause you to fail you an exam, unless you apply exam technique as you may get lost in your favourite topic...see point 3.

5/ Learn to format your work and use headings, paragraphs, prepare a table of contents etc. - it will save you a lot of time and it will make your papers easy to read and mark! Print your paper and put it to one side. Pick it up again a few hrs later or the next day and re-read - it's amazing what sentences make sense late at night.

6/ If you have to do handwritten exams ensure your handwriting is legible, use paragraphs and headings as you would in a typed paper - imagine you are the marker picking up your paper - what would you want to see? Bear in mind that marking is boring, the marker may be doing it late at night and that the marker will not want to guess what you are trying to say.
posted by koahiatamadl at 4:15 PM on August 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Peanut M&M's.

There are times when you have no choice but to bury your head in something, no matter how much you don't want to do it. When I have to literally force myself through something I dread (50 pages of painfully drab reading, for example), I'll divide the task into chunks and reward myself along the way. Two pages = an M&M.

I wish I were kidding, but I'm not. Peanut M&M's.
posted by 2oh1 at 7:07 PM on August 30, 2010 [2 favorites]

English professor here. Do the reading. I notice the students who read tend to be the ones who contribute more in class and think in a more nuanced way about the course material. Reading also helps with writing skills (which are crucial in all classes, not just English).

On a personal note: there's nothing worse than staring out at a sea of faces who have no idea what you're talking about because they didn't bother to pick up the book. Don't be one of those faces!
posted by media_itoku at 7:36 PM on August 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Go to class on time and sit in front. You'll be more likely to pay attention (and have done the reading) and contribute when you know there's nowhere to hide. You'll be less distractable and the teacher will notice you more. Noticed students get the benefit of the doubt on borderline grades.
posted by toodleydoodley at 8:13 PM on August 30, 2010

It's O.K. to read ahead. Depending on how you process and organize information, a quick skim ahead to form a high-level map, following by a slower reading to fill in the pieces, can work a lot better than a single slow slog with lots of highlighting.

Don't be afraid to ask questions. Especially in college, being willing to ask questions of teachers and TAs (teaching assistants), can give you clues about which bits of information are the more important.
posted by dws at 10:01 PM on August 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Use outside sources to supplement your class materials. I found my algebra text to be extremely confusing (I have math issues) so I spent a lot of time consulting books and websites looking for alternative explanations I could understand. "Dummies" books and online resources aimed at children (4th-9th grade level) were especially helpful. It's not that I can't read at college level but sometimes it is a nice break for the tired, overloaded brain to have things broken down into simpler words and concepts for easier processing. Also, popular books related to your subject can help with interest and understanding.

Create your own flash cards on 3 x 5 cards. I remembered a ton of stuff just from having written it down on the card, then I could use the cards later to quiz myself.

My poli sci class last year had a website for the book which had online flash cards that I found extremely useful to study with. I would go over and over them and it really helped. It also made it very easy to study during odd quiet moments at work. There were other resources on the site that were helpful as well. Quizzes, study questions and an automatically-scored test for each chapter that let me know how well I knew the material were all things I found extremely useful. If your text has a study website, make use of it.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 1:29 AM on August 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

Another thing that helped me a lot was knowing how fast I read. I know I can read for pleasure at 30 pages an hour. I can read text books at 10 pages an hour. So I could plan out my studying accordingly, and chip away at the reading in a really manageable fashion. Seriously, once I figured out how fast I read everything got really easy.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 6:24 AM on August 31, 2010

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