Study skills guides
- In general, allot at least two hours for every one hour spent in class.
- Schedule specific study times weekly. Do not wait until just before the test to begin studying.
- Study difficult or boring subjects first while you are still fresh and motivated.
- Avoid marathon study sessions, which are much less productive than more frequent, shorter study sessions.
- Find your optimal study time — when are you most alert and attentive?
- Use waiting time effectively, e.g. short time between classes.
- Keep a calendar with due dates for tests, assignments, projects, etc.
- Make a weekly to-do list — do not let a test “creep up on you,” know what is coming up.
Where to study
- Find a regular location that is quiet — not in front of the TV! — and controlled, with few distractions.
- Do not get too comfortable — you should be relaxed, but still alert.
- Use the library, but find a quiet corner, not a noisy area.
- Try to organize a study group.
- Pay attention to your attention — when are you getting distracted? Why are you getting distracted? You must remain focused to study effectively.
- Make note of how others waste your time.
- Learn to say no — avoid overextending yourself.
- Strive for excellence, not perfection — perfection is an unattainable goal.
- Learn from your mistakes
- Do not forget to reward yourself for achieving your goals!
- Do not neglect yourself, your health, or your personal life — you cannot be an effective student if other aspects of your life are suffering.
- Try to maintain a balanced life.
Multiple choice tests and exams
Challenges in preparing for multiple choice tests and exams
- Time constraints
- Volume of material covered
- Misconceptions about the nature of multiple choice exams — often our assumptions about MC tests work against us
Multiple choice facts
- There is usually enough time to complete all the items on the test — typically professors allocate 45 seconds to 1 minute per multiple choice item.
- Questions can be in-depth and require higher-order thinking and application of knowledge — do not assume all MC items will involve superficial knowledge.
- It is important to know what the question is asking before answering — many students make errors because they mis-read the question!
Multiple choice fictions
- Only knowledge of facts will be tested — questions can involve applying knowledge to new situations, theoretical explanations, or understanding the concepts behind phenomena.
- Professors are out to trick students — it is rare for a professor to go out of his/her way to trick students, although some questions are more difficult than others.
- Apparently “easy” items are “tricks” — more often than not, they are just easy items.
- There will be an equal number of correct responses from each response alternative, or there will be a pattern of responses — professors really do not have the time to put “hidden codes” into their tests and exams!
Studying for multiple choice tests
- In many ways, studying for a multiple choice test is just like studying for any other test:
- Start by reading/reviewing all the assigned chapters and your class notes.
- Begin studying well in advance of the test.
- Identify the professor’s goals — what has he/she told you is important?
- Study actively — take notes, summarize important points/theories, think critically about the material, apply you knowledge and test yourself.
- Studying with others can be very effective. It helps you:
- clarify weak topics
- identify and fill in any gaps in your study materials
- reduce stress and anxiety
- Having to explain material to others reinforces your knowledge, however, you must make sure you are actually studying and not just socializing!
Thinking about the “big picture”
- Every piece of information gathered must be integrated into your existing knowledge.
- Pay attention to titles, headings, and subheadings on the course outline, in lecture notes, and in the textbook; these devices were put there to help you organize and understand the material.
- Actively sort information as you are gathering it.
- Ask yourself the following questions:What is this about and what is most important? What kind of information is this?
- Look for key terms and concepts, relationships, and arguments and evidence.
Building a strong knowledge base
- Attend all classes, and reread notes after each class, checking for completeness and comprehension.
- Do assigned readings regularly, to avoid pre-test reading backlog.
- Read each lecture’s material during the week of the lecture, for maximum effect.
- Make study notes based on your readings.
Predict what will be on the test
- Chapter summaries
- Review sections
- Margin prompts
- Text boxes
- Bold and italicized text
- Instructor or course emphasis
- Watch for:
- “rules”...true in all cases except...
- “firsts”...first proponent of a theory
- What information is interesting? Contrary to expectations?
Practice, practice, practice
- Practice what you will have to do in the test — mMake sure you test yourself using materials supplied by your instructor, the textbook, or that you have generated yourself.
- Plan how you will remember:
- diagrams or flash cards
- personal examples
- analogies to existing knowledge
- Try to learn definitions and concepts in “two directions” — be able to recall the definition based on the concept name, but also the concept name based on the definition.
In the weeks leading up to the test
- Think about what works for you — use the study techniques that are effective for you.
- Study old exams or practice tests in the study guide.
- Monitor your comprehension — make sure you really understand.
- Prepare and review sample items on your own and with your group.
- Make plans for after the test.
In the days leading up to the test
- Gather information:
- focus on the structure of the test
- assess your knowledge base and fill in gaps
- Use information:
- predict likely test items
- self-test: focus on retrieval
During the test
- Stay focused and stay relaxed — becoming overly anxious will interfere with test performance.
- Read the instructions very carefully — make sure you are taking the test properly.
- Budget your time
- How many minutes per question or section?
- Come back to questions you cannot figure out the answer to.
- Allocate more time to sections worth more marks.
- Read the question very carefully — many students end up answering a different question because they are rushed and mis-read the question.
- Make note of key words — underline key words such as “all”, “none”, or “not”.
- Read all the response alternatives — even if you think you know the answer, make sure there isn’t a “better” answer listed as a later alternative.
- If you get confused by all the response options, cover up the response alternatives and read the question stem. Try to predict what the answer is, then check and see if that is one of the response options.
- If you are not sure what the answer is, eliminate obviously wrong answers.
- As a last resort, guess, but only guess if there is no penalty for incorrect responses.
- Make sure you have scheduled time to review your answers.
- Make sure your answers still sound correct.
- Make sure you answered all the questions.
- Respond to any questions you skipped.
- Do not be afraid to change your answer — a study of 1,561 introductory psychology midterm exams found that when students changed their answers, they went from wrong to right 51% of the time and right to wrong only 25% of the time (Kruger, Wirtz, & Miller, 2005).
After the test
- Plan a short break after the test — all work and no play... Do not forget to reward yourself for achieving your goals.
- Make plans for returning to your regular study schedule — all too often there is a lull in academic activities immediately following a test.
- Make sure you review your test once it has been marked.
- Is there a type of question you consistently answer incorrectly?
- Should you be focusing on different information when studying?
- Can your professor make any suggestions to improve your study techniques?
Time management is a critical part of being a successful student. There are only 24 hours in a day, but there are many tasks you need to do each day. Proper time management will help you realize your goals.
Begin by determining your commitments
- List your regular weekly time commitments: classes, groceries, laundry, club meetings etc.
- Estimate the time spent per week on each activity.
- Keep a diary for a week or two, noting the time spent each day on various activities — it will soon become apparent where your time goes. We often “waste” time on unimportant tasks.
- Review the time spent on various activities and identify potential problem areas.
- Are you surprised by the amount of time you spend on any one activity?
- Do you feel that you are using your time efficiently?
- Are you spending enough time studying?
- Is the way you are spending your time helping you to study efficiently? Any comments?
- Are there some activities that you could describe as time wasters?
- Do you need to change anything? What?
- Is there anything you cannot change?
Knowing what you are working towards can help you manage your time more efficiently.
- Consider your short-term and long-term goals — do not limit yourself to academics when doing this. There are many other important aspects to your life.
- What activities are required to achieve those goals? What are you doing that is not helping you achieve your goals?
- Try to state your goals in a precise and positive manner.
Finding more time
- Prioritize your activities — some things are more important (or time sensitive) than others. Make sure you allocate enough time to complete these critical tasks.
- Make daily (or weekly) “to-do” lists. Make sure your lists are prioritized and make an effort to accomplish the priority tasks before those that are easier, but less important. If your “to-do” list gets too long, start making lists for shorter periods of time.
- Identify strengths and weaknesses in the ways you organize yourself and your time, e.g. I am messy so it’s always hard to find anything.
- Set aims and targets for how you want to improve your organization of yourself and your time, e.g. I’ll put all my notes into a folder, in order.
- Get organized — identify:
- the times you work best
- where you work best
- how you work best
- time-wasting activities, and eliminate them
- Try to organize your schedule so you are optimizing your peak times, e.g. if you are more alert and attentive in the morning, try to schedule a short morning study session each day.
- Use a diary or scheduling program to keep track of deadlines and appointments — purchase a day planner (or pick one up from MASU) or making use of online planning software.
- Make sure you look ahead each day to know what commitments are coming up.
- Set sensible times for meeting assignment deadlines — do not try to finish things the night before they are due, plan in advance. Try to beat procrastination by starting projects as soon as they are assigned.
- Review your practice, and ask for advice from friends and tutors if you are struggling to fit everything in.
- Remember to schedule in rest and relaxation — all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy!
Before the lecture
- Read (or skim) the relevant chapter.
- Read other relevant materials.
- Re-read notes from related lectures.
This gives you some idea what to expect in the lecture and helps you identify important/key points in the lecture.
During the lecture
- Be active, not passive; do not simply write a verbatim account of what the lecturer says — think about the material and use your own words to interpret what is being said. This helps you organize and recall the information.
- Use structure and organization:
- Main and sub-points
- Headings and subheadings
- Highlighting, underlining, different colours
- Use graphs, charts, tables, and flowcharts where appropriate
- Listen for cues to help identify key points — repeating the item, pausing, vocal stress, numbering the points.
- Use abbreviations to save time — develop your own shorthand: M=ment, D=develop, S=ship, N=ness, C=concept, FM=false memories.
- Ask questions to clarify issues raised during the lecture — if not enough time during lecture, make note in margin and ask question after the lecture or during office hours.
- Leave some space between points — this allows you to add in information, either presented later in the lecture or when studying.
After the lecture
- Review your notes as soon as possible after the lecture.
- Revise your notes:
- Clarify obscure points.
- Re-write legibly if necessary.
- Re-organize if necessary.
- Swap notes or discuss lecture with a friend — did you miss anything?
Reading textbook chapters
It is extremely helpful to make notes when reading/reviewing textbook chapters. These notes can either be handwritten or typed. Read a section of text, then summarize it.
Hints and tips
- Make use of organization when making notes, by using heading and sub-headings, for example.
- Use points or bullets — use as few words as possible; avoid long, complex sentences; and use shorthand to make your notes more concise.
- Rephrase into your own words — it is much easier to remember your own words than someone else’s.
- Use pictures and graphs — alternative forms can help make information more memorable.
- Use different colour inks to represent different types of knowledge, e.g. blue for definitions, red for theories, black for key historical figures, etc.
- If you use a highlighter, do not use it passively. Read the text, think about what it means, and use the highlighter only once you fully understand the material. Then only highlight key points.
- Use the learning aids built into the textbook: highlighted terms, text boxes, glossaries, and other devices were put there by the author to improve your learning. They can help you identify key points or ideas.
Graduate school resources
Those applying to graduate school may find the following resources helpful.