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Course-Specific Study Tips

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How do you prepare for tests, summatives, quizzes, or exams? Presumably, you study, but how exactly do you study? Flashcards, notes, memorization, practice, repetition, study sheets, study groups—the list can go on.

But these are only a few ways to study. I don’t know if it is just me, but I really don’t know how to study for a test, especially for different courses, aside from the basic strategies like re-reading notes, memorizing information, and practicing questions. When people study, what do they do? In the popular “study with me” videos on Youtube, I have always questioned how people simply sit there for hours and “study”. This leads me to wonder: What is actually the best way to study for each course, to help increase chances of success and improve marks?

General studying strategies

First, let’s go over some strategies that can be applied to any course when preparing for a summative.

Strategy #1

According to Dr. Handy, a UBC professor in the Department of Psychology, “bringing neuroscience into learning has really expanded our understanding of study strategies and what the smart, effective student can do to bring their A-game to the academic experience.” In other words, we can use neuroscience research to optimize our academic performance. From research, it has shown “that the brain is more effective at absorbing and retaining information if you have multiple, shorter study sessions than if you cram everything all at once.”

Before beginning to study, try to schedule study times over a week before the assessment. This ensures your studying is not left to the last minute. No matter what strategy you use, last-minute studying will not be as effective. Having time between study periods creates a “consolidation process” where your brain can slowly process the information studied. This process requires you to review the material regularly so you can recall and retain the information needed. So instead of studying for 4 hours straight the night before an assessment, it is much better to break apart the study time into 4 separate 1-hour study sessions.

Strategy #2

Another general strategy is to try and study the way you are tested. Study methods that replicate experiences can help you perform better. For example, flashcards could be effective if your test is multiple-choice, as it would stimulate a part of your brain that was used while studying the reviewed material. This strategy also allows you to practice what you are going to do during the test. Take some time to ask your teacher what the format of the assessment will be like; you may also find this information in your course outline or syllabus. Tailoring the way you study to the type of questions asked ensures that not only you know the material, but you also know how to answer it effectively.

As well, this piece of advice has been said and written many times, but please try to eliminate distractions like your phone, or turn off your notifications while you are studying. This can help you engage with the material deeper and limit procrastination.

Strategy #3

The last strategy revolves around mental, physical and emotional health. Make sure that leading up to assessments, you are eating well, sleeping enough, and exercising regularly because these factors can affect your ability to retain information from your study sessions. “The more you can actually exercise on a regular basis, the better you can eat, and the more you're paying attention to sleep—these are all vitally important for your brain to be working at its optimum.”

All of these general study strategies do work cohesively with each other to try and lead you to the best result.

Image courtesy of How-To-Study.com

Course-specific studying strategies

Math and Sciences

Courses within math and sciences include but are not limited to: computer science, biology, chemistry, physics, and economics. These courses are more technical and require us to apply our knowledge of evidence to prove something.

  • Practice, practice, practice! The more you practice answering problem sets, the more you can improve on accuracy and efficiency. Usually, each problem has its own characteristics and there are specific ways to solve it depending on different scenarios. It is helpful to practice questions from past homework, tests, or quizzes.

  • Review errors. When practicing questions, try to write down any mistakes you have made and spend more time reviewing the full solution. This will help ensure you don’t repeat the same mistakes in the assessment.

  • Master the key concepts. In technical courses like math and the sciences, there are main concepts that are outlined in each unit. These concepts are later applied to word problems and different scenarios, so it is necessary to fully comprehend these concepts and will understand how to apply it to different scenarios.

  • Ask questions when you are confused. It will help you uncover the challenges you're facing and generate better solutions to solve those problems.

  • Create summary notes. Being able to summarize the main concepts through short notes can allow you to engage more with the material. This can be helpful when studying for an exam at the end of the year and can guide you through the lessons of each unit.

  • Teach it to others! Sometimes teaching and guiding others through a problem can further solidify your own understanding, because if you are able to teach it, it means you understand and have fully mastered the material.

Arts and Humanities

Courses within arts and humanities include but are not limited to: archaeology, history, literature, languages (like French and Spanish), media, communications studies, performing arts, music, philosophy, visual and studio art.

  • Read over materials and notes. Within humanity courses, there are usually lots of texts which you can refer back to, to solidify your understanding and retain some information.

  • Take notes throughout the course. Writing notes is an effective memory and learning aid because it prompts us to think about our learning. Having notes saves us more time when we are reviewing because we tend to understand what we write rather than other texts.

  • Make flashcards. They are a great way to help retain and memorize key information, especially if the test is multiple-choice based or there is a lot of new vocabulary to learn.

  • Study groups/discussions. This is a great way to learn more about other perspectives and to practice explaining your thoughts to others. You also get to practice thinking on your feet while applying what you have learned to a specific topic.

  • Practice writing questions. This study technique of writing past questions can give you an idea of what you may come up against on the actual test. You can practise structuring your introduction, analysis, and conclusion for the actual assessment, which is useful for long questions or essays on assessments.

  • Try to practice skills weekly. For courses in the arts like music, languages, visual and media art, this can mean practicing your instrument for 30 minutes each day or practicing your listening skills in French by watching a TV show in French.


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Article Author: Kelley Liang

Article Editors: Victoria Huang, Valerie Shirobokov