You went to class. You paid attention. And you’ve got a killer set of lecture notes to prove it. Then exams roll around. How do you study?
If your plan is to read your lecture notes until you’re blue in the face, don’t bother. There’s a better way. It involves more active engagement with said notes for a more efficient (and enjoyable) study period. This is a guide to help you use the awesome material you’ve already prepared—if you need a refresher on how to create useful, praise-me-for-taking-these lecture notes, give this guide a try. Once you’ve done that, you’ll be fully equipped to win at studying.
If you don’t have time to follow each of the steps listed below because you spent too much time “reviewing other subjects” (I’m looking at you, Netflix), do what you can. This isn’t an all-or-nothing guide, but the more of these you complete, the better.
1. Recreate your lecture notes.
If you’ve got major chicken-scratch handwriting and your notes are super disorganized, now’s the time to redo them. Write neatly, filter unnecessary information, organize information, and break down concepts in list form as much as possible for easier memorization. This does two things for you: 1) you’ll have material that’s more pleasant to work with and 2) all that writing helps your brain actively absorb content.
2. Condense your notes.
Try fitting everything onto as little paper as you can. I picked this habit up in high school from a really smart senior who studied from a single sheet of paper for his biology tests—he always scored really well. This works because our brains have a much simpler time remembering images, and a sheet with notes on it is exactly that. The fewer images you have to memorize, the better you’ll know each one.
3. Review your notes.
You’ll recall content more easily after having taken the time to rewrite and organize it. Half the work is already done, so this step should hopefully be easy peasy.
4. Call a classmate.
Go through your notes together as if you’re gossiping or making plans for the weekend—trick yourself into thinking you’re having an interesting conversation. Make jokes about points even if they’re only minimally funny, repeat facts in funny voices, relate information to your life in the strangest ways, and invent funny acronyms. If you can simulate interest in what you’re saying, you’ll remember the material more thoroughly.
5. Help a friend out.
When you answer questions your friends have about the subject, you’ll solidify your understanding of it yourself. And when you share or explain your notes with a friend, you’ll be productively going through them one more time.
This process works because it’s an active one. It’s harder to fall asleep when you’re re-writing notes than when you’re reading them passively. Plus, you’ll experience feelings of accomplishment along the way, which will keep you engaged in your studies. The point of all this? To empower you to take control of your notes so you can better command the subject you’re studying in time for your exam. Now that you have this sweet info on hand, you’re ready to kick some exam butt! Get out there and show your teachers what you’re made of.
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