The dreaded cram. Oh how I loathe thee. I’ll never forget the semester I decided to ditch cramming as my standard study plan for good. It was the Spring of 2000…I remember it like it was yesterday. I met up with my friends for our exam cram-athon in the undergraduate library. On my last day of our -athon, at around 9:30pm, I opted to move from the common study table to a prone position on the floor. Why not get comfortable, right? Famous. Last. Words. Around 4am, I awoke startled, disoriented, and partly adhered to my notebook with drool. In a vain attempt to refresh myself, I stumbled to the bathroom to splash water on my face. As I quickly toweled off, I gave myself a quick once over in the mirror.
Oh. My. Gosh.
Apparently, I’d fallen asleep facedown on my spiral notebook and now thoroughly resembled a Klingon. That very night I decided never again. True story.
Now that I’ve got your attention, I want to get down to the brass tacks of how to study. Here are some strategies you can use to make the most of your study time.
1. Start now
It’s never too late to start your study plan. Each day that passes is another day you’re behind.
Check out Microsoft.com’s daily schedule template to help you organize your study plan.
2. Form a study group with people who are smarter than you
Studying is not a social activity and if you’re want to get it something out of it you’ve got to approach it from a strategic standpoint. Seek out classmates that truly understand the material rather than leaning on your friends. Nothing is worse than joining a study group that becomes a huge socializing session. Can’t find classmates to join your study group? Seek out honors societies and clubs like the math club to find peer tutors.
What if you’re the smarty? Find peers that need extra help and organize your own study group. The most significant marker of content mastery is the ability to teach what you know to others.
3. Make the most of your biorhythms
Pay attention to your body and your energy levels. If you feel tired or drained, you’re not going to get as much out of your study sessions. Notice what times of day you feel the most energized and focused and try to schedule your study plan at those times.
4. Find the right setting
It doesn’t matter how much time you have to study if you’re in the wrong environment. If you’re easily distracted, stay away from high traffic areas like coffee shops and library entrances. If you’re a napper, don’t study in bed or while lying down. It might take you a few locations to figure it out, but once you do it will become improve your productivity many times over.
5. Be prepared to work
Before you begin studying, make sure you have everything you need for a successful study session. Make sure that you have your books, notebooks, pens, pencils, calculators, highlighter, and any other school related items easily accessible. Also, if you’re a snacker, ensure that you have something to drink and munch on while you study.
A word to the wise: Avoid crunchy and messy snacks. They can distract you from the study process!
6. Avoid marathon study sessions
The average adult has an attention span of approximately 20 minutes. Studying is most effective if you “chunk” up your studying with breaks in between. A good model is to break your studying into 20-minute segments with a 5-10 minute break in between. This method works really well for reading assignments too!
7. Realize that different subjects require different techniques
You do not study or read for your math class the same way you study or read for your history class. Some classes, like math classes, require that you interact with the text as you read it. It is for this reason that your math book has example problems. When you read a section of your math book you must be prepared to read, write, and work out solutions for the example problems. The same can be said for your physics and chemistry classes.
8. Re-write your notes
Have you ever found yourself furiously jotting down notes during class only to open your notebook three days later and not understand what the heck you wrote? A great way to review your notes is what I like to call the two-notebook system. One notebook is for taking notes in class. The second is for transcribing your notes from class when you get home. By doing this you are ensuring that you understood the material you covered in class. Also, if you made up short hand as you went, if you review it the same day, you’re more likely to remember the your initial intent when writing it down. Rewriting your notes is literally a study session in itself!
9. Read with purpose: SQ3R
Don’t knock SQ3R ‘til you rock it. I truly believe that this is THE way to read to maximize your ability to retain information. This method is especially useful if you’re not an avid reader or if you’re tackling challenging subject matter. Check out this fabulous how-to guide provided by Virginia Tech’s Student Counseling Center.
Feeling overwhelmed? You’re not alone. I promise you will find the system that works best for you. Studying is a skill, nothing more, nothing less. The more you practice theses skills, the easier they’ll become to use.
Even if you follow all of these tips, you might find yourself in a cram-bind. If you do, Cornell University has a great 5 day study plan to make the most of your cram.