Hitting The Books: Avoiding the pitfalls of ineffective studying

Last time, I touched on the problems with reading for memorization in preparation for tests. With that in mind, I’d like to explore some concrete strategies that can help avoid studying pitfalls.

Here are a few quick suggestions using REVIEW to help you prepare. These suggestions are assuming you are giving yourself ample time before exams. As we mentioned last week, cramming, although a popular studying tactic, is rarely as effective as expected.

  • Read your syllabus for information about exams
  • Educate yourself on all required books, articles, etc.
  • Verify that your study guide is complete
  • Implement a reading & study calendar
  • Establish a list of practice questions to complete
  • Write down when and where your exam will take place

If you haven’t completed the required reading for your classes, now is a good time to start.  A quick look at the syllabus and table of contents may tell you that some of the material is familiar while some of it remains brand new. Since you still have time, I would suggest reading what remains brand new. 

As you read, ask yourself why the information is important. If you can’t answer the question, it may mean you haven’t understood its significance. You can take this reading step one further by explaining key information and details to someone who wouldn’t already understand the material. 

Our ability to explain information to someone else in a thoughtful and informative way allows us to convey what we know and where we have gaps in our understanding. The ability to identify these gaps should never been undervalued. As you explain material, pay attention to when you lack confidence about the material. This feeling serves as a good indicator as to where you should focus your studying.

Although there is no substitute for beginning to study several weeks before an exam, the explanation strategy is still useful if you find yourself short on time. Typically cramming is ineffective because everything ends up being stored in your temporary working memory. On top of that, it lacks focus.

If time is of the essence, being able to identify gaps in your knowledge is critical. If you are short on time, the last thing you want to be doing is using your already limited time to review content you don’t need to review.

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