Getting The Most Out of Your Studying – Kelly Stone, CTE Co-op Student

Most people view lecture and lab time as the largest part of learning; however, it’s not what students spend the most time on. For me, studying takes up the majority of my time and I’ve been learning how to optimize it. Throughout my education, I’ve been introduced to different ways of studying, all of which I have tried at least once; you never know what works best for you until you do. Since midterms are currently in full swing, and exams are about one month away, I thought I’d share my opinion on these various types of study methods.

Plate of Smarties arranged by colour.During first year, living in residence meant study buddies were available at all times. Having other people to study with can be quite valuable, especially in courses that are heavy in memorization. By talking through concepts with other people, you become aware of topics you are unsure of. Becoming aware of the materials you haven’t memorized allows you to refocus your efforts for better use of your time. Afterwards, I find meeting with your study buddies again the night before the midterm or exam is extremely beneficial – especially when you introduce food incentives. In first year I took Introductory Zoology, a course that required a lot of memorization regarding phylum names. Two roommates and I created our own study game the day before our final exam. We purchased Smarties and separated them onto a plate based on their colour, which we gave phylum names, producing eight groups with nine per group; therefore you could choose a question from a phylum up to three times. By introducing food incentives, and categorizing those incentives, my roommates and I ensured we reviewed materials from all of the relevant phyla we needed to know.

Despite the benefits of studying with other people, some courses are difficult to collaborate on, such as Chemistry or Mathematics. For courses such as these, working through practice problems is the typical method. But there are other ways to ensure you actually understand the problems, instead of memorizing numbers. Whenever I have to use equations to solve problems presented to me, I break down the process instead of focusing on the numbers. For this I write an equation on my whiteboard that I am expected to know. I then isolate each component and talk out loud about what it is and how to recognize what piece of information from a question would be used. After talking through what is used in an equation, I work through step-by-step how the numbers are used, especially in classes such as Mathematics. By breaking down the process for solving problems, I am better able to answer questions on exams because I understand the steps I need to go through, not just the numbers from practice problems.

In addition, I have tried other study techniques for when I am unable to study with other people. The first way I have tried, and still use to this day, are flash cards and – what I have called – flash tables. The benefit of these mainly comes from making them. For terms, making flashcards ensures I cover all those discussed in lecture, with a definition worded in my own way that makes sense to me. For concepts or groupings, such as phyla, I create “flash tables” where I write a profile for that concept; this includes the name of the concept, a general explanation, how it’s used, how it’s related to other concepts, and any defining characteristics. The process of creating these “flash” papers helps me to determine what I know, what I sort of know, and what I need to focus on.

Life cycle of a jellyfishAlong with creating these “flash” study resources, I incorporate mnemonics into my studying. During Introductory Zoology, we were expected to memorize reproductive cycles of various phyla; that meant we had to know the names of the life stages. For example, the jellyfish lifecycle consists of five distinct stages – Planula Larva, Scyphistoma, Strobila, Ephyra, and Mature Medusa. With help from my roommates, we created a mnemonic to remember the stages, based on the first letters: People Love Seeing Stars Even Monday Morning. Needless to say, I still haven’t forgotten the life stages of the jellyfish!

Of course, with every successful discovery, there are always some failures. A high school teacher suggested I record myself saying my lecture notes. Then, with these recordings, suggested I listen to one lecture each night before falling asleep since short-term memory is transferred into long term overnight. Since I was still determining the best study method for myself, I decided to give it a try. I found saying my notes out loud as if I were presenting the material to be quite helpful; however, listening to my recordings later was not as beneficial as I thought it would be. Personally, by the time I reached my bed, I no longer had the concentration to absorb the material. But it was an interesting experience that led me to talking out loud instead of simply reading my notes.

In the end, studying is different for everyone and we all gravitate towards methods that might not work for someone else. I have learned that verbal studying is extremely beneficial and to never be afraid to ask someone else to explain an unclear concept. Collaboration helps you determine the topics you may have missed or perhaps interpreted incorrectly. With all that said, happy studying and good luck on your midterms and exams!

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Kelly Stone

Special Projects Assistant for the Centre for Teaching Excellence for the duration of the Winter 2015 term. 2nd year Biology co-op undergraduate student at the University of Waterloo. Currently a member of the UW Hip Hop club. I love baking, playing guitar, reading and blogging!

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