Monday, April 11, 2016

how. to. study.

greetings, students.


give me a second to really sound like a huge jerkwad, okay?  okay.  I didn't study in high school.  I didn't study in college.  I'm a very visual learner with attention struggles, so I didn't often listen in class (and if I did, it was because I was knitting while looking at the slides).  I learned by teaching myself the material while doing the homework outside of the classroom.  somehow it all stuck in there and would come out on during exams with minimal cramming the day before.


(incidentally - here's how I memorize things like theorems, or maybe history facts or what have you - find a chalk board.  write the things on it with your non-dominant hand.  it slows you down so you have to really think about and focus on and stare at the words you're writing.  do this several times until you can do it completely from memory.)


thennnn I got to grad school.  I hit the brick wall at the time that it really counted, and that sucked, let me tell you.  so much material.  such challenging homework assignments that you actually really need to study just to do them in the first place!  finally, I really needed to listen and be taught in class - and as I was warned, the teaching in grad school is in generally the most infuriatingly horrible teaching you'll ever see.  (mini-rant: I don't pay anything but fees to go here because ph.d. program, but those who are master's students and paying through the nose?  they're just paying for a piece of paper?  because seriously.  except in the rarest of cases, we're teaching ourselves everything.)


all that to say, I had to learn.  and studying is different for everyone!  but if you're like me, a visual and kinetic learner who absorbs by doing, you might find my methods helpful.  some of this is ongoing, and some of it is geared toward midterms and finals, so hopefully something works for you...


  1. if at all rational, take notes in class.  if your prof puts the slides up online and doesn't write anything on the board while lecturing, a) I'm so sorry, I hate that too, but b) you may or may not opt out of this step.
  2. when you get home, once or twice a week at your discretion, or before doing the homework, copy your notes.  at this point, I like to color-code them.  since I'm in the math world, my version of color-coding is writing the words part in one color, the mathy symbols in another to help them stand out of the paragraphs, and the examples in another.  I personally do this on printer paper and then store it all in a binder.
  3. when you do your homework, if the prof/teacher posts solutions online, download them (and print them if you want to put them in your binder) so you can get to them easily later.  

okay, so far so good, you're doing your homework, you're collecting information in a central location as you go along.  when you do get your graded homework back, put it in your binder as well!  I say this because sometimes there's more than one way to do a problem or answer a question, and if you just look at the posted solutions, you'll miss out on the way you did it in the first place that was counted correct.


now - sweet sister francis! - it's exam time.  here's my process:

  1. re-copy your recopied notes into a composition notebook, a different one for each class.  you can change up your color coding at this point, anything to keep you interested and engaged.  alternatively, if you mostly have this stuff down, or it's easier material, you can skip this step and work from your previously-copied notes.  go on to the next step.
  2. these are the most critical steps for me.  
    1. first, read through your notes, highlighting the important stuff.  
    2. next, read through your notes again, this time using a different color pen to hold a "conversation" with your past self who was taking the notes in the first place, around and between the lines.  I recommend a light-ish color so it doesn't obstruct your original notes much.  in these pictures you can see I used a red pen.
  3. go through one more time and use little sticky tabs (color-coded, haha) to keep track of the most important pages.  I use one color for major memorization like theorems, another color for important facts, another for example problems maybe, and another for stuff that I know I don't have down yet.

finally!!!  if all of that is not enough, or if you have something like a cheat sheet you get to compile for your exam (yesssss), I do this as well:

  1. go through the notes/textbooks/slides one more time, making index-card flash cards of important facts, theorems, compiled lists of properties, basic quality information about different subjects, etc.
  2. use those flash cards as priority aids when you write down the cheat sheet for the exam.  (protip: use .5-size lead mechanical pencils for this step, haha.)
  3. take the flash cards that you know you're weakest on to the exam with you, so that when you get there eight minutes early and you're sitting around sweating, you can flip through them one last time before you start.

okay!  geeze, what a marathon post.  geeze, what a marathon life, studying.  on the other side, I passed all my classes last semester, two out of three with A's!  and!  I know this studying method worked for me, because when I got back to school and started studying for our big scary qualifying exam, I found that all that material was still in my brain (which has never happened to me before, a short-term crammer).  and I also passed that qual, for the record!  learn from my mistakes, my young padawans.  develop good habits in high school, or at least in college.  I hope something out of this list might be helpful for you this semester!

L