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Study Tips from an Upper Year Scientista: How to optimize your studying for better grades

Updated: Mar 26, 2020

By: Rosie Papp

As I enter the second semester of my third year at Queen’s, I have been reflecting on which study methods work best for me and how I adjust these methods to fit the classes I take. Like any Scientista would, I started with research on which study habits are most effective. I even looked back on some of my notes from PSYCH 221: Cognitive Psychology, and what the professor said is most effective for memory.

Here is a list of options for methods I have previously used in my studies, found by looking online and using SASS as a resource:

1. Make a Mind Map

This method is effective as you are using your brain to actively engage with the material by putting it in another form. This has been found to be more useful than passively reading or copying. You have the option of using paper and pen and making it as colourful and artistic as you would like, or you can use one of the many free online resources called “MindMup” which may save you some time. Connecting multiple concepts for the course will make them easier to remember, and may prepare you for “compare and contrast” type questions on exams.

2. Cue Cards

Cue cards are one of my go-to study methods because it forces you to summarize a concept, identify which concepts are most important, and rewrite material so that you can self-test when you are done! This can be very effective for content heavy courses, and by making cue cards throughout the year, and flipping through a little bit every day, you can reduce the time needed to study during the exam period.

3. Make Weekly Summary Sheets

I have realized that it makes a dramatic difference in my grades when I am studying more throughout the semester rather than leaving it until right before the exam. In classes where I do not have readings, I find it is helpful to have a notebook and write out a summary sheet of all the big concepts learned in lecture. This is useful as you are reviewing the information after originally hearing it in class, in addition to having concise notes ready for you to read over before the exam.

4. Come up with study questions/self- test

Any chance I have to get my hands on a previous exam, I do. I find this prepares me best since I can get a feel of how the professor asks questions, and in many cases they will reuse questions (or alter them slightly). If the Queen’s exam bank does not have my courses previous exam, I will use questions from lecture (ex; TopHat or Kahoot questions), textbook questions, or have friends of mine collaborate to come up with potential questions in a google doc.

5. Watch videos

The internet can be a good source for study resources, although you have to be careful where you get your information. I find that when I have low motivation to study, or if there is a topic I am having a hard time understanding, Youtube videos can be a great way to have concepts explained to you in different ways, and you can just sit back and relax while watching. When you have multiple ways of encoding the information (listening, visualizing, mind maps, etc.) it is more likely that the information will be retained.

6. Study in a Group

Sometimes when you don’t feel too confident about your knowledge in a course, it can be daunting to study with other people who appear to know more than you. I suggest turning to a group when you feel you have the time and need clarification. Another benefit is that through explaining concepts to another person, you reinforce your own knowledge on the subject. Hearing how another person explains the topic to you may also help with encoding the information in another way, and make you feel more confident about tackling the rest on your own. Sometimes I just like having company when I study too!

Overall, there isn’t any one right way to study, particularly when you are taking a wide variety of courses. You have to try out different methods to figure out what works best for you. As for what research says, it is important to be reviewing bigger concepts more regularly throughout the semester and then tackle smaller details closer to the exam (however this may look for you!). Of course all this cannot be achieved without regular attendance in classes, good listening and note taking skills, as well as determination and focus for the most efficient studying and best results.

Good luck Scientistas!

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