Studying may be a learnt skill, but it doesn’t have to be complicated.
Some of our most practical and most effective study techniques are really really simple.
In the interest of simplicity we will resist the urge to babble on and get straight into it. Here’s our top 5 most practical study tips:
1. When you sit down to study, have a plan.
Whether it’s sitting down to do homework, some general study, or more serious exam study, we can’t exaggerate the benefits of having a study plan.
Having a plan means you have a goal, and having a goal gives you:
- FOCUS: Having a goal to work towards means you’re not dithering without direction. You’ve set your mind to something and you don’t stop until you achieve it.
- MOTIVATION: A goal gives you a tangible end point and it gives your study purpose. This = a whole lot more motivation than you would have if you sat at your desk with an endless number of possible tasks. The worst.
- EFFICIENCY: When you’ve got a plan you’re helping to minimise distractions, AND, because you’re more focused and motivated, you’ve got a trifecta of efficiency working in your favour.
Simple plans are all you need: 20 math practice questions answered; Making an Essay Plan; Writing two paragraphs of an Essay; Planning out my assignment; Making my Exam Study Timetable; Writing out my notes from class today…
Can’t stress how much we love a simple study plan heading into a study sesh. A plan does 50% of the hard work for you!
2. Never write an essay without an Essay Plan
- Give your essay structure (which will make your essay waaaaaaaaay more enjoyable to read = happy examiner = good grade)
- Make sure you cover all desired points and don’t leave anything out
- Take the stress (largely) out of the writing process, because you already know what you’re going to say
- Help you manage your time in exams because you launch into your essay writing with a thought through plan
We would always try to make an Essay Plan before writing any essay, even practice essays. Essay Plans don’t need to be works of art. We know what the time pressure during study and exams is like. A scribble setting out what each paragraph is going to be about might be all you need!
3. Do NOT study everything
If you want to study inefficiently and stress yourself out to the max to the detriment of your grades, then trying to study everything in your school curriculum is a great idea.
BUT — if you would like to engage in targeted, efficient and effective study that lets you do well in exams without going insane, then we highly recommend NOT studying everything there possibly is to study.
The majority of your exam study should be focused on the KEY TOPICS. The big ticket items. The topics your teacher talked about for most of the year. The headlines. Not the random tangential fact your teacher mentioned once for two minutes five months ago.
We got consistently good exam grades not because we were Homo Sapien encyclopaedias of the world, but because we knew with a high degree of certainty what topics were most likely to come up in exams and we made sure we understood THOSE really well.
Targeted study is key. Spend most of your exam study time making sure your understanding of key topics is SOLID, and then flesh out your study with the extra information that will make your examiner go WOW! This kid really knows their stuff!
4. Use past / practice exams
Wouldn’t it be great if you could get hold of your older sibling’s / friend’s exam papers from previous years and use those to study since they will be full of questions and be in a format EXTREMELY SIMILAR to what your exams will be? WELL — YOU CAN!!!
This is the beauty of past / practice exam papers. Short of being psychic, they’re the best thing you can use to simulate what your exam will be like.
You can even check with your teacher that this year’s exam is going to be similar to previous years.
We would always try to do at least 2 past exams before each exam, and under exam conditions (ie in the time we would have in the real exam), usually in the final days leading up to an exam. This would show us how well prepared we were — where the gaps in our knowledge were — whether we needed to speed up — what we needed to work on.
Ideally, you won’t just look at past exams at the end of your exam study — you’ll take a look at one BEFORE you even start! Let past exams tell you what you’re getting yourself into — what lies ahead — what topics does the exam focus on — what kind of answers do you need to prepare for.
Cannot stress enough how awesome past exams are (but we try in this video). If the buried treasure is an A grade, past exams are the treasure map that shows you how to get there.
5. Use your study notes to get exam-answer-ready
Let us explain (again). Study notes are amazing and almost without exception a must-do for effective exam study.
But if you want to get the MOST POSSIBLE out of your study notes, here’s what you do.
Rather than just transferring information from your books to your notes, dedicate at least past of your time while writing study notes to writing them in a way that prepares you for writing exam answers.
For instance — if you were studying various chemical bonds (eg covalent vs ionic vs metallic), it would be fine if you started off by simply writing out a few sentences that explained each type of bond.
But the exam isn’t going to ask you to just explain what some different types of bonds are. No. It’s going to be craftier than that, because the exam is designed to test you and see if you really understand your stuff. The exam is more likely to ask you something like, describe three types of chemical bonds and discuss the differences between them.
Knowing that this is the type of question our Chemistry exam is going to throw at us, as part of our study notes we would do things like make a table that emphasises the key features of each bond type and the differences between them and draw some diagrams that clearly show how the bonds are different.
Study notes that include techniques like this are going to prepare you for exam questions SO MUCH MORE. It’s a big trap so many students fall into — studying a lot of content but not APPLYING it to exam questions, which is a skill unto itself. That’s why it’s so important to PRACTICE doing this during your exam study, and your study notes are a great place to practice.
Simple study = uncomplicated study
That’s the takeaway message from this article. Effective study is simple and practical. It’s not some foofy (definitely a word) complicated complex process that only geniuses can master.
These study tips paid off big time for us, and they’ll pay off big time for you (or your teen) too.
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