Improving Your Study Skills
Five Strategies for Success
- Get Started
An effective way of beginning an assignment is to break it into smaller parts. For example, if you have four chapters to read, start with only one or two chapters in the first session.
Once you've broken the assignment down this way, your first task is more manageable and you'll find it easier to begin. After that, schedule as many sessions as necessary to complete the entire assignment. Knowing that part of the assignment is already completed will make it easier for you overall.
- Time Management
The key to time management is planning. Map out study sessions in writing, so that you can see how much needs to be accomplished in an allotted study time.
To manage your time successfully, you need to see the study plan – much like a builder needs to see the blueprints for a building. Using a calendar or a day planner can be helpful for this purpose. Try to schedule a specific time to do your homework; for example, every day after school, or every evening after dinner.
- Organize Assignments
Be sure to use an assignment book. To do homework successfully, you must learn to write down complete information about all assignments and upcoming tests. Also, try using a color-coded folder for each area to be studied (e.g., a red folder for English, a green folder for social studies, etc.). All loose notes and materials related to that subject area should be placed in the folder regularly, so that when it's time to study, you'll be prepared.
- Take Notes
Trying to write down a teacher's speech word-for-word is nearly impossible and infinitely frustrating. Instead, pick out key words and phrases; this will help you learn to summarize your thoughts. Think of each note-taking session as if you are creating the skeleton or the frame of the area covered. The skeleton still needs to be "fleshed out", however, in order to provide a full picture. You can do this by going back and adding more details to your notes after each session.
- Review material
No other study skill is more important than reviewing, which you should do at least three times before a test. First, review as soon as possible after your first contact with the subject matter – immediately after class or after school, for example. This session will reinforce the material that is still fresh in your mind. At regular intervals afterward – daily or at least weekly – review the material again. Then, immediately before a test, review the material once more. Repeated contact with the material will help you know it inside and out.
Hearing something once is not enough to really learn it; that is why note taking is so important. Clearly written, accurate notes help to capture information for later study and review. Taking notes also helps you to focus and learn during class time.
Taking notes in class
- Whenever you can do so, sit close to the front of the class to minimize distractions.
- Be prepared to keep your notes neat and organized. Use a separate spiral-bound notebook for each subject, or use dividers in your loose-leaf notebook to make separate sections for each subject.
- Begin each note taking session at the top of a fresh page. Start by writing down the date.
- Do not try to write down everything the teacher says, but do try to record as many facts and ideas as you can. Mark important facts or main ideas with an asterisk or star or underline them.
- Use short sentences and phrases and easily remembered abbreviations and symbols. Some commonly used abbreviations and symbols are:
- w/ (with)
- w/o (without)
- &, + (and)
- = (equals, is)
- p. (page), pp. (pages)
- ch. (chapter)
- e.g, (for example)
- i.e. (that is)
- PA (Pennsylvania), NY (New York), OH (Ohio)
- N (north), E (east)
- M (Monday), T (Tuesday), Th (Thursday), Sat (Saturday), Sun (Sunday)
Also, try making up your own abbreviations by deleting vowels from words. Some examples are:
- hmwrk (homework)
- ntbk (notebook)
- cmptr (computer)
- bk (book)
- rm (room)
- tchr (teacher)
- Write clearly, and leave lots of blank space in the left margin or between ideas in case you need to add information later.
- Read over your notes as soon as you can after class. If there is anything you don't understand, ask the teacher at the next class.
Taking notes from textbooks
- Organize your paper the same as for class notes.
- Put the date at the top of the page.
- Write down the name of the book and the chapter or section you will be taking notes from.
- Leave space in the left margin or between ideas for your own comments or questions.
- Keep textbook notes separate from class notes. Use a separate section in your loose-leaf notebook, or at least clearly designate they are textbook notes.
- Get a general idea of what the reading is about. (Use the SQ3R strategy.)
- Read the introduction, headings and subheadings, and any paragraphs that summarize the content.
- Look at any illustrations or graphs and charts and read the captions.
- Read any questions that accompany the text. Make up your own questions from the headings and subheadings.
4. Go back and read the chapter or section carefully. Look for the main ideas.
- Try not to copy information directly from the textbook into your notes. Instead, summarize the information in your own words. This will help you to concentrate and learn.
- Summarize the main ideas at the end of your notes and circle them.
Reviewing Your Notes
The 3 R’s of Reviewing
1 – Reread Your Notes
The first step is to reread your notes aloud. Repeating the information will help you commit it to memory.
2 – Rewrite Your Notes
When you come upon a scribbled word or an unclear note, rewrite it clearly. Consider word processing your handwritten notes.
3 – Reinforce Your Notes
“To reinforce” means to strengthen by adding something. You can strengthen your class notes by adding important, relevant information from your textbook. You can also use a highlighter to spotlight or a pen to underline important facts and information in your notes.
Review your notes several times a week on a regular basis.
Memorizing Important Facts
Memorizing facts such as names, dates, vocabulary words or lists can be difficult. Here are several suggestions (memory triggers or mnemonics) that can make memorizing a bit easier: A memory trigger or mnemonic is something intended to assist the memory
To remember a list of facts, try turning them into an acronym.
- An acronym is a word formed from the initial letters or groups of letters of words in a set phrase or series of words. For instance: WAC stands for Women's Army Corps, OPEC for Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, or LORAN for long-range navigation.
Also, to remember a lists of facts, try turning them into an acrostic.
- An acrostic is a sentence that is used to help remember information. For instance, in order to remember the planets (in order) one acrostic is the sentence: “My Very Excellent Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas.” The first letter in each word stands for a planet: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto.
Create a rhyme to help remember names and dates.
- An old favorite is: In fourteen ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.
Draw a dramatic or silly picture of the fact to make it particularly memorable.
The use of memory triggers or mnemonics stimulates the brain to more readily recall information which has been stored away.
Another very effective tool to help you remember math facts, vocabulary words and their definitions, or events and historical dates is to make flashcards using 3 x 5 cards. For example, place a vocabulary word on one side of the card and its definition on the other. (If you want, you can make a smaller flashcard by cutting the 3 x 5 cards in half.)
Studying for Tests
Tests are a way for you and your teacher to measure how well you have learned the material covered by the class. Think of them as a challenge! Here are some tips for studying for tests.
Before the test
- Before the test you should always ask the teacher for information about the test. Be sure to find out the following details ahead of time.
- what material the test will cover
- what type of test it will be (multiple choice, true false, short answer, essay)
- how the test will be graded
- how much the test will count toward the final grade
- Study in a place that is free of distractions. Have ready all the supplies you will need, such as paper, pens, a ruler, highlighters, and a calculator.
- Study at a time when you are alert and not hungry or sleepy.
- Don't wait until the last minute to study! Short daily study sessions are better than one long session the night before the test.
- Set a goal for each study period. If you are being tested on three chapters, set up four study sessions, one for each chapter and one for a review of the main ideas in all three chapters.
- When you actually begin to study for a test, you should first determine what you already know, so that you do not waste your time studying that material.
- Repetition is very important! Read and reread your class notes and the relevant chapters in the textbook.
- While you are reviewing your notes, cover them up periodically and summarize them out loud. Pretend that you are explaining the material to someone else.
- Create your own study aids.
- Make an outline from your notes of just the main ideas.
- Make a timeline of important dates or the order of events.
- Make flashcards for studying vocabulary or events and important dates.
- Make up your own quiz or test based on your notes, and then have a friend, parent or sibling test you.
- Do any practice exams or review study sheets provided by the teacher. These will help you focus your study session and give you confidence.
- Get help from the teacher if you do not understand something.
During the test
1. Use the “Take 2” strategy. Take two minutes before beginning the test to unload your memory
bank onto the back (or in the margins) of your test paper. For two minutes, and only two
minutes, jot down all memory triggers, names, dates, formulas, and special information you can
remember. When the two minutes are over, begin your test.
2. Read the instructions carefully. Ask the teacher if you are unsure about anything.
3. Read the entire test through before starting. This will help you pace yourself.
4. Spend the most time on the sections that count the most. Spend the least time on the sections
that count the least.
5. Answer the easiest questions first. For those very difficult and challenging questions, don’t get
worried or frustrated. Reread the question to make sure you understand it, and then try to solve
it the best way you know how.
6. If you get stuck on a question, flag it and move on. You can come back to it later.
7. Leave the most time for questions that have the highest point value or require a lot of writing.
8. Do only what you are required to do. Don't waste time doing things that you will not receive
credit for, such as copying test questions onto your paper.
9. Write clearly.
10. Use information included in statements and questions to help you answer other questions.
11. Leave time to check over all your answers.
After the test
1. When the test is returned, read the teacher's comments carefully and try to learn from your
2. Save tests for later review and/or for end-of-term tests.
How to Study for a Spelling Test
Follow these steps as you study for spelling tests:
- Step 1 – Read the word aloud and spell it.
- Step 2 – Trace the word with your finger as you spell it aloud again.
- Step 3 – Use the word in a sentence.
- Step 4 – Say the word aloud and spell it aloud three times.
- Step 5 – Close your eyes, say the word and spell it aloud.
- Step 6 – Write the word on a sheet of paper.
- Step 7 – When you feel you are prepared, have someone give you a practice test.
- Step 8 – Repeat Steps 1 through 6 for each word you miss on your practice test.
Multiple Choice Test Taking Tips
- Read the question before you look at the possible answers.
- Come up with the answer in your head before looking at the possible answers, this way the choices given on the test won't throw you off or trick you.
- Read all the choices before choosing your answer.
- Eliminate answers you know aren't right.
- Eliminate answers that do not fit grammatically with the beginning question or statement.
- If there is no guessing penalty, always take an educated guess and select an answer.
- Don't keep on changing your answer; stick with your first answer unless you are absolutely certain your first choice is incorrect. Usually your first choice is the right one, unless you misread the question.
- In "All of the above" and "None of the above" choices, if you are certain one of the statements is true don't choose "None of the above" or one of the statements is false don't choose "All of the above".
- In a question with an "All of the above" choice, if you see that there are at least two correct statements, then "All of the above" is the answer.
- A positive answer choice is more likely to be correct than a negative one.
- When choices are the exact opposite, usually one of the two is the correct answer.
- Usually the correct answer is the choice with the most information.
Essay Test Taking Tips
- Read the directions carefully. Pay close attention to whether you are supposed to answer all the essays or only a specified amount (e.g., "Answer 2 out of the 3 questions).
- If the directions say compare, you should describe the similarities between two or more things, people, or events.
- If the directions say contrast, you should describe the differences between two or more things, people, or events.
- If the directions say explain, you should tell about or give reasons for.
- If the directions say describe, you should use words to characterize something or someone.
- If the directions say state, you should briefly and concisely discuss a main idea or point.
- If the directions say prove, you should give arguments with supporting facts and details that support a statement, point of view, or theory.
- If the directions say diagram, you should draw a chart, graph, or picture and label; your answer requires little or no written explanation.
- If the directions say summarize, you should sum up ideas or points without getting into specific details or other unrelated information.
2. Make sure that you understand what the question is asking you. If you're not, ask your instructor.
3. Restate the question as a statement or briefly answer the question in the first paragraph.
4. Make sure that you write down everything that is asked of you and more. The more details and facts that
you write down, the higher your grade is going to be.
5. Budget your time, don't spend the entire test time on one essay if there is more than one.
6. If the question is asking for facts, don't give your personal opinion on the topic.
7. When writing your essay, try to be as neat as possible, neater papers usually receive higher marks.
8. Make an outline before writing your essay. This way your essay will be more organized and fluid. If you
happen to run out of time, most instructors will give you partial credit for the ideas you have outlined.
9. Don't write long introductions and conclusions, the bulk of your time should be spent on answering the
10. Focus on one main idea per paragraph.
11. If you have time left at the end, proofread your work and correct any errors.
True-False Test Taking Tips
- Usually there are more true answers than false on most tests.
- If you are not sure, then guess. You have a 50% chance of getting the right answer.
- Read through each statement slowly and carefully, and pay attention to the qualifiers and keywords.
- Absolutes like "always, all, all the time, constantly, every, everyone, never, none, not at all, no one, only, and absolutely not” mean that the statement must be true all of the time. Usually these types of qualifiers make a statement false since they are absolutes.
- Qualifiers like "usually, many, most, rarely, sometimes, frequently, and generally" will usually make a statement true since they are not absolutes.
- If any part of the statement is false, then the entire statement is false. Just because part of a statement is true doesn't necessarily make the entire statement true.
- Stick with your first answer. Usually your first hunch is right, so don’t change an answer unless you are sure your first choice was incorrect.
Short Answer Test Taking Tips
- Use flashcards, writing the key terms, dates and concepts on the front and the definition, event, and explanations on the back.
- Try to anticipate questions that will be asked on the test and prepare for them. Usually what your instructor emphasizes in class will be on the test.
- Try not to leave an answer blank. Show your work/write down your thoughts, even if you don't get the exact answer, partial credit is usually awarded.
- If you don't know the answer, come back to it after you finish the rest of the test and make an educated guess. Other parts of the test may give you clues to what the answer may be.
- If you can think up of more than one answer for a question, ask the instructor what to do.
- Read the question carefully and make sure that you answer everything that it asks for. Some short answer questions have multiple parts.
Matching Test Taking Tips
- Read through both lists quickly so you are familiar with both the questions (prompts) and the answers (explanations).
- Providing the test is a direct matching test (meaning there is an equal number of questions and answers, and that each answer may be used only once), as you find each correct match, cross it off the list.
- Stick with your first answer. Usually your first hunch is right, so don’t change an answer unless you are sure your first choice was incorrect.
Quantitative-Math Test Taking Tips
Before the Test
- Repetition is important in math; you learn how to solve problems by doing them.
- Make sure you learn how to recognize when/why you should use a specific method to solve a problem.
- Work on practice problems for each topic ranging in levels of difficulty.
- When practicing, try to solve the problem on your own first, then look at the answer or seek help if you are having trouble.
- Use the examples in the book to help you understand.
- Mix up the order of the questions from various topics when you are reviewing, so you'll learn when to use a specific method/formula.
- Make up a sheet with all the formulas you need to know and memorize all the formulas on the sheet.
During the Test
- When you get your exam, write down all the key formulas on the margin of your paper, so if you forget one when you're in the middle of the test you can look back at the formula.
- Read the directions carefully and don't forget to answer all parts of the question.
- Do problems you like or easily understand first. Save disliked or difficult problems for last.
- Make estimates for your answers. For example, if you are asked to answer “48 x 12 = ?”, you could expect a number around 500; however, if you end up with an answer around 5000, you'll know you did something wrong.
- Draw diagrams to help you think out problems.
- Rephrase word problems.
- Show all your work (especially when partial credit is awarded) and write as legibly as possible.
- Even if you know the final answer is wrong, don't erase your entire work because you may get partial credit for using the correct procedure.
- Check over all your work. If you have time redo the problem, see if you come up with the same answer the second time around. Look for careless mistakes such as making sure the decimal is in the right place, that you read the directions correctly, that you copied the numbers correctly, that you put a negative sign if it is needed, and that your calculations are correct.
Reducing Test Taking Anxiety
Test anxiety is when a student excessively worries about doing well on a test. This can become a major hindrance on test performance and cause extreme nervousness and memory lapses among other symptoms. The following are tips on reducing test taking anxiety:
- Being well-prepared for the test is the best way to reduce test taking anxiety.
- Space out your studying over a few days or weeks and continually review class material. Don't try to learn everything the night before.
- Try to maintain a positive attitude while preparing for the test and during the test.
- Exercising before the test will help reduce stress.
- Get a good night's sleep before the test.
- Show up to class early so you won't have to worry about being late.
- Consider chewing gum during the test.
- Stay relaxed. If you begin to get nervous take a few deep breaths, slowly to relax yourself, and then get back to work. Consider chewing gum during the test.
- Read the directions slowly and carefully.
- If you don't understand the directions on the test, ask the teacher to explain them to you.
- Skim through the test so that you have a good idea how to pace yourself.
- Write down important formulas, facts, definitions and/or keywords in the margin first so you won't worry about forgetting them.
- Do the simple questions first to help build up your confidence for the harder questions.
- Don't worry about how fast other people finish their test; just concentrate on your own test.
- If you don't know a question, skip it for the time being and come back to it later if you have time. Remember, you don't have to always get every question right to do well on the test.
- Focus on the question at hand. Don't let your mind wander on other things.
- If you're still experiencing extreme test anxiety after following these tips, seek help from your school guidance counselor.