Things NOT To Do When Studying
I was going through some old papers from freshman year and I was thinking about what I was doing wrong when I didn’t achieve the grades I wanted, even though I got As in my classes. What things could I have done better to get a 100 instead of a 96? I don’t ask myself this so much as to be a perfectionist (even though I am one). I ask myself these questions because: 1) I must not have had a completely solid understanding of the material if I couldn’t get a 100 on it. 2) Maybe my less-than-stellar test-taking skills got in the way. 3) I’m a tutor, so I want to be sure I understand everything thoroughly enough to help others with the material.
I may add to this later, so you can always check out the original post here. As always, feel free to comment or message me if you want to add something to this list!
- Don’t simply read over your notes to study. It doesn’t work. You might pick up pieces here and there or even memorize certain things verbatim, but reading something 20 times is very inefficient. Your brain learns by making connections, so if you’re only straight reading the material you’re not making extra connections. You’re much better off going through your notes to make your own questions and quizzing yourself on them, marking down connections as you read (either in the margin or by literally connecting them in the text with a pen), or creating a study sheet (whether in text format or a mind map).
- Don’t simply highlight, either. While there is a proper way to highlight, most people I see using a highlighter are doing it wrong. If you’re the person who highlights 90% of the paragraph, I’m talking about you. Okay, so highlighting is physically more active than glancing over your notes 20 times, but it’s about equally as effective if you’re highlighting everything. I recommend instead highlighting (or marking with eraseable pencil) things you want to go back to later. But, again, highlighting and reading alone is not useful. Go back to your highlighted parts to reread something that was hard to understand the first time, a topic you want to revisit to make a review sheet, etc. Whatever you use it for, make sure the purpose is to quickly find information later, not simply so you can read those things again. Try making a study sheet, in your own words, based off of your highlighting.
- Don’t forget to write things down. And I don’t mean just in your planner when you have homework or papers due. This isn’t so much about getting absolutely everything down in terms of notes, either, I have a separate post regarding that. But in class you should always write down questions you have and the answer. If you don’t get a chance to ask during class, ask ASAP whether it’s directly to your teacher or asking a classmate. If it’s that important, do some research on it, too. Also, make sure you write down information on due dates or paper topics. You probably already do that, but I would recommend having a piece of paper with you every day where you can write anything important down like dates and to-dos to organize all in one shot. If you simply write down “paper due” in a block in your planner before rushing to the next you may not see that reminder until close to the due date. I like to take all of the information on the piece of paper (which also has my day planned out and a to-do list) right when I get up in the morning so I’m prepared for the day and don’t forget anything.
What I Did Wrong:
- Don’t take it easy at the start of the semester. To be perfectly honest, I’ve pretty much always done that, but my freshman year of college it wasn’t a huge deal since I pretty much already took those classes. Sophomore year, however, everything was new, so memorization and understanding didn’t come quite as easily. The harder your classes are, the more essential this is, especially if you actually want to sleep during finals week. The best thing you can do is start doing work before the semester even starts if you have a syllabus handy, or even just looking through your books to see what’s ahead. While everyone else is doing fun things the night of that first day, make sure you get some work done first before you have your fun. This sets the tone for the rest of the semester and gets you into the habit of working. Don’t let yourself get behind! It’s easier to stay ahead than it is to struggle catching up.
- Don’t leave your notes to rot after class. Meaning, do something with them right after class! … or at least ASAP. Mark them up, edit them, rework them, copy or type them (if your handwriting sucks like me), or, best of all, write a short summary. Take the several pages of notes you have and condense them into one or two paragraphs. Don’t worry about the details, just make sure you’re hitting on the key points. As a bonus, you can type up some questions based off of your notes to save for later studying (details are allowed here). Everything will be fresh, making this a much easier process than if you did it right before the test. At the end of the week, make a summary of your summaries and quiz yourself on the questions you made. You’ll probably want to use those questions again, so try to reword them or even combine them into bigger questions that cover many topics. That way you’re being active with the material and will actually understand what you’re answering as opposed to parroting.
- Don’t make study sheets by copying off of something else. Yes, I made this mistake. I wasn’t copying initially, but rather, using a review book as a reference to make study sheets. However, the more I was pressed for time the less I started putting things into my own words. Now, this wasn’t a big deal in terms of legality, since I kept them to myself, but it didn’t turn out to be all that helpful in the end. If you want to make study sheets, you could either take concepts you’ve been learning and put them together in different ways or make a summary in your own words. I recommend both, but whatever you do, make sure you’re actually creating something new or else you’re not going to remember it. For example, in organic chemistry I took the reactions and grouped them in different ways (by subtstrate, reactants, products, etc.) as a reference while studying. The act of sorting and looking through the reactions in order to make the sheets helped me remember them, then I had the sheets to look at while doing practice to help me memorize them further.
- Don’t save the bulk of lab work for after the lab and don’t wait to write your report. By this I’m referring to the post-lab report. Spend the extra time while prepping your pre-lab materials to start your report! You’re expected to know the theory behind your labs before you perform them, so writing the introduction to your report should not be a problem. If it is, then you’ll be glad you took the time to understand the lab before you tried actually doing it. By doing this you may also find that you have questions that can be answered by the professor before you get confused in the middle of a procedure. Also make sure you have data tables prepared (not just in your notebook, but in the report file to fill in after) and anything else you’ll need to take down data. Once the lab is finished do the report immediately. Everything you did will be fresh and you’ll be glad you finished it well ahead of the deadline. At this point you can show your lab to your professor and get any corrections fixed so you’re ashooin’ for an A!
- Don’t try to write a paper in one shot. I understand if you feel like your papers flow better if you do it all in one shot, but at least make sure you plan it out thoroughly ahead of time before you actually write it all out. But even then, you will likely benefit from splitting your paper into chunks to tackle one day at a time. If you have a research paper that’s double-digit pages then you’ll be forced to do that anyway, but be sure you’re splitting up the work for small papers, as well. It may not seem like a big deal to do a short paper in one day, but if you end up having other assignments or tests due around the same time it might up your stress if you’re crunched for time trying to finish that “insignificant” paper while juggling a few other assignments as well as some test prep.
Advice Suggested By Others:
- Don’t listen to distracting music while studying. To some degree, the types of music that are considered “distracting” vary when it comes to the subject you’re studying and personal preference. However, the general rule of thumb is that you avoid any sort of music with lyrics if you’re studying a subject that involves language. Art, math, and certain sciences are an exception if you’re working with pictures or numbers, since language usually doesn’t interfere with those things in the brain. But if you’re reading anything, even if it’s worded directions to a math or science problem, lyrics will probably be distracting. Some people suggest that listening to new music with lyrics is okay because you won’t be tempted to sing along with something you don’t know while others get distracted by hearing any type of language. Again, it’s truly up to you, but genres such as classical, jazz, and nature sounds are usually recommended. Heck, if you’re a musician and get distracted by any type of music, silence or brown noise may be the better option for you. (Suggested by aslongasitsfiction)
- Don’t study in bed. Scientific studies have shown that doing anything in your bed that isn’t sleep or sex-related affects your ability to fall asleep in your bed. When your brain primarily associates your bed with sleep, it’s much easier to fall asleep. But having trouble sleeping in your bed isn’t the only part of the problem. While studying in your bed is really comfy, you’re also more likely to fall asleep if the association with sleep is strong enough. It’s generally recommended that you don’t even study in the same room as your bed, but as college students this may not be possible if you want to use your desk. So if you don’t want to make the trek out to a more secluded study space, at least try to make sure your desk doesn’t have your bed in view. Because let’s be honest, if you’re exhausted, simply seeing your bed might be enough to make you nod off. (Suggested by rare-footage and ane-mia)
- Don’t go on tumblr. Okay, this may seem obvious, but sometimes a reminder is all you need to get off your computer! I suppose it’s better that you’re looking up information to help you study, but I think we both know what the better choice would be. (Suggested by oneofakindgizibe)
- Don’t study in a place you can’t focus just because your friends are there. Us humans are social animals. We like being around other people. But this can cause you problems if you’re trying to study. Unless you’re in a productive study group, make sure you separate study time and social time. You’re probably more likely to gravitate towards fun, social things over studying, so make sure studying is a priority and you get it done before seeing your friends. If you have a roommate or two, then your dorm room is probably not the right place to study. Find a few of your focus hotspots and go there for your study time. (Suggested by fitspoforever)
- Don’t forget the little things you know you’ll need. This includes but is not limited to things such as chargers, books, snacks, and water. You don’t want to be in-the-zone and all of the sudden realize you need to run back to your dorm room to get a book. And then 10 minutes later realize you’re hungry and need to run to the cafeteria. If you don’t already have certain things that are always in your bag, simply keep a list of things you generally need to bring with you, leave it as a reminder on your desk, and check it over before you hit the library. (Suggested by fitspoforever)
- Don’t take naps while studying without setting an alarm. Or even better, avoid naps all together. If you’re like me, 15-minute naps usually turn into 2-hour events. But regardless, if you need to get some extra sleep, get the extra sleep. It’s better to take a nap when you know you need it as opposed to falling asleep on your desk unexpectedly when you have a paper you need to get done for the next day. 15-20 minutes the recommended time for a short nap, but if you need something more robust, try for 90 minutes or use sleepyti.me to figure out the right time to wake up. (Suggested by fitspoforever)
- Don’t wear uncomfortable clothes. I personally find that “dressing for success” works really well for going to lectures and virtually everything else, but terribly if you’re hitting the library for a long study session. You’ll probably wanna look cute if you’re heading somewhere public, but just make sure you’re comfortable. Yoga pants are fine for the occasion! (Suggested by fitspoforever)