Ever heard the phrase, "work smarter, not harder"? It also applies to studying! The popular triangle pictured on the left to describe college life does NOT have to be your reality if you practice smart studying. Here are a few study techniques for you to try out that I have used during college and vet school. These study techniques are active studying, essentially mental exercises that build neural patterns to reinforce learning, and are much less boring than just skimming your notes over and over, which is more of a passive form of studying that promotes short term memory.
If studying is done in an active and focused manner, you may even find that your overall time spent studying is less, while you achieve the same or better grades, and have good grades AND a social life AND adequate sleep as I have been able to enjoy from college and even in veterinary school.
1. Notes Summary: I recommend that for all your important classes you take your in-class notes and re-write them into a detailed but summarized, organized, and clearly worded version. Include answers to your questions in your summary, the learning objectives, visual diagrams, potential test questions, and additional information that you may have pulled from outside sources. For my notes summaries in undergrad, I used blank white printer paper stapled together for all the lectures pertaining to one exam. In vet school, where I want to be able to consult my notes for years down the road, I write my notes summaries in pen in a hard-bound sturdy-paged sketchbook.
2. THMs (take-home messages):
Read through your notes summary and get an idea of the take-home points, or the important messages from the lecture. Then, write out a sentence or two for each of the take-home points. Afterwards, compare your THM list to the "learning objectives/outcomes (LOs)" that your professor lists, if that is something they provide. Study the LOs that you missed more than the ones you can already answer in your head.
Your notes summary forms the fully constructed document. Take another piece of paper and write a simplified version of your notes summary that is about half as long as your original notes. Now we take it a step further. Take another piece of paper and simplify the simplified version again. Your doubly deconstructed notes should be less than half as long as your original notes summary. Later, take your super simplified version and reconstruct the topic to the best of your ability. Check your reconstructed version against your original notes summary and spend extra time going any details that you missed in your reconstruction.
4. Anticipate test questions
This is a seriously useful one!
-Write your own test questions and answer them; swap questions with classmates
-Actually DO all and any practice questions your professor gives, including examples given in class
-Take note of how much time a professor spends on each section of the lecture material. Those sections are likely to have more questions on the exam compared to the sections/slides that the professor spends less time on.
-Take note of other clues/hints professors give about material that will be on tests, such as blatant "KNOW THIS" or stars on slides, or more subtle cues like when the professor gets particularly excited about a certain piece of information.
-Learn from previous exams- format of questions, breadth and depth, your personal mistakes and successes with certain types of questions.
This is probably the most important one no matter what your study technique is. Fragmentation means being distracted every few minutes during your study period. Little distractions, even for 5 minutes, can seriously prolong the amount of time you spend studying, as well as decrease your learning while studying, thus producing poor efficiency. 5 distractions lasting only 5 minutes each is 25 minutes of distraction, plus the 30 seconds you spend reviewing where you left off so that you can continue working. Thus, your overall studying becomes more diffuse and takes more time, which means you have less time to play later. Put your phone on airplane mode or inside the closet or have a friend hide it if it's that bad. Try coldturkey or selfcontrolapp for temporarily blocking your social media (for an amount of time you set) on your device or computer.
If you notice social media really cutting into your valuable study time, consider quitting. For me, social media was a major distraction during study sessions and even during class. On a personal level, social media had been cripplingly detrimental to my self-esteem, which began to spill over into my relationship. I started by deleting my Instagram in 2015, deleted my Facebook in 2016, and just a few months ago (2017) deleted my Reddit. When I'm bored, I now read articles on world news, politics, or finance, topics of which are concurrently more boring and more educational...meaning I probably won't do it 5 times during a study session or in the middle of class. Efferent and afferent arterioles are more exciting than "Understanding Mutual Funds", but less exciting than "25 Amazing Ab Exercises to Strengthen Your Core"-- you can probably guess which topic my past self would have clicked on and spent 10 minutes reading instead of reviewing my renal physiology lectures, and which one I would have probably saved to read later that night. Thus, the major benefit of going off social media for me has been enjoying my regained high self-esteem, having a more enjoyable relationship, being focused and attentive during class, having more efficient study sessions (leading to having more free time later), and accumulating valuable knowledge about the world, politics, business, and finance.
6. Work with classmates
This is one I rarely do, but many of my classmates find it useful to study in groups to help fill in each other's knowledge gaps. Utilize a whiteboard, assign people to different topics/lectures, and teach and quiz each other about the material.
Articles in this blog are oriented to readers interested in going to veterinary school.