One of my teachers always used to say that teaching is the best way to learn. To me, that made absolutely no sense until I became a calculus tutor–now it’s one of the only upper-level topics I can distinctly remember from high school. Some study techniques seemed to fail me time and time again, but others have gotten me through my toughest courses. If you’re anything like me, it might take you a while to get accustomed to certain study strategies, and you may not even have found the best way for you to study yet. Depending on the subject or what you’re studying for, here’s a list of what study strategies have worked best as well as those that may not work so well.
In order to teach someone a subject, you might think that you’ve got to know that subject well beforehand. While that obviously helps, even if you don’t, teaching a subject when you’re still learning it can still give you a leg up. When you’re teaching someone, you’re likely to feel the pressure to check yourself on information you’re giving them and even double-check what you think you already know. Because you don’t want to give others information that’s wrong, you’ll make sure that you’ve got the info down yourself. Even if whoever you’re teaching (be it a person or a wall) doesn’t seem to retain much information, by trying to teach them, you’ll learn it well yourself.
Talk it Out, Out Loud
And by this, I don’t mean just reading your notes out loud. As if you’re talking to a friend (as casually as possible), try talking about whatever you need to learn. The more casually you sound and the less you try to learn your notes verbatim, the better you’ll learn the information. If you’re comfortable talking about a subject while you’re doing household chores or when you’re not thinking hard to remember all the information, that’s evidence that you’ve learned it well.
Summarize…As a Start
Now, summarizing can be done a couple different ways, only one of which will truly aid your learning endeavors. You can outline your notes and feel like you’ve got the general gist of what you need to know, or you can outline your notes and use it as a guide to the details. Best used in reading-heavy classes, studying summarizations can be helpful to an extent, but you should try to build off the branches of your outline. Even if you fear that you may be wasting too much time getting into too much detail, it never hurts to know more than you’re being tested on!
Flowcharts are my personal favorite, because they can be as general or as detailed as you want them to be. Over the years, I’ve found that there can be a stepwise structure to almost every subject that you may encounter. There are steps to follow during a procedure for chemistry lab, chronological steps in a story you read for English class, and different pathways you can follow to solve for X and Y in a system of equations. For some, it may seem less time consuming to just write out the steps in a list, but flowcharts can really help with organizing your thoughts both in your head and on paper.
Flashcards may not be the most helpful in math class, but if you’re memorizing dates and names for a history class or names of hormones for a biology class, these will come in handy. Because they’re portable, you can utilize them on a commute, while you’re walking in the hallway, or even if you’ve got a quick break during class. Another really helpful way to use flashcards is to tape them in different places in your home. That way, whether you walk into your kitchen or climb back into bed, you’ll be sure to encounter your flashcards!
A Word on Highlighting
Underlining and highlighting words can be useful in making sure you’re identifying key words in a textbook, but it can be addicting. Somehow, you start with a word, but only five minutes later you find yourself staining phrases–no, paragraphs–with bright yellow highlighter. Despite what you may think, highlighting more information isn’t going to download it into your brain. Taking the time to take notes instead or using any of the above techniques can go a long way in helping you effectively learn what you need to know.