First Hone Down this Philosophy:
“Don’t Study Harder, Study Smarter” – Byron Rosenthal
Aiming to just “work harder” won’t be enough to do well in large lectures and competitive students.To be an effective student you can’t just tell yourself you’ll study 9 hours straight. You need to plan to be a top student.
But what are top students at top schools doing?
Copy What All the Top Students Are Doing
Before we get started, we want to say that these are the magic bullets for success. All top students have great study skills and note-taking strategies that work for them. However, what helps them have an edge should be no surprise. So what do they do differently?
Well first it helps to see what the average students are doing first. Any guesses? Well just see for yourself:
Most students are falling into the trap of passively reading over their notes and hoping it absorbs into their brains like you’re learning Ku Fu like Neo in the Matrix.
According to Education Performance Experts like Douglas Barton, top students take a TON of PRACTICE tests!
Practice tests are the best way to prepare for a test and a study method in college. I recommend doing practice tests multiple times. I especially recommend studying the questions you get wrong and then redoing them.
If your professor only gives 1 practice test, do it 2-3 days before. This will give you enough time to review what you missed, understand why you got it wrong, and prepare for similar questions on your exam. So if the professor gives you multiple practice exams, be sure to spare 4-5 days before your exam to review.
Pro Tip: Make a super test of all you got wrong, look at it before actual exam and guarantee you won’t get any of those questions wrong
Where to find old exams?
Oftentimes professors will usually give out last year’s midterms or quizzes to give you an idea of what to expect. Some professors, such as history or sociology, might even give out the prompts or questions in advance to prepare for their written exams.
You can also find exams at places such as:
- Your School’s Associated Student Body
- Some schools like UCLA have school sanctioned Test Banks. Go see if your school has anything like that!
But My Teachers Don’t Give Tests Out! For some professors that’s against school policy!
Obviously practice tests shouldn’t be the only thing you do, and sometimes they aren’t available.
If that’s the case you can always try searching for your class and writing Quizlet next to it. Often times, old students from your university will publishing their own flashcards online, saving you time on studying the topics for your class!
Try searching up resources yourself using this template: “[Your Class] Quizlet Flashcards” or for example “Physics 101 Quizlet Flashcards.”
If that doesn’t work, you can also reach out to your fellow peers on Reddit.
Just type in something like “Tips on What to Study for the Physics 101 class with Professor Doofenshmirtz?”
When it comes down to it, you can also just focus on getting your skills down with effective note-taking methods while using all your resources! Don’t forget, you have the internet and your university to your disposal!
How to Use All Your Resources
- Remember that Google is Your Best Friend. 90% of answers can be found on the internet
- Model or Replicate other Top Students
- If you aren’t in the top 10% of your class, make friends with someone who is and ask them – what are they doing to study? How do they take notes in class? How do they prepare for the exam?
- Go to Office hours and free tutoring services
- Office hours!! If you’re really stuck on something or want to know your professor then attend! If your college offers some sort of free tutoring (1-on-1, drop-ins, etc.) then always start the quarter off by going to those extra classes and then you can drop them if need be
- Study in groups and FOCUS on learning the material
- Teaching someone else the material is the best way to learn it, however larger groups can become unproductive if you’re not focused on studying.
Tips for Studying in Groups:
Group studying can be a great way to brainstorm and quickly get your questions answered. It can also quickly lead to distractions.
When studying in groups, top students tend to direct the group. They are the ones asking questions and explaining the most concepts. Essentially, they’re the tutor of the group. This becomes an advantage because teaching has shown to vastly improve problem solving, learning, and memory retention.
If you’re someone who finds themselves on top of their work, try reaching out to answer questions your friends may have or explaining the tough concepts to others.
However, if you find yourself being the one who needs help, don’t be afraid to ask questions. No one will know what questions you have unless you ask.
If you find yourself saying “oh yeah I sorta get it” even though you’re completely lost, then maybe it’s time to go do some self studying. It may be easier to learn concepts on your own (so you can go at your own pace), and then reinforce those learnings in groups by dialoguing with others. I recommend learning as much as you can on your own, figuring out exactly what you don’t know, and then networking with others.
A prime example would be when your friend tries to explain how the sociological imagination is basically the plot to the Matrix and you’re there daydreaming about raising chickens on your imaginary farm. That’s when it’s time to pack up your books and study by yourself in a cafe or that empty engineering building.
You’re honestly better off testing yourself with problem sets, reviewing the lecture slides and assigned readings, and identifying where exactly you got lost. Once you identify what confuses you, you can then ask your friends, professors, or whoever for help.
Nothing Pays off Like Hard Work
Regardless if you have access to old exams or smart friends, you still need to put in the effort in your studies. Find the note-taking strategy you’re productive with, take control of your time management, and learn to ask your professors for help. Nothing comes easy but hard work pays off.
Don’t believe me? Those three things helped me go from a 45% to a solid B in Chemistry.
All the best,
Chris & Byron
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