By: Sam Li
Hey, Marauders! Welcome to our final post in the Academic Prep Skills Series. I can’t believe we’re on the last one, so thanks for joining me to the very end! Today, we’re discussing some ways you can study for success on your assessments this year. Also, register for our final webinar on the topic, happening Thursday, July 29, at 5:00 p.m. EDT.
Sam’s studying workflow
Here’s a general four-part workflow that I use to approach my studying.
Admittedly, in high school, I did a lot of last-minute cramming, or studying! However, this didn’t work with the dense content I needed to know for university assessments. I learned that it’s important to start earlier rather than later, so I started spacing out my study sessions over a longer period.
In fact, some psychological studies suggest that spacing your review sessions over a longer period can improve your memory and help you learn concepts! This is called the spacing effect.
First, I review my notes and lecture slides in order. Then, I think about which lessons I had a harder time understanding. Next, I order all the lessons by difficulty.
Sometimes, reviewing notes doesn’t give you the best idea of challenging topics or ideas. Instead, I find it more helpful to scan through a sample practice test or various questions covered during class. This simulates the testing environment, and it can often be a better measure of how well you might recall that information on the day of your assessment.
On a separate sheet of paper, or a document, I create a study plan: a simple list that contains the most difficult lessons at the top and the most straightforward lessons at the bottom. I start my study sessions by reviewing the most challenging lesson first.
This point is crucial.
To do well on a university assessment, I realized that I couldn’t rely solely on memorizing facts from my textbooks and notes. Most of my assessments tested my ability to apply my knowledge to new scenarios, instead of regurgitating these facts. So, I found that I needed to practice by testing myself and finding deeper connections within concepts.
Some of my instructors made previous tests available to students as a study resource. I learned to make the most of these, as they were the most like the actual assessment! Other instructors didn’t always provide past tests, and that was okay, too! If this were the case, I would use textbook questions or even form a study group and formulate questions to ask one another.
After testing myself, I review any wrong answers, as well as questions where I made my best guess. I try to understand the flaws in my thinking and supplement these knowledge gaps by reading my learning materials.
In the long term, taking breaks is more sustainable than working for extended periods of time. Taking breaks gives you time to rest and reflect on your studying.
The Pomodoro Technique is an effective method for sustainable studying — it breaks long periods of work into shorter work intervals. The recommendation is to alternate 25 minutes of uninterrupted work with a five-minute break, taking longer, 10–15-minute breaks after every four intervals.
However, you can adjust the intervals to your liking. Overall, just make sure to do something you truly enjoy on your break, and try your best give yourself time away from screens. Fill up your water bottle, catch up with a housemate or family member, or grab a healthy snack. The key takeaway here is to take regular, fulfilling breaks over long work periods to establish a solid pace during your study session.
More studying tips
For more tips on how to structure your studying, check out our LibGuide tip sheets on these topics.
I hope that this blog post has motivated you to build effective study habits early on! This workflow is a personal strategy, and like always, you can tweak it to match your learning style.
When I had my first assessments in university, I found that I was getting lower grades compared to high school. This was because my studying techniques for high school weren’t as effective for this new learning environment. That said, I managed to develop better studying habits that translated to improved grades over the years. It’s never too early to start building these habits, so congratulate yourself on starting now!
This concludes the Academic Skills Prep Series! I hope that you’ve found the confidence for your exciting transition to university learning at McMaster. Good luck! And remember that the Student Success Centre (SSC) academic skills team is here to help you.
About the Academic Skills Prep Series
Throughout the second half of July, join us for live webinars as we share what it takes to be a university learner and how to advance your skills in time management, note-taking, reading, writing and much more!
Enter for a chance to win
This summer, make sure to follow @MacSSC on Instagram for all of our Academic Skills Prep Series contests! We also have one grand prize to finish the series off right! The grand prize is a $250 gift card to Best Buy, with a second and third prize of $100 and $50.
How to enter: Write a 250–300-word response that refers to at least three webinars, sharing what you found interesting and new in the Academic Skills Prep Series and how it may help you prepare you for your first year of university. Email your submission to firstname.lastname@example.org by 11:59 p.m., August 6, 2021. This contest is only open to incoming first-year students.