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How to study: An introduction to learning from a study skills tutor in Portland

Being a student is not an easy task. We are expected to bring interest to a wide range of subjects and learn a huge amount of information semester after semester, year after year. Being faced with learning so much information can be a daunting task, and to make matters worse, many students are never actually taught how to study.             

Where did I learn study skills?

My mom is a middle school advanced math teacher, and I still remember learning how to study with her in fourth grade. We would sit down several nights before a social studies test, and she showed me several different study skills, strategies and techniques that worked well for her during her high school and college education. Of course as a fourth grader, I questioned the importance of learning to how to study, and was somewhat of a reluctant learner at times, but I would not be the student I am today if it were not for my mom’s loving efforts.

I went to college at Chapman University where I studied biology, and I am going to medical school next year. There is no doubt that my science coursework was rigorous, but I was able to succeed thanks to the study skills that my mom had taught me so many years ago. In fact, I attribute much of my 3.95 GPA to her teaching me how to study growing up. She was like my personal study skills tutor, always willing to patiently help me through my different elementary, middle and high school courses.   

As I have continued to mature and grow as a student and tutor, I have learned a lot about myself as a learner. Through trial and error mostly, I know how I learn best and I know what learning or studying environments make me happiest (which is important too!!). Becoming a competent learner is an important goal for all students to have I think, and it truly is a journey. Simply reading about different study skills isn’t enough; you have to put them to the test and see what works for you. 

Now, after being a student for 18 years, and going into medicine, where I will be a student for the rest of my life (no kidding), I’d like to share with you 3 study skills that have helped me get to where I am today.  
Study skill #1: Take good notes.

The first study skill is to stay on top of each class throughout the semester, and take excellent notes in class. Not everyone is great at sitting and paying attention in class, but I believe that everyone can become great at it, and the rewards are huge. Taking good notes and paying attention is a form of studying that will save you time when the test is approaching. In college, I studied consistently in a group with 2 other students, and I always seemed to be the most well-prepared for our initial study sessions. I’m not smarter than either of my peers, I just took better notes and paid more attention, so I remembered more content when it was time to study.

Study skill #2: Make a study guide.

The second study skill I recommend is that the first thing you do when studying for an exam is make a study guide. This guide should be a comprehensive summary of anything and everything you could be asked on the test. If you followed my first step and took excellent notes in class, then making a study guide is easy – just go back, neaten and summarize your notes, and use the course’s textbook to fill in the gaps that you may have missed in class.  

If you’re a math student, the study guide takes on a bit of a different feel. Instead of summarizing your notes, I recommend making a list of each possible type of problem you need to know, and include a simple example problem that goes through the steps of how to solve it.

The purpose of the study guide is to give you a reference point for the remainder of your studying. After you make the study guide, if you’re working through practice problems or talking through concepts and you get stuck, you will always be able to check back on the study guide to reaffirm your understanding. Also, I’ve just found that putting all of the information in one place makes learning it all seem less daunting, because I know that the teacher won’t ask anything on the test that is not in my study guide. Before making the study guide, the amount of information combined with the uncertainty of not knowing exactly what information I need to know can be overwhelming. After you make it, however, the stress and uncertainty is gone and now all I need to do is get to work on learning.   

Study skill #3: Use active recall techniques to learn faster.

Finally, my third study skill is my favorite of them all, because it can look very different depending on who you are. After you complete the study guide, the remainder of your studying should be using whatever active recall techniques you like best!! 

What’s active recall? It’s quite simple. Anything that makes you have to come up with an answer to a question on your own qualifies as active recall. Some of my favorites are talking through concepts with a friend without looking at notes (until I get stuck), using flash cards if I’m on my own, or even making a little practice exam for myself to complete. 

All three of these above active recall techniques work wonders, and you can use any of them! I use all of them interchangeably, depending on if I have people to study with, and the nature of the class I’m taking.

And that’s it!!! I hope you found this guide on how to study helpful. My last tip is to start studying for a test earlier than you think you need to, and try to have fun with it!! Thank you for reading, and I hope these study skills will help you as much as they’ve helped me.
Alexander H
Math, Science and Spanish Tutor
Chapman University
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