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Study Smarter, Not Harder

  • Lara Ramos
  • |
  • Mar 14, 2023
Study Smarter, Not Harder

With the final exam season beginning to loom over the horizon, we begin to see the mysterious shortage of caffeine products in residence. Many students, myself included, have been crafting their notes with meticulous care week after week in order to be prepared and confident for the upcoming tests. But what if there was a method of studying best suited for your major? Or a study plan that would help alleviate pre-exam jitters? On my quest to help better prepare Western students for the inevitable study grind, I interviewed two talented AEO students, Evelyn Cai (AEO2 in Medical Sciences) and Elaine Chen (AEO2 in Psychology), to gain some insight as to how they balance their academic lives.

What are your study schedules like?

Cai: I tend to start reviewing course content soon after class. For more content-heavy courses, this means working through my notes to fill in gaps or expand on lecture points, followed by verbally talking things out. I find that getting up and walking around while explaining concepts helps me retain material much longer – which comes in handy during exam season!

In a typical week, I review the concepts within a day after lecture, in addition to having another look over the content during the weekend. Then, come exam season, I’ll review the content again as more of a refresher. With concept-based courses, I use practice problems and assignment questions throughout the term, to identify tough questions that I can later use to prepare for exams.

Chen: Since coming to university, I found that my old study habits from high school were no longer cutting it; studying the night before was not enough to get an A university. Thus, I had to develop a new schedule for the increased volume of material. For instance, for each course, I allocate at least one hour on the weekend to review readings, homework, and lecture materials. Then, before any exam, I read and highlight my notes, afterwards retyping them to include only the most important portions. Finally, I enter all terms into Quizlet so I can review them using active recall.

What are the top 3 things you do to succeed when studying?

Cai: I ask a lot of questions and surround myself with motivated and hard-working people. As they say, iron sharpens iron, and that logic has really stuck with me. Instead of comparing myself to others, I scout out friends who are motivated, so that we can challenge each other to succeed.

Chen: First, review your notes after each lecture to avoid cramming when exams start. Secondly, make sure to go through all your course materials to get a full overlook of what knowledge you are expected to know. Do not rely just on just the lecture PowerPoints or textbooks! Finally, use active recall through Quizlet and cue cards to test yourself.

What are some fail-proof studying strategies?

Cai: Spaced repetition and talking through concepts.

Chen: Active recall is amazing to test whether you understand or have memorized the necessary material. Handwriting your notes can also help you memorize better.

How is university different from high school in terms of studying?

Cai: There is a lot more expected from you with a full science course load. Not only are you taking more courses, but they are also designed to be rather difficult. It is easy to feel overwhelmed – I sure did during September – but you will eventually figure out what works for you! For me, this meant using a planner and seeking out extracurriculars to find a good balance.  I also learned that it is tough to be completely self-sufficient in university. So much is thrown your way, so you really have to hit the ground running. Sometimes though you just need a break, meaning that things will slip by you and that is totally okay!

Chen: With high school, the volume of information is a fraction of what it is in university. Thus, it is much more important in university to make sure you are always caught up on your courses, as it is easier to fall behind. Make sure to study each week as materials often build on each other!

What do you think is the best method for taking notes?

Cai: I recently switched to an iPad for annotating slideshows during lectures. It is definitely an asset when trying to follow allow with professors that expand a lot on what is on the slides. I also audio record certain classes to fill in my notes with points I may have missed. This method comes in handy when reviewing notes since everything is already organized in one single place!

Chen: Typing out notes is the best method for me, as lectures move at a fast pace. If you prefer to handwrite your notes for retention, I recommend that you write it out after the lecture or on the weekend.

What are the best test-taking strategies for your major?

Cai: Most medical sciences exams in the first two years are fully multiple choice. I have always shamelessly plugged for multiple choice exams because the correct answer is already there - you just have to find it; whether that be by recognition, gut feeling, or process of elimination. The most important aspect of succeeding in multiple choice exams is to not overthink the question. Read through it, highlight key information, start crossing off incorrect answers to narrow down, and trust yourself!

Chen: My favorite method for psychology multiple choice exams is to go through it once – very fast, based on instinct – and fill out the bubble sheet first. Make sure you do not write anything on the physical exam book the first time. For the second look-through though, write all over the exam book and really read the questions to ensure that the final answers match the initial answers. I have found that this is a great way of catching mistakes and pacing yourself.