How to Study?

There are no hard and fast rules for the “best” study methods. Different people may have different ways to go about the same problem, so in the end it all depends on what works for you.

1. Use Metaphors/Analogies
– Its a good idea to use metaphors/analogies to understand difficult concepts. This is also handy for recalling concepts that you find hard to retain. Everything can be described as a Metaphor. It might take some time to come up with one but if you stick with it, you will do yourself a world of good.

2. Draw stuff
– I’m not gonna get into the theory behind how this works but its known that using a combination of text and diagrams enhances your learning. You will find this presented to you in every Head First series book.  So instead of writing paragraphs of text I tend to draw them in say boxes, circles etc. and connect them to together to give me a mind-map of view of a concept. There are many other ways to go about doing this..

3. The 5 year old method
– The idea is to take concepts you find difficult to understand and attempt to explain it like you would do to a 5 year old.What this means is you are forced to break the concept into smaller bits using simple words until you completely understand whats going on. From there onwards you reconstruct it.

4. Teach
– If you can confidently teach someone and they can understand it, it is a sign that you are reaching a level of mastery. So strive to teach!

4. Everything is a Question
– When taking notes I find it highly effective to phrase the title in the form of a question (and yes always give a title to the text to your notes). So instead of just writing about say ‘Inheritance in Object Oriented Programming’ and jamming eveything into a parapgrah I would break it into questions such as ‘What does inheritance solve in OOP’? or ‘Why is inheritance necessary in OOP?’  and other questions like ‘What conditions need to be met to implement inheritance’? etc. Having questions gives you sharper focus and makes you think. And it also  makes it a lot easier to power study (skim through, refer to certain portions of your notes etc.)

5. Multiple Sources
– Sometimes its not enough to know ‘just enough’. You might not completely understand a topic or concept.You may understand some of it but not enough to say confidently teach. In order to get around this I usually read/view/talk to multiple sources. Remember: one author may explain something better than another. Its vital to refer to different sources tostrengthen your understanding.

6. Support Circle
You will never be great at something until you work with people who are better than you. In order to get better you need to surround yourself with better. One of My favourite quotes is ‘birds of a feather flock together, pigeons and eagles don’t hang together’ – What this essentially mean is in order for you to improve your skill you need to seek support from people who do it better than you. You should study their habits and absorb as much as you can, then apply it.

More Tips:

1. Note taking.

Your brain is not going to remember every bit of information so don’t even try to walk into the exam hall thinking you’re an expert because ‘you remember everything from class’. You may think you do, but you probably don’t, unless you’re a genius, which I by the way am not.

When you are in class, Listen!

I am not saying take down detailed notes in class or write down every word the teacher says…

No. Just listen, listen, listen to what the teacher has to say and take down very brief summary notes of what is most important such as a key concept or an equation for example. Your exercise book should not be filled with more than a page and a half every lesson. Anymore than that, and you probably have not been absorbing or listening to what is going on as much as you should.

When you are at home, Write!

Once you get home, everyday, review your work and what exactly you have learnt in class, refer back to the textbook or whatever you did that day and refresh yourself on what you learnt. From that, and referring back to the syllabus (to see what you must learn and what topics you are unsure of), textbook and your school notebook every now and then to grab the key takeaways, write or type up a document of what you should know for that topic based on what you learnt that day.

Do this everyday and it should not take more than half an hour. Leave it to the last minute, and you are going to be swamped with 101 topics from 101 subjects and its just not going to work at all. Do not carry on with your notes if there is something you are unsure about, only move on if you understand everything you write. If you are writing page 3 of your notes, you should understand Pages 1 & 2 inside out. If not, stop, re-read the chapter and seek help from your teacher.

Regarding the notes, they absolutely do not have to be colourful, in your face mind maps or exquisitely designed flow charts (Depends on what works for you though).

As for myself, I am not sorry to admit that mine was simply a word document built on sub-headings, bullet points, short explanations and diagrams. That’s it. I used limited colour, a very small amount of shapes, and virtually no smart art or word art whatsoever. And yet, it worked well.

I just filled my document with the core content of what needed to be known and put it into visible easy to read point form. This allowed me to easily refer back to it if I forgot or did not clearly understand something. The biggest problem I have with exquisite mind maps and notes is that it is difficult to pinpoint something and refer back to it quickly when I needed to, it also is extremely time consuming which for a set of revision notes, in my opinion, is unnecessary, but again, whatever works best for you. Remember, your notes is not a graphic design project.

2. Practice Papers

I am not an advocate of too many textbook questions, they are usually too simple and are nothing like what appears in the exam, so only do textbook questions to test your really fundamental understanding of the topic at the beginning, but bear in mind, simply acing textbook questions is not going to get you very far in the exam.

In terms of practice papers, try not to wait till the last minute and cram 3 per day. That is just unsustainable and bloody tiring. Same as with your notes, try and do your practice papers over a pro-longed period of time, 2-3 papers a week of alternating subjects worked well for me, however I increased that frequency to 3-4 per week in the final month of the exam just to make sure I left no stone unturned.

You may ask how are there enough practice papers to keep this going? Simple. Find the exam papers and answer keys online then print them all out starting from a few years back such as 2008.

When you do your practice papers, have a copy of the answer sheet too. The point of this is because what you may begin to notice is that the questions they ask tend to repeat and be pretty similar across the years, therefore, their answers will also tend to be very similar too, the answer sheet will expose first hand to these ‘model’ answers that will come up and again and again and will also show you exactly what answers the exam board wants to specific questions, hence, even if you go into the exam and have a familiar question but you don’t fully understand the concept, you should know the model answer and therefore could just put it down and have a high probability of getting it right simply because you’ve done your background work. This also puts you at an advantage above the people who may understand the concept but lack the ability to articulate it in the way the exam board wants you to do so.

After finishing every paper and learning from your mistakes, file it away somewhere so when you refer back to it or refresh yourself before the exam, it will be easily accessible.

Once you have completed refreshing yourself with the work you have done, do no work at all up to the day of the exam. Enjoy yourself and do what you want, you have worked hard. There is nothing to fear.

The above content was mostly for content and word-based subjects such as Biology, Chemistry, Literature etc… rather than a number based topic such as Maths. After all, you cannot really take good quality notes for a subject like that.

Therefore, I came up with a logical step by step study method that I’ll share with you meant just for Maths which somehow got me an A* and an A even though I have never in my life been great at it:

  1. Get a copy of the syllabus to get a clear view of the exact topics and their components that you will be tested on. Make a little mark beside the topics you do not think you are very confident in.
  2. Get your textbook again and focus on those topics you are not too sure about. Do about 10-15 beginner/intermediate questions ensuring your foundation is there. Then move on to complete all the hard questions in that topic to ensure you can handle the tougher stuff. You will probably run into difficulties along the way and that is when you seek help from your teacher.
  3. Once you have finished the topics you are not confident in and have become comfortable with them, move onto all the other topics you feel neutral and confident in. Do about 5-7 of the beginner/intermediate questions in those topics just to make sure your foundation is still very much intact. Once again, move on to do all the ‘hard’ questions even if you think they are easy. This will ensure you are comfortable with those topics and can handle the harder questions there too. Do not be complacent and skip topics as that is where you will lose easy marks.
  4. Find and print out all the past year exam papers from all the different time zones along with their respective answer keys.
  5. Start work on the past year exam papers under timed conditions. Do all the questions that you know how to do. Leave out the questions you do not know how to do. Once the paper is done use the mark scheme to mark yourself and to fill in the questions that you did not know how to do and learn from and understand your mistakes. If unsure, seek the help of a teacher. Never move onto another paper without understanding every single question and every single method used in the previous paper. This part is very important as it gives you an idea of the types of questions the exam board likes to ask and also shows you how the questions have evolved over the years. The answer key shows you the answers and methods the markers like to see and also gives you an idea of how the answers required have evolved over the years. Knowledge of these will give you a big advantage on the day of the exam.
  6. Once all the papers are completed, go through each of the papers to review what you have done and to ensure you remember and understand why you have done what you have done for each question. Just make a little mark on the question if you do not understand why you did something and then seek help from a teacher. Only move onto the next question when you fully understand why you have done what you have done for the previous one.
  7. Spend the remaining time before the Maths exam; relaxing and having a good time. Do no work at all. No more maths. No more school material. Behave like you are on holiday. Go out with friends, exercise, start a business, get a job, do whatever makes you happy. Most importantly, get tonnes of sleep as there is no better preparation for a Maths exam than to be well rested and have a clear, quick mind. This part is absolutely fine to do and actually good because you have spent the past time working hard and understanding everything, therefore if you were truly diligent about it, everything should make sense to you and there is no point going over stuff you have already completed hence, you are prepared for the exam.
  8. On the day of the exam, remain calm but focused and alert. Understand and have the confidence that you have put in the hard work and that the results you aimed for will follow as a result of that. After you finish the paper, check your answers thoroughly. There is nothing worse than coming to terms with the reality of careless mistakes undoing what you have spent the past time practicing.

Composed by Pravin Hanchinal, Courtesy: Quora