I am a bad bad student.
Maybe it was all those years of being able to get by on the fact I am a world class guesser, but it made me very lazy about studying and otherwise being able to discipline myself in regards to schooling. While some people can still get away with this, I hit a sort of brick wall the instant I got to college and classes that required a little more than my diverse, but limited, general knowledge.
I have finally found a fantastic method for myself that allows me to actually retain information. And all I needed was to start using the highlighters and colored tabs I had collecting dust in a drawer.
This worked best for my history class, which is the type of class that really can’t be taught by anything other than lectures and reading. The main problem with this type of class is a lot of information goes in, but a lot of it needs to be filtered. In a way, I had to learn how to declutter the information I was receiving. Since I am not super disciplined, I had to do this twofold. So here was the first set of filters.
- Write notes in outline format (I type my notes, simply because I type faster than write)
- Keep notes in separate text files by date
- Only do the readings in segments related to their assignment
- Add a colored tag of the same color at the beginning of each segment
The third point was especially important, since I’m a fast reader and everything tends to jumble together if I don’t watch it. The fourth point is really only beneficial in that I used one color of a tag for every segment pertaining to a single test. That way when I needed to know which material was going to be on the next test, I could easily flip to it.
After sorting things as they came in, I was left with the processing part, otherwise known as studying. Most people will tell you that you need to study as you go, sometimes going to the extreme that you need to be reading something from a class every day. Personally, I find this tiring, and as some things have different deadlines, I fall behind that kind of schedule quickly.
So, I start about a week before an exam processing through all the information. I count listening in class and keeping up with the reading assignments as an initial pass through, and the actual studying as something far more in depth. But even this had a sort of process to it.
- Put all note files into one file and print it off (since I put the date at the top of all of them, this wasn’t disorganized)
- Go through notes and highlight all important names in one color
- Repeat this with locations, concepts, dates, each in their own separate color
- Then actually read through the notes
- Do this with reading materials, only more liberally
The first point is a necessity for me, because computers distract me easily when I need to focus. Can’t check email if there’s no email on a paper. For the most part, studying should be as low tech as possible. Points two and three were especially useful in that it helped distinguish certain important things; names didn’t get mixed up with locations, dates stood out, etc. For instance, I used a purple highlighter to indicate locations. When I got to point four, actually reading through it, the idea of locations being associated with purple stuck in my brain. Turning to the reading, I skimmed more, because it was less of an emphasis in the class. Not only that, the readings are always more dense than notes. So, only the first time a name appeared, unless it was connected with say, an invention in that paragraph was highlighted.
Using different colors also helped it from turning into the wall of yellow that is a mistake a lot of younger students I see make. Like the girl next to me in class, who used the same orange highlighter for everything. The point about a good study method is to filter out the noise and try to filter to the types of facts you’ll be tested on. Because no matter how much they will tell you that you need to know everything in a class, they can’t possibly test you on all that. If you pay enough attention during class or when people ask questions before the exam, you will notice which things the professor finds important.
So go ahead and splurge for multiple colored highlighters and those neat flag thingies. Just make sure you use them appropriately.