Ask Test Masters: Study Tips

Ask Test Masters is a great, free service that allows you to ask the experts at Test Masters all of your test prep and college admissions questions. If you have a question, send it to us – chances are other people are wondering the same thing. Reader Alyssa asked:

“Hi, I’m currently taking 4 honors classes my sophomore year. I find it very hard to give each honors class the same attention, which causes some of my grades to be low. I thought maybe I wasn’t studying correctly. Could you give some tips on how to study better? Thanks.”

Dear Alyssa,

There are a number of ways you might make your study sessions more effective.

The first step is to make sure you are not studying in an environment that is easily distracting. Avoid study habits that might lead to casual distractions, like studying with the TV on, or with friends who don’t take academics as seriously as you. Even using your computer can lead to procrastination; it’s very easy to go from “American History” to “American Idol” if you are using Google search. Essentially, you want to be comfortable, but not comfortable to the point of distraction. For example, if you’re studying at home you may find it more effective to study at the kitchen table than your bedroom.

Your choice of HOW to study can be just as important as your choice of where to study! After you have decided on an appropriate location to study, perhaps your school or local library, you should start focusing on what methods you will use to study. Everybody learns differently, some people are visual learners, others learn better verbally, and others find written repetition to be the most effective means of memorization. Some people learn best by incorporating various elements of all three styles. The important thing is to figure out what works best for you!

If you are a visual learner, then you should try making flashcards; they can be used for so much more than vocabulary! Make a set of flashcards for each distinct topic in a specific subject and separate your various sets with rubberbands. This is a great long-term strategy for several reasons: not only will you have effectively prepared for your upcoming tests, but by the end of the year you will have a complete set of carefully crafted cards, separated by section and topic, for the final!

If you are a verbal learner, then you might want to consider organizing a study group (just make sure not to invite anybody over who won’t take the topic as seriously as you). A study group made up of the right people can be a powerful learning tool; a collaborative group of peers gives you the opportunity to both learn and teach. A college instructor of mine insistently advocated this approach, professing “You cannot truly understand a subject until you can explain it to another person!”

Repetition has long been held to be one of the most effective means of memorization. Can’t remember something? Write it down a thousand times in a row and you will! Though this method of learning is certainly effective, it is not necessarily efficient. This method is best used as a long-term approach rather than as a last minute effort to study before an exam. The danger of studying this way is that you can spend hours and hours recopying notes or textbook passages, redrawing important diagrams and charts, and still only cover a fraction of the material you need to in order to perform well on an exam.

These study strategies employ a variety of different tactics and features, but they share one common theme: TIME MANAGEMENT! In order to successfully execute these strategies, and any other study strategy, you must carefully manage your time. One colleague (Ivy League graduate & overachiever extraordinaire) suggests prioritizing classes: “Some classes may not be as intensive as others; if you can you should try studying for your more difficult classes in your easier classes. You have to manage your time if you want to succeed with an all-honors schedule. Study during lunch. Study on the bus. Study on a school night. The fact is, if you have any free time at all then you are not managing your time properly. At least, that was my experience taking all AP/IB classes plus orchestra and swim team.” Though I would never encourage you to slouch in one class to succeed in another, the sage advice my associate offers is very pertinent. You are going to have to commit in order to rise up to the challenge of an overwhelming academic schedule; this means dedication and sacrifice. Carefully plan your day, week, and even semester in advance; establish a routine that works for you, and you will get the results you’re looking for.

Another point of advice is to make sure you are not taking on more than you can handle. A full semester of honors classes is great, but only when you are getting decent grades. Don’t sacrifice your GPA or class ranking in an effort to make your transcript stand out; don’t take more honors classes than you can handle. The perfect schedule should challenge you, but it should be a challenge you are capable of meeting.

Hope this helps!

Remember, the experts at Test Masters are masters in all tests! If you need help studying, with homework assignments, or are preparing for an important quiz or test, our tutors are available year-round to help!

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