My daughter is in a GPA-breaking class. For her it is, any way. A bright child, book studies come naturally to her. She’s a breeze to teach. But in this one class, an online course she’s taking from an incredible teacher, she has finally met her match.
I think hard classes are a good thing, actually. We need to learn to do hard things. My daughter is glad she is learning how to survive a hard class before she begins high school. Hopefully these lessons from failures will help her overcome when it counts.
I sat down with her last week to talk about study skills and how to prepare for those truly hard tests. You know the ones, the courses that make little to no sense and seem to have no bearing on life in general [I say seem, because they really are applicable, we just can’t see the forest for the trees]? There is little use in telling students that those are the classes they will remember the most. No one believes that until they are 30.
So Adana and I came up with a five step plan for mastering hard subjects. She worked the plan and found that it actually cut down on her previously less-focused study time, helped her master the material, and gave her the grades she was looking for. WHOOOP! Sometimes you can have it all.
How to Study for a Hard Test
Every part of the process is equally important; you can’t skip a step. And the steps should be completed in this order because they build on each other. This process takes quite a bit of time. For grueling tests, the process should be started well in advance of the due date, ideally a couple weeks out, so you can spend a couple days on each step. The day before the test should be the least stressful; just a brief looking over the material and discussing the topic with a friend or classmate.
1. Understand the topic.
Read the entire content that has been assigned and listen carefully to lectures. Actively learn and try to comprehend the content. What is the teacher saying is important, and why does he think it is important? What is the chapter titled, and what does that mean? Could you explain this to yourself, let alone someone else?
During this process, write down questions to study further. Go back and re-read the textbook sections on those questions and/or ask questions in class until you are sufficiently satisfied that you understand the material.
Stay at this place until you understand. This is the single most important step in the process, as it ensures that you learn something (the point of the course in the first place) and that you have sufficient understanding to complete the next four steps.
2. Memorize definitions.
Now go back through the textbook and write down every single bold faced word, name, or date. Write it on the front of a 3×5 card (we are so old school!) and the textbook definition on the back. Memorize every one of those backwards and forwards. This is the terminology that your teacher will test you on, and it is the vocabulary you must use on short answer questions and essays to demonstrate mastery of the subject.
3. Memorize lecture notes.
If your teacher gave a handout, use that. If you take notes, take thorough ones. And memorize every statement, fact, list, and point.
My daughter’s class notes take the form of questions and answers. She could quiz herself on the questions and memorize the answers, but she found she still did poorly on the test. After going over the material with her, I discovered she had memorized those answers but not the entire question, so she didn’t have command of the entire concept or statement.
So I instructed her to memorize complete sentences stating the question with the answer, instead, like a catechism. It was more work, but she found that in a couple days she had mastered all the concepts her teacher had presented, and she could explain them to others.
4. Memorize missed questions.
Most classes have homework or study guides over the material. Go back and find every question missed on homework — that is the material less obvious to you intuitively and more likely to trip you up on a test. Memorize those concepts and statements to make sure you’ve mastered them.
5. Memorize every rule or formula.
By now, you should have a strong command of the material you will be tested on. The last part is a technicality. In real life, you can find a formula when you need it. On a test, however, you are expected to have them memorized. Go back and find all the equations that will be covered on your test and make sure you have them memorized. Find a couple practice problems, even, to make sure you can accurately solve the problem.
This is the process that works for us. Let me know if it helps you out on your next big test.