It’s Week 12. I am so tired. It’s the last week of class, so why did I have two midterms last week and one this week? I thought midterms were for the middle of the term—and not, you know, now. I guess it’s okay, because while studying for these midterms I’m also putting in the work for finals season. But it’s also not okay, because on my way to campus to study on a SATURDAY when it’s a hazy 13 degrees (at last!), people are out and about and having a good time. They’re going to Starbucks to socialize or to grab a coffee and wander around town with their friends. I’m going to Starbucks to buy espresso so I have the energy to complete my assignments and study.
But guess what?
I don’t have to do that next year because I’m going on internship! I’ll be working at CIBC for 16 months in downtown Toronto, which means that this might be the last you’ll be hearing from me until autumn 2024. I have mixed feelings. I am super duper excited to not be in school for a year (imagine coming home from work and not having to think about studying or deliverables), but I’ll also end up graduating without some of my friends. That makes me feel sad and kind of empty. After all, what is university if not the friends you made along the way?
As a way to pay tribute to my friends in this blog, here are some of their biggest and best study tips (and they are much smarter than me, so you should trust them):
- Sudeepta’s cue cards: Practice active recall with cue cards. We see cue cards as those things we scribbled on when we practiced speeches in grade 4, but they’re a great tool when we need to memorize a bunch of theorems, formulas, or definitions. You can write something you need to know on side A, and then the explanation, description, or a worked example of a math problem on side B. Then, shuffle through the cards. Look at side A and see if you can produce the explanation/description/working on side B without peeking. This way, you can’t really lie to yourself and say that you know something when you really don’t. We know how important active recall is, along with approaches like interleaving (when you mix up questions from different topics/areas so you never know what to expect next). Cue cards are a great way to implement those approaches, and they’re easy to use for even two or five-minute bursts of studying. Way more effective than endless hours of re-reading and highlighting lecture notes!
- Thomas’ airplane mode: Your phone is your best friend and your worst enemy. Remove distractions and go beyond “Do Not Disturb” by putting your phone on Airplane Mode. Even if your phone is on DND, there is always the temptation to check notifications. You could go one step further by preventing notifications and using Airplane Mode so that there are no notifications to check at all. If you’re really dedicated to cutting out distractions, put your phone in a different room or give it to a friend while you study and download a focus app like 1Focus for your laptop.
- Etan’s “Increase the bar”: When prepping for exams, list out everything you need to study in order of how confident you feel. Focus on areas that you don’t feel confident in first—if you have time, go back to areas you’re good at later, or quickly work over them with Sudeepta’s cue cards approach. For each problem area, try practice problems/worked examples, check solutions, and iterate until you feel more comfortable and can move on the next thing. If you have extra time and motivation to do that a couple of times, then increase the bar for what you constitute as comfort each time: take away your textbooks, notes, etc. until you can tackle a topic without any help at all. Raising the bar little by little will make the process a whole lot easier.
- Laeticia’s “Don’t force yourself”: Tired? Exhausted? Brain turned to cotton wool? Don’t force yourself to keep studying if it’s not working; you’ll only frustrate yourself more. When it gets to the point where you can’t figure it out and your head hurts because of it, take a break to get up and walk around, stretch, go to the gym, or do some yoga. Anything that gets you physically moving will help your blood flowing again, allow your memory and brain to do some deep work, and will aid in your thinking. Don’t make the mistake that so many students do of studying for countless hours!
- Kevin’s “Retrieval Comes First”: Lots of students rely too much on re-reading notes and textbooks, rather than forcing themselves to practice recalling what they’ve learned. Recall practice is actually better than re-reading by a huge margin—the research proves it! So when it comes to learn that tricky topic, start by writing down everything you know using pure memory (a kind of “brain dump”). Only then should you compare what you recall with the things you should actually know. Set a short timer—maybe an hour or two—to list out some of the gaps in your knowledge. Then use cue cards, practice problems, and more brain dumps to fill in the gaps. Repeat the first step, brain dumping again on your weaker topics. Rinse and repeat until you’re confident! The trick is to keep prioritizing that recall activity, rather than getting lost in the notes, books, and sense that you don’t know it all.
I use these study methods listed when it works for me, and you should when it works for you. All my friends mentioned that some of these methods work better for STEM courses than other courses, so you should adjust your studying method according to the course. A course is content and memorization heavy? Cue cards, mind maps, explain to someone like they’re five, etc. Application heavy? Practice problems, teaching it to others, etc. If you want to expand your list of studying methods, SASS has some great tips for exam prep.
Remember, university is a learning process. You are not going to become a perfect student overnight (I am still not, remember that 16%?). I believe that university is for learning how to deal with failure, training our mind on how to solve problems, and making precious relationships. Oh, and studying. Lots of studying.
But Gaels, we mustn’t lose sight of what’s in front of us. We must dream of the future. Let’s enjoy right now, because it won’t last forever. I hope my study tips will serve you well for the remainder of the semester and for the next year, but don’t forget to cherish your friends, your body, and your mind. I’ll keep you updated on my adventures in adultland!
All my best,