January 07, 2016

High Impact Study Strategies

We know that doing well academically involves time and effort, but students often ask “what’s the one thing I can do to improve my academic performance?” Though there is not one single thing, making high impact changes at the beginning of a new term can make a significant difference. Mebbie Bell, associate director of learning resources with the Student Success Centre, shares five high impact strategies for kick-starting your term.

#1 - Make the most of your weekly and monthly schedules.
Getting organized at the beginning of term sets up good study habits and keeps you on track as your coursework heats up (learn what to include in your weekly and monthly schedules here). To ensure the usefulness of your schedule, check that it fits the following criteria:
  • Keep your weekly schedule generic. You should know when you will work on each of your courses or activities, but not have to redo your schedule each week.
  • Coordinate your weekly and monthly schedules. Your monthly schedule will help determine what you should do in the weekly time blocked for specific courses. 
  • Be generous with yourself. Plan for tasks to take longer than you think, and create reminders on your monthly calendar to start assignments and exam prep early. 
  • Be realistic. A schedule that does not include all of your activities or account for “real life” likely won’t work in the long run. Remember to factor in travel time, food, sleep, and downtime too.
  • Review your schedules regularly. At the beginning of term, try out your schedules for a week and then adjust them. Throughout the term, review them at least weekly to keep on track — if you are falling off of your schedule, adjust as needed.
  • If you already have your weekly and monthly schedules: Reflect on past terms to plan now to handle things differently this time around. For instance, if you struggled to juggle multiple assignment deadlines, consider finishing a substantial assignment draft in the first month of term. Or, if that extra-long day (with classes, a lab, a night class, work, etc.) got the better of you, change your schedule now (if you can); if not, eliminate all unnecessary activities on that particular day — plan for survival in order to succeed. 
#2 - Preview before every class.
Anything you do before class jump-starts the process of understanding. And, pre-reading (or previewing) is a deceptively simple task: in 5-10 minutes, quickly skim or scan the posted lecture notes or assigned readings. Focus on objectives, summaries, titles, or diagrams. Make a list or quick diagram of what you preview to help you identify the most important content during the lecture.
  • If you already preview materials prior to the lecture: Review assigned readings in more detail, and compare them to the posted PowerPoints or class summaries.
#3 - Review your notes within 24 hours.
Active review soon after class helps transfer information to your long-term memory, and prepares you for more efficient learning in the next lecture (wait much longer and the lecture details will be largely forgotten!). It's easy to make your review count. Read through your notes and add information you recall from the lecture, as well as identifying any questions about or gaps in the material.

A great next step is to answer these questions or fill in the gaps from textbook information. Or, try reviewing your notes against your readings and add any missed information to your notes. The result is one comprehensive set of notes.
  • If you already review your notes right after class: create maps or diagrams (such as concept maps, flowcharts, outlines, Venn diagrams, or even sketches) of your course materials from the very first class. Then, add on to these maps after each lecture. The effort you put in now will pay off when it’s time to prep for exams. 
#4 - Ditch your inefficient strategies.
Most students know when a study strategy isn’t working: it feels as if it “makes work,” you are bored or frustrated, or commit lots of time with little learning in return. It is normal — and necessary — to update your strategies as you progress through your studies. The technique that worked for high school exams, or first-year university, may need to be tweaked or changed entirely for the demands of more advanced study. If you think a particular approach is no longer working for you, trust yourself — try a new strategy.

#5 - Seek out academic resources.
One of the most common regrets for recent university graduates is that they did not seek out help or use the academic resources available to them during their degrees. Whether you have specific questions or want to take your academic performance to the next level, make this the term when you go to your professors’ office hours, ask your TA a question, take a workshop, or go to the extra seminar or student association drop-in session. Accessing resources such as these will save you time and frustration, reduce your stress, and put you on track for academic success.

Read more here about making productive changes to your studying this term. And, stop by our Wellness Wednesday “Study Schedule Session” on January 13th for some in-person advice on how to manage your time this term.