Sunday, January 10, 2010

I Read Over My Notes

Almost every time a student is asked how they studied for a test, they will answer, “I read over my notes.” What they do not know is—reading notes is not studying. It seems obvious that this works for many students since they make it all the way through high school thinking this is the way to prepare for tests. Often it is not until college that they find out this is not enough.

In order to prepare for a test—to really study—students must do an activity that requires them to remember the material without looking at it. Reading, highlighting, and organizing notes is step one. From there she must decide what is likely to be on the test. It helps to ask, “What was covered in class? What did the teacher say was important? What key terms were emphasized in the text?” These activities are in the preparatory phase of studying. The next step is to take some action to learn.

Parents or friends can call out questions to find out if the student has learned the material. Or the student can prepare note cards with a question on one side and its answer on the other. With these cards (or a similar folded chart that hides the answers), the student can quiz himself. Once a card or concept is clearly learned, the student can remove that card from the stack and only study the ones not yet mastered.

The next time your son or daughter is asked, “How did you study?” The answer will be more definitive. “First I organized my materials, then I made a study chart. After that, I quizzed myself to make sure I knew everything.” Now they know that they must both prepare to learn and then take an action.

1 comment:

  1. Great post! It reminded me of two related ideas. First, with the note cards, some of my students make three stacks rather than two. One, I knew it right off. Two, I struggled a bit and then remembered it. Three, I didn't know it. Once all stacks are complete, they review stack 3, stack 2, and again stack 3, giving extra time to material they don't know as well. Then they shuffle the cards for next time.
    I also have talked to them about time on task - how the first 15 minutes of memorizing are the most productive, and how memorization then becomes less and less productive until after about 60 minutes nonstop it is a very poor use of time. Therefore, I tell them, choose other work to do, or take study breaks, in between periods of memorizing. Let yourself forget a bit and have to work to remember it - it goes more firmly into long-term memory that way.


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