Updated: Dec 26, 2018
Today I thought I’d share a few study habits I’ve adapted over the years to help you throughout this upcoming semester. Not all of these tips are completely original, but they’re all "not-so-generic" work habits that have really saved my butt over the last few years 😊. Keep in mind that this is quite the list- these are tips that work for me but might not work for you. I’d suggest choosing one or two of your favourite tips to start with before diving into the deep end of the study pool! Remember that habits are formed over a long period of time, so stay disciplined and don’t be disappointed if you don’t see a difference right away :)
1. “Fallback” Day
For bigger projects like CPTs, research assignments etc., plan to have the complete product ready to hand in at least a day or two ahead of the due date. Seriously, pretend that its due before it actually is. I’ve been doing this since grade 7 and it has saved lives. You never know when your printer might suddenly decide to go haywire, or something unexpected interrupts your plans.
Here are a few common examples of when I used my fallback day and a few outrageous (but true) ones to humour you:
The Staples lady didn’t know how to use the store printer
The internet cut out
I broke my collarbone (yay!)
I got a ton of homework/tests
My groupmate’s printer “caught on fire” (his words, not mine)
My partner left on a spontaneous trip to China without telling anyone
My project blew up (it was the sixth grade electricity unit)
Whatever the case, plan to finish early! You’ll have extra time to ask your teacher any questions/clarifications, rehearse a presentation, or just relax. Think of it like this: if the project is worth that much of your grade, its also worth completing at least one day in advance. Maybe your teacher might even give a bonus for early submission :)
*Fallback days are also super helpful for tests and exams! You can never be over-prepared!
I frequently get asked how to distribute work when working in groups- especially with difficult people. Well here’s my best tip: task-breakdowns. As soon as you get your assignment, break it up into manageable sections. Whip out a google doc, share it with your group, and assign roles to each member.
Now, as a group, split these individual sections into stages. If possible, add due dates for each stage + person and final due date to collect everyone’s parts together before the final project is due (I like to aim for at least 1-2 “fallback” days, depending assignment). This takes a little more time, but you can always modify it later!
Overall, this shouldn’t take more than five minutes (it doesn’t have to be fancy!), and it’s a great way to get everyone in the group aware and accountable for their individual tasks. I even like to hand in a copy of my task-breakdown with my final project, especially if the assignment is marked individually.
This is probably my favourite and most-used tip because it can be used for both individual and group assignments, and it’s a great reminder for yourself when you don’t know where to start a big project. My biggest advice here is making this an automatic thought when you first start out. “Oh, here’s an assignment. I have to make a task breakdown.” Try your best to make some sort of outline even if there are only a few minutes left of class- scribble something on a scrap piece of paper, send out a quick memo. You can always come back to it.
I originally wrote so much about task-breakdowns, I decided to make it its own post. Stay tuned to hear more about how I use it to keep myself and my groupmates accountable!
3. Read the Rubric
You know that poorly photocopied chart in the miniscule font? DON'T THROW IT OUT!!! Give it a good read before starting the assignment and once more before handing it in- it’s actually a great checklist of things you should include in the project. You’d be surprised how many requirements are listed on the evaluation sheet that aren’t mentioned anywhere in the actual assignment. Obviously, you don’t have to read the entire thing (after all, we’re trying to study efficiently!), but take a look at the “Level 4” column/highest level.
4. Save “Good” Homework Questions
I’ve picked up this habit sort of by accident this past semester in my math class. It all started when I was looking for some practice questions that actually reflected what the lesson was about (rather than the cough unhelpful cough chapter review).
Throughout the unit, highlight/write down homework questions that trouble you, or examples of what you feel are “good” questions that reflect the concepts being taught. Make sure you have full solutions to the questions, and don’t be afraid of asking for help if you need it.
Before a quiz or test, flip back to those starred questions and make sure you can solve them all on your own. Just like how you were looking for these good questions, your teacher will also look through past homework to select questions for the evaluation. I can’t say for sure that this helped me get better marks, but it definitely made me feel a lot more confident going into the test.
5. Notes as you go
I know this tip isn’t for everyone- especially if you handwrite your notes, but it has saved me so much time before tests and exams. I write down important information on google docs as I’m reading the day’s lesson so I always have notes ready to go at a moment’s notice. I found that I prefer to have more time to study rather than worrying about making notes before a test. However, a lot of my friends prefer to study while making their notes- it’s really up to you. Either way, it's important to review the material taught in class each day.
Because I type out my notes, I’ve also created a template that I use for every lesson. I’ve also noticed that having pre-typed notes makes it so much easier to complete my homework because I type that as well (oh, Ctrl-C/Ctrl-V, what would I do without you?)
Keep in mind that this is by far the hardest habit to adapt (in my opinion!) and it has taken me a while to create a system that works for me. However, it’s never too late to start! If you do decide to try this one out, let me know how it goes in the comments! I’m curious to see if there are any daring souls out there ;)
*Even though I have notes pre-written I always read through the textbook and check to make sure I have everything on the study guide (if there is one!) in my notes.
6. Space out your studying
Well, easier said than done, especially if you're a natural procrastinator like me. We always hear the typical "Don't cram the night before a test!" and the next thing you know it's 11:59 pm the night before and the only though going through your head is, "I'll study tomorrow". We've all been there. But now it's time to break that habit! Cue the dramatic music.
This is where you have to explore what works for you. I have friends who use a "breakdown" method to schedule which chapters/lessons they study on different days of the week. This is a good technique especially if your class is divided nicely into different sections and you have a busy schedule. Try making a list of all the sections you have to review and distribute them into your calendar. Remember to be mindful of the test date and that study schedules don't always go as planned! I would strongly recommend leaving a few fallback days and planning accordingly.
I also know of people who learn best when they review each chapter as soon as they finish it. I personally use a hybrid of the two- making some sort study plan in my head and setting aside half an hour each day to review what I've learned so far. This works for me because I arrive about an hour before school starts every day, and I know I will always have that time to study without distractions. However, this method probably wouldn't work for most people because they don't have that regular uninterrupted block of time- and that's okay, as long as you're aware that you have a test coming up and formulate some sort of plan to learn all the required material before then.
7. Keep a Life Calendar
Okay, we’ve all hear of this one before, but its so important I couldn’t leave it out. By “calendar” I don’t just mean “school agenda”. I mean the Ultimate Calendar filled with your life stuff, extracurriculars, holidays, assignments, due dates etc.
Paper, notebook, or digital- whatever floats your boat. I personally use Google Calendar. While it’s not particularly cute or trendy, its practical- and free. However, I’ve also seen some great handwritten systems that work just as well. You may want a glam notebook- and that’s cool too. I would just suggest avoiding huge binders or anything too heavy to carry around your classes.
I like having a digital calendar because I’m on my laptop all the time and I can receive notifications on my phone, but both are great options depending on what works best for you.
Since getting into the habit of using a calendar, I've noticed that I'm generally less stressed and more organized around exam season. It's also allowed me to fit more into my schedule and open up more time to spend with friends and family.
Here’s a snapshot of my current calendar (I use different colours to organize different categories).
*I will say that editing google calendar on a mobile device isn’t super user friendly, so I’d recommend using your phone mainly to reference your calendar and receive notifications rather than edit
Remember that the ultimate goal is to actually use your calendar as much as possible, so keep it practical.
Well, there you have it. 7 "unusual" study habits to (hopefully) help you succeed.
Let’s keep the ball rolling and help each other out. What are some of your best study habits that I missed? I’d love to hear your thoughts below!
As always, feel free to reach out with any questions or requests for future content- seriously, I'd love to hear from you!