Nov 24, 2008

How To Make A Study Guide

Last week, we covered a few techniques that help maximize study time based on personal learning style. But whether you are a kinesthetic, audible, or visual learner, chances are you will be doing some writing for your next test. This week, we will show you how to make the perfect study guide.

OK, you have your notes from class, the slide show from the lecture, a slew of reading assignments and a ton of handouts. How can it be possible to make sense of this mound of information? The first thing you need to do is break down the material you have into more manageable chunks. Find a good, open place to study and spread everything out. Then start organizing in a way that makes sense to you. This could mean separating each type of document into its own pile (one for homework, one for notes, etc.), putting information in order of relevance to the test, or arranging things chronologically (either the order in which your teacher covered the material or the order things happened in history). Color-coding can help a lot, as do sticky notes. You should be able to identify on the fly where pertinent information can be found.

Once your information is organized, it’s time to do a little writing. Take a blank notepad or make a new document on your computer and start listing broad topic subjects. Try to keep these as general as possible. Quickly go over all your information to make sure you don’t miss anything important. Think of these as the chapter titles in the novel of your study guide (don’t worry, you won’t have to write a whole novel!).

When you have a general working outline, start narrowing your focus. Go from each broad theme or topic and concentrate on picking out pertinent information. To do this, organize together the documents that cover that particular topic. Scan over each document for key words plus definitions, important dates, highlighted passages, and recurring themes. Put these down under the broad topic subject.

Here is an example of an outline you might use for a test on the American Revolution:

From here, the study guide would go on to explain the remaining two events that pushed the colonies to war (the Prohibitory Acts, and the British hiring of foreign mercenaries). Notice how the guide becomes more and more narrowly focused, from a broad subject, to an explanation of events, to specific examples and passages. Make sure you end each topic with specific information, either paraphrased or copied and cited directly from the source. Include any web links or page numbers so you can go back later if you get confused.

Also, be sure to look at past tests for clues about the next one. Did your teacher test on material from the readings or information from the lecture? Imagine what kind of study guide you would like to have had for the last test, and apply that model to your next one.

Once you finish the study guide, take a break! Go play a video game, throw a frisbee outside, get a bite to eat. When you come back to studying, your guide will be done, and you’ll find that it will be both easier and quicker to cram in all that info.

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