How to Study for a Test the 4.0 GPA Way: Part Two

In honor of finals week’s looming arrival, I’m doing a three-part series on how to study for tests the 4.0 GPA way. Last week in Part One, I gave some general tips. This week, Part Two is all about how to memorize the material.

It's hard not to get down about finals week. Photo By: Elizabeth Preston
It’s hard not to get down about finals week.
Photo By: Elizabeth Preston

My experience has shown me that the trick to studying for tests is to engage in different learning styles to etch the information into your brain. There are three different types of study styles: visual (you learn best via pictures and reading), auditory (you learn best by listening and hearing the information), and tactile (you learn best by doing). Here is a website that discusses the different learning styles in more depth: “What’s Your Learning Style? The Learning Styles.” I’m primarily a visual learner, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t engage the material through the other ways (although tactile is oftentimes difficult or impossible to do). Rather, my study routine mixes some of the various learning styles and focuses on what I have found to be the key to memorization—repetition.

It took me a while to discover and refine this formulaic routine, but it was well worth the effort. In my opinion, it allows those of us who don’t have a photographic memory (me included) to ace tests and get a 4.0 GPA. So, without further ado, here’s my formula for studying and doing well on tests.

1. Read the material. This is sort of “duh,” but it’s nevertheless a key step in the studying process.

2. Organize your study notes in the same bullet format that I discussed in “Write This Down: How to Take Notes the 4.0 GPA Way.” Also, make sure to keep your notes organized so that you don’t lose them. The last thing that you want to worry about when you’re studying is where that last page of notes (you know, the one that you worked an hour on) went to. Keep your study notes in a whole notebook to themselves. Or, if you’re using loose leaf paper, make sure to number the pages and place them in the same spot every time you put them down. The same goes for notecards.

3. Combine information from your textbook with your class notes. For example, let’s say that you’re studying psychology and you’re on the topic of Jean Piaget’s cognitive stages of development. The first stage is the sensorimotor stage. You look at what your textbook says about the sensorimotor stage and you look at your notes from class. There’s bound to be some overlap from your class notes and from your textbook. So, combine the information and write it in your study notes. This step makes sure that you get all of the information that you need from both your class notes and your textbook. Sometimes your class notes will have something that’s clearer to you than what your textbook says. In this case, you’d choose to write down the information from your class notes. Other times, the book will have some tidbits that you didn’t have in your class notes. Add those tidbits to your study notes. I typically start off writing down what the textbook says and then enhancing that data with material from my class notes.

4. Shut out the distractions and memorize. Sequester yourself in your room (or someplace quiet if your roommate is too loud) and memorize the material. Sorry, there’s really no shortcut to this step. But, there are some things that you can do to enhance your memorization process, such as . . . .

5. Engage your visual memory. Clear your mind and only focus on one page of your study notes at a time. Without thinking of anything else, intensely read that page of notes and try to picture images or scenarios that can help you to remember the concepts. For instance, let’s go back to Piaget’s sensorimotor stage. This stage is from birth to two years old, and some of the stage’s characteristics are: the child exploring his five senses, being egocentric, being fascinated by novel things, and being curious. In order to remember this information, picture babysitting a crying baby that won’t stop chewing on the couch. You dangle a new stuffed bear in front of him to try and quiet him down, and the baby suddenly stops chewing on the couch and crying in order to focus on the bear. This mini mental movie will help you to remember the characteristics of the sensorimotor stage—the baby is exploring his world through his senses, he’s curious about what the couch tastes like, he’s screaming because he’s upset despite the fact that his crying clearly upsets you, and he gets easily distracted by new things. Done. This mental movie should pop up when you see “sensorimotor stage” or “Piaget’s stages of cognitive development” on the test. Granted, for brevity’s sake, my example doesn’t fully go into the six substages, but you get the idea. The point is that it’s a lot easier (at least it is for me) to remember things using a mental movie than it is to try and remember what your notes looked like come test time. If a mental movie isn’t working for you, try acronyms, which are particularly helpful when studying the parts of something, such as the various parts of the Federal Reserve.

6. Engage your auditory memory. When you’re reading and memorizing your study notes, make sure to read them out loud at least one time. If you find yourself having trouble remembering a concept or definition, keep repeating it out loud. Oh, and bonus tip, don’t do this in public. I learned the hard way that that makes people give you strange looks . . . .

Sometimes it feels like you've been studying from sunup to sundown.  But don't worry, you will get through this.  On a side note, Western sunsets rock. Photo By: Elizabeth Preston
Sometimes it feels like you’ve been studying from sunup to sundown. But don’t worry, you will get through this. On a side note, Western sunsets rock.
Photo By: Elizabeth Preston

7. Test yourself. Put your hand or a piece of paper over your notes so that you can only see the concept and not the concept’s details. Then, say out loud everything that you know about that concept. When you’re done, remove your hand or paper and look at your notes. How’d you do? If you missed something, write it down seven times on a sheet of paper. Repeat the process until you can say everything on your notes.

8. Have someone else test you. Every 5-7 pages of material (or every thirty notecards when I was in my notecard phase), I would ask my dad (in return for his help, I promised to put him in a good retirement home) to test me by giving me the name of the concept and then I would have to describe it and try to mention every note and definition correlating to the concept. You can ask your parent, sibling, significant other, friend, or classmate to do the same for you. Just be willing to do them a favor in return. Usually, coffee, food, mutually-beneficial study sessions, or the promise of a good future retirement home will do the trick.

9. Highlight everything you got wrong when someone else tested you on the material. This alerts you to your problem areas and helps you to focus on strengthening those weaknesses. You can ask your study buddy to highlight for you.

10. Go back and try to understand and memorize what you got wrong. You should write down everything that you got wrong 4-7 times on a piece of paper depending upon your time constraints. The fear of having to write it down another 4-7 times will help you to memorize that concept.

11. Review the material one last time before heading to bed. You can (and probably should) also review it an hour or two before the exam paying special attention to the highlighted material from step 9.

I realize that the routine may seem like a lot of steps. However, the game of memorization is all about re-exposure—something that is a pillar of this routine. I believe that you have to repeat something to remember it, and this routine is all about repetition. Yes, it may seem a little tedious, but I’ve found it a tried and true friend when it came time to ace a test. Admittedly, this routine also takes some time to go through. For your first try, I suggest that you give yourself three to four days, studying about 4-8 hours each day. I believe that such is a comfortable pace for most people and that it will still allow plenty of study breaks.

Stay tuned for Part Three of the “Studying for Tests the 4.0 GPA Way” series, which will discuss study tips for specific subjects (i.e., math, English, history, biology, etc.).

Bonne chance, mes amis!

Have any questions about this blog post, or have questions that you want answered about some other aspect of college and obtaining an awesome GPA? Do you think that I might have missed something? Write it in the comments below, and I’ll give it a go. 🙂


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