As you begin to take more challenging courses, you may find your study skills lagging behind what this year’s classes require. In this article, we’ll give you advice on organizing your study time so that you don’t get left behind. We’ll also cover various study strategies for you to try out as you begin to discover what works best for you.
Our Top Study Tips
So, what’s the best way to learn and retain everything that you need to know for your high school classes? That depends on your learning style. Some students study best in silence, while others do best with help. Some are more apt to remember what they see in print while others find it easier to retain information they hear spoken aloud.
It will also vary from one subject to another. You’ll need a different strategy for AP Psychology than you’ll need for this year’s math class. You may even need to take a completely different approach to Chemistry than you did with Biology. Even within a single class, you may find that certain tests require more careful study time than others. Try out as many different study strategies as needed to discover which are the most effective for you.
When considering what worked, look beyond the grade you got on your latest quiz or essay and consider long-term retention. Which methods will help you remember what you’ve learned long enough to ace the final exam and excel in college courses that build on what you’ve learned in high school?
Here are some of our top study tips to help you ace your tests and meet your goal GPA.
Study With Friends
Whether you’re struggling to grasp a new concept or just need friends to hold you accountable and keep you focused, group study sessions can be a powerful learning strategy. Your friends may be able to share their study tips or explain that new equation in a way that finally clicks.
Studying together is particularly helpful for interactive subjects, like learning a second language. You may find that practice conversations help cement new words and tricky verb conjugations better than other study methods can. Watching shows and movies in your target language is another fun group activity. Try making a list of new vocabulary words as you watch.
Just be sure to stay on task. Setting a start and end time in advance can be helpful. Or you can give yourselves a set amount of work to complete, like making sure everyone finishes that week’s math homework before watching a movie together.
Study on Your Own
For some people and some subjects, you might find that it’s more efficient to work alone. Experiment with different subjects and see what’s most effective for you.
You may find that you think better alone and need silence to understand what you’re reading. Or maybe you find that it’s easier to stay focused when you’re studying with others. You won’t know until you try. Find what works best for you, and stick to it.
First, Just Read
When learning from a textbook or reading a novel for English, try reading a chapter in its entirety before you take any notes. Later — this could be after a short break or it could be later in the week — you can go back, read the material a second time, and write down key concepts after you’ve gotten a feel for the material as a whole.
For some people and some subjects, taking notes on the first read-through might be an effective approach. But more often than not, taking notes while you read new material can be a confusing process. You don’t know yet which details are most important.
Depending on the subject, it may be helpful to read large chunks of material at a time and then revisit them. If you’re reading a novel for English class, relax and enjoy it. You can comb through it more carefully later, when you’re preparing for an essay. If you know that your history class will cover multiple chapters this week, try getting comfortable and reading them all in one go, then revisiting them individually throughout the week.
Try Listening Instead
If you’re an auditory learner, listening to the material instead of reading it may be more effective for you. You could listen to an audiobook while you exercise. If no audiobooks are available, try reading a chapter out loud and recording yourself; you can listen to this recording later to cement the information in your brain.
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Take Useful Notes
Before you begin to take notes, consider your end goal. Are you looking to stamp this information in your memory for future use? Prepare for a quiz? Create a guide that you can use to write your final essay? Take some time to think about which bits of information you’ll need later on and how to best organize it all.
Many students find that pen and paper is the most effective method, while others prefer to use a digital method such as Evernote. If you’re reading a book on a kindle, you can use its highlight and tag features to save quotes and examples for an essay. Some students like to make their notes directly on note cards for future study.
Write and then Review
One way to see whether or not you’re well prepared for a test is to practice retrieval. This means recalling memories when you need them. It can often be a more effective study strategy than simply reading over your notes.
You can practice retrieval by writing down everything you remember and then using your notes or the original text to fill in the blanks. You can also practice retrieval by telling someone else about what you learned, or simply saying it all out loud.
Copying diagrams and other illustrations from your textbook or other sources is an excellent learning strategy. Here are some examples of when to try this approach:
- Copy the periodic table, including a legend for more information
- Draw your own maps for geography and history
- Sketch and label the organelles of a cell
- Create practice graphs when studying for a statistics test
- Draw a picture while listening to an audiobook
- Copy the diagrams from your physics textbook
After you’ve copied these things into your notes or onto flashcards, you can practice your retrieval skills by drawing them without looking at any reference material. Once you’ve filled in all you can, compare your illustration to the source material and fill in anything you didn’t remember. Repeat.
Use Your Own Words
Don’t just copy things down word for word. Summarize sections as you go.
It’s helpful to rewrite information in your own words. After you read a section in your textbook, write a paragraph summarizing the most important information. When you finish a chapter in the novel you’re reading for English, write down the key plot points; include page numbers for sections that stood out to you for easy reference when you go to write an essay.
Use Written Notecards
Flashcards are an excellent tool that can help you to practice your active recall and cement hundreds of important details in your mind. Try them for:
- Foreign language vocabulary and verb conjugations
- Various classifications and terms for your biology class
- Dates and names for your history classes
- Any study guides provided by your teachers
As you move through your flashcards, place them in separate piles. The ones you answered correctly can be set aside for the rest of this session. The ones you struggled with or just plain didn’t know can be put back into your main pile until you learn the necessary information.
There’s an App for That
You can also use websites or phone apps to help you study. Digital flashcards are great for certain subjects because you can make good use of images. This can be useful for a wide range of classes, including art history and biology.
When I took marine biology, we had to be able to recognize dozens of different kinds of seaweed from their photos. And in AP Art History, you’ll be required to recognize hundreds of works of art on sight and be able to name the artist. It’s so much easier to make virtual flashcards than to print out the pictures or just try to memorize the information out of a book.
Just be careful not to get so tied to flashcards that you avoid putting your knowledge to good use. In a language class, for example, vocabulary will only get you so far. And while flashcards are a great way to increase your vocabulary when learning a new language, they’re a poor substitute for real conversations, or even writing your own thoughts in complete sentences.
Use flashcards to their fullest potential, but don’t neglect other equally important study methods.
Tutor Your Classmates
Explaining new concepts or relating new facts to another person is one of the best ways to cement those things in your long-term memory. Tutoring another student may help your own test scores more than you expect.
Other interactions can help too. Try telling your family about everything you learned in your history class this week. Or talk to a friend about the novel you’re both reading for your English class. If you’re stuck home alone, you could always schedule a virtual study session with your classmates.
Find a Tutor
At some point in your academic career, it will be necessary to ask for help.
You can team up with friends and share your strengths. We all have our own strengths and weaknesses. Maybe your friend is a math whiz who can explain things in a way that clicks, and you’re an English nerd who can help them to reformat their essays in a way that makes sense.
Transizion offers tutoring for high school students. Our team of tutors can help you learn new study skills, earn high grades, and do well on your AP exams.
Remember What You’re Working Towards
Grades for the sake of grades aren’t always the best motivator. Try not to lose sight of what you’re working towards. Whether you already know what you want to do in life or simply want to keep a glittering array of options open for your future self, excellent grades will help — and so will the skills and the knowledge that you acquire along the way.
Final Thoughts: Best Study Tips
Whatever you’re studying, you can find a way to succeed. You may need to try out a number of approaches before you find a method that works for you. Alone or in groups, in pairs or with a tutor, in silence or with music playing… if you keep at it, you’ll eventually figure out the environment that helps your brain work to its full potential.