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The two most important things are to:

  1. Be Active, Not Passive
  2. Make Your Studying Like the Assessment

When you study, it is essential that you study actively – you must not sit there and expect that by putting in an hour of studying you will magically know more material.  Constantly ask yourself questions and monitor your understanding.  Here are some examples of Active vs. Passive Studying:

Asking yourself questions about your notes and rewording what you have previously written. Just “looking over” your notes
Putting what the teacher says into your own words when you are listening to lecture. Simply hearing what the teacher is saying in lecture.
Annotating, summarizing, and analyzing while you read a text. Moving your eyes over the pages while thinking about something else.
Creating and studying flashcards based on your review guide. Skimming over the terms on your review guide without thinking about them.
Targeting your focus on your weak areas. Studying everything with equal focus.

The big idea is that much like the world of work, simply showing up and hanging out for eight hours does not mean you actually accomplished anything that day.  It’s the same with studying.  More time does not necessarily equal more knowledge.  If you only perceive the material but do not think about it, you will not fully understand it and you will have wasted your time.

When I was in college calculus, I had a solutions manual that accompanied my textbook.  For my first exam, I studied in a passive way – I simply read over the solutions to problems without actually solving them myself.  I did terribly on my exam.  For my next test, I committed myself to the hard work of doing the problems without peeking at the tempting solutions manual.  The results were much better.

Since most assessments will test your in-depth memory and understanding of the material, active studying will only help you in your preparation for the test.  You must take this a step further by ensuring that your studying replicates the type of thought process that will be necessary when you demonstrate your knowledge.  Be flexible in how you prepare – get out of your comfort zone when necessary.

Let me give you a personal example.  A couple of summers ago, I was asked to give a talk at an educational conference.  My natural inclination to prepare myself was to sit in front of my computer and read over my remarks in my head.  However, since I had never done a talk like this before, I decided to hire a professional speech coach to help me do my best.

My speech coach gave me some awesome advice:  make your practice like your presentation.  Instead of brainstorming on the computer, brainstorm vocally since that is how you would deliver it.  Instead of reading over the notes on the screen, actively present them in a room.  Rather than assuming  timing and delivery would be fine, practice in front of others to take care of any potential issues.

If you are going to have an oral presentation as your assessment, practice as you will be assessed.  If you are going to have a multiple choice test, do multiple choice practice.  If you will have an essay, do essay prewriting practice.  If your preparation does not match the way you will be tested, you are wasting your time.

I hope you found this discussion helpful.  If so, I would invite you to share it with your friends.  Thanks, Brian Stewart