A Guide to University Learning

Learning How to Study:

Student Guide
Review Material Regularly
Identify Exam Specifics
Organize & Integrate Resources
Plan Your Time
Study Actively
Study Groups
Tips for Recalling Content
Post-Exam Strategies
Studying Top Ten Takeaways
Practice Activity
Study Checklist

Student Guide

Studying for an exam should be more than just a cramming session; successful studying is an ongoing process that begins with the first day of classes and involves managing your time and learning effectively from texts, lectures, and labs. It also involves developing a foundation from which to begin your pre- exam review. This section outlines several tips and strategies that students can use to enhance their studying during university.

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Review Material Regularly

Before you can begin studying for an exam, good study habits begin much earlier in the term. To effectively study, it is essential you review regularly the material from lectures, seminars and textbooks in a consistent fashion. Get into the habit of:

Reviewing Your Notes Daily

Edit your class notes as soon as possible after class to fill in any gaps. Re-read/skim for comprehension. Make sure you staple/collect all related handouts/problems so that everything is organized. Review your notes before the next class.

Rewriting & Integrating Textbook Notes Shortly After Lecture

As soon as you have done the textbook reading, ensure it is integrated with the lecture notes in a fashion you will understand (this could mean writing the textbook content on the backside of the lecture note, the lecture note could be filled in with more detail from the text, or a new note could also be created that combines both the textbook and lecture material).

Reviewing Your Notes Weekly

At the end of each week, go through your notes for all of your classes to ensure you understand the content. Rewrite any lecture notes if they are too messy or disorganized. Organize your notes into binders or file folders. Ensure the notes are placed in sequence with other notes. Make summary notes on the important concepts and information. Look at how the material covered relates to the course as a whole.

Identifying When You Need Help (long before the exam)

Get in the habit of asking questions, going to see the professor or TA or seeking out friends to help you grasp something that isn’t making sense.

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Identify Exam Specifics

Before you can conduct any meaningful studying, you must first define the scope of the exam.  You need to determine what knowledge and skills are being evaluated. Gather as much information about the exam as you can. Although it's not appropriate to ask specifically what will be asked on the exam, there is nothing wrong with requesting or finding out the following:

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Organize & Integrate Resources

Previous Tests

Be sure to review any previous tests you've had in the course. Analyze errors you've made in the past, recognizing where you lost marks.

Making a Study Guide

A lot of students make study guides. Here is a brief overview of one method:

Creating an Outline

An outline can be thought of as a condensed study guide. Outlines attempt to condense large amounts of information you have from all your course sources into a logical system. Some professors and textbooks provide outlines of chapters which you may find helpful. Some tips for creating outlines are:

Building a Problem Set

For problem solving courses, many students adapt the study guide approach. Your assigned problem sets are key for studying.

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Plan Your Time

When is the best time to study?

Everyone is different - choose a time you are most awake.
Students find the most effective time for studying to occur between when they wake up and when they eat dinner. Yet some students work very well late into the night. Choose a time that is quiet and when your brain is ready to learn.

Where should you study?

Most students work best in isolation.
Find a number of isolated study spots on or off campus and rotate through these locations when you study. Seek out those study spots so that you have choices and can change venues to prevent procrastination or avoid distractions. Studying in the dorm room or at home on your bed often just doesn’t work for everyone.

How long should you study?

Generally, no more than one hour at a time without a break.
Your break needs to be only 5-10 minutes, but it’s important that you take an intellectual breather during this period. Doing something completely different on your break (e.g., reading a newspaper article, sending a few emails) will help refresh your mind. Generally, 30-60 minutes is an appropriate learning period for studying before taking a break.

What is a study plan?

Divide your workload into manageable chunks.
Divide your available time and your work load into manageable chunks. Study frequently in shorter periods of time. Pay attention to how much time you are spending on specific study tasks and stay on track with your study plan. Focus your energy on studying, not playing catch up. If you are already behind, try to prioritize, concentrating on the material most likely to appear on the exam.

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Study Actively

Active studying means you have to be engaged with the content. Most students make the mistake of relying on passive review which involves reading and re-reading their notes and assignments. They assume the more times they read the content the more they will remember it. Make the extra effort to get it into your head!

Here are some suggestions for actively getting involved with your study notes, problems and exam material.

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Study Groups

Studying with a group of your friends can be both a fun and rewarding study method. For effective studying, it is important that you choose your group members wisely and follow a few rules.

Study groups should:

Supported Learning Groups

In some first-year courses, the University of Guelph Library offers a Supported Learning Groups (SLG) Program that provides structured group study sessions. SLGs are peer-led study groups that help students navigate challenging course material and show them new ways to approach difficult course concepts.

SLG sessions provide opportunities to:

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Tips for Recalling Content

Prepare Flash Cards

Create Diagrams to Help Summarize Information

Use Strategies to Help Reduce Forgetting

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Post-Exam Strategies

Some students simply don’t think about their exams again, other than to say, “I’ll do better next time.” Try to make an effort to review your exams thoroughly, especially if you didn’t perform as well you had wanted to. You’ll need to find out why you made mistakes so you can adjust your studying and exam-writing next time.

If your instructor doesn't return your midterms or exams, email him or her (or the TA) and request to see your exam, ideally within a few days of when marks were posted. You may not be able to take notes while reviewing your exam, but instructors are usually very willing to let you read through it. Once you have the exam in front of you, try to determine why you chose an incorrect answer by asking yourself these questions:

These examples call for different kinds of correction strategies, rather than simply increasing the time spent studying. Examine the correction strategies below:

ERROR: Misreading the question or making careless errors
CORRECTION STRATEGY: Slow down while writing the exam. Cover up the alternatives to ensure that you read the question stem carefully, without glancing down at the alternatives. Leave time at the end of the exam to check your answers.

ERROR: Not knowing answers due to missed lectures or a lack of review time
CORRECTION STRATEGY: Good time management skills are the key for improving on these types of errors. Attend all lectures and ensure you have ample review time.

ERROR: Not knowing details
CORRECTION STRATEGY: Incorporate weekly review sessions to give yourself more time to absorb the information. Use practice exams or explain concepts aloud to your study partner to ensure mastery of the important details.

ERROR: Running out of time
CORRECTION STRATEGY: You may need to study the material in more depth so that the answers come more quickly as you are writing the exam. If anxiety gets in the way of your efficient use of time, contact the Stress Management and High Performance Clinic or Counselling Services.

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Studying Top Ten Takeaways

  1. Review your notes on a regular basis, combine your textbook notes and lecture notes, and identify what you need help with – well before the exam
  2. Identify as many details about the exam as you can: it's worth, length, content topics, it's format
  3. Make a study guide! Print or gather up lecture notes, organize into topic piles, label the piles and possibly condense your notes again by topic
  4. In problem-solving courses, gather up all the problems from your lecture notes, textbook and labs. Copy sample questions onto blank sheets and practice solving the problems on your own
  5. Make an outline of the course as a great study tool. Focus on broad subjects and key issues so that everything fits on 1-2 pages
  6. Find a good time and place to study that is free of distractions. Break up your studying into 30-60 minute chunks with 5-10 minute breaks in between
  7. When you study, don't just read your notes again and again. Instead, explain the material out loud, teach the material to a friend, do a practice quiz, and solve problems
  8. Join or create a study group for an exam. Guelph has a Supported Learning Group (SLG) for some first year courses – check them out
  9. To help you study, draw diagrams and concept maps to visually represent the content and show relationships
  10. Visit your professor after the exam has been marked. Ask to view the exam to see where you made mistakes and correct them the next time
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Practice Activity

This activity involves studying for a quiz found in the subsequent exam section. The activity will give you the opportunity to practise the studying strategies found in the student guide.

The quiz details are:

Instructions

Using any notes that you created from the previous practice activities, along with the studying strategies presented in this section, review the psychology course content. The sample textbook highlighting, textbook notes, and lecture notes have been provided as a secondary resource. As you prepare for the quiz, use the Study Checklist below to help you keep track of your studying strategies.

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Study Checklist

The Student Guide presented many strategies that can help students with studying. As you study for the quiz in the 'exam' section, use the checklist of questions below to keep track of strategies that you have already tried. These questions will identify those strategies that you might still like to practise:

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