Study Skills: 5 Simple Steps for Straight A's!

Posted by Julie Relyea on 9/3/14 10:58 AM

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If you x-ray your syllabus, you might just find this.

It’s the first week of school.  Your pencils are sharpened, you’ve got your three-ring binder in tote, and to quote Paolo Nutini, you’ve “got your new shoes on and suddenly everything is right.” The new semester is a time of hope, but why leave success to chance?  I've been a homework help tutor for a long time, and let me tell you: you know all of those papers your teachers give you?  Don’t just crumple them up and throw them in your locker – here’s why.

1. The syllabus:  Ah, the syllabus.  Known by teachers as a golden ticket to a surefire A, but known by students as the most boring forty minutes of the semester.  While it may be dense with logistical elements, if you don’t follow the exact instructions for submitting work and writing papers, you are almost guaranteed you will be marked down for these errors.  The good news is that it takes less than thirty seconds to consult your syllabus on a stylistic or logistical question (if you’re organized), and you can consider those thirty seconds well spent.

Participation. Most classes have this worked into the grade in some way, but do you really know how you’re being graded on this?  If not, find out sooner rather than later.  For this, there’s no better place to find out than your syllabus.  If you can get participation points for simple things like bringing your textbook, bring your textbook. Don’t let this be an opportunity missed!

Grading.  In addition to knowing what’s being graded as participation, it’s also a good idea to know how the grading of a class is broken down in general. It could be that while you spend 90% of your effort outside of a class studying for exams, exams only account for 20% of your grade. Know what assignments are most important and focus the bulk of your time and energy focused on the important ones. 

2.  Study Guides:  Of course, study guides are useful when studying.  But, they can also be useful when learning.  The chances are, your teacher already has the study guide prepared when he or she begins teaching you a new unit.  Many teachers even post all of the study guides for their course on their class website at the beginning of the year.  (Hmm… that sounds like interesting information that could be found in a syllabus!)  If you don’t already have access to the study guide for your current unit, ask your teacher if you can have a copy. 

Define as you go! It is extremely helpful to have a short definition of the important people, events, and concepts when your teacher announces the test date toward the end of the unit.  It only takes about ten minutes a day. With this method you’ll realize days before a test if you’re missing information instead of the night before.  The key here is committing to a routine.  Something manageable, but effective. Your flash cards will be better if you write them while the lessons is fresh in your mind, and as an added bonus, it’s scientifically proven that new information needs to be presented and practiced at least three times to make it’s way toward the long term memory.

3.  Tests and Quizzes:  Teachers are busy. For this reason, never throw away a test or quiz!  Tests are composed of many similar, if not exactly identical, questions that are on the quizzes.  The same goes for the relation between tests and exams.  While it might be human nature to try to avoid a problem marked with a big X on a quiz, keeping that quiz in a safe place and practicing those troublesome questions can be instrumental in succeeding on your next test. 

You might think of quizzes like practices for the big game (your test).  If you are a basketball player and you have trouble learning to dribble you don’t skip that skill and go on to shooting.  You could never play in the game.  Don’t shy away from difficult problems, but rather, embrace them!  The study guide that you worked on throughout the unit and your quizzes will make up a major portion of your test… so stop guessing what will be on the test and start working!

4.  Your Teacher:  One of the most valuable resources you have is your teacher!  Don’t be bashful about visiting during office hours.  Chances are, your teacher will be very grateful that you have brought your specific questions about tests, notes, study guides, etc. to have a personal discussion rather than using up valuable class time.  Your time is valuable too!  So, don’t get too caught up dwelling on what your teacher meant at the end of class when she said X or if you have been looking over your quiz and still can’t figure out how to do Y correctly.  Go ask!  It’s much more efficient and accurate than struggling through it on your own.  As an added bonus, you appear the conscientious and respectful student that you are.  Of course, feel free to stop by your teacher’s office hours too if you just want to discuss content you found interesting, but be sure to go if you are unclear about any expectations!  The only way you can manage your success is if you really know what is expected. 

5.  Assignment Guidelines:  This one is simple, yet, so difficult.  Please, read all of the directions.  Of all the types of assignment guidelines, the rubric is the most specific and most helpful.  Generally they consist of three categories loosely translated as: above, meeting, and below expectation.  If you’re shooting for a C or a B, then look at the “meets expectation” as your guide.  However, if you’re looking for that A, then let your eyes keep drifting until they meet a slightly more rigorous standard.  Some elements of your assignment cannot be controlled, so take advantage of those that can!  If you are required to use six sources, use seven.  You will be guaranteed success on that element.  There are parts of assignments that you can know for certain you have completed to a standard of excellence.  In shooting for guidelines that are “above the expectation” you give yourself a bit of a cushion for when, for example, you and your teacher have different views of when it means to “explain in depth” or “analyze the main similarity of (blank) and (blank).”  These are parts of the assignment that will be graded with some subjectivity, so be sure to rack up the points where you know you can! 


There's organized, and then there's psychotic.

Get Organized!  With the exception of your teacher (unless he or she is really fast), this may sound like a lot to keep track of.  It is.  If you’re serious about succeeding that means the old one folder per class (or God forbid, per semester) is a thing of the past.  It’s time to invest in some binders and tabs to keep all of your past assignments, notes, study guides and quizzes organized by unit.  If you do this, it will reduce the stress of final exams and all that time that was once spent looking for lost notes can be spent actively studying, learning, and getting better grades.  If you find yourself still struggling with your study skills, you might consider asking Cambridge Coaching what our experienced 1 on 1 academic tutors can do for you. Good luck!  


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