Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Post-Reading Week Recovery

It’s that time of year again. I don’t know about you but to me, Reading Week was a true blessing. For some of us, it was the chance to flee both our studies and the unforgiving prairie winter; for others, it was the chance to catch up or get ahead on our studies and make sure that we’re sufficiently prepared for the upcoming mid-term onslaught. But for those of you lucky ducks who just spent a week in tropical paradise, don’t kid yourself! If you left town, chances are you didn’t get much studying time in. So the question for you becomes: How are you going to complement the fun with the work so that you’re not in over your head when you get back?

My favorite way to memorize information for tests and exams is using study cards. I go through my notes and readings several days before a test or exam and write out a flash card for each concept or idea that I feel I need to memorize. On one side of the card I write out a question (e.g. Define Categorical Data or Who Was Anton Chekhov?). I write the answer on the other side of the card. When I’m all done, my material is organized in a way that makes memorization easy. Simply review the cards regularly (repetition is key!) and once you feel that you know the answer, remove that card from the pile so that you can focus on the cards you haven’t yet memorized. As days pass, the pile will get smaller and smaller. The night before the test, go through every card one more time to make absolutely sure that you’ve memorized everything before getting a good night’s sleep. Don’t throw out your cards after your mid-term is over. You will likely need them for your final.

For concepts that may have too many details to fit onto one card, you may want to create a mind map (or as I like to call them: ‘Trickle Down Charts’): Write the concept on the top of a page (may be a theory, person, event, etc.) and then lines trickling down into immediate functions (like components or roles of the concept) and continue to break down each function as needed. As you review your mind map, cover the bottom of the page and work your way down, testing yourself on each function of the concept over and over until you have it memorized. Here is an example:

Here is what it may look like if I was to apply this chart to an area of my own studies:

These charts will help guide your mind through the concept should you be asked to discuss something complex and detailed.

Don’t be afraid to use the people around you. Asking your instructor what topics and readings will be covered on the exam will help you focus your study time on the important areas of the course material. Forming a study group with classmates will allow you to pick up any material that you may have missed studying on your own.

For more suggestions, check out our How To Prepare For Exams workshop on Tuesday, February 28th in 236 Isbister from 2:30 to 3:20pm. In the meantime, I hope you enjoyed your Reading Week. You’ve earned it!