Unfortunately, many students have never been taught how to study. For this reason, even those students who are motivated struggle with doing well in their core subjects, such as math and sciences. For those students who are interested in pursuing a university degree in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) fields, it is imperative to learn the techniques to productive studying.
When we initially speak to our students and ask them how they study, many say that they read their notes the night before a test or a quiz to make sure they know the material. This is the worst way of preparing for a test day. Merely re-reading notes and expecting to remember everything is ineffective. Memorization, understanding concepts adequately enough so that the brain transfers the material into our long-term memory requires many hours of rehearsals, self quizzing, sample problem solving and reviewing the material. Yet, many students truly believe that they are putting in a good effort and expect good results just by looking over the material once or twice before their test date. This strategy will only work if the student has been routinely working with and reviewing the material as the concepts were taught. Studying for a test is similar to learning the piano or other musical instruments. It requires practice time, repetition, and making mistakes and learning from them, in order to become fluent in the material.
So how should students be studying? Routine and distributed studying, that is, studying over many days, is much better than cramming. Depending on the size of the assessment, secondary school students should plan their study schedule so that they are practicing the tested material 1-2 hours everyday, 5-7 days prior to the actual test date. During their study, students must be actively engaged with the information they are learning. Some examples of active studying include, reading the material out-loud and repeating it to oneself, writing down important concepts and going over them regularly, summarizing the content into graphs and diagrams, and solving sample questions to apply what they learned to new situations. Students must keep their attention and focus solely on the test preparation and not allow themselves to get distracted.
Once the student feels comfortable with their learning, it is time to self-test. Self-testing is the only way the student will know if they truly understood the material and where they still need improvement. Self testing also allows students to put themselves in the teachers’ seat, which allows them to come up with and practice potential test questions that will appear on their test.