Study Strategies

Study Strategies:


This list will be continuously updated as we publish new articles about study strategies and change the techniques that we use.


Section 1: Absorbing information:


Common elements (best to find a combination that works for you):



How to do it: Read every sentence.

Works well for: fiction, detailed readings

Works poorly for: textbooks

Pros: spend more time reading, so typically understand the concepts better

Cons: takes lots of time, difficult to recall what you just read if you didn’t take notes, can get lost in the details, gets boring


Takeaway: Reading before class is important to have a basic idea of what you’ll learn, but after lecture, there are better ways to absorb.


How to do it: Read sidebars, repeated ideas, the first and last sentence of paragraphs.

Works well for: textbooks

Works poorly for: fiction, detailed readings

Pros: doesn’t take as much time as reading, may help you to look at main ideas rather than trivial details

Cons: you won’t learn the details – this technique is for basic knowledge


Takeaway: Skim the text if you have limited time, or just need a general knowledge of the material.


How to do it: As you are reading/skimming, highlight important stuff (repeated ideas, definitions, main ideas)

Works well for: pretty much anything, unless you’re not allowed to highlight in your books

Pros: allows you to glance back through the book and quickly see what was important, gives vibrancy to a sheet of black ink

Cons: leaves permanent marks in your book


Takeaway: Highlighting rules should not be strict. Highlight what you think is important, or especially good problem examples, or really anything to give your weary eyes some love.

When to take notes:

While reading:

Works well for: having something to look back on

Works poorly for: retaining real information

Pros: this is a good way to bring out the main points/important details

Cons: It is very hard to learn from marking a book


Takeaway: Taking notes while reading is important, but mainly justly so you can look back on the main points.

After Reading:

Works well for: Reflecting on true meaning of what you’ve read

Works poorly for: Almost nothing.

Pros: You think critically about the main points, and realize what you don’t know

Cons: It can take more time


Takeaway: Notes after reading are an EXCELLENT way to find out what you have questions about – if you can’t summarize something, you don’t know it well enough.


Section 2: Learning information:

Practice Testing: 

This is THE BEST thing you can do for yourself. Not only teaches you material but shows what you don’t know, which is just as important. If practice tests unavailable, do practice problems instead

Explain things out loud:

Feels weird, but helps cement wandering thoughts into concrete ideas. Preferably do this in combination with writing your response

Reread (notes/readings):

This gets you good tidbits for multiple choice portions

Can correct misguided ideas. Don’t use this alone, though. Reading ideas does not mean you understand them, nor that you could expand on them.


Great for subjects that have heavy memorization. It is worth the time to make them on real paper vs. online. Works for math-heavy classes too! (write equations)

Make A Study Guide:

Make for large tests. Not necessary every time. Key Point: This helps build a big picture of the unit, which is critical

Teach others:

This helps you to realize mistakes, as well as find out what you don’t know. Basically a better way of reading out loud

Watch Videos

Much higher retention than textbooks. Both visual and audio stimulation makes things easier to learn and remember. However, not available for every topic


Part 3: How to Study:

First contact with material


If you are going to read as a strategy, you have two options:

1. Go into the text and only read 1st sentences, formatted text, chapter reviews, etc.

2. More beneficial: take sparse notes/mark the text while reading



If you don’t want to write in your book, use flags

Highlight while reading: As you are going through the text, highlight main ideas. Use can also use a pencil to underline interesting ideas (that maybe aren’t as important). Remember, this is good to do even if you don’t feel very confident in your ability to pick out important ideas

How do you know what to highlight?

In a textbook: Equations. First sentences in paragraphs. Conclusions/summaries

Nonfiction: Repetition, What sticks out to you/interesting, Sub-sections of text, Strong facts.

Fiction: I don’t think highlighting works best for this. It’s better to write the page numbers down in a notebook – that way, you can expand on each quote. Sticky notes work well for this.

Parts you can analyze: What would you put in an essay or share in class? What overall arguments is this author making – If you’ve discussed these in class, then look out for evidence of them


Highlight after reading (BAD)

Some people like to go back after reading a text and highlight main ideas as a way of reviewing. – I would not recommend this strategy because it is not active. Instead, write down main ideas after you finish…Seriously, it won’t take that long.



Good to combine with highlighting.

Immediately after you finish reading (a chapter/section), go through your highlights and take notes on what you found interesting and important points you think the author makes


Second contact with material – If you REALLY want to do well:

Reread out loud:

I like to review notes to get a detailed picture of what I’m studying. I want to jog my memory of everything that I studied. Pretend you are lecturing a class on things you don’t feel confident about. Keep your notes in hand and walk around the room

Read from your notes out loud. Not word for word–explain main ideas…do you understand them? Look at your notes as little as possible.


Reread  (Do this last):

If you didn’t take notes – or don’t want to reread out loud

1. Go back into the text and only read 1st sentences, formatted text, chapter reviews, etc

2. Use the notes that you originally took when you read the text the first time.

Don’t just read! Make connections. Draw conclusions. That’s why I like to reread out loud, because it’s easy to talk through things.


Look over stuff done in class (lectures, activities, quizzes, tests)


Meet with your teacher:

They designed the test, so they probably know what/how to study for it. Go in with a question, then ask them if they have any tips to help you be successful


Right before the test (MOST IMPORTANT):

Practice testing:

Practice makes perfect…and you want to be good at the test. So recreate the test conditions as well as you can and take it. This reduces test-time stress as well, through familiarity

Different ways to do it

1. Do practice problems: Never give up right away – you should spend at least 5 minutes on a problem (unless it’s just facts) before you just check the answer. Make sure to check answers – otherwise you won’t know if you’re wrong

2. Take a previous exam: ask your teacher for one. Get a previous exam, sit in the testing room/a silent room, time yourself, check your answers and give yourself a score

3. Use textbook quizzes: the questions at the end of the chapter. Go through some of them, then go back and check answers. Don’t waste your time doing every problem – if you are confident with the concept, move on

4. Special tips: Pick a problem “set”. Go through it, then check the answers all at once. If you get a problem wrong, REDO IT…get it right

5. Recreate the test conditions: Use some or all of the following: sit in the testing room/a silent room, don’t let anyone interrupt you until you finish, set a time limit (what you feel is about what the teacher would give you to do the number of problems you choose to do), give yourself a score


Practice over time:

Don’t start studying the day before your test. At the least…a week before. However, there are some exceptions. For example – in my spanish class, for which the test is an essay, we are studying for the test every day – in that case, I do a full practice exam a couple days before the test. Spend at least 15 minutes on each class daily

Spaced repetition: When you study at different intervals. This can be used with any of the other techniques



Apps: Anki, Quizlet

Work well for facts/memorization, but not so well for concepts

Draw pictures


Make a study guide (most important topics):

Do this near test-time. Get one from your teacher if possible. Go through everything and make one. Keep a running list.


Teach others:

If you can explain something to someone, you understand it very well. Answer their questions.


Don’t memorize facts:

Sure, in chemistry, you’re going to have to memorize part/all of the periodic table. In general, you want to learn the concepts instead. The answer isn’t important, it’s how you got there.



Studying should be a struggle – that’s how you know you’re learning something. Getting it right immediately teaches you very little. Practice problems are the single best way to study. Pick different ways to study depending on if you are just learning the material, or reviewing for a test