5 Study Methods and When to Use Them

By Victoria Robertson on December 17, 2018

When studying for a test, whether it be a midterm or final, there are multiple methods by which you can prepare, but not all are the best for the test you are taking.

In fact, the study method that you choose to use oftentimes directly translates into the score you get on the test you studied for. So what is the best method for studying for your upcoming test?

The truth is, there are many methods for every test, but to give you a strong starting point, here are five study methods and when to use them.

Photo Via: Pexels.com

1. Flashcards: Definition-Based/Multiple Choice Exams

One of the more common types of tests that you’ll encounter in college is the multiple choice test. These are typically the tests you’ll come across during finals or midterms week, as you can cover far more content in these tests in a shorter amount of time. On occasion, they are paired with short answer and/or essay questions as well.

The best method to study for the multiple choice portion of a test is with flashcards. By nature, multiple choice questions typically have a short enough answer that memorization is a good method to use. When it comes to flashcards, the idea is to memorize large amounts of information, which is perfect for this type of test.

Flashcards are different depending upon who creates them, but you can quickly quiz yourself (or have someone else quiz you) with your flashcards to test which subjects you know well and which you do not. From here, you can go back and complete additional reading on the subjects you need help with and therefore spend more time on the areas you need to and less time on the areas that you don’t.

Another important factor to consider when using notecards to study is that they are slightly time-consuming to make, but you can make them throughout the semester in order to develop a cumulative pile for the midterms and finals, so you are all ready to go. A lot of the problem with studying is the time it takes to put these together, so this will help to eliminate that issue.

Ideally, flashcards help you to study for any definition-based exams, as you can put the word on one side and the definition on the other. Conversely, you can also put a question on one side and an answer on the other, depending upon the exam you are studying for.

Those taking science or history courses often find these flashcards are ideal, while English majors and other writing-intensive course-takers find them relatively useless. Take a look at the content of the course you are taking, determine whether or not a majority is definition-based, and make a decision from there on whether or not flashcards will help you to study.

2. Study Guide: Short Answers

Another type of test that you will likely have to study for is the short-answer test. Again, this could be used in conjunction with a multiple choice or essay test, but a short answer test is a totally different beast.

As opposed to studying with flashcards, a short answer test typically requires a more in-depth understanding of a word or concept than a definition based test. For that reason, flashcards aren’t typically very helpful when it comes to these tests.

Instead, a short answer test will require a solid understanding of a concept so that you can answer a question relevant to that concept in a few sentences or in paragraph form. When you have to have a deeper understanding of a subject, such as in these cases, it’s best to use a method of studying that speaks more to that.

For this reason, it’s best to complete a study guide that answers potential questions that are going to be on the exam. This method allows you to look at the questions first hand and really think about them ahead of time. From here, you will answer them as you would on the exam, with the help of your books, notes and other class materials.

Once you’ve done this, and verified your answers are correct, you can go back and study this study guide repeatedly until you feel you have a strong understanding of the questions. It’s also a good idea to anticipate variations to these questions. What this means is that you should be overstudying information. So basically, include more information than you will need to know in the study guide.

This way, you will be prepared for not only the questions you were asked in the study guide, but also for any questions that could arise outside of the study guide, just so you aren’t caught off guard by any curveballs.

This method works best for English and History courses, though can be used in any situation in which you will have short answer questions to study for. Also, as a side note, you can always ask a professor for an example study guide if you aren’t provided one, otherwise be sure to create questions that are challenging and that you believe will actually be on the test for the best results.

Infographic by Victoria Robertson

3. Partner Studying: Short Answers & Multiple Choice

Another method that’s great for short answer exams is the method of partner studying. This method is to be used in conjunction with another method (such as the above-described study guide method).

Once you’ve done a significant amount of studying and feel you know the material well enough, you and another classmate, friend or family member can work together to study. This method works best when you are both trying to study for the same test, but this isn’t always a possibility, either.

For that reason, any partner you can get to help you study will work. Essentially, what you’re going to do is take turns quizzing one another on the questions posed in your study guide. From here, you will give a verbal response and attempt to hit all of the key points that are in the short answer to your question.

This method is largely effective as it forces you to say out loud what you are thinking and to mentally note which items you are repeatedly forgetting and/or leaving out. In addition, this opens a line of communication between you and the other person that is attempting to study for the test. In this way, you can talk to one another and agree or disagree on answers, which opens a dialogue and ensures that you’re able to determine the correct answer so you aren’t studying the wrong information.

Again, this method works best when you can work with someone studying the same materials, so, if possible, connect with someone in your class and offer to study with them, as they will likely be looking for the similar situation to help themselves.

This method can also be utilized for multiple choice tests, though it’s less important that the individual be studying the same material. In these cases, you simply need to have someone quiz you on the flashcards you’ve already studied.

The idea is basically the same: when you are forced to state these answers out loud, it allows you to figure out which information you are repeatedly forgetting and which you know very well so you know where to focus the rest of your study efforts.

4. Practice Problems: Math

They say there is no way to study for a mathematically designed exam. That’s incorrect. When studying for a math test, or a physics test or any other exam that has mathematical problems, the best method is actually to complete practice problems. In fact, the more you’re able to complete, the better prepared you are going to be.

Studying for a math exam isn’t about definitions or whether or not you can explain something. Instead, studying for a math exam relies on your knowledge of the process it takes to get the correct answer and your ability to correctly complete a problem when different numbers are inserted.

The only way to test this knowledge again and again is to complete sample problems repeatedly until you feel you have a solid understanding of the math process.

That being said, there are a few items that make this process more difficult. For one thing, if you don’t have the correct answers available to you, you may not know whether or not you’re completing the problem the correct way. In addition, you may only have a limited number of practice questions to work on.

Also, keep in mind that sample problems tend to take a lot of time, which means you’ll have to plan ahead for your study time to ensure you have enough time to get a sufficient amount of practice in before the day of the test.

Another option here is to work with your professor during office hours to ensure you are correctly completing the problems and to answer any questions that you may have/troubleshoot any problems you are having repeatedly.

Basically, when it comes to studying for a math exam, no matter the subject, practice makes perfect. The best way to study is to complete the problems over and over again until you are confident in your understanding of the material.

5. Review Session: Essay

Last, but definitely not least, there is the review session method. This method, while useful for just about any type of test, is especially effective when trying to study for an essay question or similar, long answer test.

By nature, review sessions are meant to refresh your memory on the subject you’ve been discussing in class in order to prepare you for a test. Some professors will hold review sessions that are mandatory, some will hold review sessions that are optional and other will not hold review sessions at all, instead suggesting you and your classmates plan a time and day to meet outside of class.

Review sessions are almost always a good idea, as, at the very least, they provide you a little more information and study time under your belt. In addition, review sessions can open up your thoughts and force you to think about a subject in a way that you hadn’t yet, which in turn helps to expand your knowledge for the essay portion of your test.

Essay questions or essay based exams are challenging in that you must talk about a singular subject for an extended period of time, which requires you to have a vast and deep understanding of that subject. When you don’t have any outside resources available to you, this can be problematic and very challenging.

It’s very difficult to study for these types of tests as well, as usually you either know the answer to the question well enough to answer it in an essay or you don’t. Either way, studying isn’t typically beneficial, as you can’t put an essay on a flashcard or have a friend quiz you on an essay question.

That being said, review sessions can really help you to begin thinking about these questions, allow you to hear the thoughts of other students so you can build upon these thoughts in your own words and ultimately give you a better idea of what to expect on the exam.

Professors choose essay questions because they are more of a challenge and it’s difficult to cram or pretend you know something when you’re forced to write about it. So basically, don’t try to work your way out of it – pay attention, review your notes and attend any and all study sessions that are available to you.

Photo Via: Pexels.com

Again, studying is a challenging enough task as it is, but when adding the difficulty of choosing a method by which to study as well, it’s even more overwhelming.

These five study methods and when to use them are a good starting point as finals week nears, and you can implement these methods in your studying moving forward as well.

It ultimately comes down to your personal needs as well as the test in question, so be adaptable to the situation and you will do just fine in terms of your test-taking.

Good luck!

Victoria is a dedicated writer who graduated from the University of Illinois with a Bachelor of Arts in English. She currently writes freelance pieces for various sites and works in Marketing for Myndbee Inc., promoting their current mobile app, Picpal.

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