As an undergraduate Neuroscience student, organisation is the key. There are deadlines to meet, finals to prepare and you want to discover your new life as a new adult. While doing the Science Foundation Year, I wondered if my studying method would be successful. With responsibility, a sense of burden creeped up on me. However, as time passed, I realised that my method of study method is effective, even though I can still improve it. But how am I getting high marks in assessments and exams?
I just want to add a disclaimer: everyone learns differently, so my method may not work for you. I’ve been refining my method of studying since the beginning of high school. It’s already been 8 years. Although I now have an excellent system, I started from 0 and built it from scratch. By writing this article, I want you to reflect on what you’re doing and adjust it to your needs.
My 5-step study method
Step 1: Skim through the lecture slides
The first thing I do before studying a new topic is to look at the lecture slides. I like to get a general idea of the subject beforehand, so I already know what points are unclear and need discussion. You need not spend much time doing this. 5 minutes will be more than sufficient. Having an overview o the lecture allows you to go more prepared.
Step 2: Read the related book chapters
Most of the lecturers I’ve met during my two years at the University of Southampton left a note of the endorsed readings for each topic. Although this is frequently done, don’t expect everyone to help you find the suggested extra material.
After you skim through the slides, grab the recommended textbooks and find the relevant chapters. With the lecture material on the side, have a quick read. This allows you to get into a little bit more depth compare to just looking at the lecture slides. If the book is yours, I would suggest underlining as you read. In case you took the book from the library, annotate the most important pages. At later stages, you will already know where the key aspects are.
One other positive feature of reading beforehand is you can ask targeted questions to the lecturer. Lecturers love to see interested people. If you have a concern and you want to address it, being specific is a plus.
Step 3: Attend the lecture
After you are confident about what will be taught, it’s time to attend the lecture. I can’t stress enough how important it is to be in the lecture hall. Not only can the lecturer explain and elaborate on the topics, but you also get the chance to ask questions.
It’s fundamental to show engagement. Developing a good professional relationship with instructors allows you to get closer to a potential field of study. When you need to choose your dissertation project – or third- and fourth-year projects, in case of integrated masters – they are the ones who can help you the most.
Don’t forget that tutors can also be your lecturers. They are the first to notice if you’re not attending and you risk getting a remark for it. Your tutor is the only person who follows your academic journey from the beginning to the end, so making a good impression on them is imperative. Even if you’re not compatible with them, try to be as professional as possible. When you need references and recommendations, tutors are those who write them.
But let’s go back to the lecture. You need to listen to what the lecturer is saying and take notes. You can underline what they are stressing, re-elaborating and those topics they are going into more depth. Add small comments on those topics you feel need more reading. You need not transcribe every word the lecturer says; keywords will suffice.
Step 4: Re-write and add comments
The lecture ended and you’re home. What now?
There are lots of unique methods, some more valid than others. It’s of the utmost importance to find the one which suits you best. Remember, everyone has their own learning system. I’ll lead you through the two I created for myself.
The notebook method. I sit at my desk with the books and the lecture notes. I bought a squared notebook for each of the modules and wrote the code and module name on them. After writing the number of the lecture and the overall topic, I jot down brief sentences about the key concepts. I use red for keywords and black for explanations and descriptions. For each new topic, I write a title and highlight it. This allows me to find the most important words by just using this colour scheme. If in the lecture slides there is a picture I need to add, I print it and paste it in the relevant section. While writing, I also add comments from the book, so that my notes are more complete.
The OneNote method. Although I’m new to this system, I’ve already developed a plan of action. OneNote is a Microsoft app designed for students. The key difference between using a notebook and my computer is that I need not print the lecture slides and I have all the material with me at all times. I can write on the lecture slides I’m given and add comments, without having to re-write everything from scratch. I do the same things I would do on paper, but I have more flexibility in editing and adding parts I missed.
The notebook method
· Writing by hand enhances memory;
· Helps to revise the topics while jotting them down.
· If you travel, they are difficult to carry with you;
· Can become boring, as it is a lengthy process.
The OneNote method
· Always with you;
· Can be downloaded into different devices;
· Flexible editing.
· You need to remember your passwords, or you lose the notes;
· Upfront cost if you don’t own a Microsoft365 membership;
· More difficult to memorise.
Disclaimer: The University of Southampton gives the complete version of Microsoft365 to their pupils, but you can use other platforms. Notability for iPad is another great option if you’re looking into the OneNote method. In my case, I prefer OneNote, as it allows me to work from my PC and iPad without having to transfer files. When I use OneCloud, I download all my notes on every device I log in to.
Step 5: Review your notes
Now that your notes are ready, it’s time to review them. Before the exam period, I recommend you skim through them every once in a while. Trust me when I say you will not have time to go in depth through all the topics at once. Practice the exam questions through the university’s website.
If your module requires you to complete calculations, exercise well in advance. I do the gross of the exam simulation on the go. Leave some questions for the days before the exams to revise the process to the answer.
The day before the exam, I look at the answered questions and I try to memorise some of them. Although I do not recommend learning each question by heart, it’s useful to remember the topics that examiners ask. I leave part of the afternoon to relax and cool down.
When you start your university life, it’s important you create your study method as soon as possible. As I mentioned earlier, my system has changed. I shifted from The Notebook Method to The OneNote Method for practical purposes. If you travel back and forth, bringing several notebooks is difficult. They take up space and they become heavy at the end of the semester.
There are pros and cons to every study method. Even mine are flawed and I could find new ways to improve them. Take the beneficial parts and come up with your unique system. Let me know in the comments if you find a better way to study for university.