Study Tips From the Masters, Vol. 1

Michael Bautista, Staff Writer
Featuring Mrs. Sewell

MICHAEL BAUTISTA: Everyone has a different way of studying to suit their own style of learning. What study methods did you use while you were in high school or university? In what ways did your study methods help you?

MRS. SEWELL: To be completely honest, my study habits through high school were a little haphazard (I know….hard to believe, huh?). I did manage to do well in all my courses though (miraculously). It wasn’t until university when I realized that my “random” methods would not work very well and that I needed to implement a new style to accommodate for the change in difficulty level, quantity of material covered, and speed of content covered. This is when I really refined a personal study strategy.

  • I instituted a study schedule to keep up with content.
  • I started working through strategies to make connections between different sections of my notes—so that I could advance the skill of application and analysis rather than the skill of general knowledge/understanding (some call this regurgitation, and I had mastered that in high school with all sorts of memory tricks).
  • I started going to the lending library and looking for practice questions to expose myself to unfamiliar scenarios. Whoa….did that ever make a difference!

I have built a document (Best Study Practices for Exams) outlining this strategy if you would like to explore your personal study practice.

This document assists a student with bridging the gap from being able to answer knowledge-based questions to answering application/analysis-style questions (as seen on your diploma exams—in fact, 55% of the diploma is application-based).

There is no doubt that many of the grade 12 and some grade 11 students are stressed as diplomas, and even IB exams, draw near. How did you study when you were preparing for more significantly weighted exams, like final exams?

  • One of the key things that was an essential during these stressful times was to find a place where I could remain focused.
  • For me this was a quiet place (isolated from others), I would typically play my soft, low-volume instrumental music in the background (cassette tapes with my Sony Walkman…some of you may have to look up what that is…it was a LONG time ago).
  • Then I would carry out the process that I described above.

I also think that you need to define your own study strategy. Some people learn verbally, some though writing, some through doing—you have to make it work for you. I personally did a combination just to keep myself alert. I would write, sing, stand and create poster boards…here is a brilliant idea that I never used, but that my husband shared with me regarding his study strategy:

  • He had some erasable markers that he would use to write on windows and mirrors in his place. He would travel from room to room working through the various topics written on the windows and mirrors. When done, a bit of glass cleaner erased it all and he also accomplished some housecleaning as a result.

How does one know if they’ve studied well enough for an exam?

That is a great question. The fact remains that you will never know what the questions are on your exam, so you must be prepared for anything. To do well, you must know the content cold, but you must also be able to apply and analyze it. Knowing the information without knowing how to apply it will only get you halfway to your goal of really achieving those high marks.

Some students may study for many hours for a test, but still receive a mediocre grade. As the saying goes, quantity does not always mean quality! How does one put quality into their studying?

You are exactly right! If you want to achieve the high grades you need to know what level of thinking you are being tested on.

The following is Bloom’s Taxonomy:

  1. Remembering: Often the style used in lower grades (pre-high school).
  2. Understanding.
  3. Applying: These are “higher order” thinking skills. The goal of all diploma level courses is to develop these skills.
  4. Analyzing.
  5. Evaluating.
  6. Creating.

If students never transform their study habits to learn how to handle higher order thinking skills they can study for hours and hours and only be able to handle the “regurgitation-style” questions but miss out on half of the test questions.

This is sometimes why students may have had really high marks in pre-high school courses (where remembering and understanding is the focus), and then they see a drop when they get to high school (where higher order thinking is the focus).

What subject was the hardest to study for while you were in high school or university? What made it difficult?

Honestly, it was my organic chemistry course. I think part of my difficulty was that I was relying on relevant information from the instructor who preferred to talk about airplanes and battle stories. I basically needed to teach myself the whole course, which was a first for me.

Finally, do you have any words of wisdom or advice to our students who are heading off to post-secondary?

  • Embrace the challenge…
  • Speak to yourself using positive self-talk. Always be watchful of what you tell yourself in your mind.
  • Change is always going to be difficult, but do it anyway. How do you grow as an individual unless you put yourself in situations where you need to expand your capabilities?
  • Surround yourself with people that are positive.
  • Don’t isolate yourself; there are plenty of clubs and organizations that you can become involved in.
  • Don’t forget that you are a multifaceted individual. Just as you need to develop your academic potential, you should not neglect developing/nurturing all of the other talents/passions that make you…you! Make time (even if it has to be scheduled) to do the things that you love to do beyond studying.
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