Thursday, October 29, 2015

My University Study and Revision Process

The subject of this post may seem odd, since I've been out of university for almost 4 years now.  But it recently occurred to me that, while I had this blog while I was in university, I never wrote anything about my study process.  I've decided to remedy that now, and I hope that this post will prove helpful to some readers (it will also be a reminder to myself if I ever decide to go back to school!).

Rough Notes

Most of my instructors used PowerPoint in their lectures, and usually made a copy of the slides available to us before class.  I would print these out and then add my handwritten notes to them during class.  I usually took notes using a mechanical pencil, but sometimes added colour using a ballpoint or gel pen.  If the instructor did not use PowerPoint or did not make the slides available, then I would take notes in a ruled notebook or on a loose-leaf page.  Neatness didn't matter as much as getting down the important information.  Here's an example of my rough notes:


Re-Writing Notes

As soon as possible after class, I rewrote my rough notes (and any information on the PowerPoint slides) out by hand, using a variety of coloured pens, usually gel pens.  Doing this made my notes easier to read, and also allowed me to review the material covered in the lecture.  I would not re-write anything that was not essential.  In the example below, I underlined key words, drew diagrams by hand, and used different colours to make things clearer.  This step was by far the most time-consuming one, but it was also the one I enjoyed the most: I usually listened to music while I wrote, and re-writing allowed me to use all of my favourite pens.

If you're wondering what the weird shadows are, it's the show-through from the other side of the page.

Study Cards

After creating a good copy of my notes, I transferred the most important definitions and concepts to 3x5-inch index cards (usually unlined, as that gave me more space to write).  This step is most useful for classes where there is a lot of information that you need to memorize, and I did not make study cards for most of my calculus and physics classes, because those classes were more focused on solving problems rather than memorizing information.  Study cards were especially useful in those classes where I needed to be able to identify (and know the scientific names of) different plant and animal species.  When creating my study cards, I wrote the keywords (or glued an image of the species) on the front, and wrote the information I needed to know on the back.  This step may sound time-consuming, but it actually wasn't: as long as I kept up my habit of re-writing notes and making study cards after every lecture, I usually only needed to make a few cards a day.


Regular Revision

Whether you follow any of the above steps or not, the most important part of any study process is regular revision.  I read that you should revise once in a day, once in a week, and once in a month, so after I created my study cards I would write these three dates (in pencil) on each card.  (For example, if I created a card on Oct. 29, I would write the dates Oct. 30, Nov. 5, and Nov. 29.)  At the end of each day, I would find all of the cards with that day's date and review them, erasing the date when I was finished.  (If you don't use study cards, you could also write the dates on the pages of your handwritten notes.)  I usually only needed to review a few cards each day, so it didn't take very long, and the extra time I spent every day was worth it, because it made things much easier and faster when it came time to study for the final exam.  (Before I figured out this process, I made all of my study cards and studied from them just in the week or so before the exam, which is not a method I would recommend at all!).

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What is (or was) your university study and revision process?  Also, if you would like me to write more university-related posts (or if you have any questions about this post), feel free to let me know in the comments.

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