In High School a lot of courses might have been or are, by virtue of the material, memorization based. This has introduced a pandemic of passive learning in post-secondary education. Students, upon matriculation, find themselves struggling in their courses despite having exemplary grades in high school. It’s important to continuously cultivate learning habits and to adapt to how you learn best. For some students they would prefer to never open the textbook for a course, while other students may find the structure provided by the book to be a great study tool and resource. One of the most important things to recognize, earlier rather than later, is how YOU should be studying. Enter: Active Learning.
While this may seem laborious or time ineffective, research has repeatedly shown that being able to teach a concept helps to solidify the concept in your mind. Furthermore, it will help you realize where there are gaps in your comfort on the material. The ideal situation is to have someone else also try to teach you as well so that both of you are benefiting from what you know and don’t know. At many schools, this is actually also a job position that you can get paid to do!
2. Rotating Discussions
If you’re studying in a larger group setting its important to get everyone involved and invested. You can accomplish this by, as arduous as it sounds, having everyone participate at least once. They can clarify the concept that was just discussed and then move forward to the next question- this helps to make sure that confusions are addressed.
3.Question Everything (well mostly)
It’s important to be able to ask yourself : Why is this the answer and not ___? The strength of your response is a reflection of your comfort with the material. It’s important, therefore, to repeatedly make sure you know what would happen if some part of the question was changed. Often times exam questions will be tweaked in such a way that if you were memorizing A+B=C instead of determining why “C” then you will be completely and utterly lost.
4. Attribution and Pairing
Another good way to recall something is to connect it to something else. This can often be demonstrated by mnemonics, but for higher level remembering it’s great to connect your material in the context of previous topics in that course. For example, in organic chemistry, you might be talking about a mechanism, but it could require your previous knowledge on acid-base chemistry to rationalize through to the correct response. It’s important to place things in a context that makes sense to you even if it’s not purely chronological. For courses like biology and history I found it useful to connect the disparate topics even though they were taught as separate entities.
I found this to be a really useful way to determine how topics and concepts are connected to each other as well as what concepts I was forgetting about that were still important. Furthermore, it helps to condense your ideas on these topics into only a few words or a phrase which helps to distill pages and pages of notes into a simpler format.
All these different techniques are just a few ways to incorporate active learning instead of passive learning into how you grasp new material. Once your knowledge of the material grows, you’ll start to feel more comfortable with questions that require you to incorporate your understanding of the material. Remember, there is no “one -size fits all” technique for all of your courses so be flexible in adapting to how to best learn the material for the courses you’ll be taking.