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Studying is the key to academic success in college. I was fortunate to learn a very effective way to study, a method that has earned me A’s in every major-specific engineering class. It also helped me land internships with companies such as Amazon, PepsiCo, and Southwest Airlines. Check out the four steps of my study method, so you can become a pro at studying and bring your A-game, literally!
1. Just start
Study strategies will never help if you don’t start studying (duh!). There can be many times where the amount of homework is overwhelming and you feel paralyzed. The best thing to do in this scenario is breathe, take three minutes to determine your priorities, and just start. Don’t focus on doing everything perfectly, just take the best next step. The sheer amount of assignments can be a large temptation to get annoyed and start making excuses, ultimately wasting more time. Sometimes it’s best to take an honest look at yourself in the mirror, stop complaining, and get to work.
Sometimes it’s best to take an honest look at yourself in the mirror, stop complaining, and get to work.
2. The almighty practice test
The vast majority of engineering classes are problem based. This is also true for math, physics, and chemistry classes. The best way to master problem-based content is to practice the problems in as many different applications as possible. This is why practice tests are so beneficial: they give you multiple ways a problem can be applied. This is gold, especially if the practice test was written by your professor because you understand different ways they could ask the questions on your exam.
I always try the practice tests provided by my professor three to four times. In the unfortunate case where the professor does not provide practice tests, find or make your own. Ask other professors who teach the same subject (or look on their scholarly webpage) for practice tests. Make your own by compiling homework questions into a “test” and search online for problem sets that cover the same subject and material. I credit practice tests as a key factor to my academic success; however, it takes a good amount of time and energy to make your own and ensure you have the correct solution explained. Sometimes you get lucky and find a problem set online that can help you understand the content with detailed answer explanations. Having explanations to the problems, or at the very least a way to check if your work is correct is essential. You won’t learn by solving practice tests incorrectly.
Take practice tests using the same resources (time allotted, reference sheets, calculators) provided on the actual exam. Do not be discouraged if you fail the first practice test. In fact, this should be expected. This first attempt is where the beauty of the quick guide comes in (see next section). It will have all the context to understand where you got stuck on a problem and the next steps to find the right answer.
3. Quick guides
Another staple of my studying method is to combine all of my notes, handouts, and presentation slides into what I call quick guides. A quick guide is a concise and detailed summary of the topics included in a specific class unit. Instead of reviewing 50+ lecture slides or going through countless pages in a textbook before the exam, one glance at my quick guide lets me understand everything I need to know from that unit. This is a huge time saver! It prepares me to be ready for the week before the exam when time is precious.
I made my quick guides throughout the semester by reviewing lectures, readings, and homework for each unit. I also looked up summaries for these specific class units online to fill in any knowledge gaps or content that was unclear. This allowed me to create a quick guide with enough breadth and depth to understand and apply that unit’s content on an exam. I made sure to emphasize important topics using highlighters, markers, and pictures in addition to writing the quick guides in an easy to understand bullet-list format (as shown). I included step-by-step solutions to key examples. This made it easy to practice applying the content instead of wasting hours deciphering what is important in an already stressful week before the exam.
4. Be strategic
Remember, the amount of time you put into studying does not automatically guarantee success. Thus, you must find an effective study method. Taking practice tests and using quick guides have helped me immensely as an Aggie engineer. Be strategic on what will truly help you learn and don’t be afraid to seek out help from professors and Aggie TutorHub if you need it. You can also reach out to me; I’m happy to help as well!
If you are struggling to study effectively, give my quick guide and practice test method a try. I have seen firsthand its effectiveness, and I know it can help you overcome the rigors of engineering.