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How to Break Up with Bad Study Habits

Christmas has come and gone, and the countdown to semester exams is on!  So, what's a student on a two-week break to do?  First, you have to break up with the worst study habit out there: sitting down and re-reading your notes.

How do you get together with good study habits?  Begin at the end, literally. 

How many study days do you have between you and your most stressful test?  Get out your planner or open your calendar app and figure out how many study days you have between now and then.  Go on, I'll wait.

Got your total?  Great.  Now you need to know what type of test you'll be facing.  Read the syllabus, if you have one. Read over the study packet, if you have one.  Email the teacher or text a classmate and ask what the test format is and what the test covers, if you haven't got one or the other.

If you're dealing with a fact/formula test, spaced repetition studying is your best bet.  Schedule out your first study session for at least an hour, three at the outside.  Start with a stack of notecards, your favorite pen, and three differently colored rubber bands or notecard boxes, or download Anki ( Using the test focus as your guide, go through all your class notes and assignments, pulling out important information: names, dates, locations, formulas, properties, exceptions, whatever you identify as probable test questions.  Re-write these things on one side of the card.  

On the flip side, do not write out the definition, the equation, the important information.  Draw a picture.  Write a mnemonic. Use a phrase. Anything that makes the important bit more memorable, without defining it directly; you have your notes for that.  

When your notecards are complete, take a break!  Treat yourself to something great as a reward.  

The next day, you plan out your study sessions in this sequence: day 1, 2, 4, 6, 9, 13, 21, and if you have the time, 32.  For the first day, note the time you start, and review all the cards.  The cards you know cold go in one stack.  The cards you kind-of know go in the second stack.  The cards you draw a total blank on go in the third stack. Stop the clock and treat yourself to something - you just studied!

Come back from your break ready to plan out days 2-21, based on the time it took on day 1.  Block out your study time so you don't forget it, or plan over it. And you're done for the day!

Days 2-21 are a little different.  You'll need a notebook and pen, and you'll focus your review on stacks two and three. Stack one gets reviewed on days 4 and 9. Start with stack 2.  Pull the top card.  What is the meaning, equation, location, whatever, that card refers to?  Write down your answer and then flip the card.  If you're correct, move the card to stack one.  If not, write out the correct answer and why you didn't remember it in your notebook. Refine the flip side now, and keep the card in stack two.  Continue through stack two and three this way.  Done?  Excellent!  Go do something fun.

Day 4, start with reviewing stack one before you dive into stacks two and three. For days 6 through 21, or 6 through 32, rinse and repeat.  And check back next week, when I'll lay out a good study habit for other types of tests.

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