Since my freshman year of college, one thing I have noticed about myself is that I tend to get stressed the day before and the day of an exam. This would often lead to me performing beneath my potential. It ended up being a never-ending cycle. Slowly, throughout my years of college, I have developed small coping methods that have worked for me and might work for you as well!
When I think back on how my study habits have evolved over my time at UNC, there is one key change that had a dramatic effect on how I prepare for exams. During my first semester, I adopted the strategy of reading textbook chapters, notes, and lecture slides over and over again in hopes that somehow this would magically deposit information into my brain. I also did practice problems and practice exams, but I dedicated a large chunk of time to this strategy of obsessively rereading material. It didn’t take very long for me to realize that once the test was put in front of me, almost all of the information that I thought I had retained went straight out the window. I knew that I needed some way to supplement my approach of doing practice problems with a strategy to retain important concepts and information as well.
This semester, my anatomy course has posed a unique challenge for me. My previous studying methods were not helping me reach the level of understanding needed to excel on the quizzes; instead, I found myself falling into the trap of reading over material in the textbook and feeling a false sense of understanding. I could recognize what I was reading or the diagrams I was examining, but my quiz grades were still less-than-ideal. Frustrated with this pattern, I decided it was time for a change in my studying habits!
In college, I consistently wrote papers last minute. I rarely outlined anything. My senior thesis–supposed to be a year-long writing project–was written in a flurry in March and April of 2013. (I changed the novel I was writing about in February.) While I was furiously adding footnotes and writing whole sections of my thesis the night before it was due, a good friend of mine was calmly line editing hers. I was jealous–and started to acknowledge that I might be a die-hard procrastinator.
The MCAT tests every pre-med prerequisite in ways that may be unfamiliar and, frankly, quite daunting. This summer, I’ve decided to buckle down and start studying. In the process, I have learned more about my own learning styles and how I study best. I want to share some tips that have been helpful for me so that they can be beneficial for others!
Last fall, I realized that many of the study strategies and time management systems that I used as an academic coach could be helpful in my own life as a graduate student (and as an adult, in general). I was in the middle of reading for my Ph.D. qualifying exams and desperately needed a better system. (A list of nearly three hundred books to read in roughly a year felt daunting, to say the least.) Watching as my coaching students revelled in their newfound organizational skills and improved study strategies, I thought to myself, Gee, I should really try these, too.
With the shift to remote learning, it has been extremely hard to prioritize my plans. Instead of following through on my academic goals, I often end up spending time with my family, watching shows on Netflix, or even browsing through my emails. Knowing that I had a midterm approaching, I decided it was time to break this cycle and search for tools to increase my productivity. I went to the Learning Center website and found the Goal Tracker, which let me set goals and reflect on my progress over three days. At the end of these three days, I was able to complete most of my goals, reflect on what strategies worked well, and adjust strategies that weren’t working for me.
When I chat with my peers about study tools, many of them are familiar with Quizlet. Essentially, Quizlet is a website for making and studying digital flashcards. Over the years that I have used this website, they have added tools and study methods that go beyond just flipping through flashcards. Although I do not use it as a replacement for in-depth studying, Quizlet has always been a great starting point for familiarizing myself with the important terms or baseline concepts of my classes.
When virtual classes were announced, I immediately thought about how this meant four more months without my favorite Chapel Hill study spots. As a senior, I owe a lot of my success to the environments that have fostered my creativity (I’m looking at you Wilson Library steps, Meantime Coffee Shop, and the courtyard outside of Swain Hall). Having relocated to Newport, Rhode Island for the semester, I spend a lot of time curating study spots that help me stay motivated. Anything to help me avoid slipping into the monotony of daily routine.