Using Study Guides

A study guide can be a great way to get some insight into what your professor might include on an exam. But, the question is: how do you actually use them to study?

The easiest way to use a study guide is as a way to structure your study notes. Generally speaking, these guides should give you some insight into the structure of the exam: will it be multiple choice? Short answer? Essay? Knowing the structure of the exam will help you organize your notes most effectively to study efficiently. So, some key tips and tricks for making the best use of your study guide:

  1. If it includes a key terms section, use this to make flash cards, or other memorization tool. In short, do something to rewrite all term definitions out.
  2. If it indicates that you will have any kind of free response (essay section), make outlines of information you will need to answer that question/question type. Generally speaking, outlines are easier to study from than written out paragraphs.
  3. If it indicates any problem types that you will need to solve, write out the process, including any needed formula. You should do this, even if the study guide includes sample problems for you to practice with.
  4. If your study guide is really vague (a “know everything” kind of format), ask your professor to walk you through the structure of the exam. Then, set up your notes according to the exam structure, rather than trying to memorize everything from a particular lesson or unit. (See steps 1-3 above).
  5. If your study guide is very very detailed (includes everything from the entirety of the semester), you may want to consider one of the following strategies: (a) typing up notes (faster than handwriting); (b) splitting organizing notes with a trusted peer and filling each other in

A few more key points:

  • Never ignore a study guide (if your professor took time to put one together, you should use it.
  • If your professor won’t tell you the structure of your exam (note: NOT content, but STRUCTURE) even after being asked, you have a right to be upset—include this on your end of course evaluations.
  • Sometimes a professor won’t issue a study guide. This is their prerogative. You aren’t entitled to one. I’ll discuss making your own in a later post (it is possible!). DON’T complain about this on end of course evals. You can—as always—suggest that it would be helpful.
  • Always ask your professor to clarify anything that is confusing or unclear about exam expectations. But do not expect them to spoon feed you the answers or content.

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