Recently, a post by Sophia Chua-Rubenfeld called, “How to Study Like a Harvard Student” has been making the rounds on the blogging site Tumblr. Sophia Chua-Rubenfeld is both a Harvard and Yale Law graduate and the daughter of infamous “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” author, Amy Chua. Studying for exams can sometimes be daunting, but if you pay attention, plan ahead, and study effectively, it will make a big difference in how confident you feel and how well you will perform. Read a paraphrased version of Sophia’s helpful tips below. You can find the original here.
1. Choose classes that genuinely interest you – that way studying won’t feel like such a drag.
2. Make friends. See steps 12, 23, 24.
3. Study less, but study better.
4. Avoid Autopilot Brain at all costs.
5. Vague is bad. Vague is a waste of your time.
6. Write it down.
7. Sometimes it can be rough, but buckle down and get it done.
Plan of Attack Phase I: Class
8. Show up to class. Everything will make a lot more sense that way, and you will save yourself a lot of time in the long run.
9. Take notes by hand. It is better for learning and retention and is less distracting than taking notes on a computer.
Phase II: Study Time
10. Get out of the library. The sheer fact of being in a library doesn’t fill you with knowledge. 8 hours of Facebooking in the library is still eight hours of Facebooking. Study without sacrificing your quality of life by quizzing yourself while still doing everyday tasks like eating or showering.
11. Do a little every day, but don’t let it be your whole day. “This afternoon, I will read a chapter of something and do half a problem set. Then, I will watch an episode of my favorite TV show and go to the gym” ALWAYS BEATS “Starting right now, I am going to read as much as I possibly can…oh wow, now it’s midnight, I’m on page five, and have done nothing for 6 hours.”
12. Give yourself incentive. There’s nothing worse than a gaping abyss of study time. If you know you’re going out in 6 hours, you’re more likely to get something done.
13. Self-care is important, but it can also be really tempting to take breaks when you really don’t need them. When you think about taking a break, try pushing through until you really need one.
Phase III: Assignments
14. Stop highlighting. Highlighting is supposed to keep you focused, but it’s actually a one-way ticket to Autopilot Brain. Write notes in the margins instead.
15. Do all your own work. You get nothing out of copying a problem set. If you don’t know how to solve the problem, attempt it anyways and review the answer key afterwards to help you understand what you did wrong.
16. Read as much as you can. No way around it. Stop trying to cheat with Sparknotes.
17. Be a smart reader, not a robot. Ask yourself: What is the author trying to prove? What is the logical progression of the argument? You can usually answer these questions by reading the introduction and conclusion of every chapter. Then, pick any two examples/anecdotes and commit them to memory (write them down). They will help you reconstruct the author’s argument later on.
18. Don’t read everything, understand everything that you read. Better to have a deep understanding of a limited amount of material than to have a vague understanding of an entire course. Once again: Vague is bad. Vague is a waste of your time.
19. If you do not understand an assignment, go to office hours. Ask for help. It will also help you get to know your professors, which is important for any letters of recommendation you may need to seek in the future.
Phase IV: Reading Period (Review Week)
20. Once again: do not move into the library. Eat, sleep, and bathe.
21. If you don’t understand it, it will probably be on the exam. Review your textbooks, ask your classmates, go to office hours, or looking it up on the internet.
22. Do all the practice problems.
23. You will be required to memorize formulas, names and dates. To memorize effectively: Stop reading your list over and over again. Say it out loud, write it down. Have your friends quiz you, then return the favor.
24. Ask your friends to listen while you explain a difficult concept to them. This forces you to articulate your understanding. Remember, vague is bad.
25. Go for the big picture. Try to figure out where a specific concept fits into the course as a whole. This will help you tap into Big Themes – every class has Big Themes – which will streamline what you need to know. You can learn a million facts, but until you understand how they fit together, you’re missing the point.
Phase V: Exam Day
26. Crush exam. Get A.