Whenever we hear the word ‘study’, we tend to picture the likes of Hermione Granger, who is always seen with her nose in a book, pouring through pages and pages of information. Or we see her holding a quill and a bunch of parchment, hastily writing the most detailed of notes, continuing to add to them whenever something else is said. As Hermione is ultimately the smartest student in her year level, if not the entire school, it’s reasonable to assume that excessive reading and note-taking are essential to academic success.
Now, I’m not here to argue that there isn’t any sort of reading or writing of notes involved in the study; they are indeed necessary parts of the process. What many students don’t realise, however, is that this is the first part of studying; it’s the part that gets you prepared for what really counts.
And what really counts is practising what is required of you in the final examinations.
For English, this means writing three different kinds of essays, with at least three arguments in each, having only three hours to do it in.
For Maths, it’s knowing instantly what method needs to be used to answer interestingly contextualised equations.
In Science, you need to understand a range of concepts and procedures in enough depth to be able to answer a variety of questions associated with them.
LOTE subjects insist on you being able to translate back and forth relatively quickly and accurately, both verbally and written.
Other subjects require a combination of the above, and possibly even more unique techniques, to be executed correctly within a certain time frame.
It’s these skills, therefore, which most of your study time must be devoted to, which makes sense; It’s very difficult to perform something at a high standard which you’ve never attempted before.
As I said, the first step is reading the studied texts, and then compiling summary notes on both what you have read and what has been discussed in class. But this shouldn’t take you hours on end. Sure, it’s perfectly fine to rewrite the barely-legible scribble from your school workbook, but the 14 different colour codes and highlighting really isn’t that necessary. So long as you understand them, it doesn’t matter how your notes are presented.
And to double check that your notes make sense, it’s always good to have a read through them after they’ve been written. I often found it helpful to have a marker handy at this point; that way anything I saw that made me think, hmmm, I usually forget that part, I would highlight, so that more attention was drawn to it.
But once these two steps are done, the real work must begin. It’s time to practice applying this knowledge in the way that it needs to be applied in the assessments. And this is where most students tend to make the wrong decisions with regards to their study.
I’m going to use English as my example here, not only because it is the subject I tutor in, but because all students are studying a form of it in VCE.
I’ve lost count now as to how many pages of ‘quotes’ I’ve seen made by students, who read them over and over trying to memorise them by heart. But what good is a quote if you don’t know how to incorporate it into a sentence? Or better yet, how well can you explain the significance of this quote if you don’t who said it, or even when it was said?
I see the same pattern emerging with language analysis. Students have made a list of different persuasive techniques and the effect they have on the audience, but they haven’t yet practised identifying these techniques and their effects within the context of an article. Some students haven’t even mastered the structure of an essay, and yet they spend more time worrying about the difference between a simile and a metaphor.
At the end of the day, you are expected to write multiple essays that are fluent and well-argued in your final English exam. So answer me this; how on Earth do you expect to do well in this exam if you don’t practice writing fluent and well-argued essays? Practice what must be perfected! Don’t waste your time with unnecessary learning.
Ok, so we’ve established what most of your study needs to focus on, but we haven’t quite touched on how we can develop this focus. Because it’s not realistic to write an entire essay every night from now until October, nor is it feasible to answer every possible question that can be asked in a subject. And also, variety is key to maintaining interest; so here are some ways you can change up your study routine, whilst keeping it effective:
- EXPLAIN THINGS OUT LOUD TO SOMEONE: and I don’t mean exchange notes with the person you sit next to in class. Try and summarise the plot of your English novel to your parents during a commercial break. Outline the process of digestion to your little sister. Record what you learned in a lesson on your phone (it’ll be easier to write notes on it later). Sometimes, the movement of information from your head to your mouth is all it takes for it to stick with you forever.
- ASK YOUR TEACHERS FOR MORE WORK: yes, it’s a nerdy thing to do, but it will also make your studying a whole lot easier. Remember, your teachers are quite familiar with the study design, and will know the types of questions that should be focused on the most. They can help point you in the right direction with your study. In English especially, getting essay prompts or practice articles from a teacher is a lot easier than searching for them online.
- FINALLY, DO PAST EXAMS: they are the best way to determine the standard expected by examiners and the way they want the questions answered. For instance, by doing practice exams, I quickly worked out that Biology examiners want answers in dot points; to them, full sentences just waste room for details. But I wouldn’t have known this if I didn’t look through past exam reports.
These are just a few ideas. But at the end of the day, if you are practising a skill that you may be required to perform in the final examinations, you will be using your study time in the best possible way. And from memory, colour-coded notes weren’t part of any exam that I ever did.
Good luck everyone, and happy studying!
Learnmate is a trusted Australian community platform that connects students who want 1:1 or small group study support, with tutors who are looking to share their knowledge and earn an income. From primary school to high school subjects — from science and maths to niche subjects like visual communication — Learnmate can help you improve academic performance or boost confidence, at your pace with the tutor that you choose.
Students and parents can easily find and screen for tutors based on their location, their subject results or skill level, and whether they provide in-person or online sessions. Learnmate is proud to provide tutors in Melbourne, Sydney, Geelong, Brisbane, Hobart, Canberra, Perth & Adelaide, and other locations.