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Study Skills


Students are encouraged to work with their teachers to learn the best ways to study and prepare for particular courses. Teachers are available at least three days a week after school from 2:00 – 3:00 for extra help.  A late bus is available to transport students home at 3:15.  There is also a Math help room which is available every block of the day for students who have study hall and would like extra help with Math. The Math help room is also available after 2:00.  At that time, Peer Tutors are working in there with to help the students. The Peer Tutors are seniors who are currently enrolled in Honors or AP classes. 

Test Taking Tips

* Study in a comfortable place where you can concentrate.

* Include review time in your daily schedule.  Don't leave all of your studying for the last minute. 

* If you don't know what will be covered on the test, ask the teacher. And ask for extra help a few days before the test if you need it.

* Write a study sheet using your notes, homework, and class material.

* Put a check next to the information on the sheet that you understand.

* Circle the information that you are unsure about.  Concentrate your time on that information.

* Study with a friend.  Ask each other questions and discuss the material.

* Come to the test prepared with whatever supplies are required.

* If it is an essay question, look at the key word to see what kind of answer is required (discuss, explain, evaluate, describe, criticize, compare, contrast, or summarize).

* If it is an objective question, think about the specific information that will answer the question. Be sure to read the question carefully and remember there is usually only one correct answer.

Ten Traps of Studying

1."I Don't Know Where To Begin"

Take Control. Make a list of all the things you have to do. Break your workload down into manageable chunks. Prioritize! Schedule your time realistically. Don't skip classes near an exam -- you may miss a review session. Use that time in between classes to review notes. Interrupt study time with planned study breaks. Begin studying early, with an hour or two per day, and slowly build as the exam approaches.

2. "I've Got So Much To Study ... And So Little Time"

Preview. Survey your syllabus, reading material, and notes. Identify the most important topics emphasized, and areas still not understood. Previewing saves time, especially with non-fiction reading, by helping you organize and focus in on the main topics. Adapt this method to your own style and study material, but remember, previewing is not an effective substitute for reading.

3. "This Stuff Is So Dry, I Can't Even Stay Awake Reading It"

Attack! Get actively involved with the text as you read. Ask yourself, "What is important to remember about this section?" Take notes or underline key concepts. Discuss the material with others in your class. Study together. Stay on the offensive, especially with material that you don't find interesting, rather than reading passively and missing important points.

4. "I Read It. I Understand It. But I Just Can't Get It To Sink In"

Elaborate. We remember best the things that are most meaningful to us. As you are reading, try to elaborate upon new information with your own examples. Try to integrate what you're studying with what you already know. You will be able to remember new material better if you can link it to something that's already meaningful to you. Some techniques include:

Chunking: An effective way to simplify and make information more meaningful. For example, suppose you wanted to remember the colors in the visible spectrum (Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet); you would have to memorize seven "chunks" of information in order. But if you take the first letter of each color, you can spell the name "Roy G. Biv", and reduce the information the three "chunks".

Mnemonics: Any memory-assisting technique that helps us to associate new information with something familiar. For example, to remember a formula or equation, we may use letters of the alphabet to represent certain numbers. Then we can change an abstract formula into a more meaningful word or phrase, so we'll be able to remember it better. Sound-alike associations can be very effective, too, especially while trying to learn a new language. The key is to create your own links, then you won't forget them.

5. "I Guess I Understand It"

Test yourself. Make up questions about key sections in notes or reading. Keep in mind what the professor has stressed in the course. Examine the relationships between concepts and sections. Often, simply by changing section headings you can generate many effective questions. For example, a section entitled "Bystander Apathy" might be changed into questions such as: "What is bystander apathy?", "What are the causes of bystander apathy?", and "What are some examples of bystander apathy?"

6. "There's Too Much To Remember"

Organize. Information is recalled well if it is represented in an organized framework that will make retrieval more systematic. There are many techniques that can help you organize new information, including:

Write chapter outlines or summaries; emphasize relationships between sections.

Group information into categories or hierarchies, where possible.

Information Mapping: trying to understand the causes of World War I, you could make a chart listing all the major countries involved across the top, and then list the important issues and events down the side. Next, in the boxes in between, you could describe the impact each issue had on each country to help you understand these complex historical developments.

7. "I Knew It A Minute Ago"

Review. After reading a section, try to recall the information contained in it. Try answering the questions you made up for that section. If you cannot recall enough, re-read portions you had trouble remembering. The more time you spend studying, the more you tend to recall. Even after the point where information can be perfectly recalled, further study makes the material less likely to be forgotten entirely. In other words, you can't over study. However, how you organize and integrate new information is still more important than how much time you spend studying.

8. "But I Like To Study In Bed"

Context. Recall is better when study context (physical location, as well as mental, emotional, and physical state) are similar to the test context. The greater the similarity between the study setting and the test setting, the greater the likelihood that material studied will be recalled during the test.

9. "Cramming Before A Test Helps Keep It Fresh In My Mind"

Spacing: Start studying now. Keep studying as you go along. Begin with an hour or two a day about one week before the exam, and then increase study time as the exam approaches. Recall increases as study time gets spread out over time.

10. "I'm Gonna Stay Up All Night 'til I Get This"

Avoid Mental Exhaustion. Take short breaks often when studying. Before a test, have a rested mind. When you take a study break, and just before you go to sleep at night, don't think about academics. Relax and unwind, mentally and physically. Otherwise, your break won't refresh you and you'll find yourself lying awake at night. It's more important than ever to take care of yourself before an exam! Eat well, sleep, and get enough exercise.


Tips for Good Note-Taking

1.  Write down information the teacher writes on the board.  Did you ever stop to think that every blackboard scribble may be a clue to an exam item? 

2.  Listen for words that signal important information.  For example:

  • "pay attention"
  • "here's an important point"
  • "I want to emphasize this"
  • "here's something you need to understand"

3.  Listen for clues that tell you how many details will be listed.  For example:

  • "there are three major themes in this story..."
  • "The first thing you do is..."

4.  Put a question mark in the margin next to anything you are uncertain about, so that you can ask the teacher about it later, or look it up.  

5.  Make your original notes legible enough for your own reading, and use abbreviations that make sense to you.

6.  Don't worry about spelling.  You can make corrections later.

7.  Write on one side of the page, so that you can see all of your notes when you lay them out.  You can also make changes, add or delete on the black side of the page. 

8.  Leave a few spaces blank as you move from one point to the next so that you can fill in additional points later if necessary.

9.  Put the date and subject at the top of the page, and number the pages.

10.  Look over and correct your notes as soon as possible after class.  Put them in your own words. 

11.  Do not try to take down everything that the lecturer says.  It is impossible in the first place and unnecessary in the second place because not everything is of equal importance.  Spend more time listening and attempt to take down the main points.  If you are writing as fast as you can, you cannot be as discriminating a listener. 

Preparing for Essay Exams

It's all in the way the question is worded.

As you being to study - and especially as you begin to write - PAY ATTENTION TO ACTION WORDS!  And be sure to read the directions carefully.  Many students lose marks simply because their answers do not respond to the language of the questions.  They may write about the subject matter mentioned in the question, but not in the precise manner that the question requires.  Be sure that your response matches the requirements of the question.  The following list discusses some key words that are found in essay questions.  When you preview a test, circle or highlight them as reminders of what your answer should include and how it should be focused and structured.  Do not try to memorize this list; simply note the differences in meaning among these examination "actions words."


This group comprises question words which expect direct answers and may tend not to expect developed answers.  They may rarely be seen on essay exams. However, when they do appear, they often want the student to explain or elaborate.

  • LIST - write an itemized series of concise statements.
  • ENUMERATE - Write in a list or outline form, making points concisely one by one. 
  • DESCRIBE - Recount, characterize, sketch, relate in a sequence or story form.
  • DEFINE - Give clear, concise, authoritative meanings.
  • STATE - Present main points in brief, clear sequence, usually omitting minor details and examples. 
  • SUMMARIZE - Give the main points or facts in condensed form, like the summary of a chapter in a text, omitting details and illustrations.
  • DIAGRAM - Give a graphic answer, a drawing, a chart, a plan, a schematic representation.


As a group, these words tend to suggest fully thought out and demonstrated answers.

  • DISCUSS - Consider various points of view, analyze carefully, and give reasons pro and con.
  • ANALYZE  - Summarize fully with detail in accordance with a selected focus, consider component parts of ideas and their inter-relationships.
  • EXPLAIN - Clarify, interpret, give reasons for differences of opinion or of results, analyze causes.
  • ILLUSTRATE - Use a word picture, diagram, or concrete examples to clarify a point.
  • OUTLINE - Organize a description based on main points and minor points.
  • TRACE - In narrative form, describe the evolution, development, or progress of the subject.


These action words expect you to integrate ideas, emphasizing similarities, differences, and connections between these ideas.

  • COMPARE - Look for qualities or characteristics that resemble watch other.  Emphasize similarities, but also note differences.
  • CONTRAST - Stress differences, dissimilarities of ideas, concepts, events, problems, etc., but also note similarities.
  • RELATE - Show how ideas or concepts are connected to each other.
  • Also related is the word DISTINGUISH


The words in this group direct the student to take a position on an issue and defend his or her argument.

  • PROVE - Establish the truth of a statement by giving factual evidence and logical reasoning.
  • JUSTIFY - Show strong reasons for decisions or conclusions; use convincing arguments based on evidence
  • related words - AGREE, DISAGREE, DEBATE, DEFEND


Writing an essay question with these action words involves invoking acceptable criteria and defending a judgment on the issue, idea, or question involved. Underlying questions here include "to what extent?" and “how well?"

  • CRITICIZE - Express your judgment about the merit or truth or usefulness of the news or factors mentioned in the question.
  • EVALUATE - Appraise, give your viewpoint, cite limitations and advantages, include the opinion of authorities, give evidence to support your position. 
  • INTERPRET - Translate, give examples or comment on a subject, usually including your own viewpoint.
  • REVIEW - Examine a subject critically, analyzing and commenting on it, or statements made about it.
  • related words - RECOMMEND

You can see that the various questions words require you to be thinking at a variety of levels.  It should be clear that you must go beyond simple definition of terms.


The important point to remember is that you should prepare effectively and thoroughly.  Do not expect to be able to simply look up everything you do not know: you will not have enough time to do so.  Be prepared to use your texts and notes efficiently.  Know where to find information you think you will need when writing your answers (quotations, dates, definitions, graphs, diagrams, etc.).  Don't let yourself be lulled into a false sense of security so you do little or no prior preparation.



Follow the basic guidelines for essay exams.  You probably will not be asked to do a lot of new research for the take-home essay.  Be direct in your writing and use straightforward organizational patterns.  Demonstrate the breadth of your knowledge of the subject matter by referring to a variety of sources when providing concrete examples to support your main points.  Be sure that your responses are analytical and evaluative where appropriate.  


Reducing Test Anxiety

1.  Put things in perspective

Consider how you are thinking about the exam.  Try to calculate your existing grade in the course and determine what grade you require to reach a certain objective in your course.  Assume you will continue to do at least as well as you have so far in the course and calculate how much will be required to get the grade you would really like to have.  Try to get a sense of where you are likely to be after the exam if you continue with your present level of achievement.  Sometimes exams are worth little compared to the total for the course so it may not be worth getting overly worked up about this exam (some exams, of course, may be worth more and should be approached with greater time and careful study).

2.  Working with Anxiety

After calculating their existing grade, some students actually find out they are doing better than they thought.  Some fine a concrete goal in terms of a grade to shoot for helps them focus and study with better concentration.  Remember that exams measure what you can demonstrate about your learning thus far in the course, not your worth as a person!

  • Know that you know what you know.  Much of exam anxiety comes from a fear of poor performance.  If you can test yourself adequately prior to an exam and go in with the knowledge that you do know your stuff, you might find your anxiety diminished. 
  • Some anxiety is normal in an exam situation.  In fact, some would say that anxiety facilitates sharp concentration and alertness.  When anxiety begins to impede your ability to perform, then it may be time to seek further help with it. If you find your anxiety to be extreme and accompanied by headaches, nausea, feelings of despair, shaking, and trembling, or blanking out, then it might be worth looking into services for reducing stress and anxiety at your School Counseling Office or an outside therapist.  Relaxation strategies take time to develop and will probably be most effective for exams down the road after month of diligent practice.
  • Symptoms of stress or anxiety can be worsened by drastic changes in sleep and eating routines, but they can be diminished with some physical activity like walking, jogging, swimming, skating, weight lifting, etc.
  • Breaking the study time into smaller time units and inserting a break in between sessions of study can be helpful.  The few minutes a break can offer you give you a chance to stretch, allow you to focus and further concentrate on a reasonably sized package of information, and allows for some sense of progress on a regular basis.
  • If you are short of time, you might try focusing the bulk of your time on areas that need work rather than on those which you already know and can remember well.  This way you can cover more of the course material.  Though some people experience a little anxiety from working through the hard stuff, many feel that this strategy offers a chance for greater effectiveness and course material coverage.
  • Beware the frantic student! It is hard sometimes to establish a controlled outlook for an exam, but it is easy to lose this outlook when you come into contact with somebody who is highly anxious.  The natural habitat of this kind of highly stressed individual is the main entrance to the exam room, just before the exam begins, trying to learn those last bits of information before the exam.  IF this is you or if this scenario seems familiar to you, then you might want to be aware that this may raise your anxiety at the worst possible time.  Beware of picking up on the concerns and stress of other students.  We probably pick up more stray anxiety than we need to.  IF you review minutes before the exam and this helps you, then you might want to do so just out of range of the exam room.
  • Try to eliminate negative self-statements such as "I'm going to fail this exam."  Whether negative statements are accurate or not, they work to convince us that they are true and this affects our behavior and self-concept.  This negative thinking will have an impact on how well we do on the exam.  Replacing negative statements with positive statements like "I've studied hard and I'm going to do well on this test" may help curb anxiety and boost your self-confidence.
  • Try to focus on the task at hand.  That is, focus on studying the material on the test rather than the potential negative consequences.  Catastrophizing - focusing on grim forecasts like failing the test or failing the exam, etc. are more likely to raise anxiety than to help you control it.


Some students feel anxious only during the exam or test.  Some ways of reducing anxiety during the test are as follows:

  • Review the whole exam to discover which questions you are able to do with relative ease and plan to do those first.  The result is likely to be a little more confidence and the comfort of knowing that you took care of the easy questions.
  • Examine the marking scheme of the test or exam and plan to divide your time evenly among the available marks of the exam.  (e.g. spend ten percent of your time on ten percent of the marks for the test.  While you may not stay strictly with this limit, it is worthwhile to know how many minutes you should spend per percentage point in the exam.  Following this guideline gives you a sense of progress and feedback about how you are doing.  It is important to keep track of your time so that you have an opportunity to answer all questions: after all, it is better to give a 75% answer on all questions than perfect answers on 50% of the exam. 
  • Some students even find it helpful to set mini-breaks at specified points during the exam where they might close their eyes, relax their hands and do deep breathing exercises.  Even thirty seconds can help bring down your symptoms of stress if you use one of the various relaxation strategies - e.g. count slowly to ten.


Student Workshop: Study Skills 1997 SUNBURST Communications, INC.