How to Study More Effectively

03 Feb 2019 - Vivian Hir

NOTE: Do not take this advice word for word. Everyone's study methods are unique. The advice I mention here might not suit you. Nevertheless, try it out to see if it works very well!
I have to admit, my worst grades over the course of my short life wasn't recently, but in 6th grade. 6th grade was a lot easier than high school, yet I had more A-s than now. Some of you may have had a similar experience with me, while others have the total opposite trend. I believe the reason why I gradually had better grades over time is that I evolved my study habits. Cal Newport, a Dartmouth alumnus, captures this idea by saying in his book, "Study like Darwin." Studying requires adaptation and isn't the same as before. It is an iterative cycle that requires reflection, analysis, and refining it.
I have to admit, I still struggle in a few classes like AP literature. * For those that are having a hard time, don't worry. A common studying technique I hear among students is copying notes by writing them down or reading the notes over and over again, then highlighting key points. Unfortunately, this is inefficient and results in sleep-deprived students. Your study sessions don't have to be a torturous all-nighter where you have to drink many cups of caffeine to stay awake. A common myth is that you need to sacrifice most of your sleep to maintain good grades. Contrary to popular belief, sleep is NOT for the weak. Despite taking a heavy course load,  I manage to get 8 hours of sleep every day (as of 2019). Here is a general study habit that I found to be pretty helpful, particularly in math and the natural sciences. I think this study habit can apply to English and history but may require modifications.
Along with other students, here is the habit I use that generally works:
Active recall: A study habit that makes a student LECTURE the topic (preferably out loud instead of writing) without any other resources, forcing the student to identify their weaknesses and mistakes they made. 

This means that while you lecture, don't refer back to your notes, handouts, tests, homework. See if you can do it without being dependent. If you aren't able to, use a pen to write corrections. Then, apply the active recall method by lecturing out your weak spots.
For history, this is very helpful. I can identify what I forgot about, particular key figures, dates, events, and vocabulary words. Another important thing I do is make essay outlines and do practice DBQs from actual AP exams. I then grade myself based on the AP answer key to see what I did wrong. Practicing multiple choice in a timed session also works.
For math and physics, explaining how I came to the solution and common misconceptions/mistakes is crucial. I believe that doing practice problems are important, but it isn't helpful to do practice problems on things you got correct on. Don't worry about the likelihood you will get it wrong on the test. If you got it correct on the homework, that means you have a strong understanding. Instead, narrow it down to the problems you got wrong on the homework. Redo the problems until you are consistently correct and can explain clearly how the process works. Depending on how your AP science/math teacher writes the tests, practicing AP free response questions are helpful.
A lot of students struggle on these tests not necessarily because they are hard, but because of calculations and other math mistakes. I got this method from Richard Ruscyzk who teaches competition math. Essentially, you draw a box and write a brief description (1-2 words) about what you did. Every time a box is drawn, you number the steps. It does take a bit longer than necessary, but I can't tell you how helpful it is. The numbered box method makes your work organized and prevents you from skipping steps because you have to list out the brief description.
If you have managed to read all of this so far, good job. The last and most important thing is that after each test or quiz, no matter if you got a full score or did poorly, write a reflection. The components include what you did well on (even if you didn't do well), what you didn't do well, why you didn't do well, and how are you going to change next time. This has made me identify my mistakes a lot easier than before.
Thank you for reading, and I hope this helps you. Good resources for study advice can be found at Cal Newport's Study Hack blog and Thomas Frank's Youtube channel.
Newport, Cal. How to Become a Straight A Student: the Unconventional Strategies Real College Students Use While Scoring Less. Broadway Books, 2007.

Vivian Hir is a high school student who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her blogs can be found here. Constructive feedback is appreciated.