Many black students find themselves in a position where parents and family members cannot advise us on how to study. We don’t get tutors and do not get the coaching that other students may get. We know we have to work hard but knowing how to work is actually what is more important.
I was lucky to be able to to take advanced courses in high school that forced me to learn how to study. This helped me to realise that being so called, «smart» or «talented» simply isn't enough to get by. This helped me in university, because even thought the content was different, I could apply the same study skills
Note that this advice is mainly for non-studio courses, where you must practise problems, write essays, memorise dates, etc., and that this may not work for you the way it did for me.
- Start studying at least two weeks in advance of your test/exam if you possibly can. Putting in 10 minutes per day going over your material so that your notes are organized is beneficial. You might not understand everything, but at least you know the scope of what you need to work on. Remember, seeing the material briefly and repeatedly is better than seeing than spending extra time cramming right before the test.
- Write yourself the questions that will be on the test. For most people, reading is not a good way of remembering something. What you need to do is make a list of the possible types of analytical questions that might be relevant and use these to quiz yourself. Making a slideshow or flashcards can also be useful for simpler memorization problems. Collaborating with a trusted group of friends can help you to reduce the time that it takes to prepare this type of study material, but only if everyone shares the work equally.
- Review the concepts in your notes and summarize what your professor said in the lectures. Then summarize the summary onto 1 page. This will help you to catch the details and specific ideas that are critical to doing well.
- Redo tests and quizzes from earlier in the course. Make sure you understand what happened and what you didn’t understand previously. Courses often build, and therefore not having a solid foundation is going to undermine your efforts.
- Explain concepts and practise problems to other classmates. If you can explain it well then you know that you understand it thoroughly.
- Do extra practise questions and use the resources that your professor makes available to you in the course syllabus.
- Work on relaxation and focus techniques. Many students panic during math exams and begin to doubt themselves. I personally like to cardio exercises an hour or two before the exam because that helps me to get rid of my nerves. I then take a brisk walk outside as close to the exam as possible. Do not use more than your normal caffeine intake, since it will just make you jittery and you’ll have to pee.
- Again, starting two weeks before with 1 practise question, or a summary of 1 section of notes every day is better than cramming right beforehand (but I’m not judging you if it doesn’t work out like that- we’ve all been there).
- With math, timing yourself is critical. It is not just about being able to do the question, but it is often about being able to do it within a certain time limit. Do a mock exam where you time yourself as if it was the real thing so that you don’t have any surprises.
For the test itself:
- Bring extra pencils, erasers, and a backup calculator if you can. Ask for scrap paper before hand.
- Ask if you don’t know what the question is asking. Your professor or TA might not be allowed to clarify, but that is better to know for certain. If you don’t ask you don’t know.
- If there is a multiple-choice section, go with your first choice. Don’t doubt yourself.
- Never start with multiple choice, and never do the test in order. Do the question worth the most points, or the question which you know that you can do for certain first. This will get you off to a good start by maximizing the number of possible points that you can do. Always attempt every question, and if you know that your answer is illogical but cannot fix it, let your professor know that you know that. It might be worth a point.
ESSAYS, READINGS, AND LECTURES
- Do your best to read the material. Know that reading a summary and skimming through the text are good things. They can be helpful motivators for reading the whole thing and are certainly better than not reading it at all.
- But more importantly, attend the lectures which analyze the material. Knowing your professors take on the readings is more important than ploughing through all 500 pages. If they recommend reading a specific portion, at least try to read that section.
- Engage with your professor and your classmates. Ask questions about their beliefs and debate their opinions. Bring your perspective as a person of colour to the table. This will make the curriculum more meaningful and help you to remember the content.
- If you must take a nap in a lecture, sit at the back. And do make sure to go over the content that you missed!!
- When writing essays, make a quick plan before hand on the back of the test or on a scrap piece of paper. Choose your arguments and examples in advance, and you will have a much more concise essay.
- Do non-studio work outside of studio. Use the library as a resource, and as a quiet place to study.
- Know when to study with friends- this one’s on you.
- DO NOT SACRIFICE SLEEP! It is really hard to think critically, logically, and analytically when your brain feels like mud and you are mentally foggy. I know that studio work gets us in the habit of doing this, but courses that are not studio are more difficult to do with no sleep. Doing line weights does not require the same brain power as balancing a truss.
I hope that this helps- leave a comment if you found it useful 😊