How to Improve Study Skills & Get Organized: Use a Study Guide Template

This is a guest post written by Ashley Ferro, a freelance content writer & copywriter specializing in SEO content marketing.

Quick! You have an exam in a week. What’s your study plan?

Will you spend hours reading the material? Take notes? Use flashcards? Cram it all in the night before?

Most people in this situation wouldn’t think very far ahead when deliberating on how to study. They’d just wing it, most likely pull an all-nighter the night before, and hope for the best when the time comes for them to take the exam.

The problem with this is that it’s lazy. And lazy studying only gets you mediocre results (at best).

But this doesn’t mean spending long, grueling hours studying every day is the way to go. In fact, research shows that students that are consistently successful actually spend less time studying than their peers; they just do it more effectively.

So, what should you do then?

In this Process Street article, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know about how to study effectively and efficiently.

We’ll be covering:

First off, if you’re just here to grab our Study Guide Template, here it is below:

Study Guide Template

Alright, let’s get started with the basics!

Alright, let’s get started with the basics!

What is the best way to study?

The answer to this question can vary from person to person, but one thing’s for sure: Cramming the night before an exam isn’t an effective long-term solution for anyone.

Figuring out what study methods work best for you should be a continuous process. And when you leave studying to the last minute, it doesn’t give you much opportunity to become mindful of what areas you could improve on to optimize your information retention and the depth of your understanding of the material.

Put your phone on airplane mode

Most American phone users spend an average of 5.4 hours on their mobile phones daily.

That’s 82 days out of the year. Spent solely on your phone.

Our relationship with technology has grown deeper than ever and because of this, multitasking has become an intrinsic part of our daily lives. And though some people believe they’re “good at multitasking,” that just isn’t the case.

Multitasking is never as productive as focused work. When you’re constantly switching between different things, your brain has to stop and realign itself each time you shift focus. It simply wastes time.

Let’s say there are two students studying for an exam: One spends 4 hours studying in between checking notifications and replying to texts, and the other spends 1 hour focusing solely on studying the material.

Though the first student may have spent significantly more time studying than the second, chances are that the first student would find that very little of the material actually retained by the time it comes to take the exam.

Not only would the second student spend less time studying (leaving them with more time in the day to do as they please), but they would also perform better on the exam.

It’s a win-win situation.

Crush those bad study habits

Most people, when studying for an exam, only ever achieve short-term results. How many times have you crammed the night before a test, and a week later, forgotten everything you studied?

Though these kinds of ineffective study habits may buy you some time, as the material progresses and builds upon what you were expected to have already learned, you’ll only find yourself struggling to keep your head above water.

Some examples of bad study habits include:

  • Spending too much time studying;
  • Attempting to memorize the material word for word;
  • Switching between multiple topics in too short of a time span;
  • Reading and rereading text over and over again;
  • Highlighting or underlining main concepts as you read and then reviewing the highlighted text;
  • Reviewing notes;

Sound familiar?

The good news is there are plenty of study techniques that have been proven to be actually effective!

Study techniques that actually work

The following research-proven study techniques have been sourced from the book Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning by Mark A. McDaniel and Peter C. Brown.

The techniques were found to boost retention and, when incorporated into one’s daily schedule, it was found to be sustainable and effective long-term.

You may find that some of these techniques are more difficult and may take more time than what you’ve grown used to (especially at first), but you have to remember that what you’re used to doesn’t work long-term. That’s why you’re here, reading this article.

If you first begin to incorporate these techniques into your regimen and find yourself struggling, just keep in mind that you will get past the initial hump. These techniques are meant to improve long-term success; it’s not going to be an overnight transformation.

Test yourself before doing anything else

First things first, before you even begin studying. It’s recommended that you test yourself with practice questions to gauge where exactly you stand on the subject matter. Research has proven that testing yourself before study sessions can improve test results dramatically when compared to others who’ve spent the same amount of time studying without pre-testing.

Spread out your study sessions

Contrary to popular belief, spending an exorbitant amount of time studying on every subject you’ve covered all week isn’t effective. Much like how your brain has to restart every time you shift its focus onto checking your phone, it has to do the same thing when you shift its focus from subject to subject.

Instead, focus your study sessions on a single subject and shorten the time frames. This has been proven to improve your long-term information retention when practiced repeatedly. It may be helpful to use a study tracker to ensure consistent time intervals.

It’s possible that you may find it difficult to retain information when first adopting this technique (it may even feel less effective than your usual study sessions), but don’t give up! With repeated effort, your brain will readjust to this method of learning and you will find long-term success.

Test yourself, again and again

Though many students may have an initially negative reaction to the thought of taking a test, testing yourself is one of the most effective study techniques you can practice. And its effectiveness is further multiplied if you come up with your own test questions.

All you have to do is ask yourself as you’re reviewing your material, ‘what might be asked on a test on this material?’ and write down test questions as you’re studying. Then, take your test at the end to see how well you’ve retained the information you’ve just reviewed.

But don’t just toss out your test after taking it that one time! Keep it and retake it as days go on so make sure you’re not forgetting any what you determined to be the most important takeaways from the material.

Another way to test yourself could be to use flashcards.

Just write your test questions on the front and the answers on the back. Then as you’re quizzing yourself, separate the cards into three different piles: the cards you answered correctly quickly in a pile to review three days later, the cards you answered, but with some difficulty in a pile to review two days later, and the cards that were answered wrong in a pile to review the following day.

Diversify your study material

It’s not uncommon for students to fall into the ineffective trap of blocked practice when studying. For example, if you’re trying to master the division of fractions, you may think it’s best to work out as many consecutive fraction division problems as you can until you’ve got it. But the truth is, this method doesn’t really work that well.

It’s been found that it’s much more effective to diversify the set of problems, rather than working out exclusively fraction division problems. So for instance, your problems may encompass, not only division, but maybe multiplication, addition, and subtraction as well.

Synthesize the information

How many times have you spent 20 minutes reading something, only to realize that you have no idea what you’ve just read?

It happens to all of us. But when you’re studying, this can be, at best, a huge waste of time and at worst, a detriment to your performance on your exams.

A great way to combat this and ensure that you’re understanding what you’re reading is to first, read through the material, and then aloud, explain what you’ve just read as you would to a five-year-old. This forces you to not only remember the information, but also process it as you paraphrase, and reflect upon it.

Use a study guide

Lastly and perhaps one of the most effective methods on this list: using a study guide.

A study guide is both a resource and technique designed for studying and improving information retention, but it can take many forms (reading, studying, self-testing, problem-solving techniques, and so on) depending on who is using it and how they most effectively learn.

Let’s dive deeper into study guides and their power…

How to properly use a study guide and get the most out of it

Though they may seem simple, study guides are often misunderstood and underestimated by students. Many have the misconception that study guides are simply the answers to a test. But this isn’t the case.

In order to get the most out of using a study guide, you need to think of them as the questions for the test; not the answers.

This simple shift in perspective will make a surprisingly big impact on how you prepare yourself for exams. Study guides can help you not only retain information for longer, but also spend less time studying while still reaping all the benefits. They are an amazing tool.

But the key is, you need to use the study guide the right way for it to be able to help you.

Make your own study guide

“Make my own study guide?!”, you cry out.

Yes, make your own study guide!

The process of reviewing your material and synthesizing it into a functioning study guide is one of the most important (and most effective) steps in your exam preparation, because it forces you to reduce the information into its main ideas. And then you can use it and re-use it later to test yourself and make sure you’re prepared!

Quiz yourself with your teacher’s study guide

But what if your teacher has already provided you with a study guide?

Even though you’re making your own study guide, it doesn’t mean your teacher’s study guide is rendered useless. Try using it to quiz yourself!

First, write your answers down on a separate sheet of paper. Then, review your answers and note the ones you answered incorrectly. These should become your focus when the time comes to make your own study guide.

Pinpoint gaps of knowledge

One of the most beneficial aspects of using a study guide is that it allows you to easily pinpoint your weak points. If you’re quizzing yourself, for example, you know that the questions you answer incorrectly are topics you need to study more on.

At that point, you can focus your attention on gathering the information needed to fill in the gaps of knowledge. This can mean reviewing your notes again, re-reading the source material, carefully researching online, or reaching out to a peer or your teacher if you’re really stumped.

3 crucial benefits of using a study guide

You have an exam in a week and you sit down at your desk to study. The desk is barely visible underneath your many pages of notes, several open books, and your computer. You’ve re-read the same sentence five times and still have no clue what it said. This is going nowhere.

If only there was some kind of tool that allows you to focus solely on the main points of your material and actually retain the information…

Oh, right, there is; A study guide.

As we’ve already mentioned (but it bears repeating), study guides are incredible tools for synthesizing all of your information into succinct and convenient references for later use.

Let’s walk through some of the benefits of using study guides!

They force you to fully process and internalize concepts

Unless you were born with a groundbreaking photographic memory (in which case you wouldn’t be reading this article), I think we can all agree that if we were to read a textbook straight through from ear to ear, we would remember mostly nothing. This is because, in order to truly understand the information we’re reading, we need to fully process each of the concepts in your mind before moving on to something else.

As you’re reading, make sure to take pauses after small sections to reflect on what you’ve read. It can be especially helpful to write your thoughts down and in your own words as you do so, or even draw supportive images that you know will help trigger your memory on the subject when you review it in the future. Think of these notes as you teaching your future self.

They build confidence by setting realistic goals

Sometimes, when you’re struggling to understand a difficult topic, it can feel like a blow to your self-esteem. This is due to placing unrealistic expectations on yourself to read the material and just get it on the first try. This isn’t how human brains work. In fact, psychologist William Glasser claims that humans only remember 10% of what they read! So if your study strategy has been just to read the material until you get it, you’d have to read it all at least ten times for it to even begin to sink in.

But luckily, there are more effective and efficient ways to study. William Glasser also states that humans remember 95% of what they teach to another person. This is why it can be so powerful to reflect on what you’re reading by writing it down in your own words as though you’re teaching yourself the material.

You’ll remember concepts long-term

Because you’ve already spent time not only reading the material, but also reflecting on it and recording reference notes for yourself, your study guide will help keep the information you’ve absorbed in your memory long-term. As long as you periodically review your notes, you’ll be on your way to permanently anchor the material in your mind and it will build a strong foundation of concepts upon which you’ll be able to further your academic mastery.

Using a study guide template

So now that we’ve covered how beneficial study guides can be, you’re probably ready to get started creating your own.

But where to begin?

There are many different approaches you can take when creating a study guide, depending on what topic you’re studying or what teaching methods work best for you.

Using a robust study guide template can be an easy and effective way to make sure you’re using tried and tested study methods, but also have the ability to make adjustments to the template to better suit your material.

Here’s an example of our Study Guide Template checklist:

With this template, all the research on how to most effectively study is already done for you and all you have to do is input the information you’re studying, follow the steps, and you’ll be acing that exam in no time.

And the best part is, once you’re finished studying a particular topic, you can reuse the empty study guide template for any topic you may need to study in the future.

Using a study guide template allows you to save the valuable time and energy that you may normally waste practicing inefficient study methods and spend it on actually absorbing the material.

But keep in mind that a study guide is only as helpful as the information you put in it. So make sure you’re filling up your study guide with all of the information you’ll need to succeed in that exam (or whatever else you may be studying for).

Using Process Street for improving study skills & getting organized

Checklists are more than just an elementary way to keep organized; using them can also help you become more aware of what exactly your strengths and weaknesses are in the process of learning.

Education specialist Dr. Kathleen Dudden Rowlands explains:

Used effectively, checklists can help students develop metacognitive awareness of their intellectual processes.

Metacognitive research consistently suggests that students who know how to learn, know which strategies are most effective when faced with a problem or a task, and have accurate methods of assessing their progress, are better learners than those who don’t.

By articulating and labeling operational steps, checklists scaffold students’ metacognitive development

Why am I going on about checklists?

Well, Process Street is superpowered checklists.

As you saw with our Study Guide Template checklist, we provide more than just the outdated to-do list.

Our checklists are dynamic, customizable, and flexible tools that are designed specifically for optimizing recurring processes in your life that may not be as efficient as they could be.

For example, in the Study Guide Template checklist, you can set the date of your exam to ensure that your checklist is completed before that day arrives.

We also make use of other powerful features, such as:

  • Conditional logic, to offer various process pathways depending on the outcome;
  • Stop tasks, to enforce process adherence;
  • Role assignments, to easily collaborate with others;
  • Approvals, allowing project leaders to give their approval (or rejection) on important tasks;
  • And many more!

To get a more solid idea of what we’re all about, watch this brief intro webinar about Process Street:

Also, if you’re interested in more productivity and self-care templates, we have plenty to offer!

For example, here’s our Tony Robbins: Morning Routine checklist that we built based on author, life coach, philanthropist, and public speaker Tony Robbins‘ morning routine:

Tony Robbins: Morning Routine Checklist

As with any of our templates, we encourage you to edit the process and make it your own so that it can best accommodate your needs.

Watch our video below on the basics of creating and editing templates to get you started:

Additional productivity and time-management resources

Here are some additional resources that may be useful to you:

Here are some additional resources that may be useful to you:

What study habits do you have that work well for you? Do you use study guide templates in your study regimen? Let us know in the comments below. We’d love to hear from you!

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Oliver Peterson

Oliver Peterson is a content writer for Process Street with an interest in systems and processes, attempting to use them as tools for taking apart problems and gaining insight into building robust, lasting solutions.

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