Do-It-Yourself Study Guides

For many in public or parochial school, May is a time to prepare for upcoming final exams.  Don’t let your student wait until the last minute to work through a study guide provided by the teacher!  Start NOW to create individualized study guides.  Finals, especially the comprehensive kind, require more preparation than can be accomplished in a week or two.  Ideally, these DIY study guides should be an ongoing project throughout the semester or school year, but even several weeks can make a difference.

Your student is likely to tell you that he or she does not know what will be on the test.  The answer to that, of course, is that anything covered in class is a possibility.  Get out the old tests, homework assignments, handouts and notes.  Grab the textbook.  These are the tools you can use to create your own study guides.

Start by listing the chapters or topics that have been covered in class.  You can usually get this information from the syllabus, or by looking over the assignments from the year or the semester.  Plan to make a section of the study guide for each topic or chapter.

First, make a list of the relevant vocabulary words.  Many textbooks have these highlighted.  You can also search handouts; many classes use  vocabulary word exercises like crossword puzzles or word searches.  Write down each word and the correct definition on the study guide.  It’s also a great time to make some vocabulary cards to use for practice if you have not already done so.  Put the word on one card and the definition on another, and you’ll be able to play games such as Memory to help make studying more interesting.

Now comes the toughest part.  You will need to pull the important points from the chapter, the handouts and the notes.  How can you do this?  How can a student know what is important?  By emphasis, that’s how.  In the textbook, there are likely to be section titles that will give clues about what the authors thought was important.  Many will even put key ideas in bold faced or italic print.  In class notes, the important things are the ones that the teacher emphasized, using visual aids, bullet points or verbal emphasis.  Put the two together and you’ll have a good idea about what information will be likely to show up on the test.

Finally, take a look at the assignments.  These will also give information about what level of importance the teacher is assigning to different concepts.  Be most careful to learn about concepts that were important enough to warrant assignments.

Your study guide might take the format of an outline, a graphic organizer or a summary page or two.  Try to guess what the teacher will be putting onto his or her official version, and reward yourself if you turn out to have made accurate guesses.

Now, to study the study guide.

  • If the information is easily put into pairs (like vocabulary words and definitions, states and capitals or story problems and formulas), play matching games like Memory or Old Maid with cards of the information.
  • If it is in groups, like lists of characteristics, people or similar items, try playing grouping games like Rummy or Go Fish with your cards.
  • Make checklists and set up your own questions, such as “Name the three causes of the ____.”
  • Is your test likely to involve writing paragraphs?  Then it’s important to practice in that way.  Try writing a paragraph about each of your topics from the study guide, or writing a summary paper about what you’ve learned in the past semester or year.

Studying in this way adds a little extra work to each day, but it pays off in the end because students learn so much more.  Test grades will improve, and so will performance in subsequent classes.  Give it a try!


Got a question about learning or education? Don’t hesitate to leave it in the comment box below!


Using Graphic Organizers

Many students, particularly those with attention, memory, or language issues, have a great deal of difficulty in organizing information.  This foundational skill allows a student to read and comprehend textbook material, to hear and remember lecture information, and to write coherently.  One way to help students organize information for study or writing is to use graphic organizers.

Graphic organizers are visual tools that help students see connections between bits of information.  Many people are familiar with graphic organizers, though they don’t use that term.  For example, time lines are a common type of graphic organizer.  Events are arranged on a line in the order that they occurred.  Dates are added as references.  Time lines help many people to recall sequences of events and place important people in history.  Another common organizer is the cyclical type.  Diagrams of repeating processes, such as the water cycle, are often depicted in this way.  Arrows lead around the circle, showing how the steps in the process lead back to the beginning.  Venn Diagrams, the overlapping circles that look like Olympic Rings, are a third common type of organizer.  This graphic is used to compare and contrast two items.  Each circle contains a list of characteristics, and the area of overlap is where traits common to both are listed.  For example, a Venn Diagram might compare dogs and cats on two overlapping circles.  The dog circle might have words such as “bark,” “four legs,” “fur,” and “pet.”  The cat circle may have “meow,” “pet,” “sharp claws,” and “fur.”  The words “pet” and “fur” would be written in the overlapped area since they are common to both animals.

An organizer called a Web can help break big concepts down into manageable ideas to create paragraphs, essays, or reports.  Webs can also be used to group details into subcategories and categories.  Whichever direction is being used, the central idea goes in the middle of the page, the subcategories surround this main idea and related details gather around the subcategories.  If you connect these bits of information with lines, the entire figure looks somewhat like a spider’s web, lending the name to the diagram.

A character map can help a student to analyze a fictional or historical figure.  Draw the outline of a person in the center of the page.  Connect words or phrases to the appropriate body part to show what the person saw (eyes), heard (ears), said (mouth), and so forth.  A section connecting to the heart could show feelings or what was important.  The feet or legs can connect to places the person goes, and hands might connect to what the character does.

There are many other kinds of organizers that display and organize information in a visual way.  Try groupings of three numbers such as four, five, and nine, to make an addition/subtraction fact family (4 + 5 = 9, 5 + 4 = 9, 9 – 5 = 4, and 9-4=5) or six, five and thirty to make a multiplication/division triangle.  Flashcards of this shape and design allow you to easily cover one number for practice.  You can find or create a graphic organizer to suit nearly any purpose.  Organizers such as these can help struggling students see information in a whole new way.

Don’t forget to leave a comment with your education questions or suggestions for future post topics!