5 Unconventional Study Tips for When Flashcards Just Don’t Work

Studying is a necessary – and unavoidable – part of academic life. If you want to do well in your classes, you need to prepare ahead of your exams and assignments to increase your chance of getting a good grade, and even more importantly, to retain the information and knowledge shared with you in that class. We go to university to learn more about a subject matter of interest to us, so it only makes sense that studying enables us to become an expert in that subject, and as a result, do better on our tests and essays. However, that’s usually easier said than done. Studying involves a lot of time and effort, and unfortunately, there isn’t a “one-size-fits-all” approach to studying. Everyone learns and retains information in different ways, so sometimes just reviewing your notes or making flash cards isn’t enough to help you actually understand what you need to know for that upcoming test. Fortunately, there are plenty of other study methods that can help you break out of your routine. We’re sharing five unconventional study tips that might just help you ace your next exam. 

1. Create a recording of your class notes

You know all of those notes you feverishly take during class? How many times do you actually review them before your next exam or test — if you even review them at all? Put those notes to good use and record yourself reading them. After each class, create a recording of yourself reading your notes, but don’t just stick to the script. Add some context for yourself for when you listen back to the recording later. Expand on some of the key terms or concepts by adding examples or recounting anecdotes that your professor might have shared but that you didn’t quite catch in your notes. You might even want to add some of your own questions into the recording as a reminder to find the answer. After you record yourself reading the notes, play it back when you walk to class, when you have to do chores around your room, or in any other scenario when you could add a study soundtrack. 

2. Create a study guide background for your phone background

You’ve probably been instructed to create a study guide before – but have you ever considered making a study guide worthy of your phone background? Think about it. Make a study guide that’s fun and colorful that puts key concepts and terms front and center. Use a user-friendly design tool like Canva to add graphics or fun fonts and colors that’ll make it easy to see the content when you look at your phone screen. Every time you look at your phone, you’ll be reminded of and become more familiar with the material. Consider making a new phone background after every class to brush up on what you learned, or just create one prior to an exam. As an added bonus, you’ll be forced to review the material while you’re making the study guide so that’s extra time with those terms and concept.

3. Doodle all over your notes

Sometimes words alone just don’t cut it. Sure, you try to write down as much as possible during class as your professor discusses the subject – but ultimately, you might need some more visuals to better understand what you’re learning. Go back through your notes and try adding some drawings and illustrations to help you consider the concepts in a different way. Sometimes it makes sense to add diagrams or charts, but you’re not limited to those sorts of illustrations. Maybe you’re learning about a particular event during a history or literature class. Draw it! Maybe you were learning something in physics class and there’s an example that helps you remember the concept – draw that example. If you’d rather make some doodles during class – do that too. It could help cement your understanding in the moment so that when you look back later, you can recall exactly what you meant. They’re your notes, so doodle in them and perhaps you’ll gain a better understanding of the subject matter in the process.

4. Assume the role of the professor

Having a study group is by no means an unconventional study method. Studying with classmates is an easy way to compare notes and collaborate on assignments when possible. However, maybe it’s time to rethink how you have your study group. Instead, reframe your study group as a sort of another lecture or class session. Assign one person in the study group the role of the “professor” and have that person teach a key concept, term, calculation, or any other important element of the subject matter. That person can prepare a mini-presentation or lecture, and then “teach” the “class” (or rather, your study group). This is beneficial not only for the person assuming the role of the professor, as naturally that person would have to prepare and review the subject matter to ensure they can teach it to the study group. The study group itself also benefits because the “professor” might present the subject matter in a way that’s more accessible than the actual professor might have originally presented it.

5. “Explain it to me like I’m an eight year old”

Any Office fans? If you’re familiar with the show, The Office, you might recall one particular episode where Michael Scott asks his coworker, Oscar, to explain what a “surplus” was. Michael had been tasked with deciding what to do with the “surplus,” but didn’t know what it was. He asks Oscar to “explain it to me like I’m an eight-year-old” because the concept was difficult for him to understand. This reframing of the term in language that’s simpler and easier-to-understand is actually a great way to approach reviewing some of your subject matter. Take a concept you’re struggling with or that you’re trying to better understand, and then if possible, try simplifying it as though you were going to explain to someone who had never heard of it — or an “eight-year-old.” This forces you to consider the topic in a different way and once simplified, you might be better able to recall it.