Whether you’re studying for a book report, presentation, class midterm, or the Certified Crop Advisor exam, your technique will determine your success. Almost anything can be memorized for a test given enough time. However, strictly memorizing has its downfalls. First, it can require vast amounts of time depending on the amount of material. Second, I’m sure we’ve all experienced the phenomenon of memorizing loads of information for a test only to forget it immediately afterwards.
If you haven’t already, figuring out which method of notetaking works best for you is crucial. There are many good high-tech and low-tech options depending on your preferences. See this article for more information.
Another important decision to make is whether you want to go it alone or seek the help of others to study. This really comes down to personal abilities and those who you have the opportunity to study with. If you do well studying on your own then a group setting could actually be counterproductive, especially if you enjoy joking around with others in the group. The material you expect to be on the test also makes a difference. If the professor wants written answers with explanations it may be beneficial to hear ideas from multiple people. However, if it’s strictly multiple choice then solo studying usually was more efficient for me.
Choosing how to study can also greatly increase your effectiveness. For example, research shows that answering a question incorrectly on a quiz after reading material once makes you remember the correct answer better than reviewing it three times and not quizzing yourself. Apparently, when we get an answer wrong, it sticks in our brain much more quickly than if we simply read the material over and over. To employ this strategy, consider making (or using a provided) study guide and/or practice exam. Take note of which questions you don’t know on the first attempt, and then repeat those. Continue until you answer every question correctly.
If you thrive under pressure and need motivation to learn something new, promising to teach someone the subject matter that you’re trying to learn could work wonders. In order to teach someone else something, you need to have a strong understanding of the information. I’ve learned more from teaching classes than I have taking them because I want to make sure I know the material well enough to teach others without looking incompetent. If you don’t have the opportunity to teach a class, leading a study group or review session could be a solid alternative.
Lastly, although it may not seem like it fits on the list, physical activity has been shown to be great for your brain, too, by many studies. So, don’t forget to be active during your pre-exam cramming! Other considerations include not entering an exam overly tired, hungry, or thirsty. Staying up all night before an exam may hurt more than help by causing your memory to fail from exhaustion. If you find a combination of study techniques that work for you then you’ll have no problem learning almost any subject. This is even easier (and more important) if you enjoy the subject and plan on putting the information to work in the future, as I expect is the case for most of us in agriculture. Good luck!
Spartan-state native Michael Swoish is a Michigan State alum who’s currently pursuing his Ph.D. in soil science at Virginia Tech. Michael has taught classes on precision agriculture and has traveled the country to get as much dirt time as possible.