By Katie Azevedo, M.Ed.
I studied really hard but still failed.
Some variation of this complaint is one of the most common grievances that I hear from students.
But what gets me is that they’re dead serious. They have legitimate pain in their voices. It’s not a woe-is-me vibe, but rather a sad I don’t-know-what’s-wrong-with-me vibe.
Or, in some cases, it’s a it’s-my-teacher’s-fault vibe. Ugh.
Regardless, the root issue is the same. If you find yourself studying really hard but still failing, then I argue that everything you thought you knew about studying is wrong.
Here’s the golden nugget of this post: You have to be clear on what it means to study. Let’s begin by understanding what studying is not. Studying is not passive.
What studying is NOT
- Re-reading notes isn’t studying.
- Re-reading textbook chapters isn’t studying.
- Looking over Google Slides presentations isn’t studying.
- Flipping over flashcards isn’t studying.
What studying IS
Studying is just one thing: It’s repetitively and actively recalling information on demand. In other words, studying is setting yourself up to try to remember material over and over again.
So how do you actually study? There’s a lot of ways to study, or as we just said, to repetitively and actively recall information on demand.
The most common way to do this is to make your own quizzes. Here’s where I explain how to make your own quizzes.
Another study strategy is to use flashcards, but not to simply flip them back and forth. Here’s the gist: Work with only two at a time until you know them perfectly. And then add in one more flashcard to the mix (now you have three). Work with just these three until you know them perfectly. Then add in one more to the mix … etc.
Another basic study strategy is to literally write out a list of questions (get them from your textbook, worksheets, notes) and then try to answer them. It’s the “trying to answer them” part that IS studying – because when you sit there and strain your brain for a moment, trying to remember information, you actually build the neural networks that enable you to access that material. (If you don’t know the answer to a question, find the answer somewhere. Study that.)
If you forget the answer to something that you’ve just learned (lol and ugh), then know that that is SUPPOSED to happen. Here, I explain why you are supposed to forget what you study.
Also, don’t forget the study hack about the power of 3. I explain this study trick here.
The takeaway of this whole post is that if you’re constantly frustrated with yourself for studying really hard but still failing, you need to ask yourself a hard question: are you actually studying?
Are you actually studying or are you just passively re-reading things, looking over things, and flipping through things?
To be truly studying, you have to test yourself. You have to repetitively and actively recall information on demand.