As a high school student, studying is a skill that we’re never necessarily taught how to do, but we learn to do it anyways as we go through middle school and high school. I thought everyone studied like I did until I read an article about how to study, and I realized that the way I studied was NOT the way everyone else did it! So, I decided to share the way I study for each class, which varies quite a bit for different subjects, and these are the strategies that have worked well for me in the past. I started learning how to study when I took my first algebra class in middle school, since before then, elementary came super easy to me so I never studied. Taking algebra was the first shock to me, since I didn’t even know what a variable was before starting the class so that was the first time I had to work my butt off to study for tests! Admittedly, there have been subjects where I just don’t study at all for and do well anyway, but there’s a reason behind that rather than that I’m just good at the subject. Anyways, here are my specific study strategies for each class, geared towards the types of tests I take in each class!
Math: Application-Based Unit Tests
Yup, we’re starting out with the subject that shaped my study habits and stresses me out the most – math. In middle school, my teacher offered an extra credit assignment to help us study for tests called “test prep,” which consisted of us doing extra practice problems for 30 minutes a day for 5 days. I always did test prep, because extra credit can definitely help save your grade, but also because doing practice problems was definitely the most effective way to apply concepts in math and learn them. Knowing math formulas can be pretty useless if you don’t know how to apply them correctly, which is why I rarely try to memorize math formulas directly. Trust me, by the end of so many practice problems, you’ll know the formulas by heart anyways since you’ve done so many practice problems applying them. Even though we don’t get test prep anymore in high school, I still study the same way as I did when we had test prep.
As for what math tests are like at my school, they usually consist of word problems or application problems, occasionally some questions with numbers that you need to plug in and calculate. I don’t get tested on just writing down formulas or definitions, which is why I don’t recommend studying them specifically, and I don’t think getting tested on memorizing formulas is the best way to learn math anyway. If you absolutely need to memorize a formula though, it’s super helpful to have a mnemonic device such as SOH-CAH-TOA for sine, cosine, and tangent to help you remember. I still sing the quadratic formula song in my head whenever I use the quadratic formula, and sometimes out loud too… “x equals negative b, plus or minus the square root…” *skips off happily while singing off-key*
- Do extra practice problems instead of reading over or memorizing formulas
- This way, you’ll know how to apply math concepts to problems and you’ll naturally remember the formulas anyway
English: Vocabulary Tests, Standardized Testing, and Essays
English is my most varied subject in terms of tests – I’ve gotten anything from standardized testing to vocabulary words to essays that were used to assess my knowledge. I tend to rely on generally being a good student to pass English for standardized tests and essays, since usually being focused and doing the material taught in class is enough to do well on these. If you aren’t a good writer, practice getting down the structure of most essays since you’ll need to know how to do the basic introduction structure with the hook, background information, and thesis, as well as the basic paragraph structure, with topic sentence, evidence #1, analysis #1, evidence #2, analysis #2, conclusion. A bad habit of mine (or perhaps good, I don’t know), is that when I don’t know what to write, I’ll start writing extremely eloquently and using long sentences to make myself sound more knowledgeable. But whether or not it’s a good or bad piece of advice to advertise, it has worked very well for me. I’m also sort of a sucker for grammar, since I absolutely cannot stand any essays that use informal language or even first person plural in formal essays, so I always write in third person and use complex sentences. I think this has made me seem like a much better writer than I actually am, and they’re also some quick tips for how to improve your writing.
To illustrate what I mean about writing in a formal tone, here are a few sentences from an essay I wrote on Of Mice and Men: “As the major conflict of the novella, this reflected the impossibility of migrant workers making a better life for themselves. By illustrating the progression of the storyline through a person vs. fate conflict with Candy, George, Lennie, and Crooks, Steinbeck shows readers the inescapable reality of those who are considered powerless in society despite dreams of a better future.”
I haven’t had any vocabulary tests in English class since middle school, but I always aced them by using Quizlet to study, which I’ll describe more about in how I study for my language classes. Standardized testing mostly focuses on reading comprehension rather than what you’ve learned in class, which can be very jarring considering how English class often focuses on interpretation, while standardized testing doesn’t allow for any interpretation. It’s important to be focused when you’re reading the passages for standardized testing, and make sure that you’re not making any of your own assumptions when answering the multiple choice questions. And as always, be careful and check for mistakes.
- For essays, understand the basic structure of essays, and write more formally to sound more knowledgeable. For example, I always write in third person and use complex sentences when writing essays
- For vocabulary tests, use Quizlet to help you remember vocabulary words
- For standardized testing, don’t make any of your own assumptions and stay focused on the passage. It’s very different from English class, since English class usually rewards interpretation and making connections with other ideas
Science: Application and Information-Based Unit Tests
I recently got the highest score in my class on a biology quiz, so I’m very proud of myself for this one. Of course, I’m partial to science class because it’s my favorite subject, if you can’t tell from my blog. Surprisingly though, I’ve never really studied much for my science classes! In 9th grade, I distinctly remember NOT studying for my biology test the next day, and I mostly relied on my knowledge from again, being a good student in general. However, for both my past science tests and this recent biology quiz that I did very well on, I decided to reorganize and summarize my notes by creating a one-pager. If you haven’t heard of a one-pager, it’s used to summarize all of your knowledge on one page of a piece of white paper, and since you’re limited to one page, it forces you to condense and reprocess your knowledge. This process of rereading my textbook and pulling out the important information to summarize on my one pager was super helpful for me, since before the information in my brain had just been scattered around, so this helped me connect all the information.
It also helps that my biology teacher is absolutely amazing, and she organized an optional study session for all her students to come to after school to review all of the important units of the chapter and ask questions. She was also very clear on what we needed to know so I had time to make sure I knew how to draw glucose and amino acids, and while I know that sometimes you won’t always be able to choose your teachers, you can always ask your teacher to clarify what you need to know for a test. By the way, the way I memorized the structure of glucose and amino acids was by remembering a mnemonic and drawing the structure over and over until I could get it perfectly. For example, for glucose, I remembered that the OH group needed to go up-down-up-down, and I had myself draw the glucose molecule repeatedly. For every part I couldn’t remember, I would check the answer and do it again until I could draw the entire molecule without any hints.
About teachers, I’ve realized, high schoolers complain A LOT. I don’t blame us, school can be stressful, and we like to destress by complaining about classes, and subsequently, teachers. Still, I’ve realized that even if you get a teacher that other students say is awful, keep an open mind and don’t let that influence your perception of the class. Most of the time, I’ve realized that the teachers that other students say are awful aren’t really that bad, they’re just strict and they’re usually still very willing to help if you ask nicely. There are some exceptions of course, but make sure to keep an open mind when taking a class, since each student’s idea of what type of teacher “sucks” is different, and very often, it’s just a teacher who’s strict. It also doesn’t help if you spend the entire time resenting your teacher and not asking for help.
- Create a one-pager to summarize and reprocess all of the information you know, and also to connect all the concepts in your head
- To memorize structures of molecules, use mnemonics and redraw the structure over and over until you can draw the structure without any hints. Also, for any memorization that you need to do, DON’T CRAM. I described more in my post about why I actually like IB Mathematics much better than Geometry (hint: it’s because of cramming)
- Make sure to get a good teacher like my biology teacher – just kidding, that’s not really helpful advice considering most high schools don’t let you pick your teachers. But make sure to ask your teacher questions if you don’t understand something, and also clarify with them what you need to know for a test if you are uncertain about that. Make sure to not let other students’ perception of a teacher influence your opinion as well
History: Fact-Based Quizzes and In-Class Essays
Ah, the last of our core subjects is history. My experience with history class has been so varied, as in middle school, I absolutely loved history and it was my favorite class. In 9th grade, history became my most hated subject, and I also did rather poorly in the class. I’m only starting to like history again now, and despite the high workload that comes with IB History, I’m actually finding the class interesting especially since I’m a person who thrives on discussion. The teaching styles for all of the history classes I’ve taken have been super different, but the two main types of tests that I had in history were fact-based tests and essays. Fact-based tests were mostly from middle school, since we had a test on the Constitution that my teacher called a mock bar exam. For this test, I just worked on memorizing basic facts about the Constitution and United States government system. It wasn’t a very difficult test, so for these tests, I just had to be familiar with the subject.
But onto the essays. In-class essays are just the bane of my existence – in fact, one reason why I started this blog was to get better at timed writings. I was absolutely horrid at in-class essays in 9th grade, since whenever I freaked out, my brain just stopped working. It also didn’t help that we spent months on a single subject, and I didn’t know what we were even supposed to know out of all of the things we studied. But a couple days ago, I took my first in-class essay since 9th grade, and I actually got an alright score! The first piece of advice that I would give for in-class essays, at least for myself, is to calm down. My thoughts can influence my performance so much, so when I’m feeling like I’m going to fail, my brain will just shut down and I can’t work. But secondly, like essays in English, make sure that you understand the structure of the essay you’re about to write. Make sure you have a plan for how you want to structure your essay. It makes a difference if you’re writing an informative essay compared to an argumentative essay. For in-class essays, since you likely won’t have time to go back and perfect your essay, make sure that you have a coherent argument that you present in your thesis, and planning out your arguments before you start writing is the best way to do that. Also, know the rules beforehand. My teacher doesn’t allow us to reference anything outside the time period or use outside sources, which I hadn’t known before writing the essay.
- For fact-based tests, be familiar with the topic by staying on top of assignments and homework. If you need to memorize anything, it can be helpful to study like when you’re studying vocabulary words
- For in-class essays, understand the structure of the essay you’re supposed to write, and make sure you have a coherent argument planned out before you start writing. Also, keep in mind the rules for an in-class essay, such as the length or amount of evidence you need
- It’s also super important, at least for me, to stay calm and maintain a good mindset during an exam, since my thoughts can significantly influence my performance
Language (French) – Vocabulary Quizzes and Unit Tests
At my school, taking a foreign language is a graduation requirement as well as an IB diploma requirement. But with foreign languages, it seems like people either immediately click with learning foreign languages or it just goes in one ear and out the other. Unfortunately for me, I’m in the latter, and French is probably the class I’m the most terrible at. The two types of tests we have are weekly vocabulary tests and unit tests. Vocabulary tests are simple – we get a list of 20 vocabulary words, and we have to write down the French translation, write a response in French using the vocabulary verbs, or write down what the teacher says in French. For this, there is one thing that has saved my butt for vocabulary tests – Quizlet. I start out using Quizlet Learn Mode, take some of their auto-generated practice tests, then play their Match game. I’m very good at Quizlet Match, and I’m very proud of the fact that I hold the high score for many of our Match games vocabulary sets in French class. However, I feel like the quality of Quizlet has been getting worse recently, since it has been ignoring my setting preferences while sending me annoying notifications when I’ve specifically turned off notifications. It also hasn’t been as effective recently, so I suspect they changed their free version AI for Learn Mode to try to get me to pay for Quizlet Premium. It’s really annoying that this is happening, but I don’t really know of any other alternatives so I’ll keep on using Quizlet, despite these annoyances.
As for unit tests, something that has been super helpful for me is to summarize concepts by creating a single document that summarizes the information in a way that I can understand easily. For example, we learned how to conjugate various tenses of verbs throughout the span of four years, so by that point, I’ve already forgotten most of them. However, I decided to create a document to compile the information about how to conjugate every verb tense, and this has been SO helpful for me since I now have all that information in one place. I shared the document with my classmates, and they were super thankful for it as well, so being a student means that you can find the way that works best for you and rearrange the material so it makes sense for you.
- Use Quizlet to study for vocabulary tests. I start with Learn Mode, then take a couple practice tests and play their Match game. The quality of the app has been getting worse lately, though
- Present concepts so they make sense to you by reprocessing and summarizing the information in a document. For example, I created a document that featured how to conjugate all of the verb tenses we learned.
How to do well on tests without studying
I know right – it’s the secret that everyone wants to know, but this was basically what carried me through middle school and my easy classes nowadays. Even for the tests I do study for, it’s probably the biggest reason why some students score higher than others. So the secret is…. BE CAREFUL. Yes, I know, all teachers say this, but since most tests in school aren’t purposefully fast-paced (like the SAT or ACT), make sure to ALWAYS go back and check every single one of your answers. I can’t stress this enough, if you have the time, check your answer using a different strategy, reason it out, think about it until you’re absolutely 100% confident that you have the right answer. For every single test, I have to make sure that I’m absolutely confident with my answers before I hand it in. If you aren’t sure of the answer, reread the question to try to find little hints that can guide you in the right direction.
The second part to this is more general, but make sure to be a good student during class. Always do your assignments and take notes if it’s expected for the class. Don’t be on your phone or doze off during class, since you’ll typically miss lots of important material if you do that. I think being a good student in class requires the least self-discipline when it comes to studying, so this is an easy way to make studying easier for you as well.
- Be SUPER CAREFUL on tests and make sure that you are 100% confident with your answers before you hand in the test
- I’ll typically use up all of the time given to me for a test even if I’m done, so make sure to always go back and check your work. It makes much more of a difference than you would expect, since I know many students who score worse because they aren’t careful even though they understand the material just as well
- In general, be a good student during class. It takes the least self-discipline to not sleep or go on your phone during class, so do all of your assignments and take notes if that’s expected during class