QCE Study: A ‘How-To’ on Studying Effectively

By ATAR Notes in QCE
1st of March 2019
qce study

I don’t know about you, but if I had the choice of writing an English essay or lying curled up in bed with my soft toy giraffe reading Doctor Seuss, I think I’d choose the latter.

So, the trick with studying through QCE is to spend the least time possible to get the best results possible. Then you can spend the most time possible binging on Doctor Seuss. Right?

Sure, being in hour-count mode can make you feel great – you’re like, ‘Bruh, I did SIX HOURS last night! I so deserve a double-decker halo!’ (or at least an extra 10% on the next assessment… pls… ) But ultimately, if you don’t get anything out of an hour of ‘study’, you might as well just snuggle in bed with your giraffe and go to sleep. Ultimately, studying smarter, not harder, is what works.

I feel studying smart works best as a three-step* process:

1. Learn
2. Test
3. Evaluate
4. Repeat

*Technically four steps.


Learn: Actively

You know those nights when you’re so over it you can’t do anything… but you feel guilty not studying? So you grab your textbook, curl up in bed, stare at the book, and start turning pages at what seem like appropriate intervals.

An hour later, if you’re not already asleep, you probably can’t even remember the subject you’ve been studying for until you check the textbook’s name.

So, rule #1: NEVER EVER JUST PASSIVELY SIT AND READ A TEXTBOOK. Information doesn’t magically seep in through your eyes and lodge itself in your brain.

You know those big colourful multivitamin tablets you can get? If you just stare at them instead of trying to take it in, they aren’t going to make you any healthier. Information is like this. You’ve got to attack it, crunch it up, get gritty with it, to actually get those information-vitamins inside you! So, don’t just passively stare at your textbook: work actively to digest that information.

That’s why I love note-taking while reading – it forces you to chew the vitamins, so you get what’s going on, what it means, and why it’s important. Some important points when making notes:

  1. Make them clear and simple. Cut out unnecessary information that’s half a lightyear away from the syllabus, because wading through a thick bog of text the night before the exam isn’t fun. Trust me. Simple brief summaries pinpoint the really important information to focus on.
  2. Never write something you don’t 100% get. Always research, rethink and ask questions until you get what’s going on first.
  3. Never ever ever ever ever copy and paste! Try to make every bit of information ‘your own’. I mean, summarise it, switch up the order, change words here and there, add little explanations or cut out unnecessary stuff.   A copy and paste is just the same as staring at a vitamin and thinking you’ve done well.
  4. Keep formatting clear, simple and consistent.

As a minimum, at least read the textbook aloud, and then verbally summarise what you just read at the end of each chunk.

A couple of other tips to make the learning step more effective:

  1. Check out all that visual-audio-kinaesthetic stuff people are always on about – sticking up posters on the toilet door to make sure your parents are educated too, making your notes pretty and rainbow coloured, turning organised information into a wild scrawl of arrows and boxes that hopefully you can follow, recording your notes and listening to them while you play Pokemon. Yeah, y’know. That stuff.
  2. Find what distracts you, and get as far away from it as possible. Block Facebook. Give your phone to your mum. Hide your cuddly giraffe under your pillow if that’s what you need.
  3. Focus in class. Let’s face it, you’re forced to waste spend those six hours studying each day – might as well actually use them so you can relax at home.
  4. Chain yourself rigidly to one subject or task at a time. Jumping round between subjects kills your concentration and wastes a lot of time. I’m even trialling a ‘check-in – check-out’ log book right now: in a table, I record the time I start a task and describe what it is. I’m ‘not allowed’ to do anything else until I ‘sign out’ of the task and describe what I achieved. I’m finding that although I’m not a real organised planning person, it’s working pretty well.
  5. Break big tasks into smaller ones – it’s easier to start, and ticking off lots of tasks is quite motivating.


Test: Without any notes

Try the free Anki flashcard app (! As long as you’re willing to do it daily (or the cards pile up overwhelmingly), it shows you flashcards at intervals, based on how well you know them. So you don’t waste time on concepts you know inside out, but those you’re struggling with keep coming back to haunt you!

Write all you can about a ‘concept’ – without notes
With heavily content-based subjects – like Biology, Business, or Legal Studies – take the key knowledge dot-points from the syllabus, and write as much as you can beneath each dot-point. With humanities or English subjects, choose a theme like ‘greed’ and come up with everything you can about it, or all the details you can think of about a specific historical event, etc. Then compare with your real notes to find what you missed.

Teach someone else
Try a friend or, later in the year when they refuse to be classified as your friend any longer, the mirror. Firstly, you’re verbalising the information, and in your own words. Secondly, you’ll hit on the things you can’t explain very clearly, which generally shows that you’re missing knowledge or don’t quite get it.

Practice the ‘real thing’
All through the year, as soon as you [think] you’ve learnt the content, try out the real thing – from a practice paragraph or simple question, to a full-blown essay or trial exam.

Check out my simple time-saving trick! For one of my subjects, I only did one full trial exam – the school-enforced one. Before you say, ‘Woah mate, step back!’ – it was only through NOT doing full trials, and instead short-cutting, that I got a perfect score!

Get a trial paper if you can, and go through each question really fast in your head. Map out quickly how you’d answer it; if you’re confident that you know it, move on to the next one. When you hit one you’re not so sure of, circle it and come back later to do it properly. For essay-based subjects, write quick plans on a very wide variety of topics, including briefly listing quotes/evidence. If you can’t think of how to tackle a topic adequately, go back to it later and give it full attention.

Painstakingly going through every question you already know may boost your self-esteem, but it steals your time from the stuff you don’t know. Plus, if you’re aiming really high, this method exposes you to a really wide range of questions – you have more time so you can afford to cover more ground – so you can learn to deal with those odd few killer curveball questions that differentiate between the top kids.

It takes real honesty, though. If you catch yourself lazily saying, ‘Yeah, think I get how to do that’ and moving on, even when it’s not 100% true, then it’s time to dot-point your answers on paper – not fully doing the questions, but still being a bit more accountable.

Note: of course, you should ALSO do a few full timed trials.


Evaluate: pinpoint what you did wrong and what you have to relearn or focus on

It’s all too easy to smash out the essays or trial exams… and totally ignore this vital step. But the WHOLE POINT of the testing was for this reason – to expose the stuff you need to fix up before the exam!

So, never write an essay or complete a practice exam without going through and searching for where you went wrong and could improve. It’s so easy to just scribble a big red cross next to a question on a maths exam you did, and then move straight on to the next exam – and make exactly the same mistake again. And again. And… again.  And, you guessed it – again. Which is not cool.

Try keeping a ‘log book’ of errors for each subject; after each time you test yourself (e.g. an essay, a trial, a session teaching someone else, writing your notes ‘closed book’, etc.), list down exactly the content you didn’t know well enough or the skills you need to brush up on. The aim is to pinpoint really, really specific problems you can improve on – don’t say “I got 7/10 on that essay, next time I need a 10/10”. Instead: ‘I need to practice finding the ‘core’ of a quote an integrating it smoothly into my grammar’. If when you mark a big red cross you get a strong sense of deja-vu, that you’ve done just the same for a similar question… you know it’s REALLY time to focus on that area.



Repeat: Ad nauseam infinitum.

So now you know exactly what skill you need to develop, or what piece of information you need to learn – plan out exactly what to learn and how to do it, and then go for it!

I promise. Dashing a bold, thick strikeout through an error you recorded in your logbook, because you’ve now learnt how to avoid it for ever after, is one of the most thrillingly satisfying moments of your year.

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