Study Preparation: What People Miss About “Study Strategy”By ATAR Notes in HSC
14th of May 2018
So, context: I sort of cruised through most of high school. I was broadly a good student, but never at the top of my class or anything like that. My school gave out a bunch of academic awards at the end of each year for “academic excellent”, and I guess I was never deemed academically excellent.
This annoyed me.
I felt I had the potential to do a lot better than I was, so in ~Year 11 I made a decision to make some changes. And honestly, I felt that my study techniques were pretty solid. I tried to pay attention in class, took notes, made summaries, did practice questions – all the things that are usually recommended to you. But I wasn’t getting the results I wanted, so broader changes seemed the way to go. I ended up receiving the highest ATAR my school had seen, and then a High Distinction average in every single unit at uni.
Here are some things I learnt across the way – mostly the fact that, for me, there’s only far “study strategy” can get you. The way I see it, study preparation is just as – if not more – important, and this is where a lot of students fall down.
Small things can have big impacts
At some point, I bought a water bottle, and I was staggered at how much more I drank on a day-to-day basis as a result. I didn’t realise it at the time, but I reckon through Year 7-10, I was dehydrated. Not horribly so, but enough to put me off my game just a little bit.
Once I started drinking more water through the day, I noticed I could concentrate more, was more attentive, and could study for longer. Comfortably. Don’t get me wrong: it wasn’t an instant fix. But it didn’t take too long before the effects became apparent, and it was pretty sweet.
The drink bottle became somewhat of a security blanket – I just took it with me wherever I went. I even showered with it a couple of times. Haha.
Things like this, I think of as “net gains”. Things that, in isolation, probably won’t make a huge difference on any given day. But at the same time, things that, over a long period of time, probably will make a pretty considerable difference.
For example, being a little dehydrated on any given day probably won’t impact your results too much. But if you’re a little dehydrated on every single day, of course that’ll impact your results. Of course that little bit of dehydration will add up. These are the sort of small things I’m speaking of. Other things are like, getting to bed a little earlier, eating well, having good posture. All things you’ve definitely heard before, but when you think about the cumulative effect they’ll have come the end of the year, things that are actually super important (and pretty easy to change).
So, small things can have big impacts, particularly when it comes to study preparation.
Self-belief is a big thing
Once you start getting into a good routine, the positive results will (hopefully) come. And from there, it’s really all about operant conditioning.
You study well, you do the little things well, and you get good results. Getting good results reinforces the other behaviours, and it just becomes a self-perpetuating cycle. Eventually, the new (more effective) study preparation becomes habit, and that’s when you’ll be in a really good place to do well.
I used to play a footy game, which had commentary like, “momentum’s a big thing in football, and at the moment, it’s going all the way of – Melbourne”. In terms of study, you want to get on that same sort of momentum run, because it’s equally important. In the same way you can be “in form” or “out of form” in sport, I really think the same holds true for studying and revision. You can get on good runs, and on bad runs. But good study preparation makes the former more likely.
If things really aren’t working, they need to change
And they should change sooner rather than later. I reckon a lot of people would identify with the sort of situation I was in a few years ago, where “has potential” is a common description of work habits. The idea is that no matter if you’re in Year 10, Year 12, first year uni or last year uni, you can turn things around, and it honestly might not be as difficult as you expect.
If you’re at a loss as to why your study techniques don’t seem to be working, it might not be your study techniques that need to change. Instead, start thinking about the ways in which you’re preparing to study.
Are you eating well? Are you sleeping well? Basically, are you taking care of yourself?
These things are super important. You wouldn’t expect a professional sprinter to keep hitting PBs without taking care of themselves when they weren’t actively training. In the same way, you can’t really expect yourself to smash through effective study if you’re not preparing well.