Active versus Passive Study Skills

Many students have test anxiety. Some start studying for tests weeks beforehand, others wait until the night before to crack open their notes. There is no one correct way to study and prepare for an exam, however I do believe that actively studying material is more beneficial than passively studying. What do I mean by that? What makes studying active or passive? Isn't it just sitting down at your desk and trying to retain as much information as possible? Well... Yes and no.

Passive studying is what many students do in preparation for an examination. They sit down, read over their notes, maybe retread some passages from their textbook and then call it good. My critique of this method is that it in no way tests your knowledge of the material. Passive studying may allow you to memorize statements that were said in class, but does memorization really equal understanding? When asked a critical thinking question on the material, will having memorized the equation, rule, or thesis statement really help you formulate an insightful answer?

It is for these reasons that I believe active studying is the key to test success! In order to study actively, students must be engaged not only mentally but also physically within their studying. Now I don't mean that if the student is learning about aerobic respiration that they should be jogging on the treadmill as they go over the way in which air enters the lungs and O2 circulates through the body. I mean that while reading notes is important, so is rewriting notes or making outlines which incorporate the key components necessary for understanding the material. Additionally actually making flash cards is incredibly helpful because the student personally is writing (or even rewriting) the most important information and creating a study tool which can be reused over and over again. Watching tutorials on line and seeing animations can also be vital for visual learners. Rather than just trying to conceptualize the material, the student can see how someone else understands and explains it. Lastly, sometimes getting up from a desk and making a song or dance to help remember material can be the most beneficial way of remembering abstract topics, definitions, or words.

No one likes taking tests. It is natural to feel put on the spot and thus nervous when it comes to test day. But the more diverse and active the study method, the more prepared a student is to tackle every question with intelligence, creativity, and confidence.


Zoe H.

Recent college graduate able to tutor all Sciences, French and Spanish

50+ hours
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