Back to School: Tips and Tricks

After being off of school for three months after graduating with my Associate's Degree, I have gone back to school to earn my Bachelor's degree in IT and Cyber-Security. Now not everyone is a computer nerd but everyone is into something or has to study for something at some point in their life. So here are a few tips and tricks that I've used when taking notes or studying for exams.

Taking Notes

Now being in IT and Cyber-Security major, I have to have a computer or tablet on me at all times to do my work. So my professors often encourage having them out in class. Now this can lead to distractions, but they can also be a wonderful tool. So I stopped bringing notebooks as it was a waste of paper that I would often forget or get frustrated that I couldn't easily reorganize the notes in without having to rewrite everything. This lead me to switching all my note taking onto my laptop or surface using OneNote as I could sync the notes up with my Microsoft account and have my notes regardless of which computer I had with me.

I'm going to try to keep these tips neutral so that if you take notes in a notebook they can still apply. 

  • Label the section based on what you're going to be writing on that page. Example: "Lecture Notes for - Brief Description of Topic Discussed" or "Chapter 1 Notes". This makes it easier when flipping through the pages to determine what the topic is on. If they are my lecture notes then I also put a brief description in the title. So for instance in one of my networking classes I would use the following header on the page:
Lecture Two Notes 06.15.2015 - IEEE 802.3 Standards
  • Take notes on what is discussed in class then go back and change some to charts, graphs, or diagrams that make the information make more sense. This helps with memory retention as you are reviewing the notes and putting it into your own format. So for instance, if we were discussing the brain. I would take notes on each part of the brain then later go back and draw a brain with arrows pointing to each segment with the notes rewritten into my own words. Now this isn't the best example but here is something that I would include in my notes as it gives a visual to what my notes are describing:
  • Use colors to help highlight terms or important topics. Try to also write it in a format where you can cover up the term or definition as it can be used as a memory study tool down the road when reviewing for quizzes, exams, and finals. Just make sure the colors mean something and are used consistently or they are just colors.
  • If possible, rearrange the notes later into a format that is easier to understand for you. As professors often revisit topics later on in the lecture. Or you may have come across something in the book that relates to the discussion in class.

Studying for Exams 

  • Make flashcards. They help a lot more if you make them from your own notes. As just re-reading your notes will not put the information into long-term memory. So when it comes time for the exam, you suddenly can't remember the thing you just read for the tenth time because by the tenth time you weren't really reading words but symbols. Or at least that's how it ends up for me. Flash cards help with terms, concepts, and formulas.
  • Practice makes perfect. It might not sound fun but trust me it helps a lot. Work through all the math problems even if they weren't assigned. Quiz yourself in different ways. Anything to help move the information into long-term memory. I included a diagram above with how memory works. It basically just says you take things in from your environment, if you pay attention then it goes into your short-term memory. After that if you don't rehearse or practice then you will not remember the information as the information is lost. If you just attend lecture, you have maybe 20% of the information you'll remember. 40% if you also read the book for the class. 60% if you take notes. 80% if you practice the material and it's a 100% if you could teach it to someone else. As you've heard a million times before, practice truly makes perfect.

If you have any additional tips or tricks you like to share. We would love to hear them.

- Mae Polzine