Confession: I don’t know how to studyPersonal Development

So I have a confession. I don’t know how to study. Is it something you learn? Or is it something you just naturally do? Am I alone in this struggle? I am nearing the end of my first semester of my PhD program and it is still shocking to me that I don’t really know how to study. You are probably wondering how I made it this far; you might want to check out the blog post where I describe how I went from a 2.67 gpa to a 3.8.

Obviously, I have to have some sort of smarts or skills to be in a PhD program and to have gone through years of schooling, but I think I rely a lot on luck, my writing, and my memory.

Reflecting back, I think I gained more confidence in my writing skills because that is where I consistently got A’s.  I didn’t have to study to write a paper; I had to do research and pull ideas and concepts together. With a writing assignment, you have more wiggle room; the reader is judging how you can formulate your thoughts in a coherent manner – if you lose points it is because you didn’t follow instructions or perhaps had grammatical issues.

When it comes to tests I’ve never been consistent. My mother could never understand how in the same class one week I got all A’s and the next week I got C’s. She and my teachers also could never understand why I would erase all the correct answers and replace them with incorrect answers. I never liked being the first one done. Instead of it making me confident in my answers, it did the opposite. I thought if everyone was still taking the test,  I was doing something wrong, so I often changed my answers.  There is a level of uncertainty when you take a test;  you don’t know exactly what will be on the test or how it will be worded. This uncertainty used to make me nervous.

This week I had  two midterms one a ten page paper and the other an exam. At this point in life, I don’t stress over exams, I’ve gained this probably tainted philosophy of ‘If I know it, I know it. If I don’t, I don’t.’ When it comes to papers, surprisingly, I stress a little more because I want every time I write to be better than the last. I want to continue improving and reach my full potential. This attitude could be a part of the reason why I don’t do well on exams. Maybe I’ve given up and decided to focus on what works for me.

After years of trying different methods: flash cards, rewriting my notes several times, rereading my textbooks several times, study groups, sitting with my book open, but doing something else, and more. My preferred method now sitting in the front row of the class, writing notes like crazy, and participating in discussion. That is how I now study. It isn’t a method, but on average I’ve scored higher by doing this and just reviewing my notes prior to the exam.

I could be wrong, but I don’t think in school we were ever taught how to study for the exams we were given. I think if anything we were told to do flash cards, but when you have 500 terms to study, writing or typing up cards in my opinion is a waste of time and it makes your hands hurt.

I don’t think there should be an emphasis on memorization and test scores, but a focus on understanding and application to real life. I think there should be multiple ways students are tested. I think if I sat down one on one with the teacher or stood in front of the class and discussed the material, I would do better than sitting in a hard desk in a cold or hot room for hours.

Are tests effective? To me, all it shows is that a person can remember things. Does it really show how the person would react in a real time scenario or react if the situation was not white or black, but grey?

These are all things that cross my mind every time I have to study for something. Most of the time I think I’m thinking too much. What about you? Your thoughts?

Do you know how to study? Have you had similar experiences?


An urban planning PhD student finding peace in creating a balance between the mind, body, soul, & environment.

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Photo Credit: Lisa-Marie Pierre

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