I’ve been using the same study method since my very first college-level exam (and for a few of my AP exams in high school) and it has worked like a charm! With this simple technique, I have managed to maintain a competitive GPA and ace almost all of my pre-med coursework!
So, what is this magical method I’m speaking of? It’s actually not that magical, it’s making summary sheets! While other methods of studying have been scientifically proven to be more effective, this one has carried me through some of the toughest exams and serves me well across all sorts of material.
What Is a Summary Sheet?
A summary sheet is a compilation of all of the course material for a given exam (or a section of the exam material) condensed onto 1-2 sheets of paper. The process of making the sheet will reinforce your learning and understanding of the material, and once you are done, you’ll have an easy cheat sheet to look back on as your take practice tests or quiz yourself later.
How Do I Make One?
There are tons of different ways to make a summary sheet, so you are free to choose what works best for you. Here are the steps that I take to make a thematically organized study sheet.
- Identify Themes – First, I spend 30 minutes to an hour skimming ALL of the material to identify themes. These themes are dependent on the material you are studying. For example, if I am studying for an anatomy exam, I could create themes based on each organ system we covered or each of the special senses that we discussed in class.
- Dedicate One Page – With the themes identified, I dig into the first one and dedicate ONE page to all of the information connected to that theme. Following the previously mentioned example, I would spend a significant amount of time reviewing every single note or slide that had information about the special senses. As I look through these slides I am talking through the material and making sure I understand it. In addition, I am looking for sub-themes that will help me organize the “special senses” sheet.
- Start writing! – For this particular sheet, I would break it into 5 squares, one for each of the 5 special senses. I would then use a combination of words, images from the slides, arrows, and highlighting to cover and connect all of the information for each sense. I would make sure to add any memorization tools (like mnemonics or helpful images) as well.Check out the example sheet below. Or watch my latest youtube video to see this example and others from classes like anatomy and psychology.
How Does This Help Me Ace My Exams?
The mere process of reviewing the material and understanding it enough to arrange it thematically will solidify many of the concepts that you need to ace the exam. The best way to use this technique to finish the summary sheets with a few days to spare before your test date. Those last few days can be spent doing practice tests and quizzing yourself. When you miss a question or don’t understand a concept being quizzed, you have these beautiful summary sheets to explain it to you in your own words! This effective combo of summarization, organization, and practice tests allow you to mix in some active recall, the scientifically proven best way to study, prior to test day.
What if I Don’t Like My Handwriting?
I hear you loud and clear! If you don’t love your handwriting, make your sheets virtually. Try using apps like One Note, Notability, and Goodnotes to type the information in whatever font you’d like. This will accomplish the same goals. However, if possible, I encourage you to embrace your handwriting and jump into the process. Physically writing the information is more effective than typing (but either will suffice).
This method has served me well the past four years and I am happy to see that many other students use it and are succeeding as well. So what’s stopping you? Start using summary sheets this fall!
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