1. Make a schedule. I'm a little OCD, while my brother on the other hand is a procrastinator. This strategy, however, works for both of us. Whenever I have a busy day coming up it always feels better to right it down on paper. Usually the day before, I make time slots for when I will do my work the following day so I don't get side-tracked. I put my most intense work first thing in the morning because that is when we are most productive and least likely to put it off. I also make sure I don't work for more than 1-2 hours straight because the mind begins to wander and the quality of the work diminishes. Typically, I'll divide and conquer a busy day like this:
830-930 am--> Finish english essay
930-10--> Eat breakfast
10-12--> Study for History test
12-1--> Do something active, whether a walk, lifting weights, or running.
1-2--> Finish up easy homework such as a worksheet for science or bookwork from math. I like leaving this stuff last because it doesn't require 100% concentration. You can turn on music that you enjoy and crank through problems.
Once I finish this, I devote the rest of my day to enjoying myself, whether meeting up with friends or going outside and reading a good book. I feel like doing something active in between recharges the brain as well. Sometimes when I am feeling in a really big work mood, I don't need the break and I can just power through my work. But this is when it comes to listening to ourselves and assessing what type of day we are having and when we need to do breaks. Also, stop studying when you no longer feel productive because then it is just a waste.
2. Use a calendar. This is also similar to making a schedule, but guarantees you won't miss any deadlines. I prefer a calendar where you have to handwrite in events because I think it mentally registers more than sticking it in your iPhone. But, the reminder app on the iPhone (as long as you make it remind you!) can do a decent job as well.
3. Make it routine. I read my history textbook every day after lacrosse and take notes. When it becomes habit, it becomes natural. Telling yourself you are going to do it "some time" in the future only equals out to never doing it and then the work piles up. At the same time though, remember not to do too much work for too many different classes at one time because this can actually hinder the learning process. Figure out when you are most productive for each class and establish that as your ritual time to work. For me, I get science and math done in study hall. That's the easy stuff that doesn't require full concentration. I save the intense stuff for at home where I am not bothered by chatting friends and distractions (ahem, cute boys).
4. Find a hard-working buddy. Yes, I know it is hard to resist the urge to study with your social friends, but think about the purpose of studying: for succeeding in school. Spending time with your social friends should be appropriated to a more, well, more appropriate time. Hence, not at the library. Pick someone you know well (maybe it is your genius, nerdy friend!) and find a spot where you won't run into other people. I like houses for this reason, because the library tends to get packed, but book stores are okay options as well (If Barnes and Noble or Borders is close). Coffee shops are fine, but more conducive for talking studying not writing studying, which is fine if that's what you need. I feel that picking someone who also works hard with you makes the learning process at least 4 times more effective. Instead of going over details with each other, have one person explain an event to the other and the other person can add in details if need be. This not only reinforces the detail to the person speaking, but also the one adding the details. It helps both people.
5. Focus on the big idea/concept. If you understand (and don't just memorize) the concept all the minute details will make so much more sense. It is easier to zoom in in class than to branch out and have no comprehension of the context. Especially for finals. Teachers want you to understand the big idea not the detail of some person who was mentioned once (or a math problem you did once). Again if you space out your time accordingly, going over the concepts should be a piece of cake and shouldn't feel rushed. Then you will also have time to diverge into the details if need be, but don't make that the bulk of your studying.
6. Ask for help. It's amazing to me how many people are afraid to ask questions. Teachers are there for a reason-- to answer them!! If you are confused and don't want to bring it up in class, then ask the teacher afterwards. I send an e-mail to my teachers at least once a week clarifying a concept or I will go in and ask them personally. This not only kindles a better relationship with your teacher (they really do appreciate it), but that one on one learning time is so valuable and imperative for ironing out confusion.
7. Look at your tests and quizzes. Lastly, look at your tests and quizzes before the final or AP exam. If there is anything more obvious, it is this point. A teacher assesses you on what they feel is important. A final is even more concept-based and broad then the tests and quizzes so what better place to look than the tests? Most likely the teacher will not be picking up questions from the small details in your notebook, but from the concepts on the tests. If you understand these, you are good to go. And if you don't understand why you got something wrong, ASK!
Overall, my list comes down to being organized and assertive. Put yourself out there and look for opportunities to get help. This puts you out there as an inquisitive student and in the end, you'll understand a lot more too!
I will do how to de-stress from school work in my next post, because this turned out to be much longer than expected! I hope it is helpful.