College midterms are a stressful, through and through. Preparing for them can strike terror into any soul who attempts it. This is normally because you have to cram. There are much easier ways to memorize information. Since you want to do well, you’ve come to the right place. The chagrin that comes from getting a low, letter grade is awful. So, we’re going to try and avoid that at all costs.
You need to be up to snuff by the time your midterms roll around. That means that, from day one, you need to outline what you’re learning for that class, what the teacher expects from you, how your material is presented, etc. Spacing out the material as much as possible will aid in memorization.
Try and get your books as soon as you can. It’s difficult if you don’t have much money. Sometimes, trying to save money means longer shipping times. Alas, the bookstore is essentially a Gamestop. Burning your books sometimes feels like a better alternative than giving them back to your ruthless, price-gouging college—borne from the fires of Mt. Doom.
Maybe the genius down the hall can skip class, but active participation is necessary for longterm memorization. Attendance may not be mandatory for you and your fellow classmates, but you’re spending up to $1,000/credit. Unless you’re a trust-fund baby, get your money’s worth.
Become buddies with as many classmates as possible. This will help later. It can manifest into study partners. If you’re nice enough, one of them may share their homemade study guide with you. If you have simple questions or can’t reach the TA/prof, your classmates can generally answer those questions.
Your syllabi are outlines of what the professors/lecturers intend to teach. This will allow you to plan out how you want to approach the material. If you find that a syllabus is lacking—only having the chapter numbers you’ll be reading—then go through your textbooks and write down what you’ll be studying, in place of the nuts and bolts. If you can’t add info-flesh to the outline-skeleton, then make a new one.
Make sure to plan around things like holidays, family events, etc. Syllabi change based on the whims of your professors. If the prof is behind, in the syllabus, they may just skip sections of it. Get a physical calendar and write out the timeline of the material.
Books: Table of Contents
Right from the getgo, you’re going to want to familiarize yourself with each book’s table of contents. This will help you formulate a bigger picture. You’ll then know where to connect the dots as you learn the material.
Books: Skim Each Book
Get a generic layout of the material by looking over the text. Read some of it if you can, glossing over anything you don’t yet comprehend. When you have to legit read it, you’ll be able to memorize the material better.
Online Study Tools
Free online classes include sites like Open Culture, Khan Academy, and Coursera. Podcasts are helpful. YouTube is a great resource: CrashCourse, 3Blue1Brown, etc. Other study tools would include resources like CliffsNotes, SparkNotes, and PinkMonkey.
A list of techniques for memorizing numbers can be found here. Wikipedia’s List of Lists will be helpful if you get stuck on trying to find visuals for your memory palace. This list is not comprehensive. The easiest images to remember are the most bizarre ones.
Underline, highlight, use sticky page markers, write in the margins, and read aloud. The more that you interact with the material, the better you’ll be able to recall the information. If you’re renting your books, use sticky notes.
This works well. You recall the information by going over the cards in different orders. You can have decks based on chapters, similar terms, knowns, unknowns, etc.
Mnemonic devices are used all the time for specific things like what months of the year have 31 days. Acronyms are the most widely used.
Method of Loci (Memory Palace Architecture)
The Method of Loci is normally combined with others. Visuospatial learning is paramount to your success in retaining the material. The story goes, there was a Greek poet who had to figure out who died after a building collapsed. Since he had been there, he had to retrace his steps to remember who died. There are guides on the internet that I’ve linked, but some other places people use are streets, places from your childhood, and video game architecture.
The Feynman Technique
Scott H. Young has a YouTube Video called “Learn Faster with The Feynman Technique” (here’s the PDF) where he goes over how one uses this technique. Essentially, you try to boil the material down to its simplest form and then teach someone the material. If you can’t teach it, you don’t understand it well enough. This one is normally used in study groups.
P-A-O System (Person-Action-Object)
The PAO system is a peg system that uses people, actions, and objects that represent two-digit numbers—used to memorize long series of numbers or decks of cards. It can be used to quickly memorize these. The only problem is that you have to come up with PAOs for 00 through 99. This is where starting at the beginning of the semester comes in handy. Here’s someone’s advice on what they wish they’d’ve known prior to starting their PAO.
Chunking is a system where you link data. This method is normally employed when learning a language.
Avoid Hard Memorization
Rote learning is normally employed when cramming. You cold-turkey memorize material for things like quizzes.
Different Subjects, Different Approaches
You’ll want to approach humanities classes differently than you approach STEM classes. You don’t need to memorize a poem word for word, but you do need to memorize formulas number for number. Some subjects like history require lots of memorization.
If you come across sentences that are a paragraph long, you’ll want to read them a few times. The first time, read it slowly. The second time, read it quickly. There are often many disparate ideas in a sentence that are later combined. If you find that the material isn’t sinking in, try to interact with it more. Eventually (if you’re majoring in philosophy), you’ll be able to speedread dense, archaic tomes.