Skip to main content


A study skills course is often oriented toward teaching students how to study, but may do very little to actually address how to study. Certainly, issues such as time management, note-taking and test preparation are related to the studying process, but the larger questions for students may be “what do I do with my time,” or “what do I do with my notes?” This Three-Step study plan will help students conceptualize how to create and implement study strategies.

Three basic concepts are at the heart of the model. Students must ensure that they have:

  1. Gathered the correct information
  2. Developed an understanding of the information
  3. Gained the ability to recognize, recall, and apply the information

In order to develop study habits that work for the entire semester, it is important for a student to develop a commitment to studying throughout the semester. This is not a model designed for last-minute cramming or for a “before test” only approach. Students need to begin preparing for the final exam from the first day of class. Once students are dedicated to on-going study, this model will help them organize their activities.

Example Study Plan Outline

CE EN 204 – MTWThF
REL C 225 – TTh
STAT 201 – MWF

Pre-Step (Complete before semester begins)
Step 3: CE EN 204, CHIN 202, MATH 113, STAT 201
Step 1&2: CE EN 204, CHIN 202, MATH 113, STAT 201
Step 3: CE EN 204, CHIN 202, MATH 113, STAT 201
Step 1&2: CHIN 202, MATH 113, REL C 225
Step 3: CHIN 202, MATH 113, REL C 225
Step 1&2: CE EN 204, CHIN 202, MATH 113, STAT 201
Step 3: CE EN 204, CHIN 202, MATH 113, STAT 201
Step 1&2: CHIN 202, MATH 113, REL C 225
Step 3: CHIN 202, MATH 113, REL C 225
Step 1&2: CE EN 204, CHIN 202, MATH 113, STAT 201
Blitz Review – Before each quiz / exam

Pre-Step – Identify Resources (Before the semester begins)

Students need to take time to truly examine the resources available to them in the course. Failure to do this prior to the studying of the course may leave the student unable to understand and master the subject matter.

Key activities in this step:
Read Learning Suite and other course materials
Identify other students with whom to collaborate
Identify websites that can explain concepts (campus and others)
Identify Faculty, TA, lab hours and availability
Access the textbook and other related materials

Questions to ask:
How will I use Learning Suite in the course?
What can I do with study groups or collaboration?
When I am stuck on a concept, what will I do?

Step One – Capture Information (immediately after class)

Students must make sure they take notes in their courses. Often, students report that class information is simple and straightforward, and that they do not need to take notes. Several weeks later, when preparing for a test the material will be forgotten or critical pieces will not seem as clear as they did during the lecture. During Step One students need to clean up notes, create complete thoughts and fill-in missing information. Students should check that they have the information needed to develop a complete, correct, concise, and connected understanding of the material.

Key activities in this step:
Clean-up errors in notes
Check accuracy and completeness of notes
Fill in missing information in notes
Complete lists in notes
Label diagrams in notes
Connect information in notes
Link textbook information to notes
Inter-relate handouts and PowerPoint materials to notes
Simplify formulas and steps for completing processes in notes
Compare notes with other students

Questions to ask:
How could I explain what was discussed in class or the text?
How will I logically organize my materials?
What is missing in my definitions, lists, or descriptive material?

Step Two- Check for Understanding (30-45 minutes at a time)

Students need to go back and determine whether or not they fully understand the material and the connections necessary in the course. Students can use several methods to check for understanding, but one key element rests in reciting information. For example, students may look at a math problem and say to themselves, “I understand this, I can do it”. However, when asked to recite the process, they may stumble with a lack of information or the clarity necessary to describe the process fully. Recitation helps students view their true understanding of the material honestly. For many students, the inability to verbalize material represents a relatively low level of understanding. Finally, a student should develop study materials that will aid in moving material from the recognition to the recall stage.

Key activities in this step:
Practice working problems using examples from the text
Recite information looking at notes and outlines
Create additional notes making connections to new material
Read notes and state why information was presented
Create sample questions and problems
Write outlines and other process descriptions as needed
Answer questions using support resources

Questions to ask:
What is the full importance of the material presented?
What are the processes necessary to complete problems?
How do the concepts relate to each other?
How well do I understand the material?

Step Three – Check for Recall (30-45 minutes at a time)

The purpose of this step is to help the student develop the ability to recognize, recall, and apply learning at the level necessary for a test. During this phase students are attempting to determine how well they know the material and test themselves on their abilities with the information. It is necessary for students to understand what level of mastery they will need for testing. Students may waste considerable amounts of time on activities that do not prove to be worthwhile. For example, if the course offers the opportunity for formula cards to be taken into the test, time spent memorizing formulas may be better spent reviewing the process for using the formula. Students should test their ability to recall information with minimal prompts. Key words, questions, list titles, formula process and other helps identified during Step Two should be utilized in this self-testing step. Students should review material until they can fully recite the material.

Key activities in this step:
Explain material to someone else
Answer questions from others about material
Work problems without explanatory helps
Recite lists and other material to be memorized
Describe details of processes, concepts, and examples
Practice outlining potential essay questions

Questions to ask:
What do I need to refresh for the test (mark it in notes)?
Can I work problems without prompts?
Can I relate concepts to one another and show the connections?
Can I recite material from memory when necessary?

Blitz Review (10-minute refresh before a test)

The purpose of this step is to help students activate mental focus on materials to be tested. Since students should have previously studied the material three times before the exam, time spent reviewing before a test should be minimized. Memorization should be checked. The ability to recite formulas and processes should be checked. Accuracy of information should be checked. Simply reviewing activities from Step 3 prior to the exam should be enough in terms of good test preparation.


There are some instances where students can be successful with intense last minute studying referred to as cramming. Two important factors must be considered here. First, some students simply learn faster than others. These students tend to have extraordinary recall of information. They may also have had extensive prior exposure to the material. Next, some information is simply easier to learn at the last minute. Material that does not require understanding and application may be easier learned through cramming.

When cramming, the focus should be on reviewing previously learned material – not trying to learn new concepts. Seeking to master what is familiar increases the likelihood that students will score higher on those portions of an exam. Focusing a cramming session on mastering new material may reduce recall of previous material, depending on the type of exam material and the level of recall required.