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How to actually study effectively

By Lauren Condon on 27 October 2017Study tipsNSWblog

It’s pretty funny (and scary) that a lot of us make it to year 12 and still don’t really know how to study properly. Of course we know that we should write notes and do past papers but that can still leave us wondering whether we are doing enough 🤷‍ . To try and clear things up, we’ve broken down really effective study into six stages with each stage having a particular purpose and a few key study methods to get amongst. It might look like a bit of a TITF and different strategies work for different people but we just wanted to lay it all out for you - hope it helps 👍 .

Stage 1: Covering the content

Okay so Stage 1 is nice and basic and pretty much just involves you becoming familiar with all of the content 💁 . You’re going to be introduced to the content of each of your subjects through class as your teacher takes you through the major points, examples and analysis of each subject. Think about a maths lesson where the teacher will show you a formula, explain how it works, when you would use it and then take you through some examples.

Then it’s going to be up to you to make yourself a really solid set of notes for each subject. If you base your notes on the structure of the syllabus, then you can be sure that you’ve covered 100% of the content and have a solid foundation for each subject.

Wait, writing a complete set of notes is only stage 1? Yeah, scary right...

Stage 2: Understanding the content

It’s one thing to be exposed to and aware of all the content in your subject but you also need to understand it. It’s pretty easy to think you understand an idea but then it crops up in an exam and all of the sudden you are completely thrown because you’d really only memorised a few key points 🤔 . It’s the difference between memorising that the expense ratio from Business Studies is [Total Expenses / Sales] and actually knowing what that actually means in regards to a real world business and how to analyse and make recommendations to a business from that ratio.

To make sure you really understand your topics, try to expose yourself to the same information in a few different ways: listen to your teacher, read books, read online summaries, watch videos, watch documentaries and more. The best way to really test your understanding is to try and explain the idea (or the event, or the process, or the theme etc.) to someone else... even if it's just your dog.

Stage 3: Extending your understanding

Now that you know your content and you understand it, the way to reach the band 5 and band 6 answers is to extend your understanding. You want to start thinking critically, making high level connections, being able to transfer knowledge and all those other fun buzzwords.

  • This is where group study becomes really cool because you already have your own understanding but you can chat to other people to see if they have extra information, a different opinion or have made a link that you haven’t yet.
  • Examples, further research and case studies are also awesome here because you are taking the ideas you learned in class and transferring them to real world situations and scenarios. That’s some solid critical thinking right there 👍 .
  • The final option we’re going to suggest here is to take your notes and rework them a few times to create these really smart, connected summaries. The more times you go over your notes, the more you will be able to pick out the most crucial bits of information, pinpoint any critical links and arrange all the content into a really punchy, memorable and useful summary.

It’s going to be a bit of trial and error to see what works for you but this can be a seriously satisfying stage of study because you’re going to feel like an absolute genius.

Stage 4: Memorising key information

Stage 4 can really be done just in the lead up to exams if you want because it’s all about memorising the evidence that you will need for your answers. This is going to look a little different because each subject needs different kinds of evidence but let’s just cover the basics

  • English: quotes and maybe some techniques
  • Maths: formulas and key definitions
  • Science: scientific names, processes, formulas
  • HSIE (like legal studies, geography, history, business studies): dates, statistics, facts, key definitions

The secret to remembering these is going to be a little different for each person but some of the most popular options are mnemonics like acronyms and flash cards.

Notice how the memorisation stage comes after the understanding stage? That’s super important because it means that you know exactly what you need to remember (and nothing extra) and you have a better chance of remembering because it will make more sense in context. Also, understanding is always just more important than memorisation anyway so guess it’s a winner on all counts 🏆 .

Stage 5: Practice and application

Okay, we are really getting through this! Stage 5 is all about that application. See, there’s just no point going through the first 4 stages of studying if you aren’t going to put yourself to the test and make sure it’s really working. Besides, you want to get used to actually using your study on a real exam.

Basically, start with practice questions and then move on to full on past papers and as always, make sure you’re doing them under exam conditions! There isn’t much point doing this before you’ve moved through at least the first few stages because you’ll just get freaked out by how much you don’t know. No need to have any extra drama or meltdowns this year.

Stage 6: Skills

Okay, so you are pretty much done by this stage. This is just that little bit extra you can do above and beyond to make sure you are completely, 100% exam ready.

See as well as studying the content of your subjects, it’s going to be a massive help for you to practise your exam skills that carry across allllllll your subjects. This is going to be things like:

Brush up on these skills because the best study in the world isn’t worth anything if you don’t demonstrate it in an exam.


This probably sounds pretty intense but it’s actually a lot of the study you would doing anyway and it doesn’t take as long as it sounds. As in, study smart and you don’t need to be studying 24/7. Be aware of what you’re doing and tackle your study in the right order so it's a lot more effective and then you’ll have more time for the rest of your life. Which is a lot more fun than study anyway… 🙌

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