Of all of the things that can overwhelm incoming freshmen, the academic rigor of Johns Hopkins is one of the more common ones. Even though the students here are among the best and brightest that high schools have to offer, it’s no secret that a prestigious university like Hopkins is a challenge for everyone. Grades are a popular fixation among students everywhere, and there’s really only one way to get the ones you want: studying. Whether you’re a student who studied well in high school or a student who hasn’t had to study in their life, preparing for tests in college can be intimidating. So, to hopefully make studying less scary, I’ll share some of my tips for more effective test prep.
Find a study location.
Johns Hopkins students are known for their ability to study for extensive — and sometimes excessive — periods of time. Because there are so many students studying at once, there are a ton of study spaces to choose from. The Milton S. Eisenhower Library (MSE) and Brody Learning Commons are the two most common and most traditional choices. Even within those two, there are so many different types of study spaces: reserved study rooms, quiet cubicles, Brody Atrium and the tables for groups on A and M-levels, just to name a few.
Some people prefer a bit of a different vibe. Perhaps an empty classroom in any of the various academic buildings can provide an even quieter space. Maybe a table at Starbucks is better for those who need to be drinking coffee at all times. Even sitting on the beach in the sun can suffice for an outdoorsman. And for those who don’t like to stray far from their bed, there are study spaces in each dorm, and of course, desks in each room.
But the main takeaway here is that everybody is different. Some people love to collaborate with their classmates while others can’t focus that way. Either way, take a walk around campus and scout out some of your potential study spaces. Trial and error is important, but once you find a place that helps you focus, consistency is key.
Pick a study method.
As I said before: Everyone is different. There are a lot of different ways to study and not every method works for everyone. The typical methods of reading the textbook, reviewing class notes or looking over the professor’s slides are pretty common and for some people. They get the job done sufficiently. In fact, most, if not all of you, will have tried at least one of these methods in high school. If they have worked well for you in the past, then keep it up. But if it hasn’t worked or you aren’t sure, I would encourage you to experiment with some other styles of studying to find what is best for you.
I know that for me, active participation helps me retain information. Reading a textbook is far too passive for me to efficiently store facts. My professors often supplied me with practice exams or even their tests from previous years. Taking these practice exams has worked very well for me and it also helps me see what kinds of questions the professor likes to ask. I have friends who similarly like active studying, but for them, rewriting their notes, or at least the important parts of them, is their preferred method of refreshing their brain.
To pick a method that’s right for you, you need to know yourself and understand how you learn. If you don’t know that yet: don’t worry! You have time to figure it out, and you can still do well on exams, even if you haven’t found the perfect method yet. But usually what is best is a combination of a few methods. Reviewing the slides and then doing a practice test is one example. Or reviewing slides and supplementing it with textbook reading. A little bit of everything could even work if you’re that type of person.
People at Hopkins like to push themselves. Sometimes we all go a little overboard. But burning yourself out with unending hours of studying has diminishing returns. There’s only so long you can study before your brain starts to get overwhelmed. An hour of studying followed by a 20 minute break before returning is a great way to pace yourself and make studying more tolerable too. The key here is moderation. Don’t do 20 minutes of studying followed by an hour-long break. But please don’t be one of those people who stays in MSE until 4 a.m. studying for a 9 a.m. test — it just isn’t worth it.