How to Create a Study Guide that Works for You

Processed with VSCO with se3 presetBy Deena Farrukh

With finals a month away from us college students, high school students & middle school students alike, I thought it would be appropriate to write about what we all seem to struggle with the most: stuDYING. Personally, if you want to become successful in school, you have to have a study plan. It doesn’t have to be just for exams either. If I have to host a meeting, I organize my thoughts about the meeting & how the meeting will go. If I’m going on a trip, I create a list of what I need to pack (the wants come later, hehe). I even organize my day if I have plans later in the evening with my friends. No matter what the task, I know I’ve performed my hardest work if I had a steady plan ahead.

Today, I’m going to [try to] answer all the questions that have swarmed your brains and caused you to panic randomly at 3AM.

When should I start studying? 

From the start of the semester. I know this might sound foreign to most of you. It’s okay, it did to me too. I used to be that person that waited until a few weeks before my finals to start studying all the material from the start of the semester to the finish. But the work of taking one or two hours of your week to organize your professor/teacher’s lecture notes into a Word document doesn’t even compare to the amount of time it will take you a few weeks from your exam date. TRUST ME. Been there, done that.

How do I create my own study guide?

Creating a study guide is a little bit different from simply writing your own notes from class. Study guides focus on what will show up on your exam, more than organizing and summarizing what your professor/teacher told you in class. Here are some things you should emphasize on when creating your study guide:

1. Type out all the topics from your syllabus/any topics your professor/teacher has claimed will be on the exam onto a Word document.

2. It’s important to have everything that will be on your exam in your study guide, but try eliminating any topics that will be useless or are irrelevant to you.

What sources do I use to start creating my study guide(s)?

Sources will be different for college students versus high school/middle school students, so I thought it would be easier to divide them up and explain the sources individually.

College Students: 

As a college student, lecture notes/videos would be the first thing to look at when creating a study guide. For example, my professors would not only upload the lecture slides for us to follow along, but their lectures would be recorded and uploaded to us as an extra study tool.

Lecture notes are a good foundation for your study guide, but for the more in-depth material, skim your books. This is a great way to balance what you are studying, and it’s an extra tool to look at the material from a different point of view.

Last but not least, look at old exams (if you have them). This is an excellent addition to your study guide because it will remind you how your professor structures his questions. Now, I know some professors don’t allow their exams to be taken out of the exam room. No problem. Go into your professor’s office hours and ask him/her how to create an attack plan or what they believe is a structure for a good answer on their exams.

High School & Middle School Students: 

If you are in middle school or high school, I believe textbooks and your teachers are the best way to tackle making a study guide. Unlike college, your teachers are much more available to you since you see them every day, so use them as a study tool. And more often than not, everything that’s in your syllabus for the year you can find in your textbook.

For the most part, I know that in high school & middle school your past exams are given back to you, so again, look over those. Familiarize yourself with your teacher’s exam format and question method.

How exactly do I organize my study guide?

Now onto the nitty gritty stuff. I would start my study guide off with making an overview of what each chapter entails. This is sort of like a “table of contents” page: it shows you what topics you specifically have to study & a brief synopsis of what each chapter is about. I personally would create this in an outline format, but whatever works for you, go for it!

Let’s get into how to organize all the facts and concepts into your study guide. The beauty of making your own study guide, and not using your teacher’s or anyone else’s is that it’s yours. There’s not just one type of note-taking technique. Here are a several that work for me:

  • Flowcharts
  • Diagrams
  • Symbols
  • Charts
  • Color-coding [which helps me the most!!!]

Like I said before, this study guide is not about taking notes but actually retaining the information that you are studying. An excellent technique to understand and memorize the material is I rewrite my notes in my own words.

Aside from that, I also watch YouTube videos and Google concepts & ideas to better comprehend the material if my professor’s explanation isn’t clicking for me. This is a really good study technique because you yourself ventured out to figure out what you weren’t understanding.

To sum up your notes for your study guide, skim your textbook’s chapter summaries. Although it won’t have every fact you’ll need, it comes in handy to sort out the important information of that chapter.

My note-taking technique for my study guides is as follows:

  • Red star: the concepts that I need to stress most on
  • Box: to categorize sub-topics in a chapter
  • Green highlight: keywords & definitions
  • Yellow highlight: main ideas
  • Pink highlight: pronouns that I need to remember
  • Purple highlight: examples to help comprehend the material better

At the end of each chapter, I like to add a few sample exam questions that coincide with that chapter as a mini quiz. Studying can sometimes immerse you in all the facts and concepts that you can sometimes forget why you are really going over it all: to test yourself.

I really hope this helped you out because I know that these techniques my entire outlook on studying for exams. Good luck & happy studying!

Thanks for reading,


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Re-published from original blog post here: 


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