The Study Process

The Study Process diagram by James Kennedy
Click to enlarge “The Study Process” flowchart

It amazes me how many students get low grades because their notes are disorganised or because they get resources from the wrong places. If you’re not getting the grades you expect, and your study notes are a bit of a mess, follow this simple 5-step strategy to get more out of your VCE Chemistry lessons.

1) Annotate the textbook.

Your primary resource is always the textbook. Annotate your textbook with pens, highlighters and Post-it® Notes. Circle key words and draw a line through question numbers once you’ve completed them (see step #3). Cross out titles of sections that are not on your course: your teacher can help you with this. Put bookmarks (pieces of paper will do) at your current position in the textbook and at the corresponding answers page at the back. Annotate every page of the textbook before you learn a new topic in class. Annotate your textbook from cover to cover as soon as you can at the start of the year.

2) Make textbook summary notes on A4 paper.

Throughout the year, use your annotated textbook to make your own textbook summary notes. Many of these notes will have been copied from the whiteboard during Chemistry lessons, but you’ll still need to supplement these notes with things you learn from your own reading as well. I recommend writing these summaries on loose sheets of A4 paper and organising them in sequential order in a ring binder. Feel free to use both sides of the paper. Some students prefer to use A4 notebooks, which also works fine, but it’s very important that you don’t limit yourself to a “one page per section” rule. This becomes very restrictive later on.

3) Complete textbook questions and Checkpoints questions in an exercise book.

Third, you need a exercise book. This is an A4 notebook that you use to complete question sets from four main locations: (1) the textbook; (2) from any other worksheets your teacher provides; (3) from Checkpoints; and (4) from Lisachem and other textbooks. When you’ve finished a block of around 20 questions, check your answers using the answer keys provided and mark them very critically. This is an excellent learning exercise. Use a red pen to note where you went wrong, and mark your own work as harshly as the harshest-marking teacher you’ve ever had. Your teachers don’t have time to mark all of these questions for you; but if you don’t understand why you got a question wrong, do approach your teacher or tutor and ask for an explanation. They’ll be happy to help you out.

4) Everything else provided by your teachers is just supplementary material.

Finally, there are supplementary resources provided by your teachers. Even if you use these a lot in class, remember that they’re not your main study resource. Even if your teacher gives you printed PowerPoint slides, work booklets or lecture notes, they’re still just supplementary to the primary study resource, which is always the textbook. If your teacher gives you any of these extra resources to use in class, use them in class only, and at home, all of your studies should follow steps #1 to #3 above. Nothing replaces the textbook in terms of depth and accuracy. Extra materials provided by your teacher are always secondary to the main text.

5) Don’t trust resources that you find by yourself.

Most of the resources that students find by themselves will be either unprofessional or irrelevant to VCE. Resources from interstate or overseas might use different vocabulary or cover topics that are beyond the scope of our VCE course. Don’t spend time studying resources you’ve found by yourself unless your teacher or tutor has approved them.

Following these five steps should take about 3 hours per week per subject.

Remember that your textbook is your primary resource. Teachers and tutors just help to help bring the textbook to life: they help you to understand it faster and more comprehensively than you could on your own. Tutors provide 1-on-1 motivation and accountability by giving you personalised homework and questioning during your tutoring sessions. Tutors have the time to check your work carefully and get personalised feedback on all your written answers, which teachers seldom have the time to do.

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