How to Create an Effective Study Guide

Final exams and standardized testing are right around the corner for us. My students have the obligation to sit in a large room and take multiple choice questions that (supposedly) tell us (them?) how much they have learned this year about biology. Naturally, the discussion about study guides comes up more and more frequently from students. Below are my suggestions as you prepare study guides.

  • Prepare early. Starting thinking about the guides from day one of school. Work to develop and understanding of what the completed guide will look like in the end. Be ready to change directions.
  • Do not focus on content. Our guides do not need more factoids or bullet points. Rather, focus on critical thinking and analytical questions to guide the learning.
  • Allow for flexibility. If we want guides that are multi-purpose, do not create them one-size-fits-all. Push for multiple uses and applications with each guide you are working on.
  • Encourage mistakes. Some of the best review happens when we realize (or identify) misconceptions and then correct them.
  • Allow for collaboration. Do not assign a grade for the guide, but recognize and praise the effort that goes into its production and use.
  • These simple steps helped me prepare over 100 study guides this year. Hopefully, they can help you, too.

    6 thoughts on “How to Create an Effective Study Guide

    1. Heather says:

      Final exams are required at my school for pretty much every subject, which requires students to have between 7 and 8 exams. I lobbied hard to have our final be a production final, so my students are creating presentations to demonstrate knowledge. They could choose any topic that related to the content that they wanted to learn more about. I believe that this type of final, not the traditional “sit-down” exam is a much better gauge of the students’ abilities. Not to mention, it allows them the opportunity to work on it outside of finals week and alleviates some of the pressure on them.

      BTW – I enjoy keeping up with your blog, and look forward to seeing you in Chicago!

    2. Brian Bennett says:

      I agree 100%. Production “exams” are definitely the way we need to be heading in assessment, not tests. I’m trying to do that more in my own classes…hopefully, it will become more of the norm, and not the exception.

      I’m glad you enjoy my blog. I’m really excited about the conference this summer. Make sure you introduce yourself to me!

    3. Jody French says:

      I love the idea of production exams. Do you have any examples you could share? I am a visual learner!! Thank you!

    4. Hi Mr. Bennet,
      I agree with your post about study guides. I am with you 100% on the portion about how study guides need to be more about analytic and critical thinking than about getting the facts right. I had numerous study guides in High School, and I basically memorized them. I don’t remember anything that I learned from them now. I also like how you encourage mistakes. Mistakes are how we learn.

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