Creating a Study Guide

Creating a Study Guide

Creating a Study Guide

Study guides are wonderful organizational tools that can improve your comprehension of large amounts of course information.  They can serve as roadmaps through complex or detailed lecture notes and text book material.  Study guide formats can vary from mostly text, to mostly visual, to a series of relevant web or video links, to a combination of all of these.  In general, a study guide condenses the amount of information to be learned while helping you make relevant and meaningful connections between different types of content and information.

To properly prepare for college exams you will need more than am ability to memorize facts, formulas, and definitions.  Where mere reading and recall may have worked in high school, college requiresa more substantial level of interpretation and analysis.  Your ability to “dig deeper” is important.  Students who organize and processcourse materials more thoroughly benefit greatly during midterms and finals.  Study guides help make the learning process easier and increase comprehension and critical thinking.

Types of Study Guides

There are times when study guides are provided by instructors to help students digest complicated course material.  However, any student can create his or her own guide to organize class notes and prepare for exams in a wide range of subject areas.  The following are examples of common, easily constructed guides:


The most traditional and common method of organizing information involves creating a summary sheet of key concepts.  This may involve highlighting class handouts or underlining and flagging key concepts in a textbook or in course notes for quick scanning.  When crafting an actual summary sheet, titles and categories should be used to help make the information meaningful and memorable. This should then be expanded using what you feel are the most important facts under each category. Pay close attention to keywords that will help trigger recall without the need for a full written explanation.Avoid spending too much time building summaries or adding too much detail – the goal is to be short, concise and brief for an over-arching understanding of the material.

Sample Chapter Summary/Outline:

Title of the Chapter

I. Topic of First Main Section of the chapter (include definitions, explanations, details and pagenumbers)

A. First Main Point under the First Main Section of the chapter (include definitions, explanations,details and page numbers)

1. Subpoint under the Main point

a. Detail and/or definition for the subpoint

2. Subpoint under the Main point

a. Detail and/or definition for the subpoint

3. Subpoint under the Main point

a. Detail and/or definition for the subpoint

Concept Maps

Many students learn best when information is presented visually. Concept maps and branching diagrams work well for nearly any academic subject and organizeinformation from general to more specific in a linear, outline format. To create a concept map, arrange chapter titles or course ideas into geometric circles such as squares, circles, or triangles and use arrows or lines to develop meaningful patterns or connections.  Add details and examples that deepen your understanding of the underlying concepts in the material.  Be sure to include keywords that will more than likely reappear on the course exam.

Index Cards

Index cards present a very efficient means of organizing information in a straightforward manner.  Index cards make great impromptu “flash cards” for recalling keywords, definitions, facts, mathematical formulas, technical terminology, and foreign languages.  To create an indexed study guide, write the title or topicon the unlined side of the card and theinformation to be learned on the lined side.  It is helpful to include brief examples from the text or lecture.  The mere act of creating the cards helps increase learning.  In addition, the small and portable nature of index cards makes them ideal for spontaneous study while waiting in lines, riding the bus, or anytime you have idle time.  Quick, easy and convenient!


Concept, term or problem



characteristics and definitions



Examples, diagrams, or formulas




Comparison Chart

A comparison chart allows you to organize information visually so that you can see relationships among categories or characteristics. It is a very effective format when you need to be able to understand the differences or similarities among facts, theories, theorists, processes, or the advantages and disadvantages of certain concepts.  Organize concepts into a simple table for easy comparisons.



1. Cognitive development is mostly the same universally.

1. Cognitive development differs from culture to culture and in different historical eras.

2. Cognitive development results from the child’s independent exploration of the world.

2. Cognitive development results from guided participation or social interactions.

3. Each child constructs knowledge on his or her own

3. Children and adults or more knowledgeable persons or peers co-construct knowledge.

4. Peers are important because children must learn to take peers’ perspectives.

4. Adults are important because they know the culture’s way and tools of thinking.

5. Development precedes learning; children cannot master certain things until they have the requisite cognitive structures.

5. Learning precedes development; tools learned with adult help are internalized.


One advantage of essay exams is that you will be tested on the major concepts. Thus it isrelatively easy to predict the types of questions you will be asked. Using common essayquestion words such as define, contrast, and prove, you can link subheadings togetherand accurately predict exam questions.


  1. Describe the chemical composition and configuration of enzymes and discuss the factors that modify enzyme structure and/or function.
  2. Discuss the process of cell division in animals. Include a description of mitosis and cytokinesis.
  3. State the conclusions reached by Mendel in his work on the inheritance of characteristics.
  4. Describe the steps of protein synthesis.

In general study guides have been shown to result in above average student performance in a number of subjects and at every grade level.   For the college student in particular, they can make the most of homework and review time.  Select a format that is most comfortable given the subject matter and time allowed and create a guide that will help you ace your next exam.

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