Tuesday, August 28, 2012

How to Effectively Write Summaries for College


Everyone who has been to college knows what's going on during exam week. Pale faces in dining hall, no one who is down for a movie night, and desperate Facebook posts asking for summaries of course material.
I have always been very relaxed during exam weeks. I'm not highly intelligent, neither did I major in communication studies. I have simply found a way to prepare for exams in an efficient manner. The secret is, indeed, summaries.
Not just summaries, though. Summaries can cut your study time significantly. However, if you don't do it right, it might backfire. Here are some tips on how you can write summaries in a way that will cut your study time and boost your grades.
1) Don't decide what to leave out, but what to include
Scholars like to lose themselves in examples, long explanations, definitions, and so on. The result is a usually a blurry, extensive chapter or article.
The challenge you are faced with is to filter out the relevant point(s). What is the author trying to prove? And what of these points are relevant for the exam?
Before summarizing a chapter, you should therefore not decide what to leave out. Rather, you should start with a blank paper and decide what exactly is significant enough to be added to the paper.
2) There is no "right" or "wrong"
What is the ideal way to write a summary? In fact, the answer to this question depends solely on you. For many students, it is enough to read through a chapter and summarize it with keywords only. Other students, me included, like to read it through, and then summarize it as if they were writing a summary for someone else.
To find your ideal summarizing style, you need to simply experiment around. Whatever helps you the most is right for you.
3) Use Mnemonic Tricks
Especially when you have to memorize a number of names for example, it can be useful to include mnemonic tricks into your summary.
Imagine you had to memorize the planets of our solar system. Of course, you could try to remember the exact order by repeating the list over and over again. Or, you simple remember this catch phrase: "My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizza-pies". By taking the first letter of each word, you get the first letter of the planet who is next in order (Mercur, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Pluto).
The concept of a mnemonic trick is to take a simple rhyme, alliteration, or something similar, and use it to create links to the facts that need to be memorized. So instead of learning every planet of the solar system, you just remember a phrase that tells you how to get there.
No matter how ridiculous a mnemonic rhyme or so may sound: everything is allowed, as long as it helps you.
4) Ally With Your Class Mates
It was the end of the semester. I hadn't read any of the articles I was supposed to read, and neither did my class mates. I still remember my relief when I received an email in my inbox from a class mate who took the initiative with a simple plan.
Out of all the articles, everyone should choose one to read and summarize. A week later, I had summaries for all the articles I was supposed to read. I nailed that exam.
Now, if you decide to set up a similar agreement with your class mates, there are some things you need to remember. Make sure you include as many class mates as possible. In addition, send a list to everyone that indicates who is summarizing which article. This incentivizes your fellow students to actually do their work; if the public list says you are summarizing this particular article, you are peer-pressured to do so.
In addition, you should establish guidelines and a deadline to hand in the summary. You don't want people to send you half-page summaries, while others did ten times as much. This could corrupt the complete system. Tell everyone what the summary should look like and by when to send it.
By spreading the work collectively, everyone will profit. Don't be afraid to take the initiative; everyone will thank you.
Many people disregard summaries as a "short-cut to success". I, however, believe that in a time where we all are flooded with information, summaries can help with seeing the essential - and remembering it for the exam.

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