Study Central: Superb study guides and mini Moleskines


Melissa Schmitz, OPINION EDITOR

Study guides fall into two main categories: study guides that prompt you to find/think about information and those that directly organize information. Professors sometimes provide you with study guides of the former [i.e., you’re not given the answers], and it’s your job to create study guides of the latter type. Both categories serve the purpose of organizing information you already have in order to synthesize a study tool that best facilitates your comprehension and memorization of the information at hand.

Before you start, be aware of the level you’re required to know the information. The most basic is recalling definitions, which can accomplished with flashcards. Other information will require you to compare or apply ideas. Think of your learning process as literal → interpretive → applicative, meaning you will need study guides that help you visualize, draw relationships, and understand material so you may memorize less in a way that helps you answer more, and better than straight memorization ever could.

Concept Map:

These can be anything from a branching diagram to a complex mind map. This type of study guide allows you to compare information in spatial manner rather than strictly linear and allows you to start from the basics of the topic you’re studying then expand into specific details and examples. This provides a solid overview where you can delve deeper as necessary. The iOS app Mindly is a beautiful and highly functional mind mapping tool you may consider.

Comparison Chart:

Another visually-oriented study guide, comparison charts are the easiest way to conceptualize similarities and differences for various topics. The biggest advantage of this method is that you can easily find this information of the subjects in question without having to reread a chapter or search through your notes. It won’t help visually connect topics like a mind map, but this very simple tool is important and useful in its own rite.

Index Cards:

Before you skip over this section, these are not the same as flashcards. Flashcards have the basic purpose of helping you memorize, and little else. Index cards, however, contain much more information and are used primarily to summarize key information in a portable way that allows you to easily locate more details if necessary. Allow me to break down how you might want to use this method.

  • Front:
    • Middle: Main idea [e.g. alveoli]
    • Upper Right: Organizational term [e.g. respiratory system]
    • Bottom Middle: Source of information [e.g. Chapter 17, pg. 479 or Notes from 11/26/2013]
  • Back:
    • In your own words, what’s most important to know.
    • Include examples, summaries, diagrams, definitions, etc.
    • Be detailed! This is not about strictly memorizing.
    • The content should correspond to level of understanding your professor expects


This one is self-explanatory, but also dependent on the topic. This could be anything from a chemical reaction scheme, a cycle, Venn diagram, etc. You may even consider making a timeline, which is great for chronological organization of ideas. They are not limited to history, though. You can organize information from almost any class. If it has a specific, linear order, it can be made into a timeline.

Question Prompts:

If you’re using Cornell notes, you would write your prompts in the left hand column next to where the answers are located. For example, something as simple as a definition, “What is _____?” For something more complicated, such as a comparison chart, “What are the key differences between _____ and _____?” If you want, you can even ask questions that aren’t directly answered in the adjacent text such as, “Why is [idea] important to [concept]?” You could always just type out questions while reading, as well.

Now that you know what formats to use, where you can put this information? Many like to draw these on paper or type. If there’s an appropriate app, go for it. I personally suggest mini notebooks for each class. I make study guides on paper or a computer first, then copy it into my pocket-sized, dotted Moleskines. The benefit to these little notebooks is that you have the information you need in a small, convenient notebook that you can bring anywhere because of its size. Not to mention, this will help you avoid losing papers because they’re all in one place. Just try not to lose the notebook.

Happy studying!