I usually don't have time to share the entire method with my classes, but I pick and choose parts to share with them to help throughout. I do try to share as much as possible with my seniors as they will definitely need to figure out how to study in college if they've just been getting by without doing so in high school.
I wrote this as if talking to a student to make it easier to write. Keep in mind this strategy works well for any subject. It was actually more useful for my other classes as I clearly excelled in math. So, on with the show...
Preparation: Find somewhere quiet to work with no distractions. No TV, no instant messages, no texts. There are educational reasons for this, but the most important reason for me was that if I did that stuff, I would actually have to study for LONGER. I could get more done in 10 minutes of good studying than I could get done in an hour of studying with distractions. Why not just get the studying done quickly and then go have fun without having to worry about studying for so long?
Step 1: Gather your materials. In theory this should take almost no time to do. Grab your book, notes and any old tests or quizzes that might be relevant to the test you're going to take. In math especially, old tests and quizzes are incredibly important because not only do they provide you with a good prediction of what your teacher is going to put on the test/exam, they also tell you where you messed up the first time around. This is most likely where you'll mess up again!
Step 2: Start with whatever you think is most important. For instance, old tests would be most important when taking an exam. Your book might be most important if your teacher takes a lot of questions right from the book. Now, get a couple blank sheets of paper and a pencil.
Step 3: Here's the important part. You're not going to be studying or even reading everything. It's time to separate the things you know from the things you don't know. There's no point wasting time with the stuff that you're already sure of, you just want to focus now on the info that you don't remember already. It's also important to be very honest with yourself. Scan the book for bold words, information in boxes, diagrams and anything that looks important. Before you read the whole thing, ask yourself if you know it already. For instance, you see "A quadratic equation..." If you can finish the sentence in your own words "an equation with an x squared in it" then you know it and you don't need to write it down. It's also worth while to think about the way your teacher tests before writing things down. You might forget some obscure detail that appears in your book. Will your teacher test on it? Maybe not. If you're sure she won't, then skip it.
If you can't remember something, write it down in your own words. Never ever write down a definition directly from the book. Math definitions in your book are oftentimes overly complicated and take a lot of decoding. Instead of decoding the mystery of what the math book is saying every time you study it, translate it to yourself once and write that down. You might use a picture to help. Here's an example: "A parabola is... shoot I don't remember. The vertex of a quadratic function is... ugh i don't remember that either." What you write only has to make sense to you. Here's what I came up with:
So, let's say you read something and once you read it you suddenly "remember" it from class. It's important to still write this down. Here you are just familiar with the topic. You might remember it, but you shouldn't assume you're going to after reading it. After all, you did forget it once already didn't you? So, write down the information you're just familiar with as well as the stuff you don't know at all.
With example problems, it's important to test yourself. Try each example in your head or on paper if necessary BEFORE looking at the answer in the book. This will help you decide what you don't know and need to write down, and help you focus on what you don't know. If there are problems you don't understand and can't figure out: ask your teacher, ask a friend or ask Google. In math you should really strive to understand every topic with help, and the test should just boil down to testing what you remember.
With old tests and quizzes focus on the problems that you got wrong, but take a look at some of the more difficult problems you got right as well just in case.
Writing down all the information you don't know won't take nearly as long as you think it might. With a focused goal and no distractions, you'll fly through the information. The best part is you're actually studying by putting things into your own words, testing yourself and writing things down. Once you've written everything down, you're mostly done.
If your teacher allows a sheet of paper on an exam and it only took one piece of paper to write everything down, you're done studying! Everything you don't know is on a sheet of paper and you can use that sheet for your final. Sweet!
Step 4: This step is key. Now that you've used all of your resources to compile a list of everything you didn't know, get rid of all the resources(tests, books, etc). Everything you need to know is on this sheet. Get a new blank sheet of paper and start from the top of your note paper. Now, repeat step 3 with your note sheet replacing your book/tests and a new sheet of blank paper.
As you work you're going to realize that you remember a lot of what you didn't know the first time around. In fact, on your second sheet you'll probably have far less that half of what you had on your first sheet. There will still be some things you just don't get, and that's okay, just write them down on your NEW note sheet.
You can repeat this part a third or even fourth time if you think it will be useful to you. If your teacher lets you use an index card, you can stop whenever you think you can fit the information onto an index card, put it on and then you're done!
At some point, there will just be a few lingering things that you can't seem to get in your head. If that's the case, move onto step 5.
Step 5: Now that you have a short list of things you just can't seem to get into your brain, it's time to intensely focus on those topics. Use flash cards, make up mnemonics (PEMDAS for example), make up a song, do a bunch of practice problems or just do whatever you can to help you remember those last couple details. I would usually just write the information over and over again because that seemed to work for me, but what's best for me not be what's best for you. Try to do something here that suits your learning style.
Once you feel confident with everything, go have some fun!
So that's it. I hope this is helpful to you or your students. Feel free to share this with your students or other teachers. If you're feeling extra ambitious you could have students read this post, do the study method for a test or quiz and have them hand in their notes sheet(s) for a project.
I'll have a more studying tips in the future as well as studying project I gave a class last year with some really interesting results. Stay tuned.
Questions, comments or suggestions? Let me know!