Making A Study Guide Vs. Using Your Class Notes As A Study Guide

By Danielle Wirsansky on October 25, 2019

When you are in school, classes take up so much of your time. And then on top of the classes, your homework sucks up all of your time. And then you have to study on your own time too?! Your education can feel like a bit of a time suck, but it is worth it in the end.

Some students have to spend a lot of time studying while others can learn something and get their studying done in a flash. But needless to stay, nearly every single student has to take the time to study. One of the biggest questions a student has to weigh in their studying process is just how to study. Which leads to the critical decision: is it necessary to make a study guide or can you just use your class notes as a study guide?

Determining the best way to study is a very individual process. Everyone is different and we all learn best in different ways, so there is no clear cut, one size fits all kind of answer. Rather than try to give you one, instead, there is a list of questions below that you can ask yourself to help you thoroughly consider the matter. What are the pros and cons? You will have to weight them for yourself. Read on for some tough questions you can quiz yourself with to see if you personally need to make your own study guide or can use your class notes as a study guide instead.


How thorough are your notes?

The first question you should consider before deciding whether to use your class notes as a study guide or to make your own study guide instead is how thorough are your notes? If your class notes do not have a lot of meat to them, they might not be that helpful.

Some students are not the best note-takers. They do not know what information is the most important to write down or what the best way to format that information is. Some students have really terrible handwriting that they cannot read. Others cannot write or type fast enough while being fed the information in class, which leads to them missing out on information.

One bad habit students pick up in their note-taking is to write down exactly the information presented to them on a slideshow by the teacher in class and that is it. What about all the useful information that the teacher verbally gave you? What about your takeaways from the lecture? What about connections you made from what was being discussed and your own learning/the course?

If a teacher is doing a good job with their presentation, their powerpoint is not going to have every piece of info that you need on it. It is something with important keywords and ideas to help a teacher make sure they are following a logical progression of the information and that they are not leaving out any critical information during the presentation that the students will need. So if your class notes only have headings on them, how useful will they be to you to study?

Other students are excellent note-takers who overwrite and overshare information and give themselves to much material to chew, process and remember. They basically write a transcript of the teacher’s lecture and they cannot possibly effectively review so much dense information.

When your class notes are so overly detailed you cannot easily get through them, then making a study guide that is a lot more streamlined might be the best way to go for you.

What kind of learner are you?

Another question to consider in this matter is what kind of learner are you? The VARK model is the theory most often touted at schools. Through this model, students are split into different kinds of learners: visual, auditory, reading/writing, and kinesthetic. Each of these kinds of learners studies best in a different way.

If you are a visual learner, then you prefer to see information and visually see the connection between ideas. For some, reading your class notes is perfectly fine. All the information you need to know is on the page and you can see it and read it as often as you like, getting all the information in that way that you need. Or perhaps if the class notes you took are not visually appealing, you might need to make yourself a study guide that more clearly illustrates the points and connections you know you need to learn.

Auditory learners are those that do best hearing information out loud. If your class notes are written and organized in a way that you can easily read the information off the page in a way that helps you learn, then you might not need to make your own study guide. However, if your class notes are really hard to read (whether from bad handwriting, smudges, shorthand, whatever the case may be) or if they are organized in a way that is not cohesive for you to smoothly read aloud and review, then you might need to consider making your own study guide. Perhaps as an auditory learner, you do not even need the class notes; listening to the class lecture recording on repeat is all that you need.

As a reading/writing learner, the way you learn best seems almost self-explanatory—you would learn best by reading over and writing material down. If you learn best by copying your notes and study material down and writing it out over and over again, you are almost forced to make your own study guide on repeat. If the way you learn is more reliant on the reading aspect of it, then you might be able to just read over your notes like a visual learner would.

Finally, as a kinesthetic learner, neither your class notes or making a study guide might be the best option for you. Kinesthetic learning is all about being hands-on and doing. Maybe this means going and talking to your professor during office hours or creating a study group where you are interacting and discussing the material with your peers. Maybe you drop by a museum with a related exhibit to your studies. Maybe you need to write out processes and draw aspects of the material out by writing on a whiteboard. Study guides and class notes are not the right fit for every single student.

We are all different, so students must investigate to find out what their most effective method of studying is! If you do not know what kind of learner you are and would like to discover it, you can check out this interactive quiz created by Arden University to help you get to the bottom of it so you can start studying more effectively!

What is the test’s format?

Sometimes what you are studying for informs the way that you should study. One way to contemplate this is to consider what the test’s format is that you will be taking. Once you find this information out, you can decide for yourself whether your simple class notes will suffice or if you need to make yourself a more specialized study guide.

Is it a multiple-choice test, which requires a little more memorization than regurgitation and perhaps a less than deep understanding? Is the test matching, where you need to be able to identify and remember very specific definitions and terms from a predetermined list? Are you given a list of terms that you then must go one to define and write out?

Does your test ask you short response questions where you have to be knowledgeable enough about the topic or some terms to give a little description of it without any helpful hints or guidance? Or does your test require you to write long, full, five-paragraph essays, which means you have to have a deep and clear understanding of the material and be knowledgeable enough about it to come up with your argument and essay during the time you have to take the test?

This seems like a small factor to consider but it can definitely change the way you approach your studying and what aspects of the material will be most important for you to learn. Once you have identified that, you will be able to decide whether your class notes are sufficient or not.

Photo by from Pexels

How often do you go over your notes?

A smaller, often overlooked question to consider when deciding whether or not to use your class notes to study or whether you should make yourself a study guide is how often do you go over your notes? This might seem like an innocuous enough question, but the answer can often make a big difference.

If you often go over your class notes, regularly reviewing them between classes rather than waiting until right before the test and cram studying it in, then you might already be in good shape for your test. You have been studying the material for a while already so you might not need to go to such lengths to memorize it by making a new study guide when you already know your stuff.

On the other hand, maybe you need to shake things up a little now and make sure you are not getting complacent with your studying or simply memorizing and regurgitating information because you have been repeatedly going over your class notes. You might have memorized it from reading it so many times but do you truly understand it? If not, you might want to consider making yourself a whole new study guide geared towards helping you tackle the finer mechanics of the subject so you can ace that test!

Are your notes written by hand or typed?

Finally, in order to decide whether or not to your already made class note to study or if you should just make yourself a whole new study guide, consider this: are your notes written by hand, or typed?

This can affect your studies for many different reasons. Some people learn better when they write material out rather than typing it. So if you typed your notes out instead of writing them, you might need to do more in-depth studying that requires you to make a study guide rather than just use your class notes.

Or perhaps your handwriting is not very good, as can happen when you are handwriting notes in class and the teacher is going so fast you are not even sure you can keep up with their lecture. In that case, you might want to type your notes, or at least rewrite them, or even just make the extra effort and turn your notes into a study guide if you have to redo the work anyways.

Whatever the case may be, just be sure to make the choice that seems right for you and your study habits.

Photo by Startup Stock Photos from Pexels

If you have asked yourself these questions and are still not sure whether or not you should just use your class notes or make a whole new study guide, here are a few fall back questions that you can ask yourself; How serious is the test? How long do you have to study for the test? How much time do you have before the test takes place? How much time do you personally have to devote to studying?

You are the one who knows your study habits and can answer these questions to figure out the pros and cons of each. As long as you are answering each question truthfully and honestly (with yourself at least, if no one else) then you should be able to discern which path is the best for you. You are the only one who can make this final decision for yourself, so choose wisely and good luck on that test!

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