Studying for a History course can be difficult. Unlike many math and science courses, you can’t just sit down and drill a bunch of problems until you’re confident in the process.
To complicate matters further, you can’t rely on rote memorization to get you through, either; studying has to be a comprehensive rehearsal in argument and the citing of evidence. But, fear not! You already have all the skills you need to wow any professor as long as you are patient and thorough. Here are a few tips to nudge you in the right direction:
Stop thinking of history as a series of isolated incidents.
Everything you will study has happened as a result of something (more than likely, as a result of many things), and the more of these things you can connect in your mind, the easier it will be to remember each of them. Indeed, familiarity with each piece of the historical puzzle informs and reinforces the others. If your teacher has given you a list of terms, take a few of these and write practice paragraphs explaining how they are connected. Even better, write these paragraphs as though they are mini-essays; that way, you start to learn how to connect these concepts in your mind, so that when you inevitably get the “what does it all mean” question on your exam, it will be old hat.
Talk it out!
When you get right down to it, professional historians are in the business of arguing, and when you’re writing an essay or answering short-response questions on an exam, so are you: you are arguing your point and defending your position on the subject, and the best way to hone this skill is to practice. Form a study group with a few of your classmates and talk things out together! It is all too easy for the study of history to feel dead and distant, so breathe some humanity back into these topics by getting them off the page and into your conversations. Not only will this liven up the process quite a bit, but also, more importantly, give you and your study partners the chance to disagree! And, there is no more fun way to remember all those events, names, and concepts than to use them to prove that you’re right and they’re wrong. (Mostly kidding…)
Write it down.
As much as it pains me to say it, the old standby study methods are old standbys because they really do work. Timelines and flow charts (templates for which are readily available online) are a great way to put things in perspective in a way that makes sense to you, and they keep your thoughts organized for easy reference later. Also, make flashcards for important people, events, documents, etc., and quiz yourself on them often. You don’t have to go over the same stack of cards for an hour; just a few times through the deck a few times a day, between classes or on the train, and you’ll have them mastered before you know it.
Finally, if you’ve tried all these tips and you’re still having trouble, give us a call; we’re always here to help. Remember what Confucius said: “He who asks a question is a fool for a moment; he who does not is a fool for a lifetime.”
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