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Shrinking Outline Study Method

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An Effective Test Prep Strategy

Students are often encouraged to create outlines in order to study for essay tests. The problem is that students try to include too much material and the "outline" becomes nothing more than a reproduction of class notes. Outlines that contain too much information don't help!

Students can improve study results using a "shrinking outline" method, a method of creating a series of outlines that "shrink" because they contain less and less information.

The shrinking outline method taps into two key elements of truly effective study. Research suggests that a combination of periodic study over time (revisiting information) and occasional self-testing will result in better absorption and recall.

The Shrinking Outline Method

  • Using a word processor, students should first make an outline to cover all the material they've received in a term. This outline will serve as a study guide for a few days.

  • After reviewing this guide for a few days, students should rewrite a condensed version of the information to make a more compact outline. This second outline will contain main ideas from the first outline, but it should not contain the supporting lists and details.

  • Students use this condensed outline as a practice sheet. With a pencil, students should write in the details that correspond with each main idea. Students should brainstorm to remember all the facts and lists that they can recall from the first sheet. Students can print out as many practice sheets as necessary and use them until they can recall all of the necessary information.

  • The next step is to make another, more condensed version. This last outline will contain three or four main ideas. Students will use these very broad prompts to recall all the information that was contained on previous versions.

This is a time-consuming exercise, but it is a very effective procedure that will help you recall more information from your class notes and textbooks.

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