How to study History? Tips and tricks to memorize lessons
How to study history with good results? To best answer of this question, I have collected in this article the best techniques and strategies to study this matter in a simple and effective way.
“A generation that ignores history has no past … nor future.” – Robert Anson Heinlein.
For some of us it was (and is!) A nightmare. For others, however, history has been the favorite subject of their school curriculum. Why?
Without prejudice to the propensities and passions of each of us, it is evident that often the thin border line between a disastrous approach to matter and a successful approach is represented by a friend who if you read our articles you should have already known: study method.
In this article, I want to take another step forward: I have collected some tips for you aimed precisely at perfecting the study of history.
You will find these tips very useful whether you still attend high school or if you are already struggling with university. In the end let me know what you think!
5 preliminary tips to study history
Before going into detail on the study methods to improve your results in learning history, here are 5 tips to “warm up” …
1) Make a study plan: Identify how much time you have available. Try to be realistic and remember that you will not live the days that separate you from the exam absorbed only and exclusively by the history books. You may have other exams to prepare or, more simply, you will have work or family commitments that will squeeze a good part of your daily life;
2) Divide history into manageable parts: Can you possibly expect to face 200 years of history in one go? Of course not. So divide the teaching content into smaller sections based on the program you have built. Spend more time in those areas that you think may be more difficult;
3) Collect and analyze what you have: Before starting to study, collect all the information you have on the subject such as the books to prepare for the exam, the notes taken in the classroom, the handouts, the summaries of your colleagues, and so on;
4) Don’t expect too much from yourself: Studying history is certainly not easy (we will be back soon). You will have to deal with hundreds of dates, names, and events. Better then not to expect too much from yourself, especially in the first readings. Simplify the study material you have available by starting with the extrapolation of only the key concepts: you will build your network made of secondary details and concepts later;
5) Give vent to your curiosity: History is a more beautiful material than you think. If there is any aspect of what you are reading that intrigues you, do not delay: deepen it, even if it is treated superficially in the textbook. I am sure it will be useful!
Digest these basic principles; you are ready for some more detailed information.
While it may seem like an obvious concept, never forget that history is a continuous chronology of events, and having the order in which they occur in mind is central to your study.
Unfortunately, for you, the story is full of relationships and details, dates and names. You will find yourself faced with so much information to understand and memorize that … sometimes it will seem impossible to keep them all at bay. How to do it then?
One of the secrets of the university study method for learning history is to establish connections between events. The best way to do this is to start developing an understanding of the big picture, and then work down to the most detailed detail.
So take a first reading of the textbook to fix the most important events and then go down to a deeper level to fit the other events. How do they fit? Why are they important for what is happening in history? What cause-effect links exist in the chronology of events?
If you use this technique, I guarantee that there is nothing (or almost!) That you cannot learn!
Handwriting the most important events
At this point, you should have guessed that the best way to study to memorize key events is to have a clear picture first. In this way, you will be able to graft the details in a more secure way, avoiding that they fall out of your mind in a short time because you are not supported by a solid base.
However, I am also aware that more effective memorization techniques and strategies are sometimes needed. Among these, one of the most useful is to create a small recall table to consult whenever you want: take a sheet of paper and write the date, event and brief description.
In doing so, try using pen and paper, rather than an Excel file: it will help you fix the concepts in a more persistent and sudden way!
I want to give you another gem: did you know that all textbooks have the same structure? Knowing it will really help you revolutionize your study method, Andrea talks about it in this article on the pyramid technique.
Watch historic films and documentaries
Can movies be useful for learning history? The answer is positive but … with some attention.
If watching movies can be an effective method for learning and studying history, it is also true that films are still involved: film adaptations often take a lot of freedom when it comes to respecting the original development of events.
My suggestion is to NOT study from the movies, but watch them anyway as they manage to show you with a greater impact the context in which the events you are studying rotate. You can also try to use the film to stimulate your mental abilities: reconnecting names to faces (however much, of actors!) Can be particularly useful for the effectiveness of your study.
A different story applies to documentaries. Documentaries – especially those broadcast on thematic channels – are generally accurate and can become a good basis for your study.
Again, avoid studying only from these reconstructions, but use them as an extra weapon to unsheathe during the exam.
How to deal with the history book
The history book? It can be a faithful ally or a fearsome enemy. But what distinguishes the former from the latter? Very often, as it happens with people, it all depends on your approach!
If you want to give yourself the opportunity to love the history book, you will necessarily have to learn to approach the study in the correct way.
Start by reading the title of the book, open the volume and look at the titles of the chapters listed in the index. Depending on the type of history book you are reading, the chapter headings will likely be organized in chronological order of events or in an alternative way that will provide you with more information on the structure of the topic. Reading the chapter headings will then give you a quick overview of what the History book wants to teach you.
Before delving into the body of each chapter, take a few more minutes to read the introduction and the conclusion of each one: the introductory part and the conclusion are often the most important and significant parts, because it is here that the author has the habit of providing a summary of the main topics and conclusions reached.
So the time will come to sit and read carefully, examining the key data, the events and the main information, in order not to just repeat the parrot, but to really understand what you are studying.
Small bonus: while reading, try to take notes by briefly writing down your thoughts, your ideas, your intuitions and your doubts at the end of each page or chapter!
How to improve your history class effectiveness
That’s all? Actually no. Because I firmly believe that, much of your results depend on what you do in the classroom, if you have the opportunity to attend lessons.
For example, try to arrive in the classroom after having already read the material on the topics the teacher will talk about: in this way it will be easier to follow and take notes.
Then pay attention to what are the topics that your professor considers most important. Some professors are very direct and will tell you which points and which topics they consider essential while others … will not, leaving you the task of determining which are the most important points that emerged during a lesson. If in doubt, just ask!
Remember that the notes you take in class must be legible and organized, otherwise they will be useless and will only generate confusion and waste of time!
We have seen some strategies on how to study history.
From this you can deduce that each type of topic requires specific strategies , not only that, each of us has its own cognitive style that determines the way we learn and that inevitably must be taken into consideration to optimize our study method.