How To Make Your Own Useful Study Guide

Author: Ian McAllister

Study Guide

Is a study guide really necessary? Is there even any advantage in having a guide? Well, you know what would happen if you thought “Fire! Ready! Aim!”

Well does this sound familiar? When I got home from school I dashed off my homework, then practiced my violin, harmonium, singing for two choirs, played table tennis, croquet and went out on a date for the evening. Oh, somewhere in that time I had to fit in my evening meal, and washing up afterwards.

Now, where exactly can I cram in some study?

Without a study guide, the answer is nowhere. You must have a systematic plan or you can’t fit everything in.


If you don’t have a target, how can you hit it? My example above is about study for school exams, but you may want to study for one of the following reasons, so you should know how to create a study guide for any of them. Just remember what is your target.

  • College exams
  • University thesis
  • Report on research (includes references to previous research)
  • Writing a book
  • Getting a job
  • Making a speech
  • Making a sale
  • Buying a house
  • Buying a car
  • Emigrating (look before you leap)

Aimless study

Let’s face it, without a study guide we might conscientiously read and re-read the notes that the teachers dictated to us. But let’s do some simple arithmetic. If we spend 20 hours per week listening to the teachers, for 30 weeks each year, that adds up to 1200 hours over two years.

Now if you take as long to read the notes as the lectures took, and you read the notes 10 times that adds up to 12 000 hours. Now if you work 24 hours a day, five days a week, that would take you just on two years to complete!

There must be a better way!

Do you hate study?

Of course you will hate study if you don’t have a good study guide. Humans are naturally inquisitive, and it is only natural for us to enjoy learning things. Our joy in learning is snatched away from us, and replaced by fear and loathing.

We are asked to soak up learning like a sponge, without any active participation. It is hardly surprising that we don’t enjoy the process. We need a good study guide.

We are bad at things that we don’t like, and we don’t like thing that we are bad at, in a vicious circle. If we can find a way out of the vicious circle, we can bring in our hunting instincts. Learning can be an exciting hunt for information, as I have tried to show in my book.

Miscellaneous study considerations

Where to study

You should find a room without distractions, that is silent. The only exception to this is the use of baroque music to help you to learn faster. The important characteristic of baroque music is that there is one beat per second. That beat interacts with your brain to help you to learn faster. Other music doesn’t help you.

I lived in an ancient house with a “secret” passage, that everyone knew about. It had been built so that the owner could smuggle his mistresses in and out without the servants knowing. I put a chair and card table into the secret passage, and did my study there. It was just like Pavlov’s experiments with dogs, as soon as I sat down at the card table my mind knew that it was time to study.

Skylark or Night Owl

When are you at your most alert? That is the time when you should do your study. I started mine 3 hours before breakfast, when everyone else was asleep, which had the added advantage of being nice and quiet.

Rate of forgetting

You soon forget 80% of what you hear. Research on the brain shows how to time your study so as to remember 80% for much longer. Your study guide should explain how to time your study. Search Google for the Pomodoro time management plan and download their free PDF document describing the system. It works for me! You’d be surprised how many interruptions you can eliminate.


A study guide should definitely give you details of how to use graphics in your studies. After all “one picture is worth a thousand words”. I think that this is the most important single item in a study guide

Rewards of your study

You do want some rewards don’t you? If you are studying for a speech, wouldn’t it be grand to have organizers lined up afterwards, inviting you to make more speeches for very high fees?

If you are studying for exams, wouldn’t it be nice to pass the exams and have employers competing for your services? That’s what this site is all about. Best of all, my book tells you what not to study. You can waste most of your time fruitlessly on stuff that you “should” be learning, but will never come up in the exam.