Study Tips

All learning boils down to this:  repetition.  The first time you hear something its new.  It might stick, but chances are it will fade from your (short-term) memory.  But as you hear facts over and over again, it begins to get stuck in your (long-term) memory.  The best way to commit information to your mind is to have to apply what you know – by making, doing, or teaching.  With all these things in mind, here are some tried-and-true methods of studying to help make you more successful in this class, and others.

Note Taking

The core of what you will be studying for tests comes from the lecture notes.  Here is how millions of art history students have done it over the centuries:

  • Title
  • Crudely drawn stick-figure image
  • Characteristics
  • Key Information

What information is key?  The following is a list of things, that when being discussed, should trigger in you a sudden urge to first write it down, and then to ask questions to help you understand it better:

  • Characteristics of an artwork
  • Importance of an artwork
  • Iconography
  • Influence
  • How it represents a period, style of art, or artist’s personal style
  • How it reflects the culture/times which produced it
  • New Vocabulary

If you can keep your notes organized and succinct, then they will be an invaluable aid to you.

Think in sentences.  Memorizing words won’t do much.  Memorizing thoughts will do a lot.


Art history is a visual course.  It is very akin to the game of memory.  You will be given a picture (or a name, or a fact, etc) and you have to pull up the needed information from your memory.  What I would do, is every night make a flash card for the artworks which were covered in class.

On the front they could have a cheesy drawing.  I had one girl who went to far as to make Xerox images to attach to the cards, but that seems a bit much.

On the back have the info you are trying to learn.  Name of the piece, century, period, medium, and key facts about the work.

Read at Home

I have talked with students over the years, and this is what they and I have seen.  Those who read the text at home average 10 points more on their test scores than those who don’t.  About 85-90% of my lecture comes directly from your textbook, so using the book to review what has gone on in class will be a big help.

You can’t “just read” however.  That is not enough to help it stick into your memory.  What I would recommend is that as you read, write down important info that is being discussed.  Characteristics of the artwork, how it reflects society, why is it important.  These can be brief quick, outline style notes.  But this added level of repetition really helps.

Reading BEFORE the lecture is phenomenal.  It will boost your understanding of the lecture, it will prompt questions and discussion, which will aid your understanding.

Study Groups

One of the best ways to learn material is to have to teach someone else.  Really.  In order to teach someone, you must have a pretty good understanding of the subject matter.  When you study with a friend, you are in a sense teaching each other.  Your friend understands concept A and you understand concept B.   Between the both of you, you know it all.  Help each other study and learn.

Study groups are the heart of most college courses, and a strong survival strategy.  Exchange emails with people in your class on the first day!

When you meet for a study group, everyone should bring the following:  notes, a textbook or two to be shared, old tests, flashcards, and every question they have.  Actually write down questions you have about material to bug your study group with.  When you meet, ask each other questions! And if you have none, then quiz each other over the material.

And remember that study groups are two things:  serious business, and snacking.  And with a Starbucks finally in Killeen, as well as Dave’s pizza rolls, well there are no limits to what can be done, and you will feel “big time college student” in no time!  And by the way study groups can meet anytime, anywhere – you don’t have to wait until the day before the test to try to have one.

Type Your Notes

I have had several students who swear by this.  In class they hand-write their notes.  Then that night they will go home and type up what was covered in class.  As they type their notes they are able to drop out stuff they think is unimportant, clarify what they think was important, and find things they should ask questions about because they don’t quite understand it.  The act of typing your notes is also a form of repetition, and works well when done so quickly after initially hearing the information.


Sometimes the information which is bugging you can be attacked using a graphic means of learning.  For example, quite often students have trouble distinguishing between two different styles of architecture, or learning different periods of art and what centuries they cover.  These questions could be attacked by making charts like these:

Characteristics of

Romanesque Architecture

Characteristics of

Gothic Architecture

Rounded arches Pointed arches
Thick walls Thin walls
Buttresses Flying buttresses
Limited height Soaring height
Dark Light filled, stain glass


Early Christian Early Byzantine Middle Byzantine Late Byzantine
1st-6th centuries 6th-8th centuries 9th-12th centuries 13th – 15th centuries
Christ as Sol Invictus Theotokos Vladimir Virgin Trinity Icon
Christ as the Good Shepherd Barberini Ivory Paris Psalter Anastasis

Remember that the point of making charts like these are twofold:  They allow you to create an organized way to study what is troubling you, and the act of making them is repetition, helping you to get the information to stick.

Keep and Correct Old Tests

You will get to keep almost every test you take in this class, and every answer sheet will be returned to you with the correct answers marked.  Make use of this!  Chances are when it comes to nine-weeks or semester tests, you will see this information again.  Also, by correcting a test the same day you get it back, you can help ensure that you correct any thing you were confused about, or perhaps had been learning incorrectly.

Find Your Style!

If you did every single one of these techniques, you would become an all-powerful force in art history.  You would also have no life, and probably be failing all your other classes.  Everyone learns differently and had different time constraints placed on them.  What you need to do as a student is to figure out which of these techniques works best for you, and then use that technique.  If you have time, or are having a particularly difficult time with some concept, then you may want to dip back into the pool and add on one of these other techniques.

But by no means would I try to do ALL of these.  What you want is quality, not quantity.  Find the method which works best for you.

Some of these techniques might be pretty new to you.  Anytime you try a new method of studying you need to try if for a while to see if it is truly helpful or not.  You can never learn anything from a single trial.

And if there is something that works for you, and isn’t listed here . . share!  Reply with your ideas below!

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