How to Create an Effective Study Guide PDF

August 26, 2021

Imagine this: the semester is nearly over, and you can almost smell summer vacation or perhaps even the semestrial break. You’re so close to not having to worry about schoolwork, and life is good! But then reality hits you hard—you still have to survive the dreadful final exams before you’re finally free.

Most students don’t like exams, especially those who just ignore their textbooks for the duration of the school year. Having to cram a myriad of information in only a couple of days can be a nightmare, and even the smartest person in your class can succumb to the pressure.

This is where study guides come into play—these guides are more than just an organized collection of your notes. They’re effective study tools that you can customize to fit your learning preferences or studying routine. If you want an effective, tried-and-tested way to pass your exams and receive the best possible grade, you’ve come to the right place.

In this article, along with Lauren Bradshaw (an essay writer from CustomWritings), we’ll provide you with sure-fire tips to help you create your very own study guide. This way, you can easily understand, memorize, and internalize all the information needed for your exam.

What’s a Study Guide?

Before diving right in, let’s first talk about what a study guide is. As we all know, teachers always provide students with test coverage a few weeks before the exam so that they know which topics or concepts they need to specifically focus their time and attention on. Most of the time, the coverage won’t be just one topic—it will range across several topics, making it difficult to learn or re-learn everything in only a couple of weeks.

With a study guide, however, you’ll be able to condense all the necessary or core information into a single source. This allows you to study several topics simultaneously without feeling like you’ll have an information overload. Since study guides are personalized, you can pick and choose how you want it done and what information you’re going to include.

Tips to Create a Successful Study Guide

Fortunately, creating your own study guide isn’t a difficult task. Below, we’ll give you all the tips you need to know.

Start by Changing Your Perspective

Before anything else, you need to change your point of view if you want to create a successful study guide. It’s easy to underestimate study guides because they sound so simple and straight to the point. However, you need to erase from your thoughts the idea that study guides are merely answers to a test.

No—if you want an effective study guide, you need to think of them as more of “questions” for the upcoming test rather than answers. Rest assured that this simple shift in perspective can change and improve your exam preparations.

Organize Your Notes

Now that you’ve changed your perspective, the next thing you need to do is organize the information you want to include in your study guide in a way that makes sense to you and appeals to your learning preferences. For instance, one of the most common study guide types or formats is known as a “summary sheet.”

To create this kind of study guide, you’ll have to arrange your notes conceptually. The first step is to separate your paper or document into two columns. The right column should have more space than the left one.

On the right side, type down the most important information (e.g., concepts, terms, etc.) from each chapter included in the test coverage. Under every concept or term, type down a brief description or summary. You can even include a couple of examples to each item to help you remember or memorize more easily.

Now on the left side—the side with less space—type down cue questions that are relevant to the different information written on the right side. Then, cover up the right side and see if you’re able to answer the cue questions you’ve made without peeking at the answers.

What’s Your Learning Style?

Don’t force yourself to learn in a way that doesn’t fit you, so you need to know on the get-go what your learning style is. Are you a visual learner who remembers things easier by seeing? If so, feel free to include visual aids and images in your study guide. This way, you’re giving yourself the chance to learn in a way that’s comfortable to you.

Prepare for Possible Essay Questions

Many exams have an essay section to them, so you need to prepare for that possibility too. The simplest way to do so is to think of possible essay questions and then come up with answers to those questions beforehand. If a similar question pops up during the actual exam, you’ll be more than ready to scribble well-thought-out answers because you’ve already practiced.

You can try to predict what questions might arise based on previous exams or you can always just copy review questions from your textbook. These are usually printed at the end of each chapter or lesson.

Have a Dedicated Section for Vocabulary

If you know that the test will have a designated section for vocabulary, your study guide must also have a section that focuses on definitions and key terms. In fact, it’s always best to include a vocabulary section in your study guide even if it won’t be in the exam because it’s still vital that you know and understand key terms found in your lessons.

Make Use of Visuals

As mentioned previously, it’s important to include visual aid in your study guide if you’re a visual learner. However, we still highly recommend that you add images and visuals anyway even if you aren’t a visual learner because statistics show that the human brain processes visuals 60,000 times faster than it processes text.

Creating concept maps, charts, graphs, and more and including them in your study guide can help you comprehend all your lessons easily and quickly.

Paraphrase as Much as You Can

When creating your own study guide, it’s important that you don’t copy everything that’s written down in your textbook. When you’re summarizing the information and typing them down in your guide, you should use your own language and phrases instead of using the super technical terms and jargon found in your textbook. This is vital because it’s so much easier for us to remember common words.

Print Out the PDF

Once you’ve typed everything and your study guide is finished, convert the document into PDF and print it out. Read through your study guide through the printed version instead of constantly staring at your laptop or desktop screen. In this way, you can even highlight important information to help you remember them easily.


Studying for exams can be overwhelming, and it causes so much anxiety for students, especially when the professor’s test coverage is quite extensive. However, if you utilize the right kind of approach to studying, you can significantly boost your chances of passing. A study guide is one of the best and most effective study tools out there, and if you’re looking to create your own, feel free to refer to our tips above.

About the Author Prabhakaran

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