How to Study History Terms

How to Study History Terms
John Parrot/Stocktrek Images/Getty Images

When you study terms and definitions for a history exam, the best way to make the information stick is to understand your terms in context or understand how each new vocabulary word relates to other new words and facts.

In high school, your teachers will cover what happened in history. As you move on to college history courses, you will be expected to know why an event happened and the reasons each event is important. This is why history tests contain so many essays or long-answer questions. You have a lot of explaining to do!

Gather History Terms

Sometimes a teacher will give students a study guide that contains a list of possible terms for the test. More often than not, the list will be long and intimidating. Some of the words may seem brand new to you!

If the teacher doesn't provide a list, you should come up with one yourself. Go through your notes and the chapters to come up with a comprehensive list.

Don't be overwhelmed by a long list of terms. You'll see that they quickly become familiar once you start to review your notes. The list will seem shorter and shorter as you study.

First, you'll need to locate the terms in your class notes. Underline them or circle them, but don't use a colored highlighter just yet.

  • Review your notes and see which terms appeared on the same day or lecture. Establish relationships between the terms. How are they connected?
  • Pretend that you are writing a news report on the event or topic and write a paragraph that contains three or four of those terms. Your paragraph should contain a date and the names of any important person who might be related to the significance of the events or terms (like a president).
  • Keep writing paragraphs until you use up your terms. You can re-use a term if one term fits well with two or more clumps. This is a good thing! The more you repeat a term, the more you'll understand its significance.

Once you have finished making and reading over your paragraphs, find a way to utilize your best learning style.

Study Tips

Visual: Go back to your notes and use a highlighter to connect your terms. For example, highlight each term in one paragraph green, highlight terms from another paragraph yellow, etc.

Make a list of significant people and places for each event situated on the timeline. Then draw a blank timeline and fill in the details without looking at your original. See how much material you retained. Also, try putting the timeline on post-it notes and paste them around your room. Walk around and actively note each event.

Keep in mind that it's not useful to memorize a large catalog of notes on a topic. Rather, it's more effective to establish a connection between the facts. Think about events in a logical order to help you understand them, and consider the use of mind maps, a hierarchical diagram used to visually organize information.

Auditory: Find a recording device to record yourself as you read over each paragraph slowly. Listen to your recording several times.

Tactile: Make flashcards by putting all the terms on one side of a card and the entire paragraph on the flip side. Or put a question on one side (eg, What year did the Civil War take place?) and then the answer on the other side to test yourself.

Repeat your process until every term seems completely familiar to you. You'll be ready to answer individual definitions, long and short answer questions, and essay questions!

mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Fleming, Grace. "How to Study History Terms." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, Fleming, Grace. (2020, August 26). How to Study History Terms. Retrieved from Fleming, Grace. "How to Study History Terms." ThoughtCo. (accessed February 6, 2023).