Study Tips for Exams: THE IDEA INDEX

As a student, study tips for exams would be a great help. Since you may be feeling overwhelmed by the volume of chapters that you are required to read. You may also find yourself highlighting passages or paragraphs, but later forget as you prepare for your finals.


A lot of reading blogs have been heavily plugging the Idea Index by Maria Popova, a blogger of Brain Pickings. This was based on an interview she had with the Tim Ferris Show. Unfortunately, none of these articles have described how you can utilize the Idea Index in your studies.


No worries, because I will be discussing the Idea Index, which is one of the essential study tips for exams. How you can use this method to get the most out of your reading will also be discussed further.




What is the Idea Index?

To say that the Idea Index is an “index of ideas” is an oversimplification. Let’s look at it from a more practical standpoint.


When you read a book, you come across interesting quotes or passages that generate ideas inside your head. But once you go beyond a certain passage, you may forget what you have read.


With the Idea Index, you jot down a keyword to describe the idea. Then add the page number of the passage in the front blank pages of the book. You can also add them to the blank pages before or after each chapter. Compared to the regular index, the Idea Index makes it easier for you to find the topics and their related relevant ideas. Given that some school textbooks can be two inches thick or more, the Idea Index makes recalling important ideas, dates, and quotes much easier.


study tips for exams

The Materials You Need to Create an Idea Index

Before we get to the steps of creating your Idea Index, you will need some materials that will help you in making your own.


  1. ) Pen or pencil – for jotting down the keywords and their respective page numbers
  2. ) Highlighters of different colors – for highlighting important ideas, quotes and passages on the book page. If you would rather not highlight your book, you can underline passages with different colors or you can put symbols (Ex. asterisks, slash marks, etc.) before and after a quote.
  3. ) Post-It Index Tabs – these sticky tabs can help you to find the blank pages where you have written the Idea Indices per chapter.
  4. ) Index cards or large Post-It Notes – for those students who don’t want to write down notes even in the blank pages of the book.


How to Make an Idea Index

Below are the study tips for exams with regard to the steps in creating your own Idea Index.


  1. ) Before writing or highlighting anything, flip through your book to find the blank pages where you will write your Idea Index. Mark these blank pages with the Post-It Index Tabs. If you would rather not write in the blank pages, you can stick in large Post-It Notes or tuck in index cards. Even if you use Post-It Notes or index cards, mark their places with the index tabs.
  2. ) If your teacher assigned a chapter for you to read at home, highlight interesting passages or quotes. If there are two or more ideas that are presented in a single page of the book, highlight each of these ideas in a different color.
  3. ) Immediately after highlighting the passage/quote, list down the idea’s keyword in your Idea Index. Then place the page numbers where you can find the quote beside it.
  4. ) If you have highlighted several passages using different colors, list the page number of the quote using the specific color of the highlighter. Or you can simply jot down the page number and just highlight the number with the color of the highlighter that you used for the text you want to recall.
  5. ) At the end of each Idea Index, you can have a section on “Key Takeaways”. These are ideas from your reading that have proven to be of personal insight or inspiration to you. Basically, these ideas don’t fit the topics in your main Idea Index. These key takeaways may include inspiring quotes or funny anecdotes.
  6. ) The following day, when you attend your class, open your textbook to the assigned chapter and its accompanying Idea Index. In your index, underline the keywords and passages that are emphasized by your teacher in class. If there are certain passages which you thought are unimportant but are mentioned by your teacher, highlight the text a different color and note them down below your “Key Takeaways” as a separate section called “Teacher’s Takeaways”.
  7. ) Don’t just limit your Idea Index to keywords and page numbers. You can also add short comments or ideas that have struck you as you have read the particular passage.


You can find more study tips for exams with regard to Idea Indices in The Focus Course.

.study tips for exams

How The Idea Index Can Be Useful in Class and Beyond

The MAIN PURPOSE of the Idea Index is to help you find and recall important topics, facts or other texts in your textbooks. This is one of the study tips for exams that can be very helpful especially if you want to remember where you have read certain facts or explanations. Since you have the page numbers listed, you can easily find the highlighted passages for your review. No need to re-read the entire chapter all over again, especially if it is a long one.


The Idea Index is also useful when your teacher assigns you to do book reports. Make sure first that you have your teacher’s instructions for the book report on hand when you do the index.


For example, one instruction may be to describe the characteristic traits of the main characters. In your Idea Index, jot down the name of the character and the significant passages that describe his/her trait. Beside these passages, enclose in parenthesis the keyword describing the character, such as (hard-working), (envious), or (ambitious).


Some books may summarize the main events as single sentences within the text. Again, jot them down in your index. Since part of a book report is your opinion of what you have read, use the “Key Takeaways” section to note down the page numbers of the passages and paragraphs that have given you the greatest insights and inspiration.


While the volume of books to read in school may seem daunting, study tips for exams such as the Idea Index can help you to recall important passages and facts. It also helps you to emphasize any insights that you have gleaned while reading. This not only aids you in remembering key facts for exams, it also makes the reading process more personal and enjoyable as you draw inspiration and knowledge from your books.

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