Studying Tips

Tips for Effective Study

The most common barrier to success encountered by college students is a lack of effective techniques for study and exam preparation. If you are one of the vast majority of students whose answer to the question, "How do you study for your tests?" is, "I go over my notes," then you need to take a serious look at your study skills. Here are some suggestions to increase your effectiveness as a student.

Taking Good Notes:

Very few students leave high school with this skill. Here are some suggestions and observations.

1.  Always take the notes for a particular class in the same notebook. Spiral bound notebooks were invented because they solved the problem of keeping related information consolidated in one place. Take advantage of this.

2.  Date and number each page in your notebook.  This gives you guidance as to when the work took place and allows you to reassemble the notes should they become disorganized.

3.  Your notes should contain as complete a record of what the instructor said as possible. Of course, you should not try to write every word spoken, but don't leave out ideas. When you study, your notes should call back to your mind the entire sequence of ideas presented. Take care to spell all new words carefully. It you don't know how to spell a word, ask your instructors to write it on the board.

4.  Anything the instructor writes on the board should appear in your notes. If the instructor took the time to write it out, he or she considers it important. You should do the same.

5.  If possible, try to take your notes in some kind of outline form. The organization of ideas is as important as the content of those ideas, especially when it comes to learning the material for an exam.

6.  You might find it useful to have a second color of pen or pencil available for highlighting important ideas or indicating vocabulary.  Use color to differentiate by theme.  For example, use green for money, pink for women’s study, blue for trade.


Be an active Learner:

Be involved in your classes. Don't simply pretend you are a sponge, ready to soak up whatever the instructor says. You are there to learn, not to be taught.

1.  If the instructor is moving too rapidly for you, or if you don't understand what is being said, say something!

2.  Ask questions if you are confused. Confusion is definitely your worst enemy.

3.  If your class includes group activities, participate as fully as you can. Such exercises are done for your benefit, not to provide a break for the instructor

 

Review your notes:

Review your notes every day. This suggestion is one which we have all heard a thousand times. Unfortunately, most of us never really believe it until we actually try it. Spend 30 minutes or so each evening going over the notes from each class. There are at least two tremendous benefits to be gained from this discipline

1.  Research has shown that reviewing new material within 24 hours of hearing it increases your retention of that material by about 60%. This means that you will be 60% ahead of the game the next time you walk into class. If you want to significantly reduce the time necessary to prepare for exams, this is the way to do it

2.  Reviewing material before the next class period enables you to identify points of confusion or omission in your notes, which prepares you to ask the questions you need to ask before the next lecture. Again, confusion is your worst enemy.


Keep up with Your Reading:

1.  It is excellent policy to give high priority to new vocabulary. Language is the most fundamental tool of any subject, and it can seriously handicap you to fall behind in this.

2.  Keep up on your reading. Unlike most high school teachers, many college instructors don't give specific reading assignments. You are expected to go to your text for the reading related to the materials covered in class. Be independent enough to do this without being told.

Using Your Textbook:

 Don't expect your instructor to give you detailed, page by page textbook assignments. While some may do so, many do not. College teachers are much more likely to expect you to use your own initiative in making use of the text.

 In most cases, it will be most useful for you to at least skim the relevant chapters before each lecture. You should receive a course outline/syllabus at the beginning of the quarter, which will tell you the subject for each day. You may receive chapter references (or even page references), or you instructor may expect you to be perceptive enough to refer to the Table of Contents.

 1.  When you first approach a chapter, page through it fairly quickly, noting boldface headings and subheadings, examining figures, illustrations, charts, etc., and thinking about any highlighted vocabulary terms and concepts. Also take note of the pedagogical aids at the end of the chapter--study questions, summary, etc.

 2.  When you have finished surveying the chapter, return to the beginning and read in more detail. Remember to concentrate upon understanding. Don't simply read through the words. Any words which you don't understand you should look up. If you own the book and intend to keep it, you may want to write definitions of such words in the margins. You may also find it helpful to make observations and other useful notes in the margins. If you don't intend to keep the book yourself, you should carry out similar activities on a page in your class notebook.

 3.  On this first trip through the chapter, you should concentrate upon catching the major subjects and points of the material. Also take note of those things which you don't understand. If the lecture on the material doesn't clarify those points, you should ask your instructor to explain.

 4.  Following coverage of the chapter's material in class, you should go back to the book and read it again. It will probably be helpful to skim through it first, as you did when you first looked at it. The tables and figures should be more readily read in detail. If you are a truly conscientious student, you will outline the chapter and prepare a vocabulary list of the terms which are pertinent.

 5.  At this time you should think seriously about the review and study questions at the end of the chapter or on any available companion websites. Do your best to answer all of them as if they were a take-home exam.

 

Preparing Assignments

 1.  Here's another thing we have all been told thousands of times: Don't leave assignments until the day before they are due! If you have a paper to write or a lab report to prepare, begin it as soon as possible.  Remember that many papers or projects require quite a bit of research before you can even begin writing. In most cases, it is impossible to accomplish the necessary preparation in one day or even one week. In some cases, instructors won't accept late work at all. They are perfectly justified.

 2.  Another sore point: Be aware of the appearance of the work you submit. You should want to be proud of every assignment you submit, and that includes being proud of its appearance. Pages torn out of notebooks are sloppy and unsightly. Think about this point every time you hand an instructor an assignment, “Does this assignment represent my best abilities…if not…do better.”

 

Preparing for Exams:

 1.  Keep in mind that you want to be an active learner, not a passive one. The more you use and manipulate the information, the better you will understand it. Using and manipulating information in as many ways as possible also maximizes your ability to access your memory.

 2.  Do not wait until the night before an exam to study! Of course, you should be regularly reviewing your notes, but the preparation still takes time.

 3.  If your instructor hasn't explained to you how he or she designs exams, ask. This is a perfectly legitimate concern. However, keep in mind that an instructor has the right to design exams in whatever fashion he or she sees fit, and in most cases you have no business asking for changes in that design. You need to learn to handle all testing styles--including the dreaded essay exam!

 4.  A good first step in preparation is to read through your notes a couple of times. While you are doing this, you might also Highlight major topics and subtopics, with the goal of generating an outline of your notes. Even if you take your notes in outline form, this is a good practice. Major topics often extend through more than one day's lecture, and it is easy to lose track of the overall picture from day to day.

 5.  With a second color, highlight all vocabulary terms.

6.  Outline the entire set of notes. When you study a large body of information, you should study from concept to detail, not the other way around. It will, in fact, be much easier to learn the details if you take the time to learn the concept and theory first. The least efficient approach to studying is to attempt to memorize your notes from beginning to end. It's not the words which are important--it's the ideas

 7.  Consider ways of dealing with the information other than those used in class. The more ways you can manipulate and experience the material you are trying to learn, the more secure your understanding and memory will be. Some suggestions:

- Make charts, diagrams and graphs.

- Make lists.

- If the subject matter includes structures, practice drawing those structures. Remember that a drawing is useless unless the important structures are labeled.

- There are almost always types of information which you will have to memorize (eg. vocabulary). No one has ever invented a better device for memorizing than flash cards.

- One of the most universally effective ways to polish off your study activities is to prepare a self-test.  As you are studying, keep a running collection of "exam questions." If you seriously attempt to write difficult and meaningful questions, by the time you finish you will have created a formidable exam. When you begin to feel you're ready for your instructor's exam, take out your questions and see if you can answer them. If you can't, you may need to go back and reinforce some of the things you are trying to learn.

 8.  Never, ever pull an "All-Nighter" on the night before an exam. Research shows that this is the least effective way to study.  Try not to "cram" during every spare moment before an exam. This only increases the feeling of desperation which leads to panic, and then to test anxiety.

 9.  Be physically prepared.  Get a good breakfast before your exam and get a good night sleep before your exam.

 

Some Final Suggestions:

 1.  You should receive a syllabus for each class. This is the Rule Book for that class (in my classes, we call it the Survival Manual). Know everything on that syllabus! Your teacher has the right to expect you to know and abide by any rules and stipulations on that document, and it is perfectly within his/her rights to penalize you for failing to do so. Respect dates and deadlines, and expect to lose points if you turn things in late.

 2.  Never miss an exam if you can help it. You will rarely be more ready for the exam in two or three days than you are on the scheduled date, and the annoyance the teacher will feel about having to arrange a special exam time for you can actually hurt your grade in the end. Miss exams only if you absolutely have to.

 3.  Save everything. Never throw away a handout or a returned assignment or exam. Keep your class materials together and neat.

 

4.  It is excellent practice to set aside a study area at home, and to designate a particular span of time each day as study time. However, don't fall into the trap of feeling that study should never exceed the preordained time limits. You put in as much study time as is necessary to master the material for your cl