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Study Skills

When to Study

  • Find out how you use and misuse your time before making any changes.
  • Plan two hours of study time for every hour spent in class. There are exceptions, but this is a good general rule. Students making the transition from high school or community college are often unaware of the increased workload expected of them. The benefits of following the rule will be apparent at exam time.
  • Study difficult (or boring) subjects first. If your chemistry problems put you to sleep, get to them first, while you are fresh. Most of us tend to do what we like first, yet the courses we find most difficult require the most creative energy. Save the subjects you enjoy for later.
  • Avoid scheduling marathon study sessions
    When possible, study in shorter sessions. Three three-hour sessions are far more productive for most students than one nine-hour session. When you do study in long sessions, take a planned break every hour. Work on several subjects and avoid studying similar subjects back to back.
  • Be aware of your best time of day.
    Many students learn best in daylight hours. Observe yourself and, if this is true of you, schedule study time for your most difficult subjects when the sun is up. The key point is to determine your best learning time. If early morning doesn't work for you, find out what time is better.
  • Use waiting time.
    Five minutes waiting time for the bus, 20 minutes waiting for the dentist, 10 minutes between classes — waiting time adds up fast. Have short study tasks ready to do during these times. For example, carry 3X5 cards with equations, formulas, or definitions and pull them out anywhere. Also, use time between classes or breaks during work to review class notes or notes on reading. A solid review of a lecture can be completed in 15 minutes, and even five minutes can be valuable if you are prepared.
  • Keep a calendar for the semester.
    Keep track of all your assignments, tests, and papers.
  • Make a weekly to-do list of important tasks and assignments that you need to complete.
    Be sure to prioritize the list and to do the most important tasks first.

Where to Study

  • Use a regular study area.
    Your body knows where you are. When you use the same place to study, day after day, your body becomes trained. When you arrive at that particular place, it will automatically sense that it's time to study. You will focus your concentration more quickly.
  • Don't get too comfortable.
    Put yourself into a situation where your mind is alert.
  • Use the library.
    Libraries are designed for learning. Entering a library is a signal to your body to quiet the mind and get to work. Most students can get more done in a shorter time at the library.
  • Set up study groups.
    A study group doesn't take the place of individual study, but it forces you to articulate concepts and makes a review more fun and productive. Also, it helps keep your review on schedule and helps you to avoid procrastination.

How to Handle the Rest of the World

  • Pay attention to your attention.
    Breaks in concentration are often caused by internal interruptions; your own thoughts jump in to tell you another story about the world. If this happens too often, perhaps you need to find a different study time or place.
  • Agree with living mates about study time.
    This includes roommates, wives, husbands, parents, and/or kids. Make the rules clear and be sure to follow them yourself. Make explicit agreements — even written contracts. Hang a "do not disturb" sign on your door. One student always wears a colorful hat when he wants to study. When his roommates see the hat, they respect his wish to be left alone.
  • Avoid noise distractions.
    Don't study in front of the TV. Turn off the stereo. Many students insist that they study better with music, and that may be true. Some students have reported good results with carefully selected and controlled music. The overwhelming majority of research indicates that silence is the best form of music for study.
  • Notice how others misuse your time.
    Be aware of repeat offenders. Ask yourself if there are certain friends or relatives who consistently interrupt your study time. If avoiding them is impractical, send a clear (but gentle) message. Sometimes others don't realize they are breaking your concentration.
  • Get off the phone.
    You don't have to be a telephone victim. Try saying, "I can't talk right now, I'm studying" or leave your answering machine on. Or avoid the whole problem by studying at the library.
  • Learn tosay no.
    This is a valuable time saver for students, and a valuable life skill. Many people feel it is rude to refuse a request. Saying "no" can be done effectively and courteously. Others want you to succeed as a student. When you tell them that you can't comply with a request because you are busy educating yourself, 99% will understand.

Effective Note-Taking

  • Lecture styles vary greatly from speaker to speaker. Some lecturers are beautifully organized, some ramble, some present an hour of anecdotes and leave the student to determine their significance. It is imperative that you figure out a lecturer's style. In the case of the rambler or storyteller, you may find yourself at the end of an hour with only a sentence or two written down. Check with other students, but don't be surprised if it works out that your sentences do, indeed, represent the crucial points of the lecture.

Purposes of Note-Taking

  1. In order to take efficient notes, the student is forced to listen carefully and critically to what is being said.
  2. Taking notes aids comprehension and retention. Personal notes in one's own writing are easier to understand and remember than textbook material.
  3. Lecture notes should represent a concise and complete outline of the most important points and ideas, especially those considered most important by the professor.
  4. Lecture notes clarify ideas not fully understood in the text or elaborate on things that the text mentions only briefly.
  5. Lecture notes combined with notes from textbook material are an excellent source of review. They provide a gauge to what is important in the textbook.
  6. A frequent complaint of students is that they are unable to determine during the lecture what is important and what might just as well be left out. These students may attempt to write down every word uttered by the professor, combining page after page of isolated facts and details but missing a more general understanding of the material, as they are too busy writing to listen. The following are some suggestions to aid the student in taking efficient lecture notes.

Before the Lecture

The single most important thing you can do is to read or skim the text prior to attending the lecture. This will enable you to:

  1. Get the general overview of main ideas, secondary points, and important concepts. Listen with understanding and determine what is relevant and irrelevant.
  2. Identify familiar terms with unfamiliar terms and concepts.
    1. Look up the terms before class.
    2. Listen for an explanation during the lecture.
    3. Ask the professor or TA for an explanation.
  3. Note portions of the material that are unclear.
    1. Listen for an explanation during the lecture.
    2. Develop questions to ask in class.
  4. Look for other gaps in information that should be clarified or filled in.

During the Lecture Structure and Organization

Each student should develop his own method of taking notes, however, the following suggestions may be helpful.

  1. Keep a separate section of your notebook or binder for each course. If there are several types of notes for one course, such as lecture notes, notes on outside readings, and computation of problems, you may want to arrange them on opposite pages for purposes of cross-reference.
  2. Notes for each lecture should begin on a new page. This makes for a greater legibility and allows for more freedom in organization.
  3. Date your lecture notes and number all pages.
  4. Make your notes brief.
    1. Never use a sentence when you can use a phrase, or a phrase when you can use a word.
    2. Use abbreviations and symbols wherever possible.
  5. Put most notes in your own words. However, the following should be noted exactly:
    1. Formula
    2. Definitions
    3. Specific facts
  6. Note your lecturer's chief pattern. S/he may be summarizing the text and highlighting important points, or trying to draw relationships between new and previous understandings. S/he may expect you to get the textbook material on your own while he discusses related outside material.
    1. If s/he is highlighting the text, take down explanations and examples. Seeing a concept stated in more than one way can help you understand it.
    2. If s/he draws relationships and asks questions, note the questions and answers. If s/he doesn't give the answers, try to find them after class.
  7. Don't worry about outlining, but use indentations to distinguish between major and minor points. Numbers and letters may be added later if you wish. However, if the lecturer says s/he will make four or five points, list four or five causes, etc., be sure to use numbers as a check on having taken them all down.
  8. Note down unfamiliar vocabulary and unclear areas. If the lecturer discusses something you don't understand, take it down as best and as completely as you can. Then you can check with the text or at least know what questions to ask if getting help from someone else. If your instructor knows just what you don't understand, s/he's in a position to help you.
  9. If you should miss something completely, leave a blank space and get it later.
  10. Use margins for questions, comments, notes to yourself on unclear material, etc.
  11. Develop a code system of note-marking to indicate questions, comments, important points, due dates of assignments, etc. This helps separate extraneous material from the body of notes and also helps point out areas that are unclear. Margins are excellent places for coded notations. Some suggested codes are: ? - not clear at time of lecture Imp. or ! - important Q - questions * - assignment C - comment(student's own)
  12. Attempt to differentiate fact from opinion. Content.
  13. Notes should include all main ideas and enough subordinate points to clarify understanding.
  14. All formulae, rules, definitions, and generalizations should be included.
  15. Inclusion of the speaker's illustrations and examples may help clarify concepts when notes are reviewed.
  16. Marginal notes facilitate speedy location of specific items.
  17. Instructors usually give clues as to what is important to take down:
    1. previews and summaries
    2. material written on blackboard, other visual aids
    3. repetition
    4. vocal emphasis
    5. questions asked of the class
    6. word clues: four causes of; four aspects of; therefore; in conclusion; and so we see; hence; in a like manner; on the other hand; however; cause-effect; relationships; etc.

After the Lecture

Go over your notes as soon as possible after the lecture.

  1. Clear up illegibilities in writing, check for errors, fill in further facts and examples while the lecture is still fresh in your mind. At this point you should clear up misunderstandings or fill in missing information by consulting the lecturer, TA, classmates, the texts, or additional readings.
  2. Immediate review is essential to retention. Unless you review within 24 hours after lecture or at least before the next lecture, retention will drop sharply and you will be relearning rather than reviewing.
  3. Merely recopying notes without thinking about or revising them does not necessarily aid retention. A more helpful practice is to manipulate the material by reorganizing it and putting it in your own words. For a well-organized lecture, an outline can suffice, but in the case of material where important ideas and relationships are scattered throughout, there is a technique called mapping which can be very useful in restructuring and putting together the relevant points. The use of this technique forces you to critically evaluate material in terms of main ideas, secondary points, and details, and to structure this content in an organized and coherent fashion. Relationships must be observed and established, irrelevant material may be excluded. This can be one of the most efficient means of immediate review for optimal retention.
(adopted from: Becoming a Master Student, by David Ellis (College Survival, Inc. 1984)).

Suggestions for Success in Studying

Take the FREE Learning Styles Quiz to find out how you learn best.

A few study tips
  1. Choosing Your Course Work
    1. Consult your advisor to be certain you need the course
    2. Sign up for the courses within your academic reach.
      1. Have the proper foundation.
    3. Be positive about learning. Resign yourself to do your best whether you like the course or not!
    4. Wishing to succeed does not produce results by itself. You must study and practice!
  2. Preparing to Study
    1. Find a good place and a good time to study each day. Be rested. Use your most efficient time to study if possible.
    2. Use necessary tools, e.g. a dictionary and a calculator.
    3. Have plenty of paper, scrap paper and pencils.
    4. Plan what you intend to do and DO IT.
      1. Setting and accomplish small goals initially helps to build confident.
      2. Recognize daydreaming and inefficiency. More time spent does not necessarily guarantee a better grade.
      3. Don't expect to learn the material the night before the exam.
  3. Techniques of Study - Takes time and work.
    1. General Studying - Study daily
      1. Familiarize yourself with the general topic-skim read.
      2. Attend lectures. Missing a lecture is like missing a step on a ladder.
    2. Sit up front and listen.
    3. Note the instructor's emphasis
    4. Take complete good notes.
      Review the lecture with a friend in an informal coffee hour immediately after the lecture if possible to fill in gaps. Your participation is important.
      1. Prepare outline of the chapter.
      2. Do homework.
      3. Do laboratory work.
  4. General Considerations in Studying.
    1. Balance your work. Don't' spend all your time study one subject
    2. Put forth a consistent effort. Don't cram unless you have to do it. Study regularly. Be rested for exams.
    3. Ask for help if and when you needed. Don't put it off.
    4. Be ENTHUSIASTIC in whatever you do!
Adapted from: Suggestions for Success in Studying, prepared by Katherine Weissmen, Instructor of Chemistry, C.S. Mott Community College.
September 3, 2019
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