Your study approach should be designed to meet the requirements of the class.
It should also meet the testing needs of the course.
If the course is one that emphasizes ideas and concepts, it is most important to
read, to discuss and to work on understanding. Some classes, however, teach
new vocabulary as much as new ideas. These courses will require a certain
amount of memorizing. Courses in the physical sciences, biological sciences,
statistics, etc. fall into this category, especially at the introductory level. The
problem is that professionals in these areas speak a common, unique language
and if you are going to understand what they write or talk about, you will need
to know their language. It's much like teaching a little child to talk. You
point to your nose and say "nose", to your mouth and say "mouth". After you
have done it dozens of times, when you point, the child can correctly identify
mouth from nose, etc.
Regardless of what you believe about being able to memorize, you CAN learn
to do it for course survival. You did learn to speak as a little child, to
differentiate apple from pear, nose from mouth, and the idea here is much the
- When you get ready to study, chose a place that is well lit, quiet, allows
you to organize your materials, and is free of distractions.
- Leave the snacks for another time and place.
- Use a table and a chair - they convey a message - work.
- Although it is not always possible, try to schedule your study times when
you tend to be at your best: if you are a morning person, try to study in the
morning, etc. Many students today have many responsibilities, work,
children, etc. in addition to study. Consequently, sometimes you must
simply learn to make the most of the time you do have.
- Try to develop a study schedule. Make a time chart up for the entire week.
Fill in the "must do" first: class hours, work hours, meals, sleep, travel time,
etc. In the blanks that are left, fill in specific study times. For example you
have an hour open on Mondays from 9 to 10 AM. Every Monday from 9 to
10 AM you will study psychology. You have a blank time on Mondays
from 1:30 to 3 PM. Every Monday from 1:30 to 3 PM you will do algebra.
- The rule of thumb for developing a study schedule is that for every hour in
class, you need AT LEAST two hours of study time to get an average
grade if you are of average ability. It takes more to get a higher grade.
It's a good idea to remember that this is just a base line - some courses will
require much more than that if you are going to survive.
- If your class is a lab class and you have lab reports to do, you might want to
schedule a separate time for those assignments.
- When you develop your study schedule, remember that your brain pays
attention for about 50 to 60 minutes and then begins to "spin wheels".
Consequently, schedule 60 minute sessions, take a 10 minute break, then
another 60 minute session, etc. You will accomplish far more and
remember it better.
- Make sure your lecture notes are complete, correct, and neat. One easy
way to do this is to pool your lecture notes with several other students in
- When you take lecture notes - or when you recopy notes - leave spaces for
visual cues. That way, when you look at your notes, your eye will focus on
one piece of information at a time and that's exactly how much your brain
can handle at a time.
- Break your lecture notes or study material into small discrete units.
- When you begin to memorize, take one item at a time. Repeat it out loud
to yourself or to the wall until you can say it without looking at your notes.
When you are comfortable with that piece of information, go on to the next
and do the same thing: repeat it to the wall until you can say it without
looking at your notes.
When you can say item 2 without looking at it, see if you can still say item
1 (practice it a few more times if you need to), say item 2, and then go on to
item 3. Repeat the process: practice 3, review 1, review 2, review 3, then
go on to item 4. Continue in that manner until you have 5 or 6 items on
your list. By that time you should have item 1 down and you can eliminate
it when you go on to the next item. As you add an item, eliminate the one
at the top. Repeating short pieces of information over and over tends to
convert short term memory to long term memory.
- Simply memorizing lecture material can be frustrating - and it may mean a
whole lot when you are done. However, be patient. As you continue in
lecture and use the vocabulary more and more, it will fall into place.
Another good idea for making all that vocabulary make sense is to read as
much material that utilizes the vocabulary as you can. Your text book,
current articles, or reference materials will help.
- A good study technique is to study with someone else at least once in a
while. Everyone has their own style and personality. At the very least, try
to find someone who can quiz you on vocabulary or on basic concepts. If
you can explain it to someone else, you can put it down on paper for a test.
- If you don't have someone to quiz you, write down your own tests, take
them, and then grade them. Once you have taken a couple of classroom
tests, you should be able to figure out the type of questions the teacher asks.
Write similar types of questions. You might want to try taking oral tests.
Use a tape recorder, tape your answers, and then listen to it and grade it.
- Some students find recopying notes after a lecture a valuable study tool. It
helps them organize their thoughts, makes notes more legible, and helps
them figure out what they don't understand so they can ask about it in class.
Writing helps reinforce what you are trying to learn. It is an active
process and some people are active learners (an activity will engrave it in
their brain faster than just saying it).
- Flashcards were designed years ago to help brand new learners break
large amounts of information into recognizable units. It also makes
association easier. The same concept applies in vocabulary intense courses.
Make your own flashcards. Use index cards; put a term on one side and the
definition on the other. Keep the cards simple; you can add details after you
have learned the basics. (flashcards make it easy for someone who has no
idea of what you are doing to quiz you for basic vocabulary)
- Do not put off study. If you are pressed for time, work on at least
something from your notes. That way you won't backlog as badly.
Unfortunately, when you backlog, you most frequently play catch up by
pulling an all nighter the night before an exam. You may do really well on
the exam, but long term memory will not be there.
- Make use of any time you can. Carry around a few flashcards and any
time you have a minute, work on a new vocabulary word. If you tape
lecture notes, listen to the tapes when you drive. If you have to do a lot of
driving, make study tapes. Put some of your lecture material on tape and
then practice it as you drive.
- Attitude is most important. Develop a sense of self confidence in what
you do know well.