Building Effective Study Skills
There are several factors that contribute to good study skills. Each one is essential to making the most effective use of your valuable time. Taken together, they will help you build a solid foundation for improving your academic performance and achieving your goals.
First, let’s review the basic Elements of Learning you need to cultivate in order to become a successful student:
Knowing – recalling specific information from memory
Comprehending – understanding concepts in your own words
Applying - using concepts appropriately in new situations
Analyzing - understanding the relationships between ideas
Synthesizing – bringing all the elements into a comprehensive whole
Evaluating - forming an opinion and justifying it through persuasive argument
To master all of these elements requires that you practice effective study skills.
- Read the syllabus for each class very carefully.
- Be sure you understand the flow of the course – how concepts build upon one another, when assignments are due and the calendar for exams.
- Determine what needs to be done and when it must be completed.
- Buy a calendar/planner and enter all your study time and assignment due dates. Include class time and your outside activities. Check it every morning and evening to see what lies ahead. You’d be surprised how much this kind of constant review of your time commitments will keep you on track.
- Prioritize your list of things to do. Continue to prioritize as events change.
- Make extra time to finish each assignment, allowing for new questions, more research, distractions and proofreading.
Place to study, time for study
- Find a place that is quiet and conducive to concentration. Avoid places that you know will be full of distractions. You won’t learn anything unless you can focus and think.
- Choose a time of day to study when you are most alert. Studying when you’re tired, sleepy or hungry is not an efficient use of your time.
- Make a commitment to stick to your study schedule. Every time you compromise this commitment, you sacrifice doing your best.
- Turn off your cell phone ringer. Interruptions really break your flow of concentration.
- Try to keep worries or problems away from your study time as much as possible.
Taking notes in class
- Sit in front of the class. This will improve your alertness.
- Learn to focus your attention in class. Review material before class. Look ahead in your syllabus so you’ll know what’s going to be covered.
- Listen for verbal and visual cues from your professor about important information.
- Ask questions. Stay involved with the material.
- Develop your own shorthand and system of organizing new topics so you can keep up with the lecture. Emphasize passages in the margins.
- Review and highlight notes at the end of the day. Keep track of questions you have about the material and pursue them.
- Pay close attention to Chapter titles, headings and illustrations. Make sure you can address the main topics when you are finished reading.
- Be an active reader. What is the author’s point of view? Formulate questions as you go along. Write them down and research the answers.
- Emphasize important information by underlining or using a highlighter pen.
- Take notes when you are reading complex material. Review your notes at the start of each study session.
- Outline concepts using tables, flowcharts and diagrams to capture similarities, contrasts, logical flow, timeframes or cause and effect.
- Synthesize what you are reading with what you learning in class lectures and study sections. How does it all fit together?
- Clarify ideas and put them in your own words so you understand more readily and retain more information. At the same time, work on building your vocabulary. Always look up words you don’t know and see how they are applied in the context of what you’re reading.
- Identify any lingering questions or misunderstandings you may have about the material. Talk to your professor or teaching assistant to learn the correct answers.
- Find out what kind of help is available to you: professors, teaching assistants, campus learning centers, departmental tutoring resources, study groups, dorm resources.
- Get help as soon as you start to have any doubts about mastering the material. Many students wait too long and then it becomes very difficult to catch up.
- Look for campus workshops that will help improve your study skills.
- Always check in with your professors if there are key concepts that you do not understand.
Preparing for exams
- Be sure you are clear about what material will be covered in the exam.
- What kind of exam will it be - essay, multiple choice, short answer, lab practicum, oral?
- Plan your time very carefully to avoid cramming, which increases stress. Most students seriously underestimate the time it takes to study effectively.
- Review your notes and test your understanding by writing out your answers or reciting them to a study partner.
- Get involved in study groups early in the semester and plan special sessions to prepare for exams.
- Use mnemonic devices or associations that will help you remember information more readily.
- Be sure you can apply the knowledge you’ve studied. This takes more time than memorizing. Challenge yourself and practice your answers until they come easily to you.
- Save all your study notes to prepare for final exams and for future coursework that builds upon the subject matter.
Taking an exam
- Get to class on time. Rushing to an exam is unsettling and may throw you off during the first crucial minutes of an exam.
- Take the time to know what causes you anxiety and avoid those behaviors.
- Glance over the test and immediately start to plan your approach. Maybe you’ll answer the questions you know for sure first or maybe you’ll start with the questions that have the highest number of points or will take the longest. Stay confident throughout. You’ve taken the time to prepare and you are ready for this exam.
- Read each question carefully and be sure you’re answering the question.
- Stay aware of the time. Leave some time at the end to review your answers and make any necessary corrections.
- Ask questions if something isn’t clear.
- Jot down notes on the test in pencil to stimulate your memory. You can return to them later and amplify.
- While you are taking an exam, stay completely focused on the answers, not on the outcome.
- Breathe. Never underestimate the power of releasing tension.
Reviewing your exam results
- Always go over your exam results very closely. Reinforce your correct answers and take the time to research the incorrect answers.
- Check in with faculty and teaching assistants for help about how to improve your performance.
- Use previous exams to review for your finals.
You can see how all of these tools work together to continually reinforce and expand your knowledge over time. Remember, the goal is always to develop your deep understanding of the many subjects you’re studying. These tools will help you do that most effectively.
Stay focused on your goals and priorities. Come back to these tips and tools whenever you feel the need to boost your motivation and discipline. And always help your fellow students and study partners stay committed to doing to your best.