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Study skills

I. How to study

Successful study demands that you give yourself ample time and that during this time you keep your mind actively engaged in the learning process. Ample time for the average student means about two hours of study for each hour of class. Since the normal academic load is 15 to 16 credits, the average student will spend that many hours in class plus twice that many hours studying, totaling about 45 to 48 hours a week.

Keeping your mind actively on the job is the more difficult task. Two methods have been found helpful in this respect:

A. S-Q-3R method. In this formula:

S stands for Survey

Q stands for Question

3R stands for Read, Recite, Review


In applying this method to a given assignment, you first leaf through it to get the general drift of the discussion, noting introductory remarks, topics, paragraph headings and summaries. On the basis of this survey you ask yourself questions which you hope to have answered as a result of reading the assignment. Then you read it, carefully and intently. Having read it, you come to what is perhaps the most important feature of this method, namely self-recitation. That is, you ask yourself questions on the assignment, such as the instructor might ask in class or in an examination, testing yourself on the answers. Finally, you review to see how complete and correct your answers were. It has been found experimentally that at least half of one's study time can be profitably devoted to self-recitation, versus a simple reading and re-reading of the assignment.

B. Outlining method

This can be done by using your own markings, symbols and underlinings directly in your textbook or it can be done by jotting the main points down in organized fashion in your notebook. While the latter procedure takes more time, it has the advantage of encouraging you to put the author's ideas into your own words. For many students the actual writing out of the materials is itself an effective learning device. In either case, however, the value of the outlining method will depend on how sharp you are in selecting and organizing the essential ideas. A written outline can be too wordy and underlining can be too extensive. The ideal is just enough to capture the main points with sufficient detail to make them meaningful. Where underlining is used it should be done only after the complete assignment has been read at least once.

The outline form used in this paper is generally acceptable. Roman numerals (I, II, etc.) and/or capital letters (A, B, etc.) indicate the main headings; Arabic numerals (1, 2, etc.) and then small letters (a, b, etc.) indicate the sub-headings. Use this form also in taking lecture notes.

The S-Q-3R and Outlining methods can of course be used in combination. Self-recitation is especially helpful after having outlined the assignment.

C. Other suggestions for effective study

  1. Make out a time schedule and hold yourself to it.
  2. To the fullest extent possible, make study a habit by studying at the same time and place each day.
  3. Schedule definite review periods, say every Friday or Saturday, during which the lecture and textbook materials covered during the week are reviewed.
  4. Avoid distractions while studying. Do not take phone calls or other interruptions which disturb your concentration.
  5. Provide for at least one hour of recreation every day. Try to keep noon hours, late afternoon hours, and regular time Saturdays and Sundays for relaxation and exercise.
  6. Get plenty of sleep and keep your outside workload within reasonable limits. A student carrying a full academic load should as a rule not have more than 15 hours of outside employment per week. Your course load should be reduced by one credit for every 3 hours of employment beyond 15 hours.

The following web site is a helpful reference: Study Guides and Strategies

II. How to take lecture notes

  1. Read the textbook assignment before going to class in order to be familiar with the ideas and terminology presented.
  2. Do not try to reproduce the lecture verbatim. Listen for ideas and be selective in what you put down. Use the outline form already designated under section I-B.
  3. Do not crowd your notes. Allow plenty of space between points to keep them distinct from each other and for additions. A large-size notebook (8 1/2 x 11) is preferable to a smaller one.
  4. Keep all of your notes for the current period in one loose-leaf notebook, with index tabs to identify the individual courses.
  5. Review your notes as soon as possible after class; fill in and edit obscure points.

III. How to improve your reading

The average college student should be able to read 250 to 300 words of non-technical material per minute. If your reading speed is less than this, you are handicapped in one of your most needed skills. Check yourself on this point.

The solution to reading problems is sometimes complex and needs the attention of an expert in the field. Most people, however, can do much on their own to improve reading speed and comprehension by observing the following points:

  1. Remove all visual defects. Have you had your eyes checked?
  2. Force yourself (1) to read faster, and (2) to cover more words per eye fixation. Not more than 2 or 3 fixations per sentence should be necessary and once you are really good at it, you may be able to comprehend an entire sentence or even paragraph at a glance. Reading speed is to a large extent a matter of habit. By exerting conscious effort in the direction of reading faster for a period of time you can change this habit, without loss in comprehension. This matter of consciously trying to read faster is one of the most important points in the improvement of reading.
  3. Your reading comprehension will be no better than your vocabulary. Build your vocabulary by keeping a running list of words you do not know. Look them up after each assignment and write down their definitions. Review this list from time to time. Usually, this method is preferable to interrupting your reading to consult the dictionary for each unfamiliar word.

IV. How to prepare for and take an examination

A. Control your attitude.

  1. Look upon the test as a competitive game, as an opportunity to show your mettle. Develop the attitude of the sportsman -- win if you can, lose if you must, but do the best you can.
  2. Be reasonable in your expectations of yourself. The instructor does not expect a perfect paper; neither should you. Simply represent yourself as adequately as you can.
  3. Keep in mind that there are other tests to follow. You are not betting all your money on one horse.
  4. Remember that you have prepared for the examination and that this preparation is bound to show. (If you have not prepared, the "pre-examination jitters" may be justified. They are not if you have prepared.)
  5. Get a good night's sleep before the examination. A clear head, coupled with adequate preparation, is your greatest asset.

B. Know your stuff.

  1. Begin the day after a test to prepare for the next test by keeping up with the day-to-day assignments. Set aside one hour each week for review of each subject.
  2. Begin your intensified review of the subject a week before any major examination.
  3. Review by making a list of the important definitions, laws, principles, theories, formulae, experiments, persons, ideas and concepts, as these apply to your particular course or courses.
  4. If you have not already done so, make an outline of the material covered and, in your own mind, relate the more detailed items to it.
  5. Cramming as a concentrated, intensified review of materials previously learned is good; as a last-minute effort to learn for the first time, it makes for confusion and is bad.
  6. Try to figure out what questions you would ask in the examination if you were the instructor and then get the correct answers.
  7. Know whether the exam will be of the objective or essay type and then review accordingly. The objective exam stresses the more factual, detailed knowledge. The essay type stresses the organization, relationship and application of the subject matter.
  8. Keep your old examinations or quizzes and analyze them for your weaknesses. If you can't tell why you did poorly on an exam, see your instructor. Don't hesitate to ask him to clarify specific points that you think might be important. However, don't go to your instructor's office simply with the statement, "I can't get this stuff." Pinpoint your questions.

C. Take the test, don't let it take you.

  1. Before beginning to write, spend a few moments planning the whole exam. Read the directions and, in the case of an essay exam, the questions twice, underlining significant words.
  2. Answer the easiest questions first, but apportion your time carefully. Very complete answers on a few questions will not usually compensate for very inadequate answers on others.
  3. Think more and write less. Instructors are more impressed by the to-the-pointness of your answers than by how much space you fill. Leave space after each answer for afterthoughts or for further elaboration as time permits.
  4. In objective tests be careful of items containing the words: only, always, never, etc. In essay tests, notice such words as: name, define, outline, list, explain, illustrate, and compare. These tell you what the instructor wants.

Re-read your paper before handing it in.

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