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Study Skills - Tips

  • Focus your exam study on your class notes


  • Outlining keeps you focused on the main ideas.


  • Review old handouts, notes, quizzes, exams, and papers for clues and information you may have forgotten.


  • Learn and study your instructor's "test technique:" the types of questions they favor, if they prefer long detailed answers or short concise answers, if they like important dates, etc.


  • Study alone - and then study with other students!


  • Think vocabulary.
    Every field of study has its own vocabulary. Identify words/terms used to represent specific concepts (i.e., the word 'paradigm' in a social science research course) and treat them as you would a foreign language - make flash cards for frequent drills, and try to use these words whenever you work with course-related materials.


  • Flash Cards
    • Use 3"X5" cards - put a question on one side and the answer on the other.
    • Use for formulas, definitions, theories, key words,axioms, dates, hypotheses, etc.
    • Keep the cards with you � review in wait lines.


  • Location, location, location...
    If you're serious about getting work done, find a place that is relatively free of distractions. Establish guidelines with roommates for quiet times or use the libraries, study rooms, or empty classrooms.


  • Make It a Habit: Work Every Day
    Avoid all-night cram sessions in which you (unsuccessfully) try to understand and retain large amounts of information. Spend time on your studies each day, and you can stay on top of your courses and still have time for fun. Use small blocks of time - you'll be amazed what you can get done between classes.


  • Help Exists! Seek It Out and Improve Your Grades
    Whether you're an 'A' student or a 'D' student, you can strengthen your learning skills. Go to EOP for a free tutor in the Lomassen Center. Get to know your professors and tutorial assistants. Find out if your courses have study guides and help centres. It's your academic career - make the most of it.


  • Write It Down
    Remember important dates. It's up to you to remember due dates for assignments and test dates. A day planner is great for organizing your life. A wall calendar of important dates is also a good idea.


  • Lectures and Textbooks: What's the BIG Picture?
    Many unsuccessful students see a course as "a lot of stuff to memorize." University learning requires understanding how pieces of information fit together to form a "BIG picture." Use course outlines, tables of content, headings and subheadings to organize the information in each of your courses. Routinely ask yourself, "What's the purpose of this detail?" and "Does it make sense?"


  • Do Something (Anything!) to Remember Key Information
    Capture your understanding of course material in an active way. Generate examples, create mnemonics, make summary notes, identify key words, highlight textbooks or add margin notes. Be creative and interested and you'll probably be awesome at test time.


  • Think You'll Remember Key Points? Prove It.
    No matter how well you understand something, without practice some forgetting will occur. Before a test, make sure that you can recall important information from memory. Self-test by recalling information without looking at notes or textbooks and by doing practice exams if available.


  • Learn from the general to specific.
    Survey the chapter you are about to read by first reading major titles and headings. How is the chapter organized? What are the major areas being emphasized? Next, skim the chapter or the main ideas. By getting a look at the big picture, you'll be able to better understand and retain the details.


  • Make it meaningful
    Try to remember why you are in college and how the information you are learning will help you in your future plans. If you can keep in mind the importance of what you are learning, you will be more motivated to retain the information.


  • Create Associations
    Try associating new information with data already stored in your memory. This works well with names. For example, if you meet someone named Lisa, try picturing this person standing next to another person you know named Lisa. When you see the new Lisa, your mind is more likely to associate her with a Lisa you already know.


  • Learn it once, actively
    For some, standing or walking around while studying can enhance memory and recall by providing needed energy and alleviating boredom. Action is a great memory enhancer.


  • Relax
    When you are relaxed, you absorb new information more quickly and recall it with greater accuracy. Relaxation is a state of alertness, free of tension, during which your mind can use the techniques for recalling.


  • Create Pictures
    Draw diagrams. make cartoons. Use them to connect facts and illustrate relationships. For example, to remember the date of the treaty that declared peace between the American colonies and England, ending the Revolutionary War, you could try the following visualization. Picture a dove (the symbol of peace) carrying a red, white, and blue sign (the symbol of the United States) with the year 1783 on it.


  • Recite and Repeat
    This may be the most important technique you can learn. Verbally repeat information you want to retain. If you are reading a chapter, write a summarization of the material. Skim your reading again and check your summarization for errors. Repetion is very helpful in moving information from short-term memory into long-term memory.


  • Distribute Learning
    Marathon studying sessions are not effective. It is better to study in two or three small sessions than to study in a long six-hour session. Take breaks between study sessions as rewards. Even while you are taking a break, your mind will be reviewing what you have just studied.


  • Remember something related
    If you can't remember the answer you need, try to remember a related idea or concept. For example, if you can't remember the answer to a test question, try to remember the example the teacher used in class to talk about the concept. Often, this will allow your mind to begin associating until it can recall the information you need.


  • Use the information before it gets lost
    To remember something, access it a lot. Read it, write it, speak it, listen to it, apply it. Find some way to make contact with the material on a regular basis. Study groups are an excellent means to implement this idea.


  • Don�t spend more than an hour at a time on one subject, if possible.
    • In fact, if you're doing straight memorization, don't spend more then twenty to thirty minutes, first, when you are under an imposed time restriction, you use the time more effectively. (Have you noticed how much studying you manage to cram into the day before the big exam? That's why it's called cramming).


    • Second, psychologists say that you learn best in short takes. (Also remember that two or three hours of study without noise or other distractions is more effective than ten hours trying to work amid bedlam.) In fact, studies have shown that as much is learned in four one-hour sessions distributed over four days as in one marathon six-hours session. That's because between study time, while you're sleeping or eating, etc., your mind is absorbing what you've learned.


  • Take Rest Breaks.
    • The specialists say you'll get your most effective studying done if you take ten minute breaks between subjects. Dr Walter Pauk, director of the reading and study center at Cornell University, suggests you take a short break whenever you feel you need one, so you don't fritter your time away in clock watching and anticipating your break.


    • Another technique for keeping your mind from wandering while studying is to begin with your most boring subject or your hardest one, and work toward the easiest and/or the one you like best.


  • Avoid Studying During Sleepy Times
    Psychologists have found that everyone has a certain time of day when he or she gets sleepy. Don't try to study during that time. Instead, schedule some physical activity for that period. If you do have a pile of school work, use that time to sort your notes or clear up your desk or study with a friend.


  • Memorize Actively - Visualize
    Researchers have found that the worst way to memorize -- the way that takes the most time and results in the least retention -- is to simply read something over and over again. If that's the way you memorize, forget it. Instead, use as many of your senses as possible. Try to visualize in concrete terms to get a picture in your head. In addition to sight use sound; say the words out loud and listen to yourself saying them. Use association; relate that fact to be learned to something personally significant or find a logical tie-in. For example, when memorizing dates, relate them to important dates that you already know.


  • Take More Time For Your Reading.
    It really takes less time in the long run. Read with a purpose. Do not just read through your assignment from beginning to end. You'll remember a lot more if you first take time to follow the method devised by Dr. Walter Pauk.
    • (R). OVERVIEW: Read the title, the introductory and summarizing paragraphs, and all the headings included in the reading material. This will give you a general idea of what topics will be discussed. Do this chapter by chapter.


    • (K). KEY IDEAS: Go back and skim the text for the key ideas (usually found in the first sentence of each paragraph). Also read the italics and bold, the bulleted sections, itemizations, pictures, and tables.


    • (R1). READ your assignment from beginning to end. You will be able to do it quickly because you already know where the author is going and what he is trying to prove.


    • (R2). RECALL: Put aside the text and say or write, in a few key words or sentences, the major points you have read. It has been proven that most forgetting takes place immediately after initial learning. Dr Pauk says that ONE MINUTE SPENT IN IMMEDIATE RECALL NEARLY DOUBLES RETENTION OF THAT PIECE OF DATA.


    • (R3). REFLECT: the previous steps help to fix the material in your mind. To really keep it there forever, relate it to other knowledge; find relationships and significance for what you've read.


    • (R4). REVIEW: this step doesn't take place right away. It should be done for the next short quiz, and then again for later tests throughout the term. Several reviews will make that knowledge indelibly yours.


  • Spice Up Your Lecture Notes.
    Underline, star, or otherwise make the ideas that your teacher says are important, thoughts that he/she says you'll be coming back to later, items that she says are common mistakes. Watch for the words--such as examples, especially in subjects such as math. Research has proven that it is not how much time you study that counts but how well.


  • Pay particular attention to any study guides that the instructor hands out in class before the exam, or even at the beginning of the course! For example: key points, particular chapters or parts of chapters, handouts, etc.


  • Ask the instructor what to anticipate on the test if he/she does not volunteer the information


  • Pay particular attention -- just prior to the exam -- to points the instructor brings up during class lectures


  • Confer with other students to predict what will be on the test


  • Pay particular attention to clues that indicate an instructor might test for a particular idea, as when an instructor:
    • says something more than once
    • writes material on the board
    • pauses to review notes
    • asks questions of the class
    • says, "This will be on the test!"


  • Monitor Your Comprehension:
    • You can only remember and fully use ideas that you understand. Find ways to monitor your comprehension. Get in the habit of saying to yourself, "Do I understand this?" Always check the logic behind the ideas, i.e., do things happen in a way that you would predict? If you can see the logic in something, you are much more likely to be able to reconstruct that idea even if you cannot immediately recall it. Also, look out for anything that seems counter-intuitive to you; you are less likely to remember something that does not seem logical or is something that you would not agree with.


    • Evaluate your own comprehension by bouncing your thoughts about a course against those of other students. Tutor another student who is having difficulty; if you teach someone else, you reinforce your own knowledge.


  • Generate Your Own Examples:
    Go beyond examples provided in class and in the text, and bring your general knowledge and experiences into play by relating them to academic ideas. In kinesiology, for example, relate your ability to throw a ball to the physical forces you study in class; in biology, relate photosynthesis to that poor potted plant that struggles in your basement; in sociology relate symbolic interaction to values that you learned from your parents; in geography relate the Canadian Shield to your trip to Algonquin Park; in chemistry relate acids to home uses of vinegar; in physics relate acceleration to riding your bike. When you can generate your own examples, you demonstrate your understanding, and your memory is enhanced.


  • Use Mnemonics (Sparingly):
    Mnemonics are memory training devices or ways of making associations to aid in remembering. They can be extremely powerful; at the same time, The economical use of mnemonics to study for a test can be very effective. There are many types of mnemonics and, no doubt, you will have used some of them.
    • Rhymes can be powerful; psychology students will recognize Freud's personality theory in the little rhyme, "Id is the kid!"


    • Acronyms collapse the beginning letters of a set of information into one or a few words; in trigonometry, you can use SOHCAHTOA for right-angled triangles; in French you can use DR and MRS VANDERTRAMPP for verbs that conjugate with �tre.


    • The beginning letters of a set of information can be built into a sentence; for biology you might recognize Kings Play Chess On Frosted Glass Surfaces.


    These are just a few of the many types of mnemonics that you can use. As you study for your tests, use your imagination to generate fitting mnemonics for some of the key information in your courses.

    NOTE: If you overuse mnemonics, you can spend too much time on generating and learning the mnemonics and too little time on real understanding of the material.
  • Repetition:
    The more times you go over something, the better your memory will be of that information. However, each time you go through something, try to find a different angle so that you are not just repeating exactly the same activity. By varying your approach, you will create more connections in long-term memory.


  • Take a survey of your work environment.
    • Privacy - Find ways to eliminate unwanted interruptions.
    • Noise - Too much or too little can both be problems.
    • Air Quality - How's the ventilation?
    • Temperature - Is it too high or low?
    • Comfort - Watch your posture and support. Avoid drowse-inducing positions.
    • Clutter - Get everything off your desk except the work that you're doing.


Ten Traps of Studying

  1. "I Don't Know Where To Begin"
    Take Control. Make a list of all the things you have to do. Break your workload down into manageable chunks. Prioritize! Schedule your time realistically. Don't skip classes near an exam -- you may miss a review session. Use that hour in between cla sses to review notes. Interrupt study time with planned study breaks. Begin studying early, with an hour or two per day, and slowly build as the exam approaches.


  2. "I've Got So Much To Study . . . And So Little Time"
    Preview. Survey your syllabus, reading material, and notes. Identify the most important topics emphasized, and areas still not understood. Previewing saves time, especially with non-fiction reading, by helping you organize and focus in on the main topi cs. Adapt this method to your own style and study material, but remember, previewing is not an effective substitute for reading.


  3. "This Stuff Is So Dry, I Can't Even Stay Awake Reading It"
    Attack! Get actively involved with the text as you read. Ask yourself, "What is important to remember about this section?" Take notes or underline key concepts. Discuss the material with others in your class. Study together. Stay on the offensive, especially with material that you don't find interesting, rather than reading passively and missing important points.


  4. "I Read It. I Understand It. But I Just Can't Get It To Sink In"
    Elaborate. We remember best the things that are most meaningful to us. As you are reading, try to elaborate upon new information with your own examples. Try to integrate what you're studying with what you already know. You will be able to remember new material better if you can link it to something that's already meaningful to you. Some techniques include:
    • Chunking: An effective way to simplify and make information more meaningful. For example, suppose you wanted to remember the colors in the visible spectrum (Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet); you would have to memorize seven "chunks" of information in order. But if you take the first letter of each color, you can spell the name "Roy G. Biv", and reduce the information the three "chunks".


  5. "I Guess I Understand It"
    Test yourself. Make up questions about key sections in notes or reading. Keep in mind what the professor has stressed in the course. Examine the relationships between concepts and sections. Often, simply by changing section headings you can generate m any effective questions. For example, a section entitled "Bystander Apathy" might be changed into questions such as: "What is bystander apathy?", "What are the causes of bystander apathy?", and "What are some examples of bystander apathy?"


  6. "There's Too Much To Remember"
    Organize. Information is recalled better if it is represented in an organized framework that will make retrieval more systematic. There are many techniques that can help you organize new information, including:
    • Write chapter outlines or summaries; emphasize relationships between sections.


    • Group information into categories or hierarchies, where possible.


    • Information Mapping. Draw up a matrix to organize and interrelate material. For example, if you were trying to understand the causes of World War I, you could make a chart listing all the major countries involved across the top, and then list the im portant issues and events down the side. Next, in the boxes in between, you could describe the impact each issue had on each country to help you understand these complex historical developments.


  7. "I Knew It A Minute Ago"
    Review. After reading a section, try to recall the information contained in it. Try answering the questions you made up for that section. If you cannot recall enough, re-read portions you had trouble remembering. The more time you spend studying, the more you tend to recall. Even after the point where information can be pe rfectly recalled, further study makes the material less likely to be forgotten entirely. In other words, you can't overstudy. However, how you organize and integrate new information is still more important than how much time you spend studying.


  8. "But I Like To Study In Bed"
    Context. Recall is better when study context (physical location, as well as mental, emotional, and physical state) are similar to the test context. The greater the similarity between the study setting and the test setting, the greater the likelihood that material studied will be recalled during the test.


  9. "Cramming Before A Test Helps Keep It Fresh In My Mind"
    Spacing: Start studying now. Keep studying as you go along. Begin with an hour or two a day about one week before the exam, and then increase study time as the exam approaches. Recall increases as study time gets spread out over time.


  10. "I'm Gonna Stay Up All Night 'til I Get This"
    Avoid Mental Exhaustion. Take short breaks often when studying. Before a test, have a rested mind. When you take a study break, and just before you go to sleep at night, don't think about academics. Relax and unwind, mentally and physically. Otherwis e, your break won't refresh you and you'll find yourself lying awake at night. It's more important than ever to take care of yourself before an exam! Eat well, sleep, and get enough exercise.

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