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Good study skills and habits can help you to use your time more effectively and efficiently. It is a myth that the good student is born with some superior intelligence or intellectual ability. Achieving students put in considerable study time and concentration into their academic work. The key is studying “smarter, not longer.” Study skills and habits are learned, sometimes through formal training, but more often, through trial and error. It is not unusual to acquire some habits that are poor or inadequate. Use the study habits checklist. It may help you to pin point the areas you need to work on.
The following suggestions have been taken from a number of resources, but they are just tips, which means that they are only small bits of a vast amount of information available to help you.
For your own benefit you may wish to take the 1-credit Learning Skills course.
Plan for study time. How do you spend the hours in your day? There are 168 hours in a week. So much is needed for the essentials of sleeping, eating, traveling time, classes, job survival need. No one has found a way to put 28 hours into a 24-hour day, so don’t over schedule. A good guideline is two hours study time for each credit hour you are taking. Remember, you don’t find time to study; you must make time. Even 15 minutes spent in quick review can be helpful. For the most effectiveness, try to schedule study periods of uninterrupted 1 or 2 hour blocks. But at the end of an hour, take a 10-minute break. Give your mind a chance to absorb the material. Walk around, change the scenery.
Prepare a calendar for the semester. Your class syllabus is a help here. Mark all important dates for assignments in your different classes. This may prevent some overload at mid-term and at the end of the semester. It will also give you a visual picture of what needs to be done and when. The calendar can also be an aid in estimating and allocating study time. Some subjects may require more time one week than another. It may also help you to avoid slighting a subject because you don’t like it or find it difficult. That may be the subject for which you will need to spend the most time.
It is better to study a subject ½ hour to 1 hour every day than try to study 3 hours straight every 3 or 4 days. The weekends are good for working on research projects that require a lot of time or novels, plays, histories, etc., which require some continuity to comprehend the theme or message.
Select an area in a quiet place and reserve it especially for your studying. While some individuals like to have a radio or TV playing, these can be distractions and require extra effort and energy to block out for concentration
If there is a lot of confusion at home, try to plan study time in the Library or Learning Lab at on campus. Beware of the Student Center. It is too easy to socialize.
In your study area, keep all necessary books and papers handy. Included should be a good dictionary and thesaurus. Other items you may want to keep on hand are: note paper, scratch paper, pens, pencils, highlighter pens, etc. This is your work place, so keep those items that will help you do a better job.
Look at going to school as you would work on a job. If you are taking over 12 credit hours, that is like a 40-hour work week.
Approach studying with confidence and the belief that you will get a lot accomplished. Your motivation is a part of the confidence you have in yourself to succeed. Get involved in the subject matter. The more interest you put into a course, the more interesting it becomes.
When do you operate best? Are you a morning or night person? Not everyone operates on the same biological clock. What is your best time?
Prepare yourself to study by taking several minutes to relax. If you know Yoga or other relaxation exercises, they are helpful. Allow yourself several minutes to think about your favorite peaceful scene and try diaphragmatic breathing. Relax and put your mind in a receptive frame for new material, ideas, and concepts.
Now you are ready to devote yourself exclusively to study and concentration. Work intensely and do not permit your mind to wander. Put yourself in control.
For each study period, set an objective. What do you expect to accomplish in this period, such as: read and outline 1-2-3 chapters; work so many problems correctly; read and be able to explain in your own words ... don’t set unreasonable goals but do demand work from yourself! Remember, you are responsible for your own learning!
Review your class notes. Was there anything in the lecture that you should follow up in the text? Be sure to check the syllabus. Do you understand the learning objectives for the class? Are there objectives listed for each chapter? Your studying should be done with these in mind.
Every subject area has its special vocabulary. Sometimes there is a glossary provided in the back of the textbook. Become familiar with these terms to help improve your understanding of the subject. Some students find that keeping a notebook of these words and definitions is very useful.
Most of your studying will involve reading and will require a different approach than pleasure reading. For many subjects the reading required is not so technical but voluminous. In these cases, reading faster is essential. Try reading for ideas with less concentration on words. Use selectivity by screening for nouns, pronouns, and verbs that give meaning. Read these words but just see the rest of the words in a sentence.
Another method which is especially useful for textbooks is SQ3R. If used consistently, it can increase your reading skill, comprehension, and effectiveness of study time. Numerous “How to Study” booklets have complete explanation of this method, but following is a simplified explanation.
Use the survey technique as a beginning for the course. This involves reading preface and introduction, which will give you an idea of the author’s purpose and how the text is to be used. Looking over the table of contents can give you a picture of the text; also note the visual aids—pictures, graphs, charts, marginal notes, and sub headings. If the book has a glossary, look over the terms. This may save time looking up words in the dictionary. Most books contain reference lists. These can provide you a resource for additional reading.
If there are summaries at the end of chapters, reading them quickly can give you a quick overview and direction of the course.
When reading the text for an assignment for class work, use the five steps in SQ3R.
Survey a chapter in a similar manner used to get an overview of the book.
Questions help you focus attention on the material and give direction. Looking for the answers to questions helps to keep the mind from wandering and provides an objective for what you want to know. This can speed up the study process.
Your survey reading should suggest some natural questions using headings and sub headings. If the author has questions at the end of the chapter, be sure to read them. These can clue you into important points in the chapter to remember.
If you have used S and Q tips, the actual reading should be easier with better comprehension. Read to answer the questions you had or the questions at the end of the chapter. Read all the extra items — illustrations, graphs, maps; these can support, clarify, or add meaning to the subject.
Pay close attention to underlined, italicized, or bold-printed words or phrases. This is a special way of calling attention to a significant point. These can also be items on a quiz or a test.
This step involves going over what you have just read either orally, summarizing, making notes, and underlining. Your judgment is necessary as reciting should not be after only a paragraph or two, but should not wait until the completion of an extremely long section. This is the time to pencil special notes in the margins. If you underline or highlight, use selectivity in marking only key ideas or terms.
The recitation step reinforces what you have just read. For the most effectiveness, underline or mark only after you have read and understood the section.
In the final step, the SQ3R formula is combined with review. Survey all you have read to see how much you remember. Use your notes, underlining or hi-liting as a recall of key points and ideas. The most effective use of the review procedure is in three steps:
SQ3R represents a system of five steps for reading an assigned text.
In this first step you take no more than a couple of minutes to scan the headings in the chapter you are about to read and read the summary or conclusion of he chapter, if one is available. The purpose of the survey step is to orient you to what you will be reading. It informs you of the main business of the chapter and the author's purpose in writing the chapter. The survey provides you with an idea of the main points that will be covered and the scope of the chapter. In summary, the survey furnishes you with a preliminary sketch of the structure and content of the chapter, and it is a first step in preparing your mind to accept and retain the information presented in the chapter.
Now you actually begin reading the chapter. You start by turning the first heading into a question that directs your reading. Reading with a question in mind is active reading. As you read, you are looking for an answer to your question. Your reading is directed by the question, and it helps to organize both the information in the section you are studying and your thoughts about the information. This kind of active or involved reading will increase your interest, comprehension, and retention.
You do not have to spend a great deal of time formulating the question that will direct your reading of a section of a chapter. In most cases, it only takes a few seconds to convert the section heading provided by the author into a question. For example, if you encountered “Fear of Crime Among the Elderly” as the heading of a section of a chapter, your question might be simply “How afraid of crime are the elderly?” Sound simple? It is. Most important, it is also effective.
Once you have posed your initial question, read to answer that question. Do not be at all surprised if new questions emerge as you read. Typically, reading to answer one question generates others. It is these questions that will give form and relevance to your reading. They will make your studying more interesting and memorable.
After you have finished actively reading a section, briefly state in your own words the answer to your questions. If you cannot answer your questions, review the section for pertinent information.
It is a good idea, at this juncture, to jot down some brief notes that outline your answers and capture the main points of the section. Robinson calls these notes “working notes” to distinguish them from the extensive verbatim notes many students take while they read. The criteria for working notes are that they must be brief and written (1) only after the section has been read,(2) from memory, and (3) in your own words.
Nieves refers to notes as “self talk.” He recommends that everyone develop a system of note taking that suits his/her individual needs, but in general, notes should be organized around these three questions:
1. What are the key words and phrases defining the subject? These words and phrases are usually used as headings and subheadings and are words that must be known.
2. What are the facts, definitions, and events to be remembered? These are the main body of the notes; they are to be understood in a general sense but not memorized.
3. What are your thoughts, reactions, and reflections? These reflect what you understood at the time of making notes.
Nieves suggests that you divide your notebook page or pages if you write across two pages to give yourself more room) into three columns by using the headings “Key Words,” “Facts, Definitions, and Events,” and “Thoughts and Reactions.” He also suggests you review your notes shortly after you write them, and clarify and reorganize them during the review.
Many authors object to taking notes verbatim from the text. I do not, if it is done sparingly and judiciously. Often authors will write a couple of sentences that make the point of a section of a chapter in a cogent, pithy, and memorable way. It is permissible to copy it into your notes as long as you also briefly state it in your own words.
When you are reading for a research paper, it is entirely proper to copy quotes from sources. Quotes are often used in papers to lend authority to a point or argument; to preserve subtle, powerful, or beautiful language that makes a point that would be lost by paraphrasing; to document a general point with a specific illustration; or to present information in a cogent way that cannot be improved upon. Care should be taken, however, in note-taking for a paper that you do not fall into the trap of copying the majority of your notes from your readings. To avoid this trap, follow this simple rule. Before you copy directly from a source, state your purpose for copying the quote, and write the meaning of the quote in your own words.
One way to minimize memory decay is to place the material you have studied firmly in your mind by reviewing it. The review should be conducted after you have finished reading the entire chapter. The primary materials to be reviewed are your working notes on each section of the chapter. If your notes have been done right, they should provide both an outline of the main points in the chapter and answers to the questions you posed while reading the chapter.
Reviewing is actually a form of recitation. After you have reviewed your notes, place them aside and try to recall the questions and answers that guided your reading and the main points of the chapter. Then review your notes to see how well you retained the information. If something is not clear in your notes, return to that section of the chapter to clarify the point. Revise your working notes if needed.
The main purpose of using a system of study like SQ3R is to help you become an active reader. It is important to become involved with what you are studying. Otherwise, you read passively and ritualistically.
How many times have you come snoring to the conclusion of an assigned reading without having any idea what it was about? If someone asked you to list the main points of the chapter, you would answer them with the old moon face. Sure you read the chapter. But you read it ritualistically. You just went through the motions. You read it because it was assigned, and you were supposed to read it. Maybe you even felt some satisfaction when you checked it off your list of things to do. You accomplished something. But what did you really accomplish? Nothing that you can recall very clearly! Reading by the SQ3R method is an aid to studying. The method helps to keep what you are supposed to be doing in the moment clearly in view. Methods like SQ3R help to keep you firmly centered in the task of studying.
The SQ3R method may not be easy to apply at first. Like anything else, you have to practice it before you get good at it, and when you first try it, you feel awkward and inefficient. Don't get discouraged. Keep practicing SQ3R.