(From Making Your Mark, 9th Ed., Lisa Fraser)
1. Attend classes.
Don’t make the mistake of cutting classes and trying to teach yourself from the text or from a friend’s notes. Make it easy on yourself – your teacher has already done that work for you. Since it’s the information your professor thinks is important that will appear on a test or exam, it makes sense to go to class and find out what that is. You’ll then be spending your study time reviewing what you need to know, not teaching yourself what you hope you need to know.
Pay special attention to the last five weeks of the semester. It’s been said that 50% of a course’s work takes place in the last third of the term.
2. Know your instructor.
Take time to learn what’s needed to get through each subject. Study the syllabus (course outline), and refer to it periodically to make sure you’re on track. Find out your instructor’s testing format, grading/marking system, and expectations. You’ll be able to tailor your work to meet his or her requirements.
3. Schedule regular study periods.
If you don’t set aside a specific time to review, chances are you won’t review. The most effective way to learn anything is to rehearse it regularly. Whether you are practicing the piano or sports or reviewing your notes, you are learning through the principle of repetition.
4. Be realistic.
When you make up your schedule, decide how much time you really want to study, and divide that time among your courses. It’s better to spend half an hour on each subject than to plan one hour for each one and not follow through.
5. Establish a regular study area.
When you study in the same place every time, you become conditioned to study there. Your mind will automatically kick into gear, even when you don’t feel like studying.
A regular study area also gives you a permanent place to keep your notes, texts, pens, and other supplies. You won’t waste 10 minutes each day collecting the materials you need – they’ll already be there.
6. Study short and often.
Your brain takes in information faster and retains it better if you don’t try to overload it. Four short study periods a week are more effective than two long ones for two reasons: (1) frequent repetition is the key to building your memory and (2) if you leave a longer time between study periods, you may forget a good portion of the material you studied.
7. Start study sessions on time.
It sounds like a small detail, but it’s amazing how quickly those 10-minute delays add up. Train yourself to use every minute of your scheduled time.
8. Study when you are wide awake.
The majority of people work most efficiently during daylight hours. In most cases, one hour during the day is worth 1 ½ hours at night. That’s one of the reasons we encourage you to use the hours between classes and other small pockets of time during the day wisely.
Decide what your best time is and try to schedule your study time accordingly. You accomplish more when you are alert. If you find yourself nodding off, give in to it. It’s better to wake up early to finish the last hour of homework than try to get through everything when you can’t think straight.
9. Set a specific goal for each subject you study.
You’ll accomplish more – faster – if you set a specific goal for each study session. Let’s say you’ve set aside 30 minutes to read your accounting text. If you start reading without a particular purpose, you may get only nine pages read. But if you set a goal of 15 pages in that time period, you’ll probably finish all 15.
So instead of sitting down to “study computer math,” you could decide to answer the review questions at the end of the chapter. Or instead of “studying marketing,” you could set a goal of completing the outline for your marketing paper.
One last thing: don’t worry if you don’t reach your set goal within the allotted time. Either schedule the task into your next study period or go back to it later that evening if you have enough time.
10. Start assignments as soon as they are given.
If you do nothing else from this chapter, do this. A little work on an assignment each week will allow you time to give attention to its quality. Your workload will be spread out, so you’ll avoid a logjam near the end of the semester. If your assignment is due near exam time, as many major papers are, you’ll avoid using valuable study time to complete your paper.
11. Study your most difficult subjects first.
You’re most alert when you first sit down to study, so you’ll be in the best shape to tackle the tough stuff. You’ll also feel better getting the worst out of the way, and you won’t be tempted to spend all of your time on easier or favorite subjects.
12. Review your notes regularly.
Taking good notes is the first step; reviewing them regularly is the second. As we keep saying, the best way to learn anything is to review the information (aloud, if you will) often. When the time comes to be tested, you’ll only have to review. You won’t have to learn it all.
We’ve outlined a review schedule below. You may want to add to it if you’re having difficulty with a particular subject.
1st review: same day (reduce to key words)
2nd review: later the same week
3rd review: one week later
4th review: two or three weeks later
5th review: monthly
You’ll retain up to 80% of the course material in your long-term memory.
13. Take regular breaks.
The general rule of thumb is a 10-minute break for every 50 minutes you work. Don’t study through your breaks – they rejuvenate you for your next hour of studying.
14. Vary your work.
Try to give yourself some variety in the type of studying you are doing. For example, if you tried to read textbooks for three hours, you’d not only get bored, you’d have trouble processing the information. Instead, alternate reading, taking notes, doing homework, and writing papers. It’s important to vary the subjects you’re working on, too. A change is as good as a rest.
15. Problem solve.
For courses that require you to solve problems, such as math, physics, chemistry, and statistics, spend a good portion of your study time working on problems. Much of the testing content will be presented in problem form, so you’ll be preparing yourself for exam time. If you get stuck on a homework question, don’t spend the rest of the night on it. Go on to the next question, and ask for help the next day.
16. Reward yourself.
When you complete a study goal, give yourself a reward. It doesn’t have to be anything elaborate – a magazine, snack, movie, or TV show. The reward system gives you an incentive you reach your goals and a pat on the back for achieving them.
17. Keep on top of it.
Letting work pile up can leave you with an overwhelming task. It’s easy to feel that you’ll never get it all done. If you find yourself falling behind, you may need to work on your success skills. Maybe you need to improve you time management. Or maybe the solution is as simple as cutting down on your social life. Identify the problem as soon as you can, and don’t let it become unmanageable.