Studying Tips

Take Good Notes...

Over time experience teaches you the importance of good study skills and habits. Not only can you “survive” college with these skills, you can actually do quite well. Learning how to take lecture notes effectively is the first step college students need to make the transition from high school to college easier.

Few people realize how fast memory fades. Studies on memory have shown that, without review, 47% of what a person has just learned is forgotten in the first twenty minutes and 62% is forgotten after the first day. (University of Texas at Austin). Therefore, having good lecture notes to review can determine how well you are able to perform on exams.

1. Go to class prepared...

  • Use a three-ring binder instead of a spiral or bound book. Pages can be easily removed for reviewing. Handouts can be inserted into your notes for cross-referencing. You can insert your own out-of-class notes in the correct order (Ellis).
  • Bring highlighters to class. Instructors will frequently make comments like, “This is an important concept.” Or, “Make sure you understand this.” These are direct clues that this will more than likely be on an exam. Highlighting these notes will help remind you later that this is definitely something you need to know.
  • Read assigned material and previous class notes before class. Make notations about material or concepts you don’t understand. Look up vocabulary words that are unfamiliar to you. You will have a better understanding about what the instructor is lecturing about and that will allow you to better decipher the more important points of the lecture.

2. Improve your listening skills...

 

  • Start by entering the classroom with a positive attitude. Going to class thinking, “This is the last place I want to be today” only sets the stage for inattentive listening. Approaching lectures with a positive attitude allows one to be open-minded and enables you to get the most out of the information presented.
  • Make a conscious effort to pay attention. Concentrate on concentrating. “Without concentration there is no focus, and without focus there is no learning” (Pauk 190).
  • Adapt to whatever direction a lecture takes. When a lecture takes an unexpected detour, say a student asks a question you aren’t particularly interested in, students have a tendency to “zone out.” Before you know it, the lecture got back on track five minutes ago, and you missed crucial information that should have been noted.

3. Develop a note taking method that works for you...

Fine-tune the structure and organization of your notes to increase your note taking speed and comprehension later.

  • Start each new lecture on a new page, and date and number each page. The sequence of material is important.
  • Write on one side of the paper only. You can set them out side-by-side for easier reviewing when studying for an exam.
  • Leave blank spaces. This allows you to add comments or note questions later.
  • Make your notes as brief as possible. “Never use a sentence when you can use a phrase, or a phrase when you can use a word” (Berkeley).
  • Develop a system of abbreviations and symbols you can use wherever possible.
  • Note all unfamiliar vocabulary or concepts you don’t understand. This reminds you to look them up later.

4. Play close attention to content...

Knowing what and how much to write down is sometimes difficult. Rely on some of the following tips for what to include in your notes.

  • Details, facts, or explanations that expand or explain the main points that are mentioned. Don’t forget examples.
  • Definitions, word for word.
  • Enumerations or lists of things that are discussed.
  • Material written on the chalkboard or on a transparency, including drawings or charts.
  • Information that is repeated or spelled out. (University of Texas at Austin)

5. Review and edit your notes...

Academic skills centers and other authorities on effective study skills consider reviewing and editing class notes to be the most important part of note taking and essential to increasing learning capacity.

  • It is extremely important to review your notes within 24 hours.
  • Edit for words and phrases that are illegible or don’t make sense. Write out abbreviated words that might be unclear later.
  • Edit with a different colored pen to distinguish between what you wrote in class and what you filled in later.
  • Fill in key words and questions in the left-hand column.
  • Note anything you don’t understand by underlining or highlighting to remind you to ask the instructor.
  • Compare your notes with the textbook reading and fill in important details in the blank spaces you left.
  • Consider rewriting or typing up your notes. (Ellis).

Background

To research this topic I reviewed several texts and on-line web sites that gave suggestions as to how students could become more effective learners and methods of study that could accomplish this. The importance of class note taking was emphasized over and over. By looking at many different suggestions and note taking guidelines, I compiled a list of top 5 tips for effective note taking that will enhance students’ learning abilities and improve their college success.

Analysis

Students sometimes have a hard time making the transition from high school to college. Students who did extremely well in high school may find themselves struggling in college. Part of this can be due to increased freedom and now having to structure their own time, rather than having it done for them. Also, many students don’t do as well because the style of teaching is so different. High school instructors rely more on textbook learning, whereas college professors rely more on lecture. Students find themselves inadequately prepared for this new style of teaching and have to rethink their study habits and skills in order to succeed.

A relatively easy way for students to improve their retention and comprehension is by learning how to effectively take notes. Several studies have been done on the importance of taking lecture notes in college and how doing so improves a student’s grades. First, it is important to understand why taking notes is so crucial. A person’s ability to remember material presented to them fades very quickly.

According to Walter Pauk (84), people lose their retention at the following rates:

Tips for Effective Study

The most common barrier to success encountered by college students is a lack of effective techniques for study and exam preparation. If you are one of the vast majority of students whose answer to the question, "How do you study for your tests?" is, "I go over my notes," then you need to take a serious look at your study skills. Here are some suggestions to increase your effectiveness as a student..

1 ) Day to Day...

A. Take good notes. Very few students leave high school with this skill. Some suggestions and observations.
  1. Always take the notes for a particular class in the same notebook. Spiral bound notebooks were invented because they solved the problem of keeping related information consolidated in one place. Take advantage of this.
  2. Date each entry into your notebook. 3. It is usually best to keep the notes for different classes separate from each other. Spiral notebooks with built in dividers are excellent for this purpose.
  3. Your notes should contain as complete a record of what the instructor said as possible. Of course, you should not try to write every word spoken, but don't leave out ideas. When you study, your notes should call back to your mind the entire sequence of ideas presented. Take care to spell all new words carefully. It you don't know how to spell a word, ask your instructor to write it on the board. Most will automatically do so for new or difficult terms.
  4. Anything the instructor writes on the board should appear in your notes. If the instructor took the time to write it out, he or she considers it important. You should do the same.
  5. If possible, try to take your notes in some kind of outline form. The organization of ideas is as important as the content of those ideas, especially when it comes to learning the material for an exam.
  6. You might find it useful to have a second color of pen or pencil available for highlighting important ideas or indicating vocabulary.

B. Be involved in your classes. Don't simply pretend you are a sponge, ready to soak up whatever the instructor says. You are there to learn, not to be taught.

  1. If the instructor is moving too rapidly for you, or if you don't understand what is being said, say something!
  2. Ask questions if you are confused. Confusion is definitely your worst enemy.
  3. If your class includes group activities, participate as fully as you can. Such exercises are done for your benefit, not to provide a break for the instructor.

C. Review your notes every day. This suggestion is one which we have all heard a thousand times. Unfortunately, most of us never really believe it until we actually try it. Spend 30 minutes or so each evening going over the notes from each class. There are at least two tremendous benefits to be gained from this discipline.

  1. Research has shown that reviewing new material within 24 hours of hearing it increases your retention of that material by about 60%. This means that you will be 60% ahead of the game the next time you walk into class. If you want to significantly reduce the time necessary to prepare for exams, this is the way to do it.
  2. Reviewing material before the next class period enables you to identify points of confusion or omission in your notes, which prepares you to ask the questions you need to ask before the next lecture. Again, confusion is your worst enemy.

D. It is excellent policy to give high priority to new vocabulary. Language is the most fundamental tool of any subject, and it can seriously handicap you to fall behind in this.

E. Keep up on your reading. Unlike most high school teachers, many college instructors don't give specific reading assignments. You are expected to go to your text for the reading related to the materials covered in class. Be independent enough to do this without being told.

2 ) Using Your Textbook...

A. Don't expect your instructor to give you detailed, page by page textbook assignments. While some may do so, many do not. College teachers are much more likely to expect you to use your own initiative in making use of the text.

B. In most cases, it will be most useful for you to at least skim the relevant chapters before each lecture. You should receive a course outline/syllabus at the beginning of the quarter, which will tell you the subject for each day. You may receive chapter references (or even page references), or you instructor may expect you to be perceptive enough to refer to the Table of Contents.

  1. When you first approach a chapter, page through it fairly quickly, noting boldface headings and subheadings, examining figures, illustrations, charts, etc., and thinking about any highlighted vocabulary terms and concepts. Also take note of the pedagogical aids at the end of the chapter--study questions, summary, etc.
  2. When you have finished surveying the chapter, return to the beginning and read in more detail. Remember to concentrate upon understanding. Don't simply read through the words. Any words which you don't understand you should look up. If you own the book and intend to keep it, you may want to write definitions of such words in the margins. You may also find it helpful to make observations and other useful notes in the margins. If you don't intend to keep the book yourself, you should carry out similar activities on a page in your class notebook.
  3. On this first trip through the chapter, you should concentrate upon catching the major subjects and points of the material. Also take note of those things which you don't understand. If the lecture on the material doesn't clarify those points, you should ask your instructor to explain.

C. Following coverage of the chapter's material in class, you should go back to the book and read it again. It will probably be helpful to skim through it first, as you did when you first looked at it. The tables and figures should be more readily read in detail. If you are a truly conscientious student, you will outline the chapter and prepare a vocabulary list of the terms which are pertinent.

D. At this time you should think seriously about the review and study questions at the end of the chapter. Do your best to answer all fo them as if they were a take-home exam.

E. You may also want to develop a system of cross referencing symbols to use when comparing your class notes to your notes from the text.

F. Remember that your instructor will probably not use the same words which you find in the text book. nothing is more frustrating than to discover that what you hear in class is no more than a rehash of what you read in the book. However, if your instructor knows his/her subject, and the author of your text knows his/her subject, the meat of what they say should be the same. NOTE: Nobody is infallible. Your instructor may make mistakes. Don't expect him or her to be more than human.

3 ) Preparing Assignments...

A. Here's another thing we have all been told thousands of times: Don't leave assignments until the day before they are due! If you have a paper to write or a lab report to prepare, begin it as soon as possible. In most cases, instructors will be delighted to receive work early. Remember that many papers or projects require quite a bit of research before you can even begin writing. In most cases, it is impossible to accomplish the necessary preparation in one day or even one week. In some cases, instructors won't accept late work at all. They are perfectly justified.    

B. Another sore point: Be aware of the appearance of the work you submit. You should want to be proud of every assignment you submit, and that includes being proud of its appearance. If possible, assignments should always be typed. Never turn in an assignment written in pencil. Pages torn out of notebooks are sloppy and unsightly. Think about this point every time you hand an instructor an assignment. That paper represents the quality of your work, and your instructor is perfectly justified in taking its appearance into consideration when assigning a grade.    

C. An increasing number of instructors are requiring that all outside work be typed. If you don't type, you should consider learning how. If you don't want to do this, you should begin investigating ways and means of getting someone else to type your papers. This will often mean paying a professional typist. Costs vary, but be prepared to pay a considerable amount. A really good typist may be able to turn out 6-10 pages an hour. Think about what you consider an appropriate hourly wage when you consider how much you should expect to pay a typist. Another point you must consider is that it will add to the time necessary to prepare a paper it you have to go to someone else to type it. In planning the time necessary for typing, consider the following points:

  1. Your typist may have other customers who are just as anxious as you are.
  2. A paper takes time to type.
  3. Even the best typist makes mistakes. your paper must be carefully proofread by you.
  4. After proofreading, the typist must have time to make the necessary corrections.

4 ) Preparing for Exams...

A. Keep in mind that you want to be an active learner, not a passive one. The more you use and manipulate the information, the better you will understand it. Using and manipulating information in as many ways as possible also maximizes your ability to access your memory.

B. Do not wait until the night before an exam to study! Of course, you should be regularly reviewing your notes, but the preparation still takes time.        

C. If your instructor hasn't explained to you how he or she designs exams, ask. this is a perfectly legitimate concern. However, keep in mind that an instructor has the right to design exams in whatever fashion he or she sees fit, and in most cases you have no business asking for changes in that design. You need to learn to handle all testing styles--including the dreaded essay exam!

D. A good first step in preparation is to read through your notes a couple of times. While you are doing this, you might also

  1. Highlight major topics and subtopics, with the goal of generating an outline of your notes. Even if you take your notes in outline form, this is a good practice. Major topics often extend through more than one day's lecture, and it is easy to lose track of the overall picture from day to day.  
  2. With a second color, highlight all vocabulary terms.

E. Outline the entire set of notes. When you study a large body of information, you should study from concept to detail, not the other way around. It will, in fact, be much easier to learn the details if you take the time to learn the concept and theory first. The least efficient approach to studying is to attempt to memorize your notes from beginning to end. It's not the words which are important--it's the ideas.        

F. Consider ways of dealing with the information other than those used in class. the more ways you can manipulate and experience the material you are trying to learn, the more secure your understanding and memory will be. Some suggestions:

  1. Make charts, diagrams and graphs.    
  2. Make lists.    
  3. If the subject matter includes structures, practice drawing those structures. Remember that a drawing is useless unless the important structures are labeled.

G. There are almost always types of information which you will have to memorize (eg. vocabulary). No one has ever invented a better device for memorizing than flash cards.    

H. One of the most universally effective ways to polish off your study activities is to prepare a self test.

1. Challenge yourself as severely as you can.  

2. As you are studying, keep a running collection of "exam questions." If you seriously attempt to write difficult and meaningful questions, by the time you finish you will have created a formidable exam. When you begin to feel you're ready for your instructor's exam, take out your questions and see if you can answer them. If you can't, you may need to go back and reinforce some of the things your are trying to learn.

I. Never, ever pull an "All-Nighter" on the night before an exam. This is a "freshman trick," meaning that good students learn very quickly that it is futile. What you may gain from extra study time won't compensate for the loss of alertness and ability to concentrate due to lack of sleep.

J. On exam day:

1. Try not to "cram" during every spare moment before an exam. this only increases the feeling of desperation which leads to panic, and then to test anxiety. You may find it useful, on the night before an exam, to jot down a few ideas or facts which you wish to have fresh in your mind when you begin the exam. Read through your list a couple of times when you get up in the morning and/or just before you take the exam, then put it away. This kind of memory reinforcement not only improves your performance on the test, it also improves your long-term memory of the material.  

2. Be physically prepared.

a. Get a good night's sleep.  

b. Bring necessary writing materials to the test--at least 2 writing tools, erasers, blue books if necessary, calculators if appropriate and allowed. Be aware of what the instructor has specified as permitted for use. Some instructors object to exams written pencil; some prohibit use of tools like calculators. It is your responsibility to know these requirements; you should be prepared to take the consequences if you don't.

c. This may seem silly, but go to the bathroom just before the exam. Don't expect your teacher to let you leave to do this during the test! The tension which generally goes along with taking an exam may increase the need to perform this physical activity, so you may need to go, even though you don't particularly feel like it.

5 ) Some Final Suggestions...

A. You should receive a syllabus for each class. This is the Rule Book for that class. Know everything on that syllabus! Your teacher has the right to expect you to know and abide by any rules and stipulations on that document, and it is perfectly within his/her rights to penalize you for failing to do so. Respect dates and deadlines, and expect to lose points if you turn things in late.  

B. Never miss an exam if you can help it. You will rarely be more ready for the exam in two or three days than you are on the scheduled date, and the annoyance the teacher will feel about having to arrange a special exam time for you can actually hurt your grade in the end. Miss exams only if you absolutely have to.

C. Save everything. Never throw away a handout or a returned assignment or exam. With this in mind, equip yourself with a pouched folder for each class.

D. Develop systematic behavior patterns associated with your schoolwork.

1. Keep your class materials together and neat.

2. Never allow yourself to be caught at school without the necessary notebooks and materials. If you develop systematic habits with respect to attending classes, etc., this will be no problem.

E. It is excellent practice to set aside a study area at home, and to designate a particular span of time each day as study time. However, don't fall into the trap of feeling that study should never exceed the preordained time limits. You put in as much study time as is necessary to master the material for your classes.

 

After Class...

  • Review notes within 24 hours of class, or else you are relearning.
  • Should you recopy your notes? Some people benefit from rewriting or recopying their lecture notes. However, be sure to leave time to think about your notes. Experiment and find out what works best for you.
  • Use margin space to fill in abbreviations, add omitted points, correct errors, and write key words. Read notes to be sure you can clarify confusing or illegible material.
  • As you read your notes, underline, highlight, or mark main points or important points you will want to give special attention to when you study the material again for the exam.
  • Elaborate your notes. Compare the information to what you already know. Write additional information from the text into notes.
  • Connect concepts to see their meaning in the larger picture- think of a summary in your head or write it at the end of your notes (Cornell Method).
  • Practice reciting the information using only key words.
  • Talk with other students about the lecture.
  • Conduct short weekly review periods. Once a week, go through all your notes again. Put reviews on your calendar and make it a habit.

****Don't miss class!!!!! If you have to miss a lecture, ask someone to tape the lecture for you or borrow a classmate's notes.

Learning Links...

Concentration and Memory:

Study Tips:

  • Basic Study Techniques - Texas A&M University
  • Study Hacks - Blog created by Cal Newport
  • Ten Traps of Studying - University of North Carolina
  • Top 11 Study Skills - Stanford University
  • Study Environment Analysis - Virginia Tech
  • Study Skills Checklist - Virginia Tech
  • Putting Your Extracurricular Skills to Use in Your Studies – Princeton University
  • How to form a successful study group – Duke University