June 11, 2012

The Fail-Proof Guide to Studying

Studying usually conjures up images of frantic students in the small hours of the night, surrounded by textbooks, notebooks, and snacks, rubbing their eyes and staring hollowly at notes they’ve read a hundred times in preparation for a test the next day.

This method of “studying” has a better name, a moniker oft-used and much loved by students: cramming. But is cramming actually effective?  It might help you — and I should stress might — scrape by whatever test you’re cramming for, but, as an article in Popular Science states, “hurried memorization is a hopeless approach for retaining information.”  

This conclusion came from a UC San Diego study in which scientists asked 1,354 volunteers to memorize trivial facts and then tested their recall of that information after varying periods of time for different groups, “anywhere from several minutes to several months after first learning [the material].”

The scientist unsurprisingly found that, “students perform better when they space their study sessions rather than when they try to cram everything into their noggins during one sitting.”

And yet, students everywhere, including those who are pursuing bachelor’s degrees and other degrees online, continue in their binge and purge study habits.  You might even conclude that they do so because they actually don’t know what proper studying looks like.

Keeping in mind that an education isn’t about grades, it is about engaging with the intellectual world in a meaningful way that leads to retention and synthesis of that knowledge to better yourself as a person and increase your skill set, cramming for classes is not only ineffective, it is also harmful to your potential future success.

Follow this guideline to studying to consistently score higher on exams, and get better jobs once you graduate (partly because you’re more likely to graduate with honors if you follow the guide, and partly because you’ll just be more intelligent in general):

1.      Don’t Fall Asleep in Class
Studying for a test actually begins as soon as a professor starts lecturing.  You do yourself and a teacher a great disservice by not paying attention in class.  Professors work to condense important, relevant information into their lectures, summarizing and restating key concepts in more direct ways than most textbooks.  Furthermore, professors usually base exams on their lectures, not textbooks, so you are at a disadvantage by not paying attention and taking notes in class. 

2.      Take (Good) Notes
Some students do pay attention in class but are confident that they will be able to remember the material the professor presents in class and don’t take notes.  Or if they do take notes, they are the kind of notes that you write when you feel obligated to take them: half-hearted, distracted, irrelevant.  Try to focus on the key concepts, and summarize points the professor makes in your own words.  

3.      Study at Regular Intervals
There is an old saying in education that has proven true time and again when it comes to knowledge retention: “The more you see it, the more you hear it, the more you write it, the more you know it.”  To truly get knowledge to stick, you have to interact with it on a regular basis, not just once.  When the professor delivers lectures you are interacting with the knowledge, and again when you are taking notes.  But that isn’t enough.  You should be re-reading your notes, ideally every day, but at least every few days after you take them.  

4.      Seek a Tutor
Even if you think you understand the material, and especially if you don’t, you should get a tutor to help you clarify anything that remains unclear after you’ve studied several times.  It is always a good idea to get another voice in the situation, and find new ways to interact with the knowledge.

5.      Tutor Someone Else
When you think you have a handle on the material, offer help to someone you know that needs it.  Nothing cements information in your brain better than teaching it to someone else.

If you follow these steps, you can rest easy the night before a test and actually get a decent eight hours of sleep instead of staying up all night cramming.  And you will remember the information for years afterward, at that, allowing you to recall it when you need it.  

About the Author:
This guest contribution was submitted by Samantha Gray, who specializes in writing about online bachelors degree. Questions and comments can be sent to:  samanthagray024@gmail.com.

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