How to Pass a Course/Studying

Study Techniques


Different subjects call for different studying techniques. There are the subjects that require the student to absorb information, and regurgitate it on demand, the social sciences for example, and those that require solving problems, mathematics for obvious reasons. The type of textbook used varies depending on the subject, but there are two basic types - chapter with study questions and guides, and chapter with practice problems.

For subjects that require absorbing information there is a five step study technique that works well if it is followed faithfully. The basic design for textbooks follow a certain pattern - chapters broken down into sections, with objectives at the beginning of the sections or chapters, supplemental information throughout the main text, and study guide and questions at the end of the section or chapter.

Steps to study


If there are lectures, do Steps 1 and 2 before the lecture on the topic. Make no attempt to understand the material, just read it to get the vocabulary into your brain. When the professor mentions a concept, you will be surprised at how much more sense it makes. Do Steps 2 (again) and Steps 3 and 4 shortly after the lectures, concentrating on the material that was presented in the lectures. Periodically throughout the course, do Steps 1 and 5 for all of the material that has already been presented. Short reviews, at intervals of a week or so, are better than an 8-hour cram session the day before a test. There is a biological reason for this that is too complex to explain here, but students that "study early and study often" will learn more and remember it better.

Step 1
Scan or skim through the section or chapter of the textbook being studied. Included should be reading all information in the margins, as well as sidebar information set off from the rest of the text in their own sections. Look at all the pictures and graphs, and read their titles. This will give you a basic idea of the information the section is trying to convey.
Step 2
Read and understand all the objectives at the beginning of the chapter. Read all study questions and study guide material at the end of the chapter. This may seem unreasonable at first, to look at the questions being asked before reading the text, but it helps to focus the mind on the material that needs to be gleaned from reading the text. One cannot, after all, absorb everything verbatim. Knowing what is in the guides, and the knowing the questions being asked, gives the student an idea of what to focus on as the text is read.
Step 3
The hardest part, READ THE TEXT!!! It has to be done. Passive reading alone is not adequate if the student is to get anything at all from the text. Active reading is needed, which involves focusing on the material, using the information in the study questions and guides at the end as a clue to what exactly should be learned. Furthermore, if time permits, taking notes will be extremely helpful. When taking notes writing down concepts verbatim as they appear in the text book will help to an extent, but paraphrasing the concepts in your own words will force you to think about the concepts, and thus increase your retention rate. There may be concepts that you cannot be sure you understand well even with careful re-readings, write down these questions for later.
Being over fastidious and reading pages not assigned has varying success. For novels and journals it is obviously helpful, as it is for classes with a discussion component. However, if you discover that the pages outside assigned reading refer to terms with different names than are used in class or are entirely irrelevant, it can be a mistake to try to live up to any promise to yourself to read more than the assigned pages in the book.
Step 4
Answer the study questions. Do them without referring to the text, and write them down. Thinking the answers through is not enough, the mind is too prone to fooling the student into thinking the material has taken hold when it hasn't. If there are questions that the student cannot answer, the student should guess. A wrong answer helps the student focus on the right answer when it comes along, and the right answers will come along in the next step.
Step 5
Review the text, using the answers to the study questions as a guide. This is where the student finds the correct information to answer the questions they didn't know, or refines the answers that they did know. It is important to re-read any passages that contain information that was unclear to the student, which will be indicated by how well the student answered the questions in the previous step.

This process is very helpful if questions at the end of the section are assigned as homework to be turned in, for obvious reasons. If the student is fastidious about following these steps, absorbing and retaining the information will come.

For the subjects where problem solving is the skill to be acquired, nothing can replace practice. Do problems over and over again. Do them alone, do them with other students, do them with tutors. Do them again and again, and when those problems are mastered, find more to do.

Creating lasting connections


To really remember and understand a topic, it is important to see the information in different contexts and to apply the information in a practical setting. The best way to do this is to check and edit Wikipedia articles on the subject. You will have to explain topics both in laymens terms and using technical terms. Justify your changes in the discussion page. You will have to think about the concepts carefully to decide which category and article your information belongs in. Reading all of these related pages will let you see the same information presented in a different context, which is the best way to study. If you have the time, finding outside references to justify yourself or to give an outside reference to a page that has none, find a page on Google. That will give you even more of the subject written in a different context. In a developed subject on wikipedia, such as chemistry or geology, you may not have as many opportunities to write concepts out fully yourself. After your edits on Wikipedia, you can usually start or contribute to a large body of needed information on a wikibook. Even in a developed wikibook you can add chapter questions or anything you think would help someone understand the topic.