Tips for Effective Study

You’ve been studying since Kindergarten, so you should know how, right?

The University environment is unlike anything you experienced in grade school or high school. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that what you have done in the past will serve you well now. Break out a new “tool chest” and use these tools to help make your studying time and energy more effective.

Think of studying as a multi‐step project with different requirements for each step that will take four months to finish. The reward for this project is your grade. The better you do on each step, the better your reward.

The Study Cycle

The Study Cycle below gives you an outline for planning and completing your study sessions.

visual representation of the study cycle with blue circles, one for each step

Step One: Preview

Preview the assigned material the night before or the day of the class. Think of it as a mental warm‐up. Look over bold and italicized print, headings, outlines, formulas, images and graphs. Read over the summary and other material offered at the end of the chapter. As you “skim” the chapter, ask yourself questions you would like answered in class.

Make notes in the margins of your book or in your class notebook with questions, things you can relate the information back do, and any important dates, people, concepts, or themes.

Step Two: Attend

Attend class. Ask questions, take creative, meaningful notes. Due to the preview, you will find yourself feeling more confident and connected to what is going on. Your notes will be more meaningful and clear.

Find a note-taking strategy that works for you. There are many proven strategies - including Cornell Notes - that can help you stay organized and makes your notes as effective as possible. Learn more effective note-taking tips to get the most out of your lectures.

Sit in the same seat in each class everyday, especially when you are taking a test. Your mind will associate this location with learning and your concentration will improve.

Step Three: Review

Review as soon after class as possible. Think of it as your cool down. Look over you class notes, make sure they are complete and accurate. Mark anything that is confusing.

If you have identified some content that is confusing, do some research (talk to your instructor, re‐read that portion of the textbook, see a tutor, etc.) and correct that portion of your notes. Then, to refresh your memory and promote your long‐term memory, review your notes for that entire week at least once a week throughout the semester.

Add illustrations to your notes. For example:

  • graphs of statistical information
  • a timeline for a series of historical dates
  • a diagram of a scientific class system
  • quick caricatures of important figures to identify when their information is given in your notes

Each night, type or rewrite your notes from that day’s class. Add reinforcing key concepts from previous lectures, write potential exam questions, note real life examples which illustrate your notes, and find the answers to any questions you might have had in class. Not only is this a great way to make sure your notes are accurate but it will also help you move this material into long‐term memory.

Creating a Study Plan

First things first, develop a timeline for each course you are taking. Start with your hardest or most disliked classes, and make lists of topics you need to know for each class.

Schedule your study times, if possible, in the same place and time each day. Identify a study space where the bulk of your studying will occur. After several days of studying in this place, your brain will associate this space with studying and help you stay focused.

When you are scheduled to study, make sure you have everything you need:

  • your class notebook and textbook
  • good lighting
  • comfortable seating
  • a solid surface to write on
  • a clock to help you manage your time
  • pens, pencils, highlighters, ruler, stapler, paperclips, pencil sharpener, post-it notes, index cards, paper, scissors, calculator, computer, etc.

Remember the 1 hour rule. If you take 5 minutes between every 50 minute segment of studying, it will help you stay fresh and your brain more receptive to learning. Get up and move around, get something to drink or eat, stretch, check your messages and then go back to concentrated study for another 50 minutes. Give yourself time for breaks and those other activities which are important to you.

In addition to your scheduled study times, use waiting time (5 minutes waiting for the bus, 20 minutes waiting at the doctor’s office, 10 minutes waiting for your roommate, etc.). Waiting time adds up and contributes to your overall learning. Flash cards or memory lists are easy to bring out for these brief study periods.

Turn off your cell phone, iPod, radio, or TV during scheduled study times to reduce distractions which inhibit your learning. Keep a notebook or tablet handy in which to write down any distracting thoughts. That way you won’t stop to resolve the distracting thought or pull your attention away from studying by worrying whether or not you will forget that thought.

Depending on the content, make and use flash cards, memory lists, mnemonic lists, etc. These can be reviewed during short breaks for weeks ahead of the exam.

Make room for meals and sleep. Both your body and your brain need these fuels to maximize your ability to learn.

Form a study group and meet together to review content and quiz each other.

During your last study session before the test, make a one‐page study guide/plan with important information for the test. Review it just before the test to refresh your memory and give you a head start on the exam.

Don’t plan on cramming everything into the night before the exam. If you have consistently used the Study Cycle, you won’t need to. And, in the long run, cramming only provides you with sketchy, short‐term learning at best. So, you’ll have to do this all over again for the final or, in the case of prerequisite courses, for the next course.

Study Tools for Success

Study Tool Preparation Strategy Review Strategy
Highlighting Re‐mark text and star unknown(s) Recite main points out loud
Text notes Recite information, identifying connections between ideas from headings and/or recall columns. I listen to information carefully and remember what I have been told.
Predicted questions in the margin Predict test questions and underline the answers. Recite the answers out loud.
Concept maps Design * draw maps for connected information. Sketch charts from memory.
Charts Create charts with connected information. Sketch charts from memory.
Geographic maps Prepare a copy of your map without the answers to be used as a self-test. Recite and/or write the answers to your map. Check your answers against the original.
Study sheets Dig through the text and your lecture notes to select, condense, * organize material under main topics Recite the material or write it out.
Chapter questions Write out the answers. Recite answers to the questions.
Flash cards Select information and write your cards. Recite out loud or write them down. Shuffle your cards * retest. Test in reverse. Retest items you missed.
Study groups Prepare materials as agreed to by the group. Explain your material to the group * take notes on others’ explanations. Discuss.
Self-test Select information and construct your version of the test. Test and re-test (written or recited out loud).
Predict essay questions Predict specific essay questions. Plan and prepare your answers. Practice reciting main points and writing the answers.
List of topics most likely to appear on the test Determine content and write out your lists. Recite the list out loud. Write out items with which you have trouble remembering.

Study tools adapted from Van Blerkom, D. L. (2007). Orientation to College Learning, 6th Edition, (p. 237). Boston, MA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning