October 16, 2014

Developing University-Level Study Habits

It may feel like the semester just began, but the first round of exams are already underway for most. Mebbie Bell with the Student Success Centre shares her guidelines for studying that will keep you on track and successful.

Although midterm exams may be weeks away, the first week of term is the best time to start studying. And, those first exams creep up on you very quickly! Here are some guidelines that will help you stay on top of your studying from the start:
  • Stick to a study schedule.
    Studying will become part of your regular routine, helping you to learn as you go. And, you’ll avoid the dreaded “all-nighter” (which is never the best strategy for producing the results you want).
  • Go to every class.
    You only have approximately 40 hours of lectures per course, the most valuable time in the entire term. In class, you learn what your instructor values and how best to prioritize materials for exams, plus the extra tips given out in the lecture. One student I know says that going to class the quickest shortcut to doing well!
  • Prepare for every class.
    Briefly skim over any PowerPoints or other class handouts prior to the lecture so you have a sense of what to expect. Even if the concepts are unfamiliar, this “preview” lays the groundwork for effective learning and helps you determine what is most important to note from the lecture. Take this one step further and do your assigned readings in advance.
  • Review your notes within 24 hours.
    Wait much longer and the lecture details will be forgotten. This active review soon after class helps transfer information to your long-term memory, and prepares you for more efficient learning in the next lecture. Read through your notes: add information you recall from the lecture, identify any questions, and consolidate details from the readings into your class notes.
  • Make studying an activity. Aim to study in ways that engage you (many of the tips here serve this purpose). Summarize; do practice questions; reorganize material into comparison tables, diagrams, or flowcharts. If you are bored, you may be employing a passive study technique and will only have to repeat the material. Instead, do something active.
  • Take breaks.
    A short break every 30-60 minutes helps maintain your focus and motivation—and, helps you remember more of what you reviewed.  Stretch your legs, refill your water, check your texts. Plan longer breaks every few hours, and make time to relax every day.
  • If your studying is not going well, get help.
    As soon as you encounter problems, ask for assistance. Speak with your instructor or TA, attend a help session, or visit a learning strategist. Asking for help is a strategic choice, and one that will save you time and frustration.

No one shows up at university with advanced study skills. However, you can learn techniques that will help you study in more productive ways.  Start with the suggestions here, and experiment until you find the techniques that work for you.