Learning to Learn
One of the most common mistakes students make is thinking that there is only way to study for every kind of class.
By Uwana Ikaiddi, University of Central Florida
Despite having spent at least twelve years in school, very few college students know how to study properly.
This is mostly because students think that there is only one way to study for every type of class, which couldn’t be further from the truth. Though certain study methods work for some people, different courses require focusing on various forms of information. You cannot expect to study for a microbiology test the same way you would prepare for an economics exam.
Similarly, studying for a history exam might be more similar to preparing for a sociology exam than you’d think. The real trick is to identify what type of class you’re in and apply the corresponding methods to that class. Learning which methods to use for each type of class can make studying for these classes much easier come exam time.
Classes that introduce you to a lot of new vocabularies, dates or names rely heavily on memorization abilities. Nowadays, especially in lower division courses, many classes have this aspect incorporated into the curriculum. While a lucky few simply need to see these new terms once before memorizing them, others need to form mental anchors to ensure that the new material sticks. In these instances, exposing yourself to the information as frequently as possible is the key.
That means knowing the information before your professor first discusses it. Read ahead of hearing the lecture in class. Not only that, write down questions that come to your mind. It doesn’t matter if they seem obvious or random; the mere act of writing down questions will help you remember the content you just read and help you follow along during the actual lecture.
The next part happens when you actually get to class. Ask your questions! If the professor skims over the section you had a question about, get them to explain it. Most times, the teacher will end up answering your questions organically during the lecture. That’s even better. Just be sure to jot down the answers next to where you wrote the questions. Not only are you learning, but you’re also keeping yourself from dozing off. It’s a lot harder to daydream when you’re waiting for someone to mention a particular topic, or you’re looking for a chance to ask a question.
Afterward, take a few minutes and review the answers to the questions. This all helps with the memorization process since you’re giving your brain multiple chances to remember what was said. This moves the information from short-term memory to long-term memory, meaning you’ll be more likely to remember it come exam time.
2. Essay Intensive
Classes that require extensive amounts of writing can be the most time-consuming of all classes. Most college students would rather forego essays entirely. Even those who would prefer to write will admit that the process is arduous. The subjectivity of grading a written paper only complicates matters further.
For classes like these, the insightful words of artist Pablo Picasso come to mind: Good artists borrow, great artists steal.
But we’re not talking plagiarism here. The prolific painter was referring to taking ideas, not content. When asked to write an essay, copy the style of other academic papers written on the subject. Reading through and dissecting the tone, diction and structure of educational pieces will not only give you a greater understanding of the topic, but it will also put your paper leagues above the rest of your classmates. In some cases, that can deal with the subjectivity issue. If your professor compares students’ papers to one another, you’ll definitely be in the top-tier.
However, keep in mind that just mimicking the style of academic journals won’t do the trick; the basics have to be solid as well. Make sure your grammar is correct, and you’re not using big words just to sound intelligent. At the very least, check that each word is being used in the appropriate context. It might even be worth swinging by the Writing Lab and letting someone proofread your work.
Courses that rely heavily on you learning new methods, equations or proofs are a different beast altogether. They usually come in the form of mathematics, programming or natural science classes.
With classes like these, it’s always better to bring friends or find them fast. But, before you organize a ten-person weekly study group, schedule some time for you to go through all the problems all by yourself. You heard me. Don’t meet up with anyone until attempting every assigned problem alone.
This forces you to pinpoint exactly where in the process you’re having trouble. You should meet up with a study group only after solving the problems, and possibly getting all the wrong answers by yourself.
Going over these assignments with your peers is often the best way to strengthen your own ability to handle the problems. The primary goal is to figure out not only how someone else solved the problems, but why they went about it that way. In most cases, it’ll be a lot easier having someone with a similar knowledge base as you explain it, as opposed to a professor with thirty years of experience in the subject.
Alternatively, if no one in your class gets it or is open to forming a study group, find a tutor. Keep in mind, not all tutors have to be expensive. Some schools make it easy to locate graduate students that will happily answer your questions in between their own classes. You can even find students that already took the class and can offer some pointers.
4. Get Sleep
Above all, don’t skimp out on sleep, especially near midterms or finals. When you sleep, your brain is actually making sense of all the information you absorbed during the day. Staying up all night to binge watch “Buffy: The Vampire Slayer” will only bite you in the butt in the long run.
If you’re really pressed for time, borrow this trick. Cram two nights before the actual exam. That way, you’ll have an entire day to catch up on sleep, and you won’t feel like a caffeine-fueled zombie on the day of the exam. Plus, your brain will have had time to retain some of the information you jammed into it.