Two of the most effective study tips one should adopt are 1) being prepared to study, and 2) writing notes on paper and not your computer. The former deals with a pre-study ritual, a check list if you will. The latter focuses on the art of taking notes. Both are crucial if you wish to improve your grades in school. Both are also tremendous life skills you will use for the rest of your life. |
Be Prepared Before you get ready to study it is wise to figure out what you will need for the session you are about to begin. Say you are studying history. It is wise to leave your math book and science text behind. Not only are they adding extra weight to your backpack, but they will not be used in this particular session.
Many, if not most, students will lug their laptop computer with them wherever they go. But computers pose a significant problem for many as well. While computers are powerful machines, they also provide every opportunity for distraction. Games, Facebook, Twitter, and just surfing the web are temptations best left elsewhere. The only time I bring a computer is when there is something the computer adds to the session. For example, is there something specific you need from the web to complete the assignment? The same thing goes for the phone. I suggest that you put your phone to sleep but allow contact from a specific cluster of family members only. When the session ends, wake the phone up.
Any assignment sheets, study sheets, and texts needed for this study session are a must. Paper to write on and pencils to write with are standards. I suggest pencils primarily because they are are erase-able allowing for easy corrections if needed.
The whole point of being prepared is to bring all that you need and nothing more to your study session. There is nothing more frustrating than having to run back and forth because you forgot to bring something along.
Take Notes the Old Fashioned Way Sure computers are nice to take to class and write notes. The problem lies not in the notes themselves, rather in the ease in which one reviews notes. Taking notes without a plan for careful review of those notes is not a good idea. The act of taking notes alone is not enough to sear those important ideas in your memory. It is the review process that allows you to make the connections needed to fix them in your long-term memory.
I suggest the Cornell Note Taking System. In this system your page is divided into three parts. At the bottom of the page leave a space about 1.5 inches from the bottom to write a summary of what is contained on that page. In the left margin leave a space of about 33% from the left margin in which during review you write cues to what is in the note section and you make connections to other notes or texts. In the space that remains, take class notes or reading notes. The review process begins when you write cues in the cue column. A cue is a single word or two to three word phrase that acts to summarize a section of notes. On any page of notes you should have no more than five or six cues. Then write a brief, two to three sentence summary of your notes on that page. The next time you review your notes, read the summary first. If you are sure you understand fully what appears on that page you are ready to go to the next page. If not, look at the cues and make the same determination. If you still need time to understand what is in your notes, read the notes.
This process in nearly impossible to do well on a computer. If, however, you write your notes on paper, you created a perfect segmentation of your notes allowing for an ongoing review. All this assumes that taking notes is purposeful. The notes you take are perfect memory enhancers. They will, however, not do their job if you don't take the time to review them so that you fully understand what you have written.
One final word about note taking. Some people suggest that your notes follow a specific format. Outlining, listing, diagraming and the like are separate note taking strategies. I suggest that that is utter nonsense. I write notes in phrases without attempting to organize the notes as I am writing. I use cues and summaries to aid in organization. If you are comfortable outlining, then outline. Do you make lists, then take notes in list form. The idea is to take your notes in a way that makes the most sense to you. It is you, after all, who must make sense of them when you are reviewing.
Some Final Thoughts Effective study tips discussed here include being prepared for any study session and writing your notes on paper using the Cornell Note Taking System. The best thing about the Cornell System is that there is no 'right' way to take your initial notes. Notes are understood as personal memory tools so take notes within your comfort zone. It is the review process that is formalized making recall easier all along the way.
Dr. Roger Lewis is the owner of Effective Study Tips where he introduces parents and their children to the most effective study habits we know of. Dr. Lewis is a career educator teaching in both middle-school settings and in university departments of education. His specialty is in the teaching of reading methods for k-12 students. He is now retired concentrating on sharing his knowledge with a broader audience.
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