I had an old colleague who had taught more years than I had been alive at the time and we were discussing student success. He told me that he always tells his students, “Studying isn’t staring at unfamiliar information”. That was an AHA moment for me. I could finally see where some of the mismatch between student and teacher were coming from. A lot of my students didn’t know what it meant to study. That is good news really, because that is fixable! Study skills are teachable.
Let’s discuss study skills. What they are and what they are not. First, studying is not re-reading your notes. In fact re-reading is one of the least productive ways to study. No one likes to feel like they have wasted their time.
There was recently a great article going around Facebook about how negative re-reading was to a student’s overall study efficiency. One of the things it mentions is that students get lazy when they are re-reading. They aren’t reading with an active mindset, because they have already read the information. This article also provides a great list of alternative strategies.
It is deflating to have a student tell you that they understood the information prior to the test. My area is content heavy and while understanding the material is important, they have to know it! Really know it. Not understand when they read the book.
My content area is the pit of knowledge they will use in their future coursework as well as career. Understanding the notes isn’t going to get you to the level you need to be. There is a recall of fact that is necessary in many disciplines. In teacher jargon, the student needs to achieve automaticity in the content. Remember your math facts?
I really focus on using as many possible mechanisms as possible to get the information in your brain. While learning styles are being disputed in the research, students do have learning preferences. I suggest that you use various mechanisms and not just stick to your preference.
These are the study skills and strategies that I most often share with students:
Notecards and Sticky Notes
Use notecards, but use them in a different way. Instead of just going through them like flashcards which can become inactive fast. Lay the notecards or sticky notes out and use them in flow charts. Lay three flash cards out and then ask your study partner which fits the description or relates to this topic. That takes it from memorizing to actually trying to synthesize the information. By trying to do more than memorize, it makes more connections in the brain and actually helps to make the information more reachable when we need it.
Don’t only study alone. If you study better alone that is great, but try to carve out some time each week to work with a partner. It can help students to relate to the information differently when someone else goes through it. You will often be surprised by how differently two people may remember the details of a lecture or reading. Use those differences to strengthen your knowledge of the course materials.
Don’t just re-read. Actually take time to read sections in the notes and book then either outline, create a graphic organizer or my personal favorite is for students to create questions from that material. It isn’t really that difficult to have an idea of what questions may be multiple choice. Only certain material lends itself to those types of questions. Use highlighters, flags, and sticky notes to point out important information, create categories and color code to help prioritize.
Get to Know the Jargon
Every job has a vocabulary set. Every course does as well. Knowing the jargon will prevent you from being bogged down by the text which makes your studying more efficient. A good place to start is using the glossary in the text. I have a friend who would photocopy the glossary of each text and put it in the back of that course’s notebook. That way if she didn’t have the text she could still look up the word.
Textbooks now come with amazing features. It can get to the point of being overwhelming, but take a few minutes to really explore what your company has to offer. Some of my students love podcasts. These are great for students who might suffer from eye strain or other issues with reading and/or students that spend much time commuting. I have had students tell me that they listened to a lecture while on the treadmill.
This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to study skills. I would encourage students to use multiple strategies and seek a tutor if they feel overwhelmed. Are you starting a new semester and need help developing a study plan? I’m giving a free workshop. Click the image below for details or sign up here: