Study Skills

So you have a test coming up and you would like to do well? Sounds like a good goal! Study skills are habits that you develop over time, based on the way that you study and learn. Unfortunately, study skills are a personal thing, and the best way to learn good study skills is by trying different tips and tools to see what fits. The overall goal with developing good study skills is not that you can study more, but that you can study more efficiently. Below is a list of general tips to help you become more efficient in your studies.

  1. Manage your time well. All good study habits come from an ability to estimate how much time an assignment will take and how to manage your time well around those needs. If you do not manage your time well, you will have a difficult time staying on task and being efficient in your coursework. You can always check with your friends to see what time management strategies they have (calendars, to do lists, reminders on facebook etc.) and try some of those methods on for size.
  2. Set appropriate expectations. Do you have any idea how much time your professors expect you to put into their course each week? In order to manage your time well, you have to have a reasonable expectation for each course. The general rule of thumb is, for every unit that your class has, your professor is expecting that you will spend 2-3 hours per week on class related activities. So if you have a 4 unit course, your professors is expecting 8-12 hours worth of work each week from you. Obviously some weeks will be heavier, some weeks will be lighter. But these are their expectations. So a student carrying 16 units could have between 32 and 48 hours worth of work each week for their classes. Compute how many hours your professors are expecting of you based on your total number of units. If the amount of time you spend on your classes is drastically lower or higher than this number, then you may encounter some academic and time management difficulties.
  3. Go to class! I know I know, this seems like a logical one, right? Especially since Westmont is not the cheapest college to attend. But you would not imagine the number of students who voluntarily miss out on this part of their academic experience. For a 4 unit course, your professor has between 3 and 4 hours of in-class time with you each week. They are not going to waste this time by covering useless material. For many professors, this is a time where they try to cover the most important parts of the course in more detail. If you miss out on your class sessions, you will miss having your professor neatly review and summarize the material you need to understand, and you may miss important announcements regarding exams or other class assignments. So, bite the bullet and go to class.
  4. Don’t forget what you already know. Since you are now going to class regularly, and taking diligent notes, make sure to keep this information fresh in your mind. Many times students take great notes, and then never look at them again until weeks later when they begin preparing for their exams. By that time they have forgotten most of what was said in class, so time is spent relearning material they already knew. Make a habit to be a more efficient learner by reading through your notes for each class at least 10 minutes a day. Don’t study the material, just review it often. Usually you can find small pockets of time throughout your day that would ordinarily be wasted. Keep a notebook handy so that you can easily pop it out and take advantage of those free minutes.
  5. Establish a regular study time and place. Having a consistent time and place each day will allow you to spend less time getting settled down to study and more time to focus on the tasks at hand. And just a hint, sometimes the best place to study is NOT in your room. Your room has all manner of distractions, including those roomies of yours, which will divert attention from the assignments and reading you have.
  6. Study frequently and in short time periods. It is better for you to divide your study time over multiple study sessions rather than cramming it all in during one long time block. Spacing out your study times allows your brain the time it needs to think through the material, and allows you the time to determine what you really do know. It also allows you to beat the natural fatigue you will feel after working on an assignment for a long period of time. By focusing on one subject for an hour or two, then switching to another subject for a while, then moving back to the first subject, you can give your brain enough variety to stay engaged for a longer period of time. By spacing out your studying over multiple days, you maximize this effort.
  7. Make sure to take regular breaks. Building on the idea in tip #6, make sure that you take regular 10 minute breaks while you are studying. Doing this allows you to give your brain time to focus on another task, so that you can come back to your studies and determine how much of the subject you truly know. Usually it is recommended to work for 30-40 minutes, then take a 10 minute break, then work for an additional 30-40 minutes. Break this down into time increments that are effective for you. During the breaks, take a walk around the space you are studying in, check e-mail, call a friend, make a run to the DC etc. But don’t spend more than 10 minutes away or you will begin to procrastinate!
  8. Focus on understanding the material. Many students ask “What do I need to know for this test?”. That question tends to sound like “What do I need to memorize for this test?”. Memorizing is a short term knowledge strategy where the information makes no real lasting impression on your worldview. You “learn” and then “purge” right after the exam is finished. A better question would be, “What do I need to understand for this test?”. Understanding involves a deeper level of knowing the material. Understanding something means that you can look at the same topic in different ways, from different angles and you can recognize when it is present in different situations. Have a goal to really understand the material you are learning.
  9. Develop a good study pace. This is a combination of many of the strategies mentioned above. View your life at least one week into the future. Every day look ahead in all of your classes to see if there are exams coming up. Theoretically you are managing your time well, you are studying short and often, and you are continually reviewing your class notes to keep the material fresh in your mind. Now all you need to do is begin actively studying for the test. So a week before the exam, study 1-2 hours a day for the next 4 days. That pace should allow you to still work on homework, tests and papers for other classes. Then, 3 days before the test, bump up your study time to 3-4 hours a day. This pace, if you are on the high end, will give you smaller amounts of studying per day (when compared to cramming) and you will spend a total of 20 hours studying for your exams. Not only that, but the study time will be more efficient and effective than if you were to cram for the tests.
  10. Now that you know some of the best study tips, go try them out!