Study Skills

Homework Helpers
  • Start with “A-priority” tasks; is it the best use of your time?
  • Fight procrastination; do it now if it’s important.
  • Subdivide large, tough tasks into smaller, easily accomplished parts.
  • Establish a quiet hour, even though it requires will power and may not always work.
  • Find a hideaway, someplace you can concentrate and get your work done.
  • Learn to say “no” when you’ve got something important to do.
  • Accumulate similar tasks and do them all at one time.
  • Minimize routine tasks; spend only the time they deserve.
  • Avoid over-commitment. Be realistic about what you can do in the time you have.
  • Don’t over-schedule. Allow some flexible time.
  • Set time limits. For example, some decisions shouldn’t take more than three minutes to make. Know how to recognize these.
  • Use big blocks of time for big jobs.
  • Do difficult things quickly; waiting doesn’t make them easier.
  • Think the job through before acting.
  • Finish as you go; get it right the first time.
  • Above all, review regularly and plan to study ahead, so that the night before an exam, all you do Is review material.
Time Management Tips

Make a “To Do” List Every Day.
Put things that are most important at the top and do them first. If it’s easier, use a planner to track all of your tasks. And don’t forget to reward yourself for your accomplishments.

Use Spare Minutes Wisely.
Get some reading done on the bus ride home from school, for example, and you’ll kill two birds with one stone.

It’s Okay to Say “No.”
For example, an acquaintance of yours would like you to see a movie with him tonight. You made social plans for tomorrow with your friends and tonight you were going to study and do laundry. You really are not interested. You want to say no, but you hate turning people down. Politely saying no should become a habit. Saying no frees up time for the things that are most important.

Find the Right Time.
You’ll work more efficiently if you figure out when you do your best work. For example, if your brain handles math better in the afternoon, don’t wait to do it until late at night.

Review Your Notes Every Day.
You’ll reinforce what you’ve learned, so you need less time to study. You’ll also be ready if your teacher calls on you or gives a pop quiz.

Get a Good Night’s Sleep.
Running on empty makes the day seem longer and your tasks seem more difficult.

Communicate Your Schedule to Others.
If phone calls are proving to be a distraction, tell your friends that you take social calls from 7:00 to 8:00 p.m. It may sound silly, but it helps.

Become a Taskmaster.
Figure out how much time you have each week to do certain things, such as watch TV. Give yourself a time budget and plan your activities (or favorite shows) accordingly.

Don’t Waste Time Agonizing.
Have you ever wasted an entire evening by worrying about something that you’re supposed to be doing? Was it worth it? Instead of agonizing and procrastinating, just do it.

Keep Things in Perspective.
Setting goals that are unrealistic sets you up for failure. While it’s good to set high goals for yourself, be sure not to overdo it. Set goals that are difficult yet reachable.

Don’t be a perfectionist.
Trying to be a perfect person sets you up for defeat. Nobody can be perfect. Difficult tasks usually result in avoidance and procrastination. You need to set achievable goals, but they should also be challenging. There will always be people both weaker and stronger than you.

Learn to Prioritize.
Prioritizing your responsibilities and engagements is very important. Some people do not know how to prioritize and become procrastinators. A “to do list” places items in order of importance. One method is the ABC list. This list is divided into three sections; a, b, or c. The items placed in the A section are those needed to be done that day. The items placed in the B section need completion within the week. The C section items are those things that need to be done within the month. As the B, C items become more pertinent they are bumped up to the A or B list. Try it or come up with your own method, but do it.

Combine several activities.
Another suggestion is to combine several activities into one time spot. While commuting to school, listen to taped notes. This allows up to an hour or two a day of good study review. While showering make a mental list of the things that need to be done. When you watch a sit-com, laugh as you pay your bills. These are just suggestions of what you can do to combine your time, but there are many others, above all be creative, and let it work for you.

After scheduling becomes a habit, then you can adjust it. It’s better to be precise at first. It is easier to find something to do with extra time then to find extra time to do something. Most importantly, make it work for you. A time schedule that is not personalized and honest is not a time schedule at all.

Consider these tips, but personalize your habits so that they suit you. If you set priorities that fit your lifestyle, you’ll have a better chance of achieving your goals.

Time Study
Scheduling and managing time wisely are important for all students. If you miss important appointments and deadlines you will cause complications to both your academic and social lives. This causes anxiety, frustration, guilt, and other nasty feelings.

Personal Time Survey
To begin managing your time you first need a clearer idea of how you now use your time. The Personal Time Survey will help you to estimate how much time you currently spend in typical activities. To get a more accurate estimate, you might keep track of how you spend your time for a week. This will help you get a better idea of how much time you need to prepare for each subject. It will also help you identify your time wasters. But for now complete the Personal Time Survey to get an estimate.

The following survey shows the amount of time you spend on various activities. When taking the survey, estimate the amount of time spent on each item. Once you have this amount, multiply it by seven. This will give you the total time spent on the activity in one week. After each item’s weekly time has been calculated, add all these times for the grand total. Subtract this from 168, the total possible hours per week. Here We Go:

  1. ________ X 7 = _______Number of hours of sleep each night
  2. ________ X 7 = _______Number of grooming hours per day
  3. ________ X 7 = _______Number of hours for meals/snacks per day – include preparation time
  4. ________ X 5 = _______Total travel time weekdays
  5. ________ Total travel time weekends
  6. ________ Number of hours per week for regularly scheduled functions (clubs, church, get-togethers, etc.)
  7. ________ X 7 = _______Number of hours per day for chores, errands, extra grooming, etc.
  8. ________ Number of hours of work per week
  9. ________ Number of hours in class per week
  10. ________ Number of average hours per week socializing, dates.
  11. ________ Now add up the totals
  12. Subtract the above number from 168 – _______ = _______

The remaining hours are the hours you have allowed yourself to study.

Study Hour Formula
To determine how many hours you need to study each week to get A’s, use the following rule of thumb. Study two hours per hour in class for an easy class, three hours per hour in class for an average class, and four hours per hour in class for a difficult class.

________ x 2 = _______ Easy class credit hours
________ x 3 = _______ Average class credit hours
________ x 4 = _______ Difficult class credit hours

Total Study Hours: _________

Compare this number to your time left from the survey. Now is the time when many students might find themselves a bit stressed. Just a note to ease your anxieties. It is not only the quantity of study time but also it’s quality. This formula is a general guideline. Try it for a week, and make adjustments as needed.

Preparing for Exams
General Test Taking Tips
  • Study for an exam gradually over a period of days or weeks.
  • Go to bed at a reasonable hour the night before an exam.
  • Eat breakfast the morning of an exam.
  • Arrive at class five to ten minutes before an exam begins.
  • Work through the entire test, skip any question which you do not know how to solve immediately and move to the next question.
  • Check all your answers.
  • Check all answers a second time after completing the exam.
  • Work on the problems skipped only after having gone through the entire test once.
  • Never turn in an exam early.
  • Have a positive attitude when taking an exam.

Before the exam

  • Find out what the exam will or won’t cover.
  • Find out what kind of exam it will be: objective, short essay, long essay, or a combination.
  • Stay up-to-date on assignments. Learn material and review as you go along.
  • Make sure you understand the information as you are learning it. That way, you won’t have to “re-learn” it or have to “cram” a great deal of information at one time.
  • Read and study information in meaningful chunks (by chapters or units) so that you’ll be able to “file” and “retrieve” information easily.
  • At the end of each chapter or unit, identify the information that was most important. Make up “flash cards” on this information that you can easily carry and use for study on a regular basis.
  • Examine past tests to determine how you can improve test results.
  • Get the big picture. Ask the instructor about the test. Find out what information will be stressed and the kinds of questions that will be asked. Then go over your text and lecture notes to develop a study strategy. Map or outline the course contents if you haven’t done so previously.
  • Before a test or exam, break study sessions into manageable time segments and meaningful units. You’ll remember more if you study for short periods of time (45 minutes to 1 hour) and over a longer period of time (1-2 weeks) than if you cram all your study into a “binge” session the night before the test.
  • Practice answering essay questions before the test. Use cognitive questions at all levels to assure learning and ability to answer essay questions. For example: How would you describe, compare/contrast, predict, classify, apply, evaluate, prioritize, etc?
  • Use mnemonic techniques to memorize lists, definitions, and other specific kinds of information.
  • Form a study group with other students in your class to discuss and quiz each other on important material. This will add other perspectives and help to “complete” your study if you tend to be either a “detailed” or “big-picture” learner.
  • Maintain healthy living habits. Get a good night’s sleep before the test.

During the Test

  • Get to the test site early so you can select a seat, organize your materials, and get relaxed. Be prepared with pencils, paper, calculator, books (if appropriate), etc.
  • Get the big picture. Survey the entire test before you answer any questions. This will help you to get an overview of what’s expected and to strategize how you will take the test.
  • Take a few deep breaths and to relax tense muscles. Repeat throughout the test. This process will help you to stay relaxed and to make more energy available for remembering, thinking, and writing.
  • Read directions carefully. Ask questions if you don’t understand or need clarification.
  • Do a quick “mind dump” of information you don’t want to forget. Write it down on scrap paper or in the margin.
  • Answer the easiest questions first, to help yourself calm down. Matching questions are often good to start with because they provide a reminder of important terms and definitions.
  • Look for the central idea of each question. What is the main point?
  • Statements that begin with always, never, none, except, most, or least-are probably NOT the answer . Underline these or other key words if you are allowed to write on the test paper.
  • Try to supply your own answer before choosing an alternative listed on the test.
  • Mark an answer for every question.
  • If you have to guess:
    • The length of choices can be a clue. Choose the longest.
    • If two choices are similar, choose neither.
    • If two choices are opposites, choose one of them.
    • The most general alternative is usually the right answer.
  • When answering essay questions, remember that the objective is to demonstrate how well you can explain and support an idea, not just what you know. Keep the following in mind:
    • Read over all the essay questions before you start to write. Underline key words like define, compare, explain, etc.
    • Think before you write. Remember, a good answer:
      • Starts with a direct response to the question.
      • Mentions the topics or areas described in the question.
      • Provides specific as well as general information.
      • Uses the technical vocabulary of the course.
    • Then map or outline the main points you want to make, determine the order in which you want to write your points, determine the support you want to add, then write.
    • Write legibly. Leave some space so you can add to your answer, later.
    • Proofread your essay. Check for grammar, punctuation, spelling, etc. This often adds points!
  • When problem solving, ask yourself:
    • What am I being asked to find?
    • What do I need to know in order to find the answer?
    • What information has been provided that will help me to find the answer?
    • How can I break the problem down into parts? What steps should I follow to solve the problem?
    • Does the answer make sense? Does it cover the whole problem?
    • Keep an eye on the clock.

After the Test
When you receive your test paper, go over it to determine areas of strength and weakness in your test-taking skills. If you have done poorly, learn from your mistakes! Always analyze your tests to determine how you can improve future test results.

Ten Traps of Studying
  1. “I Don’t Know Where To Begin”
    Take Control. Make a list of all the things you have to do. Break your workload down into manageable chunks. Prioritize! Schedule your time realistically. Don’t skip classes near an exam — you may miss a review session. Interrupt study time with planned study breaks. Begin studying early, with an hour or two per day, and slowly build as the exam approaches.
  2. “I’ve Got So Much To Study . . . And So Little Time”
    Preview your syllabus, reading material, and notes. Identify the most important topics emphasized, and areas still not understood. Previewing saves time, especially with non-fiction reading, by helping you organize and focus in on the main topics. Adapt this method to your own style and study material, but remember, previewing is not an effective substitute for reading.
  3. “This Stuff Is So Dry, I Can’t Even Stay Awake Reading It”
    Attack! Get actively involved with the text as you read. Ask yourself, “What is important to remember about this section?” Take notes or underline key concepts. Discuss the material with others in your class. Study together. Stay on the offensive, especially with material that you don’t find interesting, rather than reading passively and missing important points.
  4. “I Read It. I Understand It. But I Just Can’t Get It To Sink In”
    Elaborate. We remember best the things that are most meaningful to us. As you are reading, try to elaborate upon new information with your own examples. Try to integrate what you’re studying with what you already know. You will be able to remember new material better if you can link it to something that’s already meaningful to you. Some techniques include:

    • Chunking: An effective way to simplify and make information more meaningful. For example, suppose you wanted to remember the colors in the visible spectrum (Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet); you would have to memorize seven “chunks” of information in order. But if you take the first letter of each color, you can spell the name “Roy G. Biv”, and reduce the information the three “chunks”.
    • Mnemonics: Any memory-assisting technique that helps us to associate new information with something familiar. For example, to remember a formula or equation, we may use letters of the alphabet to represent certain numbers. Then we can change an abstract formula into a more meaningful word or phrase, so we’ll be able to remember it better. Sound-alike associations can be very effective, too, especially while trying to learn a new language. The key is to create your own links, then you won’t forget them.
  5. “I Guess I Understand It”
    Test yourself. Make up questions about key sections in notes or reading. Keep in mind what the professor has stressed in the course. Examine the relationships between concepts and sections. Often, simply by changing section headings you can generate many effective questions. For example, a section entitled “Bystander Apathy” might be changed into questions such as: “What is bystander apathy?”, “What are the causes of bystander apathy?”, and “What are some examples of bystander apathy?”
  6. “There’s Too Much To Remember”
    Organize. Information is recalled better if it is represented in an organized framework that will make retrieval more systematic. There are many techniques that can help you organize new information, including:

    • Write chapter outlines or summaries; emphasize relationships between sections.
    • Group information into categories or hierarchies, where possible.
    • Information Mapping. Draw up a matrix to organize and interrelate material. For example, if you were trying to understand the causes of World War I, you could make a chart listing all the major countries involved across the top, and then list the important issues and events down the side. Next, in the boxes in between, you could describe the impact each issue had on each country to help you understand these complex historical developments.
  7. “I Knew It A Minute Ago”
    Review. After reading a section, try to recall the information contained in it. Try answering the questions you made up for that section. If you cannot recall enough, re-read portions you had trouble remembering. The more time you spend studying, the more you tend to recall. Even after the point where information can be perfectly recalled, further study makes the material less likely to be forgotten entirely. In other words, you can’t overstudy. However, how you organize and integrate new information is still more important than how much time you spend studying.
  8. “But I Like To Study In Bed”
    Context. Recall is better when study context (physical location, as well as mental, emotional, and physical state) are similar to the test context. The greater the similarity between the study setting and the test setting, the greater the likelihood that material studied will be recalled during the test.
  9. “Cramming Before A Test Helps Keep It Fresh In My Mind”
    Spacing: Start studying now. Keep studying as you go along. Begin with an hour or two a day about one week before the exam, and then increase study time as the exam approaches. Recall increases as study time gets spread out over time.
  10. “I’m Gonna Stay Up All Night ’til I Get This”
    Avoid Mental Exhaustion. Take short breaks often when studying. Before a test, have a rested mind. When you take a study break, and just before you go to sleep at night, don’t think about academics. Relax and unwind, mentally and physically. Otherwise, your break won’t refresh you and you’ll find yourself lying awake at night. It’s more important than ever to take care of yourself before an exam! Eat well, sleep, and get enough exercise.
Improving Classroom Performance
Do your homework!
Read critically; form your own opinions

Arrive on time for class
Being late sends the wrong message

Don’t skip school
Missing school puts you behind in assignments and makes the entire learning process much more difficult.

Position yourself in the classroom
Sit in the front of class where you will be less likely to be distracted by peers.

Review your notes
Review notes from the previous lecture and reading for the day

Communicate immediately with teachers
Speak to your teachers about any study problems

Focus on the task at hand before class
Before class take a moment of silence to gather your thoughts and mentally prepare yourself.

Write any objectives
Write down any thoughts that come to mind at the head of your notepaper, such as;
preparing for an up-coming test, understanding a particular concept, gaining a good foundation on a topic understanding or reviewing the readings.

Avoid distractions
Avoid things that may interfere with your concentration
(daydreaming, looking around the room, talking to a friend, passing notes, dozing)

Be an active learner
Actively listen to what your teacher and peers are saying. Get involved in class discussions and contribute to the learning process.

Evaluate as you listen
Decide what is important and should be placed in your notes and what can be left out;
Listen long enough to be sure you understand what was said before writing.
Ask clarifying questions (but wait for “breaks” in the instructor’s stream).

Write a “to do” list
Write a list that includes; assignments previewing difficult concepts

Joining study groups
Making appointments with a study partner, tutor, or the teacher.
One resource often overlooked is a classmate who seems to have a good grasp of the material. If it seems appropriate, seek the individual out for help.

Material adapted from: Gail M. Zimmerman, Assistant Dean of First-Year Students and Academic Counselor, Dartmouth College and Bob Nelson, et al, Learning Resource Centers, Rutgers University

Building Positive Relationships With Your Teachers
How you communicate with your teacher can greatly affect how well you do in a course. In general, teachers are likely to be impressed with students who show a genuine interest in their course material and ask good questions. The best way to get on your teacher’s good side is to be an “interested” student.
  • Don’t criticize, condemn, or complain to the teacher about his or her performance. Focus on, and address the material and your understanding of it.
  • Smile and display a positive attitude
  • Know and use the teacher’s name
  • Avoid arguing. If you have to discuss something of a personal nature, do not challenge your teacher in class. Wait for an appropriate time to talk to your teacher privately.
  • If you are wrong, admit it quickly and emphatically
  • Ask questions
  • Try honestly to see the teacher’s point of view
  • Let the teacher know that you sincerely want to do well in the course
  • Always have the course textbook in your hand whenever you see the instructor
  • Be respectful. You give it, you get it.
  • Hand in all assignments on time throughout the semester on time!

Adapted from How to Win Friends and Influence People, by Dale Carnegie, New York: Simon and Schuster Inc.,1936.

Writing Skills
Writing essays, term papers, lab reports, etc. no matter the topic, is a process:

Establish, narrow, and define your topic
State your thesis or theme in a sentence or two at most

Define your audience
Keep your audience in mind as you write

Plan ahead
Set a time line and allow for unexpected developments and planned revision

Gather resources

  • People: instructor, research librarian, tutor, subject matter experts, professionals
    References: text book, reference works, web sites, journals, diaries, professional reports
  • Research: read, interview, experiment, gather data, etc. and take notes completely as possible and document sources. Either use index cards or a system in word processing.
  • Organize your notes with a prewriting exercise: focused free writing, brainstorming, mapping, and/or outlining

Write your first (rough) draft
Determine how you will develop your argument: Use good logic in a reasoned argument to develop the theme and/or support the thesis. Will you compare or define? Will you criticize or describe?

Your first paragraph

  • Introduce the topic!
  • Inform the reader of your point of view!
  • Entice the reader to continue with the rest of the paper!
  • Focus on three main points to develop

The first paragraph is often the most difficult to write. If you have trouble, just get it down with the intention of re-writing it later, even after you have finished with the rest. But remember this first entry draws your audience into your topic, your perspective, and its importance to continue with the rest.

Establish flow from paragraph to paragraph:

  • Transition sentences, clauses, or words at the beginning of paragraph connect one idea to the next.
  • Topic sentences in each paragraph, also near the beginning, define their place in the overall scheme.
  • Avoid one and two sentence paragraphs which may reflect lack of development of your point.

Keep your voice active

  • “The Academic Committee decided…” not “It was decided by…”
  • Avoid the verb “to be” for clear, dynamic, and effective presentation (Avoid the verb “to be” and your presentation will be effective, clear, and dynamic)
  • Avoiding “to be” will also avoid the passive voice

Use quotations to support your interpretations

  • Properly introduce, explain, and cite each quote
  • Block (indented) quotes should be used sparingly; they can break up the flow of your argument

Continually prove your point of view throughout the essay

  • Don’t drift or leave its primary focus of the essay
  • Don’t lapse into summary in the development–wait until its time, at the conclusion

Read your first paragraph and the development . Summarize, then conclude, your argument. Refer back (once again) to the first paragraph(s):

  • Do the last paragraphs briefly restate the main ideas?
  • Do they reflect the succession and importance of the arguments
  • Do they logically conclude their development?

Edit/rewrite the first paragraph
Take a day or two off!

Re-read your paper with a fresh mind and a sharp pencil.

Re-read aloud
Read as if you want to communicate with a trusted friend or family member. The person/people can be real or imaginary. You will be surprised what you find to change!

Edit, correct, and re-write as necessary

Turn in the paper on time

Portions adapted with permission from K. Austin Kerr, Some Tips on Writing Papers for History Courses, Ohio State University. Suggestion by Carolla J. Ault, Writing Instructor, The College of Lake County.

SQ3R – A Reading/Study System

Gather the information necessary to focus and formulate goals

  1. Read the title – help your mind prepare to receive the subject at hand.
  2. Read the introduction and/or summary – orient yourself to how this chapter fits the author’s purposes, and focus on the author’s statement of most important points.
  3. Notice each boldface heading and subheading – organize your mind before you begin to read – build a structure for the thoughts and details to come.
  4. Notice any graphics – charts, maps, diagrams, etc. are there to make a point – don’t miss them.
  5. Notice reading aids – italics, bold face print, chapter objective, end-of -chapter questions are all included to help you sort, comprehend, and remember.

Help your mind engage and concentrate.

One section at a time, turn the boldface heading into as many questions as you think will be answered in that section. The better the questions, the better your comprehension is likely to be. You may always add further questions as you proceed. When your mind is actively searching for answers to questions it becomes engaged in learning.

READ – fill in the information around the mental structures you’ve been building.
Read each section (one at a time) with your questions in mind. Look for the answers, and notice if you need to make up some new questions.

RECITE – Retain your mind to concentrate and learn as it reads.
After each section – stop, recall your questions, and see if you can answer them from memory. If not, look back again (as often as necessary) but don’t go on to the next section until you can recite.

REVIEW – Refine your mental organization and begin building memory.
Once you’ve finished the entire chapter using the preceding steps, go back over all the questions from all the headings. See if you can still answer them. If not, look back and refresh your memory, then continue.

Test Anxiety Tips
Virtual Handouts: Top Ten Tips for Reducing Test Anxiety
  1. Make an appointment with your instructor two weeks before an exam to clarify material.
  2. Reduce study materials to outlines, note cards, or a few key study pages. Over-learn the material.
  3. Learn relaxation techniques to use while studying and taking the test (e.g., deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, visualization, positive self-talk).
  4. Get to the classroom early so you can sit where you want. Avoid people who will add to your stress.
  5. Look over the questions to familiarize yourself with the test. Underline key words or phrases in the test directions.
  6. Budget your time in order to finish the test. Show as much work as possible to get partial credit.
  7. If you get stuck or start feeling anxious, take a mini-break to refresh yourself (e.g., get a drink of water, stretch, get some fresh air).
  8. Don’t panic when you don’t know an answer, eliminate options you know are incorrect and then make an educated guess.
  9. If you have time, review your answers. Don’t change an answer unless you are sure your second answer is correct.
  10. Use positive self-talk and have a positive attitude toward the test. Reward yourself after the test for completing it and don’t dwell on potential mistakes.

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2033 K St. NW Suite 330, Washington, D.C. 20052, (202) 994-5300

Study Guides & Strategies

University of St. Thomas
Study Guides & Strategies

Purdue University
Online Writing Lab

California Polytechnic State University
Student Academic Services

  • The Cornell Method
  • The Outline Method
  • The Mapping Method
  • The Charting Method
  • The Sentence Method

University of California Berkeley
A System for Effective Listening and Note Taking

University of Maryland
Counseling Center’s Learning Assistance Service