Study Skills

Once you have established a schedule to study you need to get the most out of that time. Several things will help increase your effectiveness. As already mentioned, maintaining a regular schedule is one. Another is creating a comfortable environment for studying that is free of distractions. Finally there is the What and How of studying.

A. What to Study:

Generally all the material that you should know for an exam is presented in lecture or in your lab work. Therefore you can use the lectures and labs as a guide to what is important and emphasize this material in your studying. To be most effective your lecture/lab notes must include all of the key points covered in lecture/lab. As an aid many instructors provide lecture  outlines. These can be very helpful as a guide but should not replace good note taking.

DO NOT take this to imply that you do not need to read the text. Textbooks often may be thought of as a supplement to the lecture/lab that you can use to preview the material, to fill in  gaps in your notes, to answer questions, and for review.  They are, however, a critical  component in your learning and should not be omitted. Use the text!!

Note:  Different instructors utilize textbook information to different degrees. Some test only from lectures while others test heavily from the text (even if the text material has not been  discussed). It is up to you to determine what your instructor expects of you. In either case it is  rare for an instructor to discuss something that they do not think is important.

  •      If it is discussed in lecture it is important.  The more time spent on it the more important it is.
  •      Know the terminology - if you can't speak the language...
  •      Note and study all figures presented in lecture and lab.

B. How to Study:

There is no single "best" way to study. Each individual must find the best method for them. This may even vary for a given individual depending on the subject matter. However, three components are common to all: (1) repetition, (2) effort, and (3) time. Repetition is a key component necessary to move information into memory. As an absolute minimum you should plan to review the material three times, in lecture, in reviewing the lecture, and in reading the text. This should be active review during which you organize your thoughts and test yourself. Actively studying requires effort, learning is hard work. It also takes time, there are no shortcuts.

The following is a compilation of many of the techniques used by successful students to study. The more of them that you can incorporate into your collection of skills the more likely you are to succeed.

1. Preview material to be presented prior to attending lecture or lab.

  •    read and highlight important sections of the reading (note: highlighting is like note taking, highlight only enough to remind yourself of the key information presented.
  •    if time is short - preview the material briefly to identify key terms and concepts. This can be done in several ways:
  •    read the chapter summary.
  •    read section headings and bold type.
  •   Inspect figures and read figure headings (note: at some point you should read the text in detail and highlight as above).
  •    for lab: prepare a lab notebook in which you rewrite all procedures in your own words along one half of each page. Also you should prepare a data record sheet (what data should be recorded and in what form should it be presented). During lab record your notes and data along the second half of the page adjacent to each of the steps.

2. Take good lecture notes - good note taking is a valuable skill that is difficult to master.

    don't try to write everything that is said, just note enough to remind yourself what was discussed (your notes should be clear to you but not necessarily to anyone else).
    note all figures presented in lecture for later review.

3. Rewrite your lecture notes as soon as possible after the lecture (note: this should be an active process - do not simply re-copy your notes, think about what you are writing and write it in your own words).

  •     read through the text (or reread) and fill in the gaps in your lecture notes (some students like to take a separate set of notes from their reading and then combine their lecture and text notes).
  •     convert your notes into flash cards for review (just making them is a learning process).
  •     make up questions from your notes - this will help you to actively think about the material and may help you to predict what kinds of questions may be on the test.
  •     If you are find that no matter how hard you try you still miss parts of the lecture try taping the lecture and review the tape to fill in missing information (warning: DO NOT waste your time listening to the entire lecture again, just use it to fill in gaps in your notes. Beware of the tendancy towards reduced vigilance in lecture, just because the tape recorder is running does not mean you do not need to listen).

4. Draw out flow diagrams of complex processes or relationships.

    this can be a simple or very complex "map" to help you visualize relationships (note: if you learn the relationships and the general concepts it is often possible to reason out the details, however, learning the details alone often is not helpful in learning the concepts).

5. Draw simple anatomical pictures illustrating structures and relationships - these do not need to be artwork but should be clear to you.

6. Use additional resources when needed (i.e. texts) - frequently texts used in prerequisite classes can provide a clear overview of the general concepts helpful in keeping perspective (in advanced courses it is possible to lose sight of the big picture).

  •     different texts may present information in different ways that are clearer to you.
  •     warning: it is easy to become overwhelmed if you try to use all of the resources that are available. Keep it simple, use the resources that are assigned and turn to alternate sources only when and if you need them.

7. Test yourself - self study questions can often be found at the ends of chapters, in study guides, and in computer applications.

  •     If old exams are available use them (but not as a primary study source).
  •     go through old exams as you study then again as review prior to the test.
  •     warning: do not use self study questions as your primary method of study but as way to review and evaluate what you need to study further.

8. Review what you have studied with a study group - study groups should not replace individual study but are frequently the best way to review what you have learned.

9. Take advantage of instructor office hours to clear up any questions that you cannot answer on your own.

10. Review and analyze your mistakes on your tests - what are the correct answers, why did you miss the questions, how can you improve your studying and test performance?