Effective Study Time

Do you find your mind wandering when you sit down to tackle school work?  Do you get easily frustrated?  Do you have trouble getting started?  Here are some ideas that may help you get more out of the time you are investing - some ways to improve your learning or keep you focused:

  1. Remember that ideas are easier to connect and understand immediately after they have been covered in class.
    Try to arrange your study time so that you can go over your notes the same day that you take them.  Even a few minutes can pay off.  You will find it much easier to fill in any gaps you have and to recognize key information that you will need to spend extra time on if you invest time right away. 
  2. There are important time limits to effective study sessions. 
    You will get more out of three 45 minute sessions than you will if you try to stay focused for three hours without a break.  If you try to tackle too much at once it all gets confused.  This is why cramming for exams can be very problematic.  You can feel like you know everything you need for an exam but suddenly when the test is in front of you all of these holes appear and even though you "know you know it" it just isn't doesn't look the same.  
  3. What you do when you study is key. 
    If you are rereading notes, going over and over what you wrote down or highlighted in the textbook you are spinning your wheels.  Simple passive repetition is learning things the hard way.  Active approaches work better.  Make sure that you are creating little tests for yourself all the time.  Come up with some possible test questions based on the information and see if you can answer them - without looking.  Do some rewriting - pull information out onto a separate piece of paper or onto index cards.  Condense key points; rewrite definitions; develop some charts that collect important ideas in one place.  The whole idea is to find ways of checking what you are learning and doing more than just running those things in your head.  You have to talk or write.  That is now you'll really be able to tell if you are getting it.
  4. It is much easier to get a handle on the pieces of information you have in your notes or you find in the text if you have an idea of how they fit together. 
    Take a few minutes before you start to look at the big picture.  What was the most important concept covered in class?  How does this set of notes connect to the notes that you have from previous classes?  Check the headings or learning objectives for the textbook for clues on how things fit together.  Grouping ideas, concepts and terms is a more efficient way to learn them and this approach will leave you better prepared to handle exam questions when the time comes.
  5. If concentration is an issue for you, check your attitude about the subject you are studying. 
    If you doing a lot of negative self talk (…"This is boring."  I've always been terrible at math."  etc. ) you really need to work on changing your tune.  Remember that somebody (your teacher) thinks enough of this subject to make it his/her life's work.  Try to think of what they find interesting about it.  Remember that you don't have to excel in every subject, and there may be a few areas of study that you have to invest extra time in to master but don't let these kind of challenges stand in the way of you ultimate success.
  6. When you have trouble getting started on a project it may help to break it down into smaller parts. 
    Be specific with yourself ("I'll give myself 45 minutes to work on these five problems and then I'll take a break..")  Sometimes it helps to start a session with the easiest task you have to get done - it can be motivating to just get something accomplished and it builds your confidence.  That doesn't mean always saving the worst for last…..it can be too tempting to just avoid it all together.  Tackle your biggest challenges when you are at your best in terms of concentration and energy.