The first rule about studying is not to be intimidated by the amount of work ahead of you! Break down your assignments into workable parts or phases and begin. If you let intimidation conquer you, you will procrastinate and only make the situation worse!

  • Organize as you learn, rather than afterwards. Your memory is like a large library. If you throw a lot of books in and then try to locate one, you have problems. Break large amounts of materials info "meaningful" sections for you.
  • Limit the amount you put in. You can probably memorize 8 or 9 separate items or facts at a time and recall or remember them all. So, if you limit yourself to 4 or 5 items at a time (eg. dates, names, formulas, etc.), you're sure to be inside your range. Try looking at lists in subgroups of 4 or 5. When you read, try to stop after 4 or 5 major concepts and review them.
  • Recall (i.e. have no study guide or questions to help you remember) is the most difficult test of what you remember. Use recall when you want to evaluate what you have solidly learned. If you can recall, then you are probably able to manipulate the information in your memory well enough for an exam of any kind. If you can't recall certain concepts from memory alone, this tells you what to work on next.
  • Recognition (i.e. recognizing from your study materials the correct answers) is easier than recall, and it can be a major disaster as a means of evaluating what you know "by heart." Rereading as a review is frequently wasted effort because:
    1. It's boring.
    2. You'll probably recognize a great deal you cannot recall without help.
    3. Recognition frequently does not tell you what you need to work on.
  • Relearning (i.e. reviewing material over and over) usually is much easier than learning material for the first time. You save a lot of time over the initial learning. Therefore, it's possible to cram (relearn, that is) in a short period of time before the exam.
    Forgetting is fastest immediately after learning; for recall you may expect to lose 50% of what you could originally recall within about 24 hours. People forget about 90% within a week's time after doing an assignment. Thus, if one reviews a topic before the natural forgetting process begins, she/he will be able to review quite rapidly and will have a longer period before rapid forgetting begins again.
  • Four implications of relearning:
    1. Each time you go back over the material, your memory will improve on both a short range and long range memory basis.
    2. If you study a topic only once or twice, even if you do so fairly well, you will soon afterwards forget everything you have learned for an immediate exam.
    3. If you wait more than one or two days before your review what you have learned, it will take almost as long to learn it again, as if you have never learned it at all.
    4. If you fail to review notes as soon as possible after a difficult class session, your memory loss will make it almost impossible to sort things out and fill in the holes.
  • Sleep does not interfere with memory and does not cause you to forget, compared with the forgetting that occurs during your usual, non-study activities. Also, preliminary research suggests that learning just prior to sleep is remembered more efficiently than learning at other times of the day.
  • Order of learning or memorizing has an important effect on memory. For maximum efficiency, keep changing the order in which you learn (eg., A, B, C, D/ D, B, A, C/ C, A, B, D). Learn information in groups, but mix up the groups, and mix up the item order within the groups.
  • Overlearning is a technique that will help you "lock-in" information you really must be able to recall. Once you've learned something, keep going over it in spaced, short periods to achieve overlearning.
  • Associate as many things as you can with what you are learning, such as: where were you, what time was it, what side of the page it was on, etc. When you are learning specific things, associate what you are learning with what you already know. Make unique, even silly, associations to help you remember.
  • Sample questions can help you once you've done your initial preparation. Write some of your own and get someone else to write questions.
  • Flashcards are useful when there are large amounts of factual information to be learned. Use both sides of the card. Write the word or information to be learned on one side and the definition or explanation on the other. Review often.
  • Take breaks. Learning tends to proceed more rapidly when studying is broken down into several short sessions rather than a single long session.

Recommended Readings

We recommend the following readings related to study skills. Some of these books are available in Cole Library.

  • "Too Perfect: When Being in Control Gets Out of Control." Authors: Allan E. Mallinger, M.D. and Jeannette DeWyze. Clarkson Potter Publishers, 1992. A compelling look inside the often painful world of the obsessive personality, offering insights and hope for those caught in its grip.
  • "Becoming a Master Student." Tools, techniques, illustrations, skills, resources, and suggestions for academic success. Author: Dave Ellis. Houghton Mifflin Company, 1994.
  • "Studying in the Content Areas: Social Science." An instructive guide to study strategies and skills that apply to material in the social science content area. Author:Carole Bogue. H & H Publishing Company, Inc., 1993.