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Productive Study Techniques: Learning How To Learn
by Dr. Lamon H. SmallCopyright 1992, 2008 Lamon H. Small. Used by permission.
Studying is not a natural phenomenon. It is something, which has to be developed, and usually does not come natural to most people.
One of the biggest misconceptions about studying is the big mystery about how to do it. Another misconception is that some people are just naturally better at it than others. They seem to have been born with a gift that makes learning come easy for them.
In the public school system students are taught the three basic R’s: Reading, Riting and Rithmetic, but they are usually not taught how to study.
Learning how to ride a bicycle, to drive a car, or to do any similar type activity takes practice and needs to be approached with a plan and procedure for accomplishing the task. Learning to study is no different. It takes a plan, procedure, practice and a desire to be successful. Productive Study Techniques is designed to give you the tools needed to achieve proper study skills. The one very important element this technique does not have is motivation, which is where you come in. Without motivation learning will not occur. Productive Study Techniques will not work without a motivated learner. Learning requires work, effort, and a commitment to achievement. These ingredients can only be added by the learner.
This is a self-help textbook written in simple and easy-to-understand language. It is designed for someone who wants to learn. It offers no tricks or short-cuts. What it does offer is a systematic method for establishing a productive approach to learning. It will assist you in learning how to learn.
The purpose of studying is to LEARN the material,
not just memorize it.
Productive Study Techniques is designed to eliminate poor study habits and replace them with productive ones that are adaptable to your needs and life style. It is designed to help you develop a method whereby you can learn and establish the skills needed to achieve success in forming productive study habits. You will learn ways to organize your approach to studying which will lead you to more effective and efficient study habits. It is not a quick fix approach to let you just get by. Nor is it an approach designed just to help you get better grades, even though it will. It is an approach concerned with the process of learning.
Productive Study Techniques is a blueprint for forming productive study skills for undergraduate, graduate and even doctoral level students. Even though this book was written with college students in mind, Productive Study Techniques is effective in learning any new material and lends itself to any type of studying needs.
Productive Study Techniques can be applied to any form of learning such as high school classes, the G.E.D (general education development) exam, or correspondence courses. It can help improve your career or even help you prepare for job advancement. This method is designed for any and all forms of learning.
Productive Study Techniques is a total approach to studying, and more importantly, to learning. The worse thing you can experience is the loss of some sleep. The best thing is you will learn something and, better yet, even learn how to learn. Productive Study Techniques will allow you to create productive study habits, which will ensure your learning success.
Learning is the reward in itself.
This book was written to fill a void, a void, which lasted for many years. From grade school through the doctoral program, I was never taught how to study. The system was too busy teaching me and ignored my needs to learn how to learn. I was one of the majority who struggled with learning not because I did not have the ability but simply because I did not have the proper training on how to study the material I needed to learn.
College was going to be different, or at least I thought it was. Boy, was I fooled! I remember one of my first college classes where the instructor said, "The biggest problem students have in school is they do not know how to study." During the following years many other instructors made the same claim, though no one did anything about it.
Think back through your own years of education. Were you ever taught how to study? You had to do homework assignments, take tests, prepare book reports, and even give oral presentations. Do you remember being taught how to study? Even in college, everyone assumes you already have obtained the required skills that will guarantee your success in college. It is ironic that you are given all this knowledge and held responsible for it, yet the system overlooks telling you the best way to learn it.
After many years of struggling and a lot of trial and error, I developed a system that worked for me. It lessened the amount of time required to study and considerably increased my productivity and grade point average. The trick was not to study more but to study more wisely and to make the time I spent studying work for me. It is the quality of studying that counts; not the quantity of time spent studying. The key elements are ability, desire, motivation, attitude, and the proper study techniques. Ability by itself will not do it.
I also learned I was the one responsible for learning how to study. It was not the responsibility of the higher education system to teach me how to study. The responsibility was all mine.
When I sat at my desk (actually it was the kitchen table and sometimes even spread out on the bed) with all my study materials, I usually spent more time daydreaming than I did studying. Does this sound familiar? I took mental trips to the beach, fishing, or just daydreaming about anything and everything that had nothing in the world to do with studying. I spent hours, only going through the paces of studying. This is what I, like most students, called studying. What it really came down to was that I had spent very little time actually studying. I was not being productive at all.
It was not that I did not want to study; I just did not know how to study. I did not even know how to start the process. The only thing I had on my side was a determination to sit there until I learned the material. As I learned later, this is a good attitude to have but a poor approach to studying. You will learn it is not the amount of time spent studying that counts. Rather, it is being more efficient and effective with your time that is important. Getting the most out of your studying efforts means being productive when you study.
Those were extremely trying and confusing times. I made the same statement you probably have made after taking a test on which I did not do well: "I don’t know why I didn’t do well on that test; I spent hours studying." When, in fact, I had not. I had spent hours going through the paces but accomplishing very little productive studying. Therefore I did not learn the material.
Not doing well on a test that you think you have studied for can destroy self-confidence and make you doubt your own abilities. It can, if you let it, destroy your hopes and dreams. It may even create doubt about your abilities as a college student. This is one very important reason for creating productive study skills.
The more concerned you are with learning, the better your grades will be. There is a definite relationship between the amount of productive time spent studying and the grades earned. Grades are a reflection of how well you have learned the material.
Working in the college and university environment I have seen students who had spent many hours studying and still do poorly on exams for which they thought, or at least said, they were prepared. They became confused and frustrated when they received their poor grades. If this pattern continued, they usually became dropouts or students who did not live up to their potential. Most students in this situation will not seek any type of help. The sad part of this is they will struggle for no good reason.
Help is available. Learning to study is not as difficult as it is made out to be. Once you learn how to study, productive studying can be fun. That’s right, FUN! If you do not think learning is fun, then the first thing you have to do is change your attitude about the learning process. Poor study habits will cause a negative attitude about learning. It is now time to change that attitude.
The joy of learning cannot be matched.
You are very fortunate to live in a country that allows everyone the opportunity to better themselves through higher education. This country is so supportive of education for all that it not only makes education available to everyone, it even makes education mandatory for its youth.
You are allowed to fulfill your goals through college and vocational training. This country appropriates billions of dollars in financial aid to help those who could not attend college without some financial assistance.
With this commitment to education, it is ironic that we rank almost last in academic skills when compared to other countries. When educators are asked what the number one problem students have in school, they generally answer, "Students do not know how to study." This is your opportunity not to become a statistic.
College can and should be one of the best times of your life. College exposes you to new horizons, ideas, and concepts. It will change you as a person and change your entire life forever. This is why it is so important to have productive study skills that will allow you the time to enjoy college life. Productive Study Techniques will help lessen any undue stress associated with college. Remember that this is not just restricted to college. You can apply Productive Study Skills to any form of learning.
Learning should be done for the sake of learning.
Capabilities get you started. Performance completes the task.
There are many ingredients involved in creating good study habits. They include motivation, skills in reading, note taking, listening and test taking, among others. The most important of these ingredients is Motivation!
As with anything in life, if you are not motivated to do it, chances are you will not. Therefore, to be successful in forming productive study skills and becoming successful at it, you must first feel a need to achieve.
You will find that studying is not as difficult as you have been telling yourself. Learning to study is no different than learning anything new. You must first have a need to learn. You then go through those seemingly awkward steps, those where you are very conscious of what you are doing and seem somewhat uncomfortable about the process. It seems that you will never conquer it. Then once you learn the process or material, it becomes second nature and easy. It is then difficult to imagine that it was as hard a task as you once thought it was. It is no different with learning how to learn.
Replacing old, poor study habits with new, productive ones is not going to happen over night. The poor study habits you have are a product of many years of poor training, negative thinking, and negative feedback received from the process. The feelings you have about your abilities are also a product of those years of telling yourself you have poor study habits and not doing anything to correct them. Over the years you have probably created a learned helplessness attitude about your abilities.
How many times have you said that you are going to do something as soon as you get around to it? Well, you no longer have that excuse. Here it is!
With your new "Round To It" it is now time to start the learning process. Make a few copies of your "Round To It" and place them at your study area and other places as reminders.
You must have confidence in yourself. If you do not believe in yourself, then no one else will. Your success in college, as in life, depends on one person and one person only—YOU. It is no different with studying. You are the only one who can do anything about your study habits. Learning is no accident; it requires effort and planning. It does not occur overnight, and it involves an element of time and effort. It is the same as learning anything else. You have to learn how to learn. This requires a desire and a willingness to achieve.
You must assume the responsibility for your own success.
Students usually feel that all material required to learn should be covered in the classroom. Some students think they can absorb enough during the class through osmosis (learning just by being exposed to the material) to learn enough to get by. The first problem with this is that it simply does not work. The second problem is learning involves much more than just getting by.
Learning does not take place in the classroom; instruction does. The classroom is only a catalyst to the learning process. It merely brings everything together. The majority of learning will occur during the studying process. The instructor in the classroom is there to help guide you through the learning process.
You probably have told yourself repeatedly that you have poor study habits. And more than likely you have convinced yourself you really do have poor study habits. You have created a self-fulfilling prophecy. That is, you have told yourself that you cannot, and now you are living up to your own beliefs and limited expectations. Once you have done this you have defeated yourself, and usually for no logical reason. Stop and think about it for a while. Really be honest with yourself. Do you have poor study habits or have you adopted that loser’s limp of "Well, I don’t do well because I just have poor study habits" or "I'm just not a good test taker." It becomes an easy way not to assume responsibility for yourself. That is about to change!
The hardest part of studying is "the wanting to."
Reading skills are extremely important. Poor reading skills will dampen learning. You have a pretty good idea of your own reading skills. If not, you should be tested. This can be done in a number of ways.
If you are entering college, you will take an entrance exam. If you are currently enrolled in high school, consult your school counselor. If you are not currently enrolled in the public school system, check with the school board to see if there is a program offered to the public. If not, check with a local university or college. Testing can also be done through private sources such as a psychometrist or psychologist.
If you are not comfortable with your current level of reading skills, by all means now is the time to do something about them. If you are a slow reader or read material and have a problem with comprehending or retaining the information you read, then you need some assistance in improving your reading skills.
If this is your case, do not worry; there are many good programs to help improve reading skills. If you are currently attending college, check with the college counseling or advising office. If you do need help in reading, by all means do not delay. The better your reading skills the more effective you will be at studying.
Writing skills are no less important than any of the other skills needed to be successful. Writing skills do not seem that important during the process of studying, but they will help in writing out your notes and putting them in a more comprehensive format.
Writing skills will prove to be very important during essay tests, term papers, reports, and note taking. It is very important that you are able to express yourself in writing. Therefore, if your writing skills are not adequate, and most students’ writing skills are not, work on improving them. This can be accomplished through courses in English or writing or with the help from writing labs or tutors.
Listening skills are not to be taken lightly or taken for granted. It is not a passive process of just sitting there quietly while someone else talks. Rather, it is an active process that requires motivation, skills, and practice. The following are some factors that will have an effect on your ability to pay attention and listen to a lecture.
The instructor. Some will be easier to listen to than others will. With some, you will have to employ more listening skills.
The material presentation. This will depend on the types of classes you are taking. These will range from large lecture-only classes with no student participation to small lecture classes that allow for more student-teacher interaction.
The subject matter. The better you like the subject, the more apt you are to pay attention.
Listener motivation. The listener must have a desire or interest in the material in order to apply the listening skills required to absorb that material.
Listening skills require a lot of practice to develop. You must first become aware of the fact that you must be attentive to what is being said and relate it to the course being taught.
You can do anything you want to do
if you really want to do it!
Studying is only as hard as you make it!
Let’s start with what learning is, and then look at learning in relation to performance. Performance is considered the better part of learning. Why? Well, to put it one way, that’s the way learning is measured. This is when learning is considered to have taken place.
Learning is a process of acquiring new information and knowledge. It can also involve the altering of information that has already been learned and also the relearning of old material. Learning requires a need or desire to acquire knowledge. To put it another way, the learner must be in a readiness state by being motivated to learn. Nothing can be accomplished without some form of learning taking place.
Learning requires motivation, time, and effort. Learning depends on the amount of attention exerted by the learner. Learning can be very disturbing and frustrating or it can be very exciting and fun. This usually depends on the material and the motivation of the learner.
New and learned knowledge is information that is unknown or not understood by the learner before the process of learning begins. There is a difference between knowing something and understanding something.
Basically there are three stages to the learning process: studying, learning, and understanding.
Studying is the process of the grouping together and organizing of the material to be learned. It is the basic process of memorizing the material.
Learning is the process of acquiring knowledge and knowing the material studied. This is when the new knowledge is entered into memory. It is the process of organizing the material to be learned into meaningful mental processes.
Understanding, on the other hand, is the process of studying, learning, and knowing the material and having control over it. Understanding is the level of learning where comprehension takes place. This is where you know the meaning of what you have learned and know it thoroughly.
The ultimate goal of learning is understanding.
Let’s look at the process of learning to play a sport and compare it to the studying process. Let’s select the sport of tennis. You first have to decide you want to learn how to play tennis. It is important to note that you want to learn to play, not "Well, I guess I’ll try it."
The first step is usually to enroll in a course to learn how to play the game. You will go through a process of studying and learning the rules and the rights and wrongs of the game. (You can equate this with the lecture part of a course.) Next comes the skill area. This is where you will actually start participating in the learning process. You will learn how to hold the racket, how to stand, how to serve the ball, and how to make forehand and backhand shots. (This you can equate with the studying part of a course.)
The next step is to apply all you have learned about the game. (This is the performance or test-taking part of the course.) Your performance will be measured by how well you have learned the rules and skills of the game and how well you can perform them. It is no different with learning any task or material.
You will notice after completing the course and learning to play tennis that you begin to adjust some of the ways you play. You will hold the racket the way it best fits your needs and the way it feels comfortable. Your stance will also change allowing you to adopt your own personal physical characteristics to the game. (This is where understanding takes place.) In other words, you are going to take all the techniques that you were taught and incorporate them into your way of playing the game which best satisfies your needs. It is the same with studying. You need to learn a way which works, then after you have mastered its techniques you need to alter, adjust, modify, and/or change it in some way to fit into your needs.
Audio-visual aids are very beneficial to the learning process. If there is any way that you can incorporate these devices into your approach to the learning of new materials, take advantage of them. Check to see if the instructor knows of any films or movies which may be available to watch. If not, check with the library or audio-visual center to see if they have any films covering the topic that you are studying.
If you have no access to these materials, there are a few things that you can do to help create similar effects. One way is to try reading the material aloud. This can be very helpful when trying to learn or to memorize lists of materials. Another way is to condense your notes so that they only show key concepts and terms on as few sheets as possible so a visual reference can be made of them. Index cards are very helpful here.
Studying leads to learning which leads to understanding.
Developmental Levels of Learning
Learning is a developmental process that occurs throughout life. The need for learning naturally divides itself into three levels: 1. Basic Learning Needs; 2. Social/Educational Learning Needs; and, 3. Aesthetic Learning Needs. (These levels are based on the needs of the learner.)
Level I — Basic Learning Needs Level
The basic needs level is the most fundamental of the learning levels. These are skills required for everyday life and existence. These can be considered survival or street-wise skills and are needed to function at the lowest level.
Level II — Social/Educational Learning Needs Level
These are skills and knowledge taught by our public educational system and are needed to survive in our society. These needs are also important for interpersonal communications.
Level III — Aesthetic Learning Needs Level
This is the optimal level of learning, where learning for the sake of learning takes place. This is the process of accruing information and knowledge for the pleasure of learning. It is the level where the desire for learning and understanding takes place. This is the level for which you should strive, and it can only be achieved after the other two levels have been satisfied.
Productive Study Techniques is necessary for both Level II and Level III learning. Level II is where these techniques are learned and practiced. Level III is where the most benefit of these techniques can be derived.
Everyone has different memory strengths and techniques that have been formed over the years. Think of your own strengths. Are they remembering names, faces, places, dates, or events? The process probably comes natural to you. It is this process you need to better develop and to use in forming productive studying skills.
Information has to be studied before it can be learned;
however, it has to be learned before it can be remembered.
- To help asses your own memory strengths, complete the following statement:
My memory strengths are:_________________________________________.
Memory is the product of learning. It occurs when information is stored in the brain in such a way that it can be retrieved or manipulated later. The two basic types of memory are short term and long term memory.
Short term memory is the process of recording information for a short period of time. This is its sole purpose. If this is its only function, what is the purpose of short term memory? Its main purpose is to allow the filtering out of environmental information that for whatever reason is considered unimportant. It allows the selection of only important information that needs to be stored into long term memory. A good example of short term memory is looking up a telephone number in the phone book. Once you find it, you repeat the number so you can remember it long enough to make the call. After the call has been made, you forget the number. This also occurs if you are assigned a new telephone number. You first have to rehearse it enough times to be able to remember it.
Long term memory is the process of rehearsing short term memory enough times until it becomes permanently stored in the brain. Long term memory is a product of learning.
Learning is accomplished when short term memory has been rehearsed and now stored into long term memory. When this new material is learned, it is considered to be permanently stored into long term memory. For long term memory to be successful, it requires organization and understanding of the rehearsed material. Remember the old saying — PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT!
Information must be rehearsed to be learned. There needs to be time intervals between the learning session for absorption and integration of new information. That is one reason why cramming does not work.
Cramming is not to be confused with studying or learning.
Learning is also linked with how well information is understood and organized. The understanding of new information builds upon itself. The more the information is understood the easier the learning process becomes and the easier it becomes to recall that information. The information to be learned needs to be organized in such a way as to make it meaningful.
While studying, do not try to learn everything at once. Learning builds on itself one step at a time. Do not try to memorize everything. Sometimes it is necessary to memorize lists but not necessarily every detail that explains that list. Trying to memorize every detail can, and usually does, lead to an overload of information and can block the learning process.Learning can be discussed in terms of:
Attitude, motivation and self-confidence are considered the most important of these considerations. If you are not willing or do not have a need to learn or achieve, then the learning process is going to be greatly impaired if not completely blocked. The process of learning new material is controlled by your willingness to accomplish and the desire to achieve.
Performance can be thought of as the measurement and results of learning. In education this is usually determined with the use of tests. No matter what you are studying, tests are usually considered to be the best form of measuring performance.
Learning is only one factor affecting performance. Others include motivation, attitude, desire, stress, fatigue, and expectations, with motivation being the most important factor.
Rehearsal is the process of going over and over material until it is learned or memorized.
Retrieval is also referred to as remembering or recall. After material has been learned, the next task is recalling that material.
Relearning is a process of learning material that has already been learned. Research shows that the relearning of material that has already been learned is accomplished much faster than the time it took to learn the material the first time.
Do not substitute memorization for learning.
Forgetting is the inability to recall information successfully. A question to ask when material has been forgotten is "Was the material learned in the first place?" If material is learned and not used or rehearsed, there is a process that occurs which is referred to as memory decay. Memory decay is basically a process of use it or lose it. If material is learned and not used for a period of time, then that memory is not readily available for recall. Since memory is considered to be stored forever, the problem then becomes not one of forgetting but one of not being able to recall the memory that was originally stored.
Forgetting is basically the inability to recall or recognize previously learned information. One important point about forgetting is that it occurs to everyone. It is a fact of life. You cannot remember everything.
Once information is learned, it is not easily recalled forever. There has to be some form or type of rehearsal or relearning that takes place for information to be recallable at will.
Forgetting or the inability to recall information can occur due to a lack of organization of the information or a lack of an appropriate learning process. A lapse of time and stress can be an influential factor in forgetting.
A problem that occurs when learning takes place in a classroom is that by the end of the term, for a final exam, students have a tendency to forget the information that was learned on the first test. This is even more apparent a term or two after a course has been completed.
One thing to remember about the information that you have learned is that after a period of time all of the factual information learned will not be easily remembered without some type of rehearsal or relearning taking place.
Education should be considered as a process of learning that exposes you to a fairly high volume of new information over a period of time.
The responsibility of learning lies with the learner.
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Even though there are no set standards for the writing of textbooks, all of them follow similar guidelines. Having a working knowledge of a textbook will aid you in preparing to study.
When examining a book for the first time, use the following approach:
- Read the title. This will sometimes give you a clue as to the difficulty of the text. Such as Introduction to . . . or Advanced . . .
- Read the preface and introduction. This gives information about what you can expect from the text.
- Look through the table of contents. From this you will get an overview of the layout of the entire book at a glance. It will also allow you to find information easily by listing page numbers for chapters and subheadings.
- Skim the book from cover to cover, including the pictures. This will make you more familiar with the contents.
- Read the chapter summaries if the book contains them.
Becoming familiar with the textbook can save you valuable time.
The following is a quick overview of the layout of a textbook:
TITLE: The title best describes the content of the entire book. For example the title Introduction to Psychology lets you know that the text is one that will cover the entire discipline of psychology. A book titled The History of Psychology is going to cover the history of the discipline. Therefore the title is very important and should not be overlooked.
COPYRIGHT PAGE: This page gives the year the book was published.
TABLE OF CONTENTS: The table of contents is found in the front of the book and lists each chapter with subheading. It lists page numbers for fast reference.
PREFACE: This is usually an introduction or review of the book.
CHAPTER TITLES: The textbook is divided into seperatate sections. These sections are referred to as chapters. Each chapter is titled separately. It will also be broken down into separate sections called subheadings.
SUBHEADINGS: The subheadings break down the chapter into even more specific topics.
CHAPTER SUMMARIES: Some textbooks will summarize each chapter. The summary gives an outline of the entire chapter. It is a good idea to read this section before you read the chapter itself.
STUDY QUESTIONS: Some textbooks offer study questions at the end of each chapter. This is a very good way to check your progress after reading and studying each chapter. Take advantage of this study aid. It will prove to be very helpful.
You may find answers to these questions in the back of the book. Check these answers only after you have completed the work. Always work the question out before referring to the answers. The answers are only there to check your answers against.
APPENDIX: If the book contains an appendix, it is usually located after the last chapter. An appendix usually contains exercises or examples that are in some way supplemental to the text.
GLOSSARY: A glossary is an alphabetical listing of terms and their definitions.
REFERENCE PAGE: The reference page is a listing of all published material the author has referred to in the text. This is a good listing to consult if additional information is needed.
INDEX: The index is usually the last entry of a book. The index is an alphabetical quick reference listing of important subjects and persons found in the text. It gives page numbers where the information is found within the text. Sometimes this listing is separated into two different indexes—subject and name.
STUDY GUIDE: Some textbooks are supplemented by a work book or study guide. I strongly recommended that you obtain a copy and use it, even if it is not required by the instructor.^ Return to Top
Notes are basically a condensed form of the information you are required to learn. They are the highlights that summarize the material. Listening skills are a very important part of note taking skills. If you do not hear it, you cannot make note of it.
Note taking is probably one of the foremost components to being successful in acquiring productive study skills. Before you start taking notes, you should find out from the instructor if the test will cover the lecture, the textbook, or both. Also find out what percentage of each will be represented.
Highlighters are felt tip pens that come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors. They contain an opaque ink which allows you to mark text and still be able to read it. They add color to the text so it will stand out from the rest. This makes important information easy to relocate. It helps reduce text to its simplest and shortest form. It also allows you to create an outline of the material as you are reading.
Even though there are many colors to choose from, the most popular seems to be yellow. You should select a color that is most pleasing to you. Do not select a color that is too bright, such as the variety of fluorescent colors on the market. These have a tendency to be distracting.
Lecture Note Taking
Always read all assigned materials before attending class. This way you will understand what is being covered during the lecture. You will be able to ask questions to clear up any areas that you may have had problems with or did not understand. Always remember there is no such thing as a stupid or dumb question if you do not know the answer. A dumb question is one that is asked about material that you should have known from your studies but did not prepare for. If you are prepared for class, your questions will be to clear up something you did not understand from your studying.
Note taking from a lecture can prove to be difficult in the beginning but will improve with practice. You should read your notes after each class meeting. This will help refresh your memory and will also allow you to fill in any gaps. If they are not legible or if they need reordering, rewrite them.
Purchase a separate spiral notebook for each class to take lecture notes in. Select notebooks that have inside pockets where the course syllabus and class handouts can be kept.
Have all reading and homework assignments completed before class.
The following is a list of helpful hints for lecture note taking.
- At the top of your notes always write the topic or chapter number and title covered and the date.
- If examples are used, make note of them and their sources if possible. If the example is from the textbook, include the page number.
- Write down everything that is written on the blackboard.
- Skip a line when starting a new idea or concept.
- Develop a shorthand or abbreviation system (i.e., Psychology as psy or history as hist).
- Write down as much of the lecture as possible without missing what the instructor is covering. It is not necessary to write down every word that is said, only the key ideas.
- Write notes in a summary fashion.
- Make notes in the left margin of important material or anything that needs attention.
- Emphasize important points by placing a dash (-) or an asterisk (*) in front of them or by underlining the phrase or word.
- Try to write the notes in your own words and use as many key terms and phrases as possible.
- Write notes as neatly and as legibly as possible. If you compose neat notes, or at least legible ones, you can save valuable time by not having to rewrite them. Additional time spent here will be rewarded.
- Write down any term you do not know or understand and look it up as soon as possible and make note of it.
- If you do not understand something that is being covered during the lecture, ask questions. That is the time to have it explained again. It is your responsibility to ask if you do not understand. This is why it is so important to be prepared for class.
- If you miss class for any reason, make sure you get the notes from another student. Ask the instructor if there is anything that you will need to do in order to help you make up for the missed lecture.
- While studying make a list of any questions you may have about the lecture so you can have them cleared up at the next class meeting. Make a written list. Do not rely on your memory for this.
- Make an audio tape recording of lectures as a back-up system to your note taking. It is a good way to make sure you do not miss important material that was covered. It is also a good way to check your note taking skills for possible improvement. If you use a tape recorder to record class lectures, continue to take written notes. Do not rely on the recording only.
- Be organized. The key to good notes is organization and neatness.
- Read your notes as soon after the lecture as possible so any gaps, incomplete sentences, or thoughts can be completed.
- Always strive to improve your note taking skills.
- Prepare before class. This can save you time and help improve the quality of your note taking. Having all materials ready before class will add immensely to your note taking because you will already be familiar with the material being lectured on in class. Being prepared will make it a much easier task, and the content and quality of your notes will improve.
Textbook outlining can be tricky. When you first start highlighting, it is very tempting to highlight everything or at least the majority of the text. Restraint is advised here.
One of the hardest things about highlighting is knowing what and how much to highlight. Remember the purpose is to highlight main ideas and concepts, not the entire book.
If it looks important, highlight it!
There are three stages to reading a textbook for studying and outlining: skimming, thorough reading, and attentive reading.
Skimming is the process of familiarizing yourself with the text by thumbing through it. When skimming, you are only interested in getting an overview of the material and looking for a theme.
Thorough reading is concerned with focusing on main and important ideas of the material. This is the time when you stop and make mental pictures of what you are reading.
Attentive reading is where the learning and understanding of the material takes place.
The first step is to go through the entire chapter highlighting everything that seems to be important. Again, at first you will find that you have probably highlighted the majority of the chapter. That’s okay. The next step is to go back through the chapter with a pencil and underline the important parts of your highlighting. This way you are outlining your highlighting. Make pencil marks in the margins of important information by using a dash or writing out a key term or phrase. Highlight the beginning of each section of the index for quick and fast reference.
Create questions while you are reading the material. Try to think of questions that could be asked about the material.
If your schedule is such that you have little time to sit back and relax and maybe watch your favorite TV show, it is possible to highlight your textbook while relaxing in front of the TV. Just do not make a habit of it. The mind works faster than you can read, and it is possible to accomplish more than one task at a time.
The study sheet is compiled from your lecture notes and your textbook outline. This is where you will bring together the most important information in its shortest form. This is a condensed version of your notes and textbook outlining. It is also a good place to put all the lists that you might have to commit to memory.
When it is time to compile your study sheet, follow these guidelines to help you organize them.
- At the top of the first page of your notes, list the course title, chapter name and number, and page number.
- Number each page of the notes so they can be kept in order.
- Start each chapter on a separate sheet of paper.
- List the first subheading and its page number.
- List a main term or theme if possible, and then list the main points about it. These notes should be kept to a minimum including only the most important and pertinent information, including details and descriptions of terms.
- Always list page numbers in the margins. This will allow an easy and fast reference and access to that information if and when it is needed while studying.
- Indicate in the margins if the information is from your lecture notes (L) or from the textbook (B).
- Make a separate list of new terms and their definitions. Also include all italic and bold faced words and their meanings or definitions. This should be constructed as a separate list in the beginning until you have formed the approach that best works for you. This list can then be incorporated into your study sheet or be created as a separate study sheet.
Three-by-five flash cards can be very helpful. They are a good way to organize your notes to make them more condensed and more manageable. They are easier to keep in order and easier to organize and reorganize more so than loose leaf pages. They can be kept and arranged by subject, topic, textbook notes, lecture notes, new terms, main concepts, and just about any way imaginable.
They can be readily available and used as a quick reference for studying when a free moment comes available. Some students find them easier than study sheets.
Tape Recording Notes
An audio tape recorder can be used very effectively for recording your notes and study sheets. They can be recorded for later playback. This is a good way to study when you are engaged in activities that may not be conducive to studying. A good example is while driving a car. Think of the amount of unproductive time spent commuting to class or to the store or any time you are just driving in your car. You can listen to a study tape without being distracted from other activities.
- Take a minute and think about your note taking abilities. Do you consider them to be good, weak, or just down right poor? To help you think about them and get a better idea and picture of them, take a few minutes and complete the following exercise.
The strongest points of my note taking are:
The weakest points of my note taking are:
Knowing this information can help strengthen and improve your note taking skills.^ Return to Top
Whether you are attending college or high school, studying to improve your career or preparing for job advancement, time management is one of the most important aspects of creating successful and productive study habits. In fact, good time management is a crucial element to organizing not only your study time but also your entire life.
Time management is probably the hardest part of establishing productive study skills. It is one of the most important parts of the formula for productivity and success. Do not be a slave to time. Make time work for you, and spend your time wisely.
The word "no" is the single most time management tool you have. Remember it when you have school work to do and your friends want to go partying. Just say no until your work is completed. Once you have established good study time management skills, you will have more time to enjoy other activities.
Time management has to be practiced just like anything else. It usually does not come easy and therefore must be worked at.
Plan your schedule thoroughly. Do not overload yourself. If you do, you are just setting yourself up for failure. Think through your plans before you make your decisions.
- Plan your time wisely and figure in all aspects of your life: job, social life, family life, and relaxation.
- Make sure you create a workable schedule.
- Create a schedule that fits your needs and one that you can manage and live with.
- Make sure it is well balanced so as to include the three elements of work, study, and play.
Set aside a certain time of the day to study. Decide which is best for you. Things to consider: are you a morning, afternoon, evening, or late-night type person? Decide which type of person you are and establish your study schedule accordingly.
Time management is very important when considering significant others such as family, wife, husband, boyfriend, girlfriend, friend, and others.
You have to establish priorities to account for your relationships. When doing this, you have to establish a list of priorities to concentrate on. Determine what is most important. Some things you will have to let go. Others you will have to postpone. Do not be fooled by that myth that "I can handle everything."
You do not pay the price of success. You enjoy its rewards.
Set up your priority list now. Some things to include are plans for education, career, family, and social life.
College is an investment. You get out of it what you put into it. Take it one step at a time—like building a house one brick at a time, until it is finished. It is not an easy task, but it is well worth the rewards you will realize in the end.
It is important to remember that college will require a certain amount of organization and management of time to be successful. This means learning to juggle your social life, academic life, work life, and family life. And because of this, it becomes very obvious that time management is extremely important. The better you manage your study time the more time you will have for the other parts of your life. When planning your time, make sure you include the following strategy into your formula.
You need to:
- Work Hard!
- Study Hard!
- Play Hard!
It is obvious that to get the most, from your study time you have to manage your whole life, not just small parts of it.
If you are not being productive, re-evaluate your schedule. If it is not working, decide why and adjust it to better fit your needs.
Your time schedule should not be carved in stone. If it is a schedule that you cannot live with, chances are you will not. Therefore it is important to create a workable and realistic schedule which fits your needs. You will find that as you gain more experience with time management it will be easier to establish a time management schedule that best fits your life style. With practice you will gravitate to a schedule that will fit your personality and the way you approach life.
One of the first ways to start modifying your time management is with a calendar tracking system. The use of two calendars is very helpful. Purchase a yearly calendar planner to carry with you and a large calendar to place at your study area. This will allow you to keep everything organized and will save many hours during the term and throughout the year. When selecting calendars, make sure they have plenty of space to jot down daily events. They should have at least a two-inch square area for each day.
On the wall above your work area, place the large monthly planning calendar. When filling in each event, you need to use both a pen and a pencil. Use a pen to note what will not or should not change, such as class meeting times, test dates, or project due dates. Use the pencil to jot down events that are subject to change, like study group times, doctors appointments, and work schedules. Highlight all test dates, project due dates, and all other deadline dates. Make sure the calendar you carry with you contains the same entries. Keep both calendars as current and updated as possible.
At the beginning of each term take a few minutes and fill out each calendar. Use the class syllabus and the following guidelines to accomplish this.
- List each class meeting date.
- List each class meeting time.
- List each test date.
- List each term paper and project due date.
- List reminders a week before these special events.
You should update both calendars regularly. Mark off each day by drawing a line through it. This will create a visual up-to-date picture of the term.
To Do List
To further help you get organized, make a daily and weekly "To Do" list at the beginning of each week. This list should be made on a separate piece of paper. Paper clip this sheet to the front cover of your yearly planning calendar that you carry with you daily. List everything that you must do for the week. Cross off each item when it is completed. If one of your items is not completed, carry it over to the following week. Below are some items to include on this list.
- Papers due
- Projects due
- Library work
- Study group times
- Personal life style
- Social life
- Family life
- Work schedule
- Complete the following statement:
- Have all material needed.
- Preview all material.
- Study and learn the material
- Review the material
- Demonstrate knowledge on a test.
- Know what to study. Make sure you know what is to be studied. Check the syllabus to see which chapters are to be studied. Make sure you know what type of test you will be studying for (see chapter 7). This will make a difference in how you will approach your study session.
- Have all materials ready. Have all the materials necessary, such as textbooks, notes, and class handouts.
- Psych yourself up. At the beginning of each session, take a minute or two to get into the right frame of mind. Remember to think positive about what you are about to study.
- Establish session goals. Establish goals for the study session. Make sure they are reasonable goals, ones that you can obtain during that session and ones that will keep you in line with your time management schedule. The goals should include how long to study, how much material to cover, which material to cover, and what kind of session it will be. Will the session be to read material, highlight material, create study notes or flash cards, memorize lists, learn new material, or to review? Always remember what your goals are.
- Establish session rewards. Establish the reward that you are going to give yourself when you accomplish your goal. Make it something pleasant and worth putting in the extra effort for. "When I complete this study session I will . . ." The reward can be anything such as ice cream or a favorite TV show. I strongly suggest that for short term goals you do not use any alcoholic beverages. The reason should be obvious. If you do decide on occasions to reward your hard work and studying efforts with alcohol, make sure that it is a reward for the end of your study session. Do not make a habit of this.
- Preview study materials. Spend time looking through the material to study. This will give you a better picture of what you are about to study. Also think back through what you have studied. This can be a measure of your study efforts. Review the previous material if needed. If you do not know or remember the material you have studied, review it. Do not study any new material until you have learned the material you have already studied.
- Determine what type of session it will be. If the session is to read and highlight, start reading the chapters and highlighting them as described earlier. During this time you should concentrate only on reading and highlighting the material. This is not really part of your study time. This is time spent preparing to study and merely highlighting the chapters for outlining later. Count the number of pages to be read and make a note of them on the first page of the chapter. This will aid in determining time management of the study session.
- Revise your notes. Read through your notes and make a list of everything that you do not know or do not feel comfortable with. At the beginning of your study session, focus on learning the items on this list. Once this is accomplished read back through your notes to review your understanding of the material. If there are still areas you do not feel comfortable with, make another list and proceed with studying it. Continue this until you know the material. The purpose of this exercise is to focus energy and motivation at the beginning of the study session on those things that you do not know or understand. In doing this you will be better prepared to study the new material.
- Take breaks. When you first start studying, study only until you feel that your mind starts wandering and you are not being productive. You will discover that in the beginning this will occur in a very short time. When this does occur, take a break. Make it a short break for a minute or two. Walk around the room or walk outside. Do something that is not too involving. You do not want to be distracted from your studying. Do not watch TV during this break time; it can be too distracting. Remember: you are conditioning yourself to only study during this time. When you are at your place of study, you are there to study and only to study.
If you snack during your break, snack on nutritional and energy producing foods such as fruit and carbohydrates. You may even want to have some fruit on your desk and snack during your study sessions. This will help you maintain an efficient energy level. Do not eat a big meal before a study session. Big meals may make you sleepy and distract you during the study session. In some cases eating too much can even halt the session altogether.
Do not watch TV or listen to music while studying; it is too distracting.
- Study — do not cram. Start studying for a test as soon as possible. Prepare for the test over weeks instead of trying to cram the week, day, or night before the test.
- Alternate subjects studied. This will balance out the material and make the session a little more interesting.
- Make a review list. At the end of each study session, make a list of items that you do not know or do not feel confident with. Review this list before you end the study session.
- Feeling a lack of control over the situation.
- A focusing on the anxiety rather than on a solution.
- Feelings of helplessness.
- Negative feelings which can last from grade school through graduate school.
- Complete the following statement and list as many reasons as fits the statement:
- Did I really prepare for the test?
- Do I understand why I did poorly?
- Did I learn from my mistakes?
- Find out as much about the test as possible before you start studying. Know what type of questions will be asked on the test. Know if there are any time limits or penalties for wrong answers. Yes, some tests will penalize wrong answers. These are usually nationally standardized tests, not teacher-made tests. Most tests that you will take in college will be teacher-made tests. Find out if the test will be comprehensive (that means you are responsible for all material covered to date) or will the test only cover certain chapters and material. Will the test be a teacher-made test or a departmental test?
- Be prepared! Do not cram for the test!
- Get a good night’s rest before the test. Do not consume alcohol to relax or take sleeping pills to sleep. The night before is not the time to learn new material. You should only have to look over your study notes. You need to be rested, relaxed, and clear headed during the test. One thing to always remember is—DON’T PANIC!
- Eat before a test. Do not eat a large meal but consume something nourishing. You do not need to be distracted by a low energy level or hunger pangs.
- Do not go to class early and discuss notes with anyone. This will usually only prove to be confusing.
- Have the proper materials during the test. Bring sharpened pencils, ink pens, erasers, calculator, and any other items you will need and are allowed to use during the test.
- It is a good idea to have a watch if there is not a clock in the room. If it is a timed test, make a note of the starting and ending times and closely monitor them.
- READ ALL INSTRUCTIONS VERY CAREFULLY. Make sure that you understand them completely before attempting to begin the test. If you have any questions about the instructions, make sure you ask to have them clarified for you. Quietly reading the questions aloud to yourself can be very beneficial. Verbalizing the question aloud can sometimes cause a different understanding of what is being asked. Pay close attention to words like sometimes, never, always, and often. These can be very tricky, confusing, and misleading. An important note—if the answers are to be recorded on a separate answer sheet make sure you transpose your answers correctly. Make sure you record the answer in the correct location. An error here can be devastating because it will throw off all of your answers.
- Complete the following statement: I deal with stress by…
- Complete the following statement: Stress affects me…
- Select the correct answer:
- Complete the following statement: I experience stress when I…
- Recognize it. Before you can do anything about a problem, you must first realize you have a problem. It is not always easy for the person being affected by stress to recognize it. This is usually because stress occurs through a slow process. And since it is formed gradually, it is not easily recognizable by the person it effects.
- Discover its causes. Once you have discovered that you are suffering from the effects of stress, you must discover its cause or causes. This is where you have to do some self exploring and be very honest with yourself. You have to know what is causing the stress before you can start working on a solution to change it.
- Confront it and deal with it effectively. Once you have recognized that you are being affected by stress and you have discovered its causes, you now have to deal with it. Sometimes this is easier than at other times.
- It can relieve stress once it is experienced. This is a way of treating the symptoms but not necessarily the problem. This way it is used more as a quick fix.
- It can prevent stress. This is more of a maintenance program. You engage in physical activity on a regular basis instead of an as-needed basis.
- Have a positive mental attitude.
- Be prepared for class.
- Read all material and have all assignments completed before class.
- Volunteer to answer questions in class.
- Be persistent.
- Sit in the front of the classroom.
- Do not miss class.
- Do not be late for class.
- Do not leave class early.
- Remember instructors are human too. If you have to miss class or be late or even leave early, make sure you explain to the instructor ahead of time, if possible.
- Get to know the instructor whenever possible.
- Always do extra credit test questions.
- Do not rush through a test. The students that do best on tests are not necessarily those that finish first.
- Stick with your first choice on a multiple choice test. It is usually your best choice. Be careful with changing any answer.
- Write legibly when answering essay questions. Do not make the instructor have to try and figure out what you have written. This can be detrimental to your grade.
- Show a professional and positive attitude in your term papers. Do not submit papers with errors, mistakes, or handwritten corrections. Do not draw undue attention to your paper through errors.
- Always turn in typed papers. Never turn in a handwritten paper. It is best to use a computer or word processor when writing a paper. They make corrections and rewrites much easier.
- If you do not have a computer or do not have access to one, check with some local typing services.
- Always proof papers before they are turned in. If there is any doubt about the paper, have someone else proof it for you.
- Be aware that the presentation of a paper is very important and can make the difference in a letter grade. It will be compared to the other papers.
- Always be very professional in your presentation of any work which is turned in.
- When using a computer, use a good font like courier or a near-letter quality font. Do not use draft quality fonts. They do not look professional.
- If possible always use a laser printer.
- Always use a good quality paper. Twenty pound white bond is a good professional paper to use.
- Always place the paper in a nice folder. Do not bend, fold, wrinkle, or mutilate the paper.
- Always follow any and all instructions on how to submit a paper.
- If there are no guidelines to follow on writing a paper, consider the following. Submit your paper with a cover sheet which includes the title of the paper, your name, and the instructor’s name, all centered on the page. Always use the instructor’s title (Dr., Mr., Mrs., Ms., Professor, or Instructor. A rule of thumb is to list the name the way it appears on the syllabus). Double space sentences. Use one to one-and-a-half inch margins. Add a reference page that lists any references used in the paper.
Under this list attach a new ideas list. This will be for anything that you think of during the week that you need to list on a future weekly list. This will be an important aid in helping you get organized.
We all seem to have natural times of the day that we function best—a time of day that seems to be optimal for productivity. Those times range from early morning to late night. To get the most out of your studying efforts, you need to think through your daily routines to discover which time of the day is best suited for you.
When establishing this time, consider the following:
The best time of the day for me is:
Next consider the amount of time that you can and will devote to studying. You need to study three hours for every one hour spent in class. Preparation is not considered part of those three hours. This needs to be thought through before you choose which courses and how many courses you will take per term.
Some time and consideration is needed here to determine what kind of time schedule is required to fit your needs best. While making this decision, you need to keep one important thing in mind: there is a definite correlation between the amount of time spent studying and the learning of that material. It is very obvious that the more time you spend studying, the better you will learn the material. The key here is to be productive and to spend your time wisely.^ Return to Top
There are many different study techniques. When learning Productive Study Techniques, you will go through the same stages of learning that were discussed in the example of learning to play tennis used in Chapter 2. First you learn the right way to hold the racket and stand in a particular way. You then have to learn all the rules and regulations. These have to be adhered to very rigidly and with very little flexibility.
After you learn the proper form and techniques of the game, you then adapt it to your own characteristics, creating a style of your own. Well, Productive Study Techniques is no different. First you will need to be very conscious of the steps and techniques involved. After you learn Productive Study Techniques, you should adapt and modify it to fit your own needs. But I do strongly suggest that in the beginning you follow the techniques as outlined.
The best way to do well on any test is to be prepared.
The ideal place to study is one that is quiet, well-lit, spacious, and comfortable. A room that is not in the mainstream of other activities is very conducive to establishing a proper study environment. This room can be a study, a den, or a spare bedroom. It should contain a large desk with adequate lighting. It should be free of any outside distractions such as TV, radio, or loud noises. It should be a comfortable place; one that you will not feel trapped in or bothered by having to spend time there.
Unfortunately most students do not have access to the ideal study place. Therefore they have to make do with what they have.
If this is your situation, select an area of your home or apartment that you can section off for studying purposes only. This area can be in the corner of your bedroom, spare bedroom, living room, den, or even dining room. This area needs to be sizable enough to place a desk or flat top table. It needs to be well lit. If the lighting is inadequate, place a lamp on or near the study area.
If you live in, or plan on living in, campus housing, this area is usually arranged for you. Even though this is normally not a very large area, it is usually one that is quite adequate for studying.
There will be times that, for a number of reasons, studying will occur outside this area. Some of these places are the library, in a hallway outside a classroom, under a tree somewhere on campus, in the student center, backyard, patio, or maybe even in a recreational area.
When alternate study places are required, select one that is as least distracting as possible. Select an area that can be worked into your class and work schedule.
The student center can be a good place to highlight material or work on notes while you are lunching or snacking. But, it is usually too distracting for studying. The library is very conducive to studying. It can give you a break from your regular study place. If you do study in the library, select a place out of the mainstream of student traffic. It can be very distracting to have movement or noise around when you are trying to study. Remember you are there to study and not to socialize.
The work area should contain a desk with a spacious work top. The top should allow you to spread out books, notebooks, and other needed materials. It should contain drawers for storage and a filing system. You will need a lamp on or near the desk. This will help lessen some eye strain and eliminate fatigue. Also make sure you select a comfortable chair.
The work area needs to be a well-planned and thought-out area. Design and arrange it to be as comfortable as possible. When setting up the work area, remember comfort is very important since many hours will be spent studying there.
The work area needs to be stocked with the following supplies: sharpened pencils, ball point pens, felt tip pens, highlighters, paper, stapler, paper clips, pencil sharpener and, most important, a dictionary, thesaurus, and a set of encyclopedias if possible.
If your physical arrangements will not allow the placement of a desk in a separate room, you have other options. The kitchen table is probably the next best place. If this is to be your designated study place, make sure it is cleared off before any studying begins.
The following is an overview of studying procedures.
When you are at you study place; you are there only to study. Nothing else is to take place there. This place has been designated as a study place only. Do not write letters, pay bills, play games, or do any non-study activities. It is very important that you condition yourself to only study there.
As already discussed, it is important for you to read all assigned materials before the class meeting. Remember the best way to do well on any test is to be prepared. It is very obvious that if you do not know the material, you are not going to do well. Being prepared rules out the concept of cramming. Cramming has no place in Productive Study Techniques. Cramming indicates a lack of studying and preparation. Remember the only person responsible for your performance on a test is you.
Doing well on a test you are prepared for has to be the greatest experience a student can have. It is a great feeling to take a test and know the answer to the question. You leave the classroom thinking it was an easy test when in fact it was easy to you because you were prepared. It helps create a positive attitude and a feeling of achievement and success. It greatly improves self-esteem. It is a reward within itself.
Being prepared builds self-esteem.
The following is an overview of preparations needed for studying. These are preparations only and are not to be confused with studying. These are not part of your productive study time.
Studying with Others
Studying with another person or in a group can be very beneficial and rewarding. At the beginning of each term, ask fellow classmates if anyone would like to start a study group. If so create a telephone number list of each person and establish a convenient time and schedule for everyone to meet. Make sure this time is set aside for studying and not for socializing. The purpose of this session is productivity. Each member should study before the session so the material can be discussed.
A study group is not a substitution for your own studying. It is very important that you continue your own study schedule. The group should be used to supplement and enhance your own studying. Do not depend on the group or another person to supply you with all the information that you will need to prepare for class or a test. Depending on someone else can prove to be a grave mistake.
If you do get in a study group, make sure the sessions are set at a time which will allow everyone adequate time to prepare. Set an agenda of subject items or topics to be discussed. Leave enough time to discuss any problems that someone may have.
There is a difference between activity and accomplishment.
^ Return to Top
Testing is a word that brings fear to all our hearts. No matter how many tests you take, there is always a certain amount of stress associated with them. Test anxiety is usually a result of not being prepared. Test anxiety is also associated with a fear of failing. When these two elements are conditioned into the learning process, test anxiety can become overwhelming. Concerns and explanations may be misdirected, leading to negative self-criticism and self-doubt. These negative perceptions can manifest themselves in a lowering of self-esteem. On the other hand, healthy concerns lead to motivation that leads to preparation and success, not to anxiety.
When self-doubt occurs over a period of time the, statement "I’m not good at taking tests" is conditioned in to explain poor performance. The student begins to believe it and has a built-in excuse for not doing well on tests. When this happens, it is too easy to blame everything and everyone else for the poor performance. This manifests itself in a loser’s limp.
Test anxiety will manifest itself in both physical and psychological ways. Physical symptoms can range from sweaty palms to nausea. Psychological symptoms can range from a negative outlook such as a feeling of helplessness to not taking responsibility and blaming others.
Conditions of test anxiety may include the following:
Test anxiety is not a fear of tests. It is a fear created from not being prepared.
One of the best ways to control test anxiety is to be prepared for the test. Each time you are prepared for a test and do well on it, the stress of test anxiety lessens. It takes time and work to recondition yourself to deal effectively with test anxiety.
Tests scare me because:
I cannot overemphasize this important fact: The best way to do well on a test is to be prepared.
There are many excuses for not doing well on an exam: I do not do well in early morning classes, I do not do well in evening classes, the test was too hard or unfair, I don’t do well on those type of tests, it covered too much material. The list goes on.
Again, usually the main reason students do not do well on a test is that they are not properly prepared. They have not studied or they do not know how to study productively. If studying was done, it was not productive. There is always a reason for not knowing the material.
Performance on a test is equal to the quality and quantity of preparation.
Tests give feedback on how well you learned the material. They show strengths and weakness. If you do not do well on a test, analyze your mistakes and learn from them. Learning from your mistakes will help you better prepare for future tests. If your mistakes are not obvious or you do not understand why you missed something, ask why. Ask the instructor to explain why the answer was incorrect. If you still feel uncomfortable with the test results, ask the instructor for help. You can ask the instructor to look over your notes and study sheets to see if you are on the right track.
Ask yourself these questions when you experience poor performance on a test:
Types of Tests
Everything you do has to be measured in some fashion. In education the most popular way of evaluating the performance of a student is with tests. Basically a test is a measurement of learning.
Contrary to popular belief, a test is usually not designed or constructed to fail students. A test is designed to motivate students to learn the material. When the material is learned, it does not matter what types of questions are asked. If you know the material, you will know the answer.
It is also very important to know what type of test you will be taking. You need to know how and by what means you are to be measured before studying begins. You can find this either on your syllabus or from the instructor at the beginning of the term.
Collect as much information as possible about the type of tests that you are to take. Some instructors will have copies of old tests on file either in the department or in the library. If they do, be sure to review them. This will give you an example of how they write test questions. Old tests can also be used as study guides.
There are different study techniques for different types of test questions. When taking ANY test IT IS VERY IMPORTANT TO READ ALL OF THE INSTRUCTIONS CAREFULLY BEFORE TAKING THE TEST. Not reading instructions seems to deal students the most trouble.
The following are brief descriptions of the types of test questions that you can expect to be answering in college.
Multiple choice tests are usually the most common types of tests given. These consist of a question and a number of answer choices from which to select.
Multiple Choice Strategy: The instructions are usually to select one answer for each question. It is very important to read the instructions very carefully. The instructions may ask you to select the best answer. There may be more than one answer that is correct, but the one that is most correct is the one being sought. Some instructions may ask for all correct answers; therefore, there may be more than one correct answer to the question.
In true or false questions you only have two possible answer choices—true or false. With these you have a fifty-fifty chance of getting a correct answer just by answering the question. These questions can be very tricky sometimes.
True False Strategy: Make sure you understand the question before selecting the answer. Be careful with questions containing words such as may, sometimes, never, and always. If any part of the statement is false, then the question or statement has to be false. This is another reason for reading and understanding the question thoroughly before answering it.
With matching you are usually given two columns of words, names, or phrases. The instructions are usually to select the word, name, or phrase that matches. This is done either by writing one next to the other, selecting a matching letter, or drawing a line to connect the two.
Matching Strategy: Make sure you read both columns before you start selecting your matches. Use the process of elimination here. Go through the lists and answer the ones you know first. Then go back through the list now that it is condensed and select the ones you think match and so on.
In sentence completion tests, you are given a partial or incomplete sentence and instructed to complete the sentence or thought.
Sentence Completion Strategy: Be straightforward. Just supply the needed word(s) or information. Often these are definitions and you are asked to supply the term.
Fill In The Blank
Fill in the blank questions are like sentence completion questions. The sentence is completed with one word left blank. It is your task to fill in the missing word.
Fill in the Blank Strategy: Look for key words in the question or statement that may help you remember the correct response.
With essays you are given a question and asked to explain or describe it.
Essay Questions Strategy: If the test is composed of all essay questions, read all questions before you attempt to answer any one question. Start answering the questions that you feel most comfortable with. When you select a question to answer, make sure you understand what the question is asking, then underline key words and ideas of the question.
Do not attempt to write an answer until you have spent a few minutes thinking through the question. THINK BEFORE YOU WRITE. First read the question and make sure you understand what is being asked and how you are expected to answer it. Then spend a few minutes and write an outline. This will allow you to plan and organize your thoughts before you start writing.
You may find that while you are answering one question, it may contain material that can be included in another question. Make note of that. Use key terms and phrases. Try to bring in examples to explain your ideas and demonstrate that you understand the material.
Make sure you stay on topic. Do not refer to anything unless it relates to the topic. Do not try to cover up your lack of knowledge with poor penmanship.
When you have finished answering the question reread the question and then the answer. Did you cover all the points that were asked?
Open Book Tests
With an open book test the student is allowed to use the textbook and sometimes even notes to answer the questions. On the surface this seems like an easy way to take a test. In reality it can be more difficult than the other tests discussed. The reason is that the instructor usually makes it more difficult since the student has the book to refer to. The test usually has a time limit that causes problems since it takes time to look up information. Often the answers are not ones that can just be copied from the book. Probably the biggest problem with this type of test is that students take studying for it too lightly. They feel there is no problem since the book can be used, and they wind up not studying as they should have.
Open Book Tests Strategy: This is where previous organization and preparation are essential. The better highlighted and arranged your textbook and notes are, the easier the information will be to find. Know the material as well as you would for any other type of test. Do not rely on being able to just turn to a page and find an answer. Open book tests are usually very misleading.
Study Strategies for Questions
As discussed, it is important to know what type of test questions will be asked before you begin study preparations. The types of questions will help guide your study approach.
There are basically three strategies to be concerned with when preparing for a test: recognition, recall and understanding.
Recognition is a process of being able to identify or recognize something that has already been learned. Recognition is used when studying for multiple choice tests, true false, and matching test questions.
Recall is an approach of regurgitating information that has been memorized, like a poem or a list of bones that make up the skeletal system. Recall is used when studying for sentence completion and fill-in-the-blank test questions.
Understanding is a process of knowing the material. It is a process of being able to explain ideas and concepts. Understanding of the material is needed to answer essay questions. This strategy should be used for all types of studying.
Being prepared helps control anxiety.
TEST TAKING TECHNIQUES
The best way to do well on any test is to be prepared. There are no exceptions to this rule. No technique will help if you do not know the material. Therefore study, learn, and know the material before attempting any test. This is why those who do very well on tests seem so confident. They study and prepare. The following are some productive test taking techniques for you to use.
Read the first question. Make sure you read all the answer choices before making your choice. If you know the answer, mark it. If you do not know the answer, do not spend any time on that question but go directly to the next question. This is to be done throughout the test. Only read the question once. This is to be done even if it is not a timed test. You do not want to get stuck on one item. If you do, it will prove to be very frustrating. This can and probably will have a negative effect on the rest of the test. When you are reading the answers, start using a process of elimination. For example if there are four answer choices (a, b, c, d), and you know it is not d, then eliminate that answer. Put a mark by it. Lessening the number of choices will increase your probability of selecting the correct answer. If it is a timed test, make sure you keep track of the time.
Once you have gone through the entire test and have answered all the questions that you are sure you know, then return to the beginning of the test. Go back to the first question that you left blank. Reread it. If you think you know the answer this time then mark it. Do the same for the remaining questions. Do not forget about the time. If time runs out before you finish, (let’s say you have one minute left and five questions to answer) select the best answer and go with it. Remember you have already marked the answers you thought were incorrect. This will allow you to make a better choice in the short time that is left.
THINGS TO DO BEFORE A TEST
As we have discussed before, the best way to do well on any test is to BE PREPARED. If you follow Productive Study Techniques methods and procedures, you will have the needed self-confidence to do well on any test you prepare for.
Do not study the night before a test. This will only add stress and may be more detrimental than productive. The only preparations at this point, if you feel you need to, is to just look over your notes. Relax and get a good night’s sleep. This way you will be rested and in the best state of mind.
RELAX AFTER A TEST
Reward yourself in some way. If you do not have another test or project due, take some time off—rest, play, do something that will take your mind off the test or project you just finished. You deserve a break. Take it!
Before you start a test close your eyes and take a deep breath, relax and...
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Stress is a condition, situation, or state of mind which is in some way discomforting to the individual and affects normal coping abilities. Stress is usually a condition of uncertainty and feelings of having no control or of having a lack of control over a situation. It can also be a fear of the unknown. Stress is not viewed or interpreted by everyone the same way, nor is it handled by everyone in the same way. Once stress is recognized, there is then a need to discover its cause or causes. Stress can show itself in many ways; from being anxious, to being upset or even feeling ill. Too often the cause of stress is not apparent.
You will find that in college, as with anything you are trying to achieve, there will be a certain amount of stress involved. The more important something is to you the better you will want to perform. Stress is a fact of life and a condition that you will need to recognize and learn to deal with. It can and will have a positive or negative effect on the outcome of your efforts. It is also an important aspect to consider in forming productive study skills.
All students experience stress to some degree while studying or preparing for tests. For those students that are not properly prepared for a test, this stress is interpreted as negative and is usually detrimental to their performance. Each time this state of stress is experienced with a state of being unprepared, the stress level increases. If this continues, this unrealistic feeling of stress becomes a conditioned response to stress. This conditioned state is then often interpreted and referred to as test anxiety.
This is not to say that all stress is bad. There are basically two types of stress, positive and negative. Negative stress (also referred to as distress) is that stress you want to avoid if at all possible. It is this form of stress which does harm in a number of ways. It can affect mental and physical health or, even worse, both. It can lead to both mental and physical laziness. Symptoms of negative stress can be headaches, shoulder aches, muscle tension, nausea, and diarrhea.
Without struggle, there is no progress.
Positive stress on the other hand can be beneficial. A certain amount of stress is needed to be productive and active. Everyone needs a certain amount of positive stress to function in everyday life. It is when stress gets out of hand that there is a feeling of no control. At this point positive stress can become negative stress.
Stress must first be recognized before it can be dealt with effectively. This sounds much easier than it really is. In fact the most difficult task in dealing with stress is identifying its cause or causes. Stress comes in many forms and for many reasons. Going to college, working, and juggling family and social life will contribute greatly to your stress.
Everyone deals with stress differently. As with learning styles, you must discover a method that best suits your needs.
Stress is often based on your individual perception of the situation. A situation is only stressful if you think it is. A situation that is stressful to one person is not necessarily stressful to another. What is stressful in one situation may be a motivator in another situation. Therefore the way you perceive something determines how you respond to it.
The more in control of your life you are the less stress you will experience and the better equipped you will be at handling it. The control you feel is determined by what you think or believe to be true or real, not necessarily on what is actually true or real about the situation. In other words you act and respond based on how you perceive the situation.
Everyday life’s stressful situations have an affect on studying abilities and motivation. Most stress is self-imposed. This means the situation would probably not be considered stressful if it was not perceived to be so.
Continued stress can lead to a condition of learned helplessness. Learned helplessness is created when you have tried something, then failed a number of times, and then are conditioned to accepting the fact that you have no control on the outcome of that situation or any similar future situation.
I know how to deal with stress. yes no
I usually can control my stress. yes no
Answering no to either or both of these questions could indicate you may need help in learning how to deal effectively with stress.
WAYS TO REDUCE STRESS
The best way to reduce stress is to be aware that it is occurring and then deal with it effectively. The sooner you are aware of feeling stress, the sooner you can begin dealing with the symptoms.
When dealing with stress you should be able to do the following:
Prevention is the best way to control stress. There are a number of techniques and strategies available to help combat stress before as well as after it is experienced.
It is very important to maintain a well-balanced diet. Nutrition plays a big part in the control of stress. It is a known fact that college students have poor diets. A good nutritional diet will aid the body in dealing with the physiological and psychological effects of stress.
Physical activity is considered one of the best ways to relieve stress and to aid in its prevention. Physical activities consist of anything that causes you to exert yourself physically. Some forms of physical activity are aerobic exercise, jogging, walking, playing sports such as baseball, tennis, or throwing a frisbee, among many others. The best activity is one that you enjoy.
Physical activity is effective for two reasons:
Progressive relaxation is a process of training yourself to relax. The first step is to learn how to relax through a progressive process. The next step is to condition yourself to relax through a cognitive process. This is where you can create a state of muscular relaxation just by thinking through the process.
The first step is best achieved by lying down in a comfortable position, preferably on a bed. Lie on your back with your arms and legs in a comfortable position but not touching your body and with eyes closed. A good time to practice this is at bed time. Take a minute and try to clear your mind. Concentrate only on what you are doing. You are going to be concentrating on and tensing certain parts of your body from your toes to your head.
Once you are in the proper position, start by concentrating on your toes. Now tense your toes as hard as you can for three to five seconds, then relax them. The purpose is to experience the difference between a tensed muscle and a relaxed one. You are now going to progress up your entire body one part at a time. You will be focusing on as small a group of muscles as possible. The order of progression is toes, feet, calves, thighs, buttocks, pelvic area, abdomen, fingers, hands, forearms, upper arms, chest, shoulders, front of the neck area, back of the neck, chin, jaw, eyes, forehead, and then the scalp.
Each time you tense a muscle group, concentrate on the difference between the tensed and relaxed feeling. All the time you are progressing through this exercise, mentally repeat to yourself—RELAX. The purpose of this exercise is to learn to recognize the difference between a tense and relaxed state and to condition this learned relaxed state with the concept of relaxation. Always reward and reinforce yourself mentally by realizing and enjoying the difference between the position of the muscles before you start and how much more relaxed and limp they are after they are relaxed. With practice, this method will take less and less time to achieve the desired relaxed state. Each time you practice this exercise, try to set a goal to achieve a more and deeper relaxed state of relaxation.
After you complete a progressive relaxation session, lie there and concentrate on the differences between the relaxed states. Now think of your whole body relaxing at one time without tensing. You should experience a feeling of sinking a little further into the bed.
If your body is truly relaxed, you will not experience any muscle tension. This method works. Use it and constantly practice it. You should incorporate this technique of relaxation into other techniques for reducing and controlling stress. When practicing this at bedtime you may find it hard staying awake through the entire exercise. That will be an indication of success. After you become proficient at this method, the next step is to practice while sitting upright in a chair. Simply close your eyes, assume a comfortable position, and begin the technique.
This is a way of learning to relax through the simple process of breathing. As with the progressive relaxation technique, a good way to begin learning this exercise is lying in a bed just before going to sleep. Start by assuming a good comfortable relaxed position. Now start concentrating on your breathing. Start by clearing your mind of any and all usual thoughts of everyday events. Concentrate on breathing in and out. Focus on the movement of your chest as you breathe. Begin to take slow and longer breaths while mentally repeating to yourself—RELAX. After you feel that you have achieved a certain level of relaxation, simply take a good slow and deep breath. While exhaling this breath, allow your muscles to relax even more than they already are.
Each time you practice this exercise, try to set a goal to achieve a more and deeper state of relaxation. Always be aware of the difference of the tension and change in the muscles as you relax. Being aware will allow you to become more relaxed and to achieve deeper states of relaxation.
As with the progressive relaxation technique, you may find it hard to practice this exercise for very long periods without falling asleep. Again this will be an indication of success. After you become proficient at this method the next step is to practice while sitting upright in a chair. Simply close your eyes, assume a comfortable position, and begin the technique.
Once you become proficientat this process you can incorporate it into a stress reducing maintenance program to use in everyday situations that prove stressful.
This is an extension of the above techniques. This method uses meditation and self-hypnotic techniques and combines them with relaxation. As with the relaxation techniques, first assume a comfortable relaxed position. In the beginning this can also be practiced while lying down, then in a sitting position. Next focus on an object. This can be a close object such as your hand, a poster, or just a spot on the wall, or a distant object by staring out a window at a tree or cloud. Select an object that will not distract you while you practice this exercise.
Clear your mind of all thoughts while you are focusing on this object. Constantly repeat relax, relax . . . Once you have perfected this technique you can let your mind wander and think of a pleasant mental image instead of just the word relax.
Alcohol is a very popular and usually acceptable way to relax and relieve tension and stress. A word of caution: alcohol is a temporary fix and may, and probably will, prove to be costly in the long run. What you solve with alcohol today may become more serious tomorrow. At its best, it is only a very temporary quick fix.
Know Your Own Limits
Be truthful with yourself. Know what you expect of yourself. Be realistic about what you can and cannot do. Once you are realistic about your expectations, you are then in a position to take control of them.
You should be aware of your needs and expectations and act accordingly. You may feel that there are circumstances that warrant accepting lower performance such as a course outside your major that is very difficult for you. You may also be self-supporting and between work and college, you may feel that you do not have enough time to devote to your studies. This will change after you learn Productive Study Techniques.
Know when to quit. If you get too far behind or take on more than you can handle, seek help and advice. Sometimes dropping a course that is dealing you problems can be the best solution. Do not let this become a habit. Learn from this and plan your schedule better for the following terms.
As already discussed, the best way to do well on a test is to be prepared. Being prepared is also a way to alleviate or at least minimize stress. Being prepared promotes self-esteem and confidence. It gives you a sense of being in charge.
Talk About It
Talk about what is bothering you. Discuss it with a friend, classmate, family member, or even a counselor. Just talking about a problem can be very therapeutic.
Humor and laughter are probably the best and most natural way to alleviate the symptoms of stress. Try to inject as much humor and laughter into your life as you possibly can.
The Small Closet method
This is not a way to do away with stress totally but instead it is a way to recognize, deal with, and control stress. In fact, the small closet method is a temporary storage system. It is concerned with both the conscious and the subconscious mind. The conscious mind is that part of the mind which you are aware of all the time. It is the reality part of your everyday world.
The subconscious mind is the part which you are not aware of but which still has an influence on you. This subconscious area can be considered the storage spot for those things that, for whatever the reason, you do not want to deal with consciously.
I consider the small closet method to be a short-term subconscious storage bin for all those things which you just do not want to or cannot deal with at the time.
This system is a way to temporarily delay dealing with an unpleasant or potentially stressful situation. It is a method which will allow you to continue to feel in control while in a stressful situation. You are not ignoring or denying that the situation is unpleasant or stressful. You are only storing it so you can deal with it at a more appropriate time.
This approach will allow you to continue your planned activities until a designated and predetermined time that will be more appropriate to deal with the stress that was generated from the situation. It is not designed to eliminate or ignore the responsibility of the situation. Basically what you are doing is subconsciously and temporally storing what may be perceived as stressful until a time that you are prepared to deal with it. Make sure you set aside time to deal with it appropriately.
All of this stress is only being stored for a short period of time. Following a very important test you may have to go straight to work or even to another test. It is obvious that a very stressful situation is going to affect your performance on other tasks. With practice this technique will allow you to be in control when you are in most need of being in control.
Reasons you can change. Excuses change you.
This chapter is simply a listing of statements that will aid you in creating a positive attitude about grades. They have been listed as a quick reference and made easy for review.
Presentation influences the perception of content.
Last Updated: 10/02/2012