How to Study

Dr. Robert Willey

based in part on thoughts of A. Pribula, Towson State University and
Robert Rothenberg, State University of New York College at Oneonta

Your teacher is not going to fill your head with information. If it were possible to open your head and pour information into your brain we might do it, but it doesn't work that way (yet). The way learning takes place is when you seek out information and assimilate it, making it fit with your past experience. What you learn will be different from everyone else, since your background is unique.

There are four basic components to the teacher-guided education experience:



Past What the teacher knows What the student knows
Present How well the teacher can teach How well the student can learn

You must become involved in your own learning. A teacher cannot teach you what you are unable or unwilling to learn. You must be an active partner. There are no shortcuts to learning. If you don't make an effort you will probably get little back and you are wasting your time and money being here.

My goal is to teach you how to learn, more than just the subject material we are looking at in class. There will be many things to learn in life, and the quicker you pick things up the more successful you will be. I would like to make you independent of the institution, so that by the time you leave here you don't need us anymore to learn things. Teachers are better seen as coaches who help students play the game, in this case, the game of learning. The only difference between teachers and students is that the teachers know more about the subject area under discussion, and usually know how to learn better than students.

There are ways to make your studying more efficient. If you want to improve your grades you may try to "work harder", but big behavioral changes are unlikely unless you are able to see your habits and have the will to change them. Often it's not so much a question of doing more but doing better. Don't expect to change the outcomes of things around you if you continue doing things the same way. If you want to change the outcome you must change the way you are doing things. Time is scarce and getting more valuable all the time. Don't waste it. Find the most efficient ways to study and put your effort into those activities. Avoid time wasters.

Take responsibility:

Remember: "Fail to plan, plan to fail." There are rarely good excuses for being late. Get your work done early and then when the inevitable crisis comes up you will still have time to finish by the due date. Remember Murphy's Law: things will go wrong when they can. Being prepared reduces the opportunities for problems to develop.

Take criticism well. Seek out constructive feedback. We are all here to learn.

Take notes during class. It will help you concentrate on what the teacher is saying. It is hard to concentrate for long periods, and when you are watching someone else lecture it is easy to drift off into other thoughts. Try to summarize what the teacher is saying, not just copy down what is written on the board. If you can't take good notes it may be a sign that you are not understanding well what the teacher is getting at.

When you read, get into the habit of asking questions:

Summary of Time Management Principles

from York University (complete text in .pdf format)

1. Since we cannot actually control the passage of time, it makes sense to think of time management as self management. Making appropriate choices about how to use time is really what people mean when they say time management. Everyday you make choices about how to best use your time given the goals and options you have. Knowing what your goals are and what time is available to you are the cornerstones of good time/self management.

2. Knowing what is new in your environment can help you manage yourself through time. The transition to university involves many changes that will take time to adjust to. In first year you'll face shrinking class time and an increase in the amount of time that must be spent in self-directed, independent learning. Moving away from home for the first time, living in residence, balancing school, work, and a social life all represent potentially new challenges to managing time too. Leaving some time unplanned to deal with these changes will help you manage your time well.

3. Planning tools can assist you guiding yourself through an as-yet-unknown reality. Weekly and monthly planners and to-do lists can help you chart a path to your goals. When you plan around your daily peak times of alertness and energy, construct a realistic schedule with clear and concrete activities, and use long-range deadlines to guide your planning. As a result, you will manage your time with less stress and procrastination.

4. The biggest time-saver is to start now. Keeping on top of your work from the beginning of the year will end up saving you many hours of work and the stress of last minute preparation. Read the syllabus and course outline as a guide to each of your courses during the first week of class so that you'll know what to focus on in your work. Do your readings on time and attend all lectures and tutorials -- this way you don't have to scramble around looking for notes or library books at the last minute. Review your work at intervals to consolidate your learning so that you don't have to cram before exams.

5. A balanced load is easier to carry. It is important to make time for the various aspects of your life. Write down clear goals for school, exercise, relaxation, and socializing and make time in your schedule for each of these important life components. While you want to make sure you don't take on too much, balancing your load will keep you mentally and physically energetic.

6. Learn to use time that would otherwise escape you. Using commuting time, time in line-ups and waiting time to complete important, but small activities, can add up to huge time savings and greater productivity. Keep some reading or cue cards with study materials written on them handy to use when these little pockets of time open up.

©1999 Robert Willey