Study Skills

The majority of college success is due to motivation and time management. Anyone who tells you that they can get through college without studying, or that they make great grades without studying is pulling your leg. Success in college takes effort.

This means that if you want to do well you must be willing to set aside time to study. You may have to sacrifice at times. However, effective time management will allow adequate time for school as well as a social life or free time to do the activities that you most enjoy.

We have ideas and tools that will help you manage your time more wisely.

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Motivation is the key to success in school. Although we can provide you with some helpful hints to enhance motivation, we cannot motivate students. You are responsible for your study habits, for seeking resources and assistance, and for managing your time. You have to want to do well enough to put forth the effort.

Five Major Problems for Students Who Study

  • Not studying enough.
  • Wasting time when studying (Have you ever read 2 or 3 pages of material only to discover that you cannot remember any of the material that you have just read?).
  • Having trouble getting ready to study ("Before I study my laundry must be done, the bathroom must be cleaned, I need to have all of my errands run, etc.").
  • Finding a good place for studying.
  • Using a good learning strategy.

The Following Suggestions Will Help You Avoid Those Problems

  • SET UP A SCHEDULE. Allocate more time for the most difficult classes. Make sure that you allot time for recreation and social activities (You need to reward yourself for your hard work!). Follow your schedule.
  • START STUDYING FOR 10-15 MINUTES AT A TIME AND THEN BUILD UP TO LONGER PERIODS OF TIME. Most study skills programs suggest reading for 10-15 minute increments your freshman year, 20 minutes your sophomore year, 25 minutes your junior year, 30 minutes your senior year and 45 minutes to an hour in graduate school. So, work towards reading for longer periods of time. Just remember to be realistic. If you can no longer concentrate or remember what you have read, stop. There's no sense in wasting your valuable time.
  • TAKE BREAKS. Take breaks when studying. The average attention span for one task is approximately 20 minutes. DO NOT ATTEMPT TO CRAM! Study small portions of material, take a break and then study some more. We retain a great deal more if we learn in small manageable portions, than when we attempt to learn a great deal of information at once. Make these breaks mandatory. Even if you are enjoying your reading or studying, take some breaks. You do not want to get burned out.
  • REWARD YOURSELF. Reward yourself for studying, learning a difficult concept, or completing a project. Go to a movie, spend time with your friends, or do the things you put off in order to study. This reinforces your behavior. You are more likely to study again and concentrate if you know there is a reward at the end of completing a task.
  • FIND A GOOD LOCATION. Where you study can influence your concentration and your study habits as well. Make sure you are comfortable, but not too comfortable. Sitting at a desk is preferable to lying in bed.
  • USE THE SAME PLACE FOR STUDYING. This will help you associate that particular location with studying and will facilitate concentration.
  • MAKE SURE IT IS A QUIET PLACE. Seeking a quiet well-lit study area is equally important. A radio blaring in the background, a stereo blaring next door, and the sounds of an interesting conversation are but a few of the factors that can disturb a study area.
  • ELIMINATE THE OBVIOUS DISTRACTIONS. Some of the more common distractions are telephone calls or friends and family stopping by to chat. Put up the newspapers, magazines, and unfinished projects. Even the sight of a textbook from another class can serve as a reminder of how far behind you are in another class, causing you to waste time worrying. Once you become aware of these simple distractions, you can eliminate them and improve your study skills.
  • REMEMBER THAT MEMORY IS "CONTEXT DEPENDENT." Studying in a physical situation similar to the one in which you will be tested increases your chances to recall information. (This is another reason why studying in bed does not work!) Make your studying situation as similar as possible to the testing situation. When possible, go review your materials in the classroom.
  • MEMORY IS ALSO "STATE DEPENDENT." Studying in an emotional mood similar to the one you experience during tests increases your chances to recall studied information. When studying, keep the same focus and enhanced attention you have in your tests. Being too relaxed during your study time would not match the level of activation you reach during your tests. You need to increase your concentration and activation levels while studying to increase your chances to recall the studied material when tested. The reverse is applicable to tests. If you get too psyched-up or tensed-up during your tests, you will not be able to recall your material because your test mood state will not match your studying mood. This is the reason why it is so important to calm down in a testing situation. The Relaxation screen of the Counseling Center Help Screens provides a relaxation technique.
  • INCREASE YOUR READING EFFECTIVENESS. The following are two effective methods for reading text material. Choose the one that is best for you.

Methods to Improve Your Reading Skills

SQ4R Method

SURVEY: Briefly survey the chapter. Read the authors' headings. Your aim here is not to go into detail but to develop a general idea of the structure. This will prepare you for what you are going to read and grasp a general understanding of the chapter. Read any summary. This will remind you of what is important throughout the chapter. This step helps you to get acquainted with the chapter.

QUESTION: Think about the material as you are reading. Ask yourself questions about it. These questions will serve to keep you more involved with what you are reading. This will keep you focused on the more important material without becoming overwhelmed by details. Try formulating questions as if you were the professor making up the test. This accomplishes 2 tasks--one, it facilitates concentration and two, it helps you prepare for the test.

READ: Read carefully and try to answer questions you have asked yourself. Remember you read a text differently than you read a novel. A novel is read passively. Textbook reading requires more concentration and retention. Read actively with involvement. This increases your understanding of the material. If you become tired or distracted, stop reading. Remember, your job here is not to cover a number of pages, but to "dig in." During this step, avoid reading aloud to yourself. Instead, read silently as this is much faster.

WRITE: After you have answered a question, write the answer down. Sum up information in your own words. Restructure the information so that it makes the most sense to you.

RECITE: Recite to yourself what you have read. Recall main headings and ideas. Be sure to put ideas in your own words as this will improve your ability to retain the material. Answer questions aloud and listen to your responses to see if they are complete and correct. If they are not correct, re-read the material and answer the question again. This form of rehearsal increases the likelihood that you will retain the material.

REVIEW: Reviewing is the key to figuring out what you know and what you need to concentrate on. The best times to review are right after reading while the material is still fresh on your mind and again before the test. Try to summarize major points in the chapter. Answer questions you posed to yourself while reading.

PQ4R Method

PREVIEW: Survey the chapter to determine the general topics being discussed. Identify the sections to be read as units. Apply the next four steps to each section.

QUESTIONS: Make up questions about the section. Often, simply transforming section headings results in adequate questions.

READ: Read the section carefully trying to answer the questions you have made up about it.

REFLECT: Reflect on the text as you are reading, try to understand it, to think of examples, and to relate the material to prior knowledge.

RECITE: After finishing a section try to recall the information contained in it. Try answering the questions you made up for the section. If you cannot recall enough read the portions that you had trouble remembering.

REVIEW: After you have finished the chapter, go through it mentally recalling its main points. Try again to answer the questions you made up.

Improve Your Memory

Some students find that using particular memorization tactics can improve their memory. Here are a few of the popular memorization strategies.

  • Acrostics: Acrostics are phrases or poems in which the first letter of each word or line functions as a cue to help you recall the words that you are trying to remember. One popular example is the phrase "Every good boy does fine." This acrostic is used to remember the order of musical notes on a musical scale.
  • Acronyms: Acronyms are words formed out of the first letters of a series of words you are trying to remember. A popular acronym is "Roy G. Biv" which is used to remember the order of colors of the spectrum (Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, and Violet).
  • Narrative: Some find making up a story with the lists of words throughout the narrative aids retention.
  • Rhymes: Remember the phrase "i before e except after c"? You probably remember this well because it is a rhyme. Rhyming can enhance retention as well.
  • Imagery: There are two methods of imagery which enhance retention of material.
    1. LINKING items together visually in your mind. For example, if you have a list of groceries such as cereal, milk, toilet paper and tangerines, you might try visualizing a dairy cow eating cereal under a tangerine tree wrapped in toilet paper. Believe it or not the more bizarre the image, the more likely you are to remember it.
    2. The METHOD OF LOCI. This involves taking an imaginary walk in your mind through a familiar path along which you associate items you are trying to remember. For example, you may take the same grocery list and place the items (visually in your imagination) throughout your room. The tangerine may be the doorknob as you open the room, the cereal appears on the TV, the milk is hanging from the ceiling fan and you may envision a large roll of toilet paper in place of the chair at your desk.

Some General Study Hints

BE AWARE OF THE "INTERFERENCE" PHENOMENON. When memorizing, also keep in mind that interference can occur. In fact, learning new material can interfere or cause you to forget old material. Try to memorize material for each class on a different day. This is also why it helps to review the night before, or a few hours before, the test. You have less chance of other information interfering with the acquisition of the test material.

GO TO CLASS. Attendance is crucial. Studies have found a positive correlation between class attendance and grades. In fact the higher the attendance rate, the higher your grades are likely to be. Most professors believe that their lecture material is important. If you miss class you miss what is important to the professor; hence, what is most likely to end up on the test.

PARTICIPATE IN CLASS. In order to learn more in class it helps to become involved by participating in class discussions. Asking questions for clarification and maintaining eye contact with your professor can increase your involvement and enhance concentration of the class discussion. Use active listening skills. This means hearing what your professor is saying and trying to anticipate what he or she is going to say next. One other hint: If your course material is difficult, be sure to read the material prior to class. This may help you understand and follow more closely.

IF YOU NEED TO MISS A CLASS. If you have to miss class, let your professor know. It is very helpful to have a reliable classmate from whom you can get the notes. Exchange phone numbers so that you can rely on each other for notes in case of an emergency.

TAKE GOOD NOTES. Proper note taking skills can facilitate understanding of lecture material. Don't be a human tape recorder! Try not to write everything down. Be concise and sum up lecture material in your own words whenever possible. Write down unfamiliar terms. Review your notes as soon after class as possible. You can fill in details that you missed and review the material while it is still fresh on your mind.

USE YOUR TEXTBOOK. Some professors follow the book closely. In this case it may be helpful to take the book to class and highlight important topics or terms and write notes in the margins.

TALK TO YOUR PROFESSOR. If you are struggling in your class, talk to your professor. He or she may be able to assist you or send you in the right direction to get the resources you need. However, do not wait until the last minute. Most professors have little sympathy for students who become concerned about failing during the last few weeks of the semester.

FORM OR JOIN A STUDY GROUP. Get study groups together. Choose those students who seem interested in the class. Make sure everyone is familiar with the material before meeting as you do not want to spend time re-teaching material to someone who has not learned the material. It helps if these study groups serve to review material already learned or to clarify problem areas. Make sure everyone is motivated. Beware! Sometimes groups can become chatting sessions, just make sure you all remember your purpose: To learn class material. After the test, reward yourselves with pizza and conversation.

START AT THE BEGINNING. Start studying from the first day. Be ahead in the reading material.

KEEP UP IN AN ORGANIZED FASHION. Some classes require more work or effort than others. For example, math and foreign language are subjects which require daily work. Because these classes require knowledge of basic material which then builds, keep up or you will be lost.

To Sum It All Up

Effective study is an active process. It does not mean passively reading some material. It does not mean endless hours spent in a frustrated search for understanding. Rather, effective study involves actively "digging in" and mastering course material. Studying involves steady progress. It requires efficient use of your study time and perhaps a reduction in time spent studying. Effective studying can produce a sense of competence, pleasure, and mastery.

In the event that other factors are affecting your studying, the Counseling Center offers individual counseling to S.H.S.U students. We know that family issues, roommate concerns, and alcohol and substance abuse problems can greatly affect your success in college. Do not hesitate to come in to the Counseling Center if personal issues are affecting your studies.

Sam Houston Counseling Center

1608 Avenue J., Box 2059  | Huntsville, TX 77341-2059  | Phone: 936.294.1720 | Fax: 936.294.2639