Confessions from Undergrad
I’m going to let you guys in on a secret. I was a terrible student while getting my BA. I only took good notes in one class, fell asleep watching assigned videos, had no idea how to read effectively, had study marathons, and highlighted everything in my text books.
So you guys don’t make my mistakes and so you can learn from my own I’m going to let you know what I did wrong and how to do things right.
Note taking: Don’t copy verbatim
Taking notes doesn’t help if they make no sense to you, my biggest mistake was I would never put things in my own words. I would just copy things down verbatim from my textbook. When I went back to review them later they never made any sense. They also had no sense of organization, it was a jumbled mess and I couldn’t find anything.
Note taking: Do put things in your own words and organize them
Putting notes in your own words helps two ways. One, it makes sure that you understand the concept and you’re not just a parrot. Two, it will make way more sense when you’re reviewing later if it’s in plain English and not academic jargon.
Having a organization system for your notes means that you’ll be able to find the information you need when you need it so you don’t waste valuable study time finding what you need. The tactic I have now is hand write a sloppy copy version of my notes and then organize everything in OneNote. I’m also considering doing a neater version of the handwritten in case I don’t feel like staring at a computer screen anymore. Also repeatedly rewriting information helps me retain it better.
Reading: Don’t cram it in all at once
Reading textbooks and academic journals is the hardest part about studying for me, and I’ve been a bookworm my whole life. I even read history books for fun! But I swear textbook people phrase things in the most complicated way possible just to sound smart. More often than not while reading I found myself zoning out and not actually taking in any of the information. I had no idea what was important and what wasn’t
Reading: Do read the intro and summary first
The introduction and summary in a chapter, or the abstract if it’s a scholarly article, will tell you the main points that you need to focus on and what they want you to get out of the reading. I have also recently found that breaking up the reading into smaller, more manageable chunks improves my focus. If I can’t process what I’m reading I put it away for 5-10 minutes and do something else.
Studying: Don’t cram and don’t be vague
Multiple studies have shown that studying for hours at a time reduces how effective it is and how much information you actually retain. Cramming a semesters worth of information in twelve hours for a test is not likely to get you an A. I used to do this so often, I would literally spend all day working on an assignment only to realize what I was writing made no sense. I’ve also found that when it comes to setting goals for how much you want to accomplish in a study session being vague is a recipe for failure. In undergrad I would write things in my day planner like “reading” or “discussion posts.” Not helpful when you have four chapters to read.
Studying: Do study in small chunks over time and be specific
You see it all over tumblr. Take a break every 20-30 minutes of studying, it helps you be more effective. Since I’ve started doing this I have to tell you it works. My writing is more clear and I can retain more effectively. Personally I read in between phone calls at work so I usually get 3-5 minutes of studying and then 5-10 minutes of getting yelled at by people that hate insurance. Having clear guidelines for what I want to accomplish in a study session or on that day has also helped reduce the amount of pressure I put on myself and allow to be more realistic. Instead of just “reading” I’ve started doing, “Read part one of chapter 2.”
I am no help here. I can’t and probably never will be able to highlight effectively. What I’ve started doing instead is putting post-it notes in my books to mark important pages or to document questions that I have while reading. I think this is because I can’t bring myself to deface a book, even for academic reasons.