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I think a lot of college students take too many courses. They are anxious to get into college, and then after a year or so they are looking forward to getting out of college. So they sign up for more than the minimum required number of units. All goes well for the first couple of weeks of the semester--but then they begin to feel buried under reading assignments and writing assignments, and they may feel burned out from having to attend too many lectures. I would advise students not to be in a big hurry to graduate. Take five years rather than four if you can do so.

Smarter students make better use of the college reference department. If you have to read a book, it is very helpful to look up reviews of that book to get a ballpark idea of what it is about. Book Review Digest is a goldmine. It refers you to reviews of books in various publications and usually gives excerpts. Then you can look up the entire reviews on the shelves, on the internet, or on microfilm. 

You can learn a lot--a whole lot--just by reading an article in Encyclopedia Britannica or Encyclopedia Americana. The people who write these articles synthesize a lot of information in a small space. There are many other more specialized encyclopedias too. Work smart! Find shortcuts!

The reference librarians are usually extremely helpful. 

I see a lot of really intelligent students who study together in private rooms at college libraries. It seems to me that this is an excellent way of studying many subjects, because you can socialize a little bit and meet interesting people, and you don't feel so isolated and lonely. I don't know how these study groups get started, but I suppose it would be feasible to ask one person to study with you at a set time and then recruit one or two others. This is a great way to review course material before one of those dreadful midterms or more dreadful finals. College should be a place where you meet people with common interests. You learn from them and they learn from you.

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It's important to study a little bit each night, and not just the night before a test.  When you get home from school, look over your notes from the day.  If you have holes, or shorthand you might forget, rewrite so that it makes sense.  It’s different for everybody.  Some people put their notes on flashcards and some create outlines.  Experiment with each method, and others until you find one that works for you.

Though you might be tempted, avoid studying on your bed or on the couch in front of the tv.  Too many distractions can keep you from achieving you goal.


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I have had the most success with studying when I outline the material in a way that shows the logical relationships between ideas.  Once I feel I've memorized the basics of the material, I internalize it by teaching someone else, or studying orally (often with a partner).

As a teacher, I realized how much about a text or a concept I never fully understood until I dissected it and figured out ways to help others understand.  Teaching is one of the best tools for sharpening personal understanding.

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The above list of suggestions is great.  I would like to emphasize the point that most of the above suggestions have the student DOING something active in order to study, not just passively "looking over" the material to be learned.  Rereading a textbook is passive -- writing an outline is active.  Reading over lecture notes is passive -- creating your own version of the test is active.  Talking about the material with a friend or parent is active.  Taking a prepared practice test is active.  Do extra math problems or science problems is active.

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How you study effectively depends on what you are studying for.  That said, there are some scientifically proven ways to increase memory.

Chunking Science has proven that we remember information best when it is grouped together.  We tend to remember no more than 7 items at a time.  For example, phone numbers are 7 digits.  So you can combine like topics so you will remember them better.

Memory or mnemonic devices If you create a memory device you are more likely to remember complex information.  For example, most schoolchildren are taught Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally as a memory device to remember the order of operations Parenthesis Exponents Multiplication Division Addition Subtraction.

Writing things down Increasing the sensory input into our brains helps us remember better. When you write, you not only repeat the information but get it through different senses- touch and visual.

Word association This is similar to a memory device.  You can associate one word with another word to help you remember.  This works very well for memorizing vocabulary.  For example, let’s say I am trying to remember who Adolf Hitler was.  I might use the word “hit” in his name to associate him with the pain he caused in the world.  If my vocabulary word is “congenial” (friendly), I might think of my friend Gene who gets along well with others.

Flash cards Most people do not really use flash cards effectively.  When used right, they are amazingly effective.  Write the word on one side and the definition on the other.  Use either the word or the definition to QUIZ YOURSELF.  Quizzing yourself is the key.  Just reading the word and then the definition is not effective.  Say the answer either out loud or in your head, then check it.  If you got it right, make a KNOW IT pile.  If you got it wrong, make a DON’T KNOW IT pile.  Then repeat.

Annotation If you can print something out or write directly on your notes or in your book, your learning will increase.  This is because you are interacting with the text, and reading more carefully.  You are also writing so there is more than one sensory input.

Recording Some people are audio learners.  They like to hear things and then they remember.  Recording lectures and playing them back works wonders for these people.  Interestingly enough, this also works well for people who are NOT auditory learners.  They often miss the information the first time, and being able to play it back as many times as they need is immensely helpful.

Take frequent short breaks Our bodies and minds get tired.  Don’t sit for longer than 20 or 30 minute without stretching, taking restroom breaks and resting your eyes.

Good luck!


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