Tricks and Treat of Studying – How to Study

Just run a Google on how to study and you will find over 100 million entries all boasting theories or techniques for success. Some suggest converting facts into song or chants, some preach a more academic approach to studying, and others offer special programs or treats for a scripted study plan. The common theme is the development of good study habits that are proactive and not reactive. I hope to highlight some basic skills needed for good study habits, and demystify the black cauldron that studying appears to be.

Let me say this up front — I am not naturally inclined to good study habits. I tend to procrastinate. (In fact, I waited until the last minute to write this article!) Still, even procrastination can be overcome with proper study habits, and improving your study habits are the key to better studying. So, what are the best habits to encourage?

As a foundation, you need to start sooner rather than later. Even as a procrastinator, I found that getting an early start on studying made me more productive. An early start begins with reviewing small chunks of information before each class, rather than waiting until test time. This helps you stay current on what's being covered in class, which allows you to participate in classroom discussion, which in turn lets you interact with the instructor. All of this transforms you from a passive observer into an active participant, which makes the concepts and ideas take root in your memory.

Building on this foundation, we've found these three steps (Learn, Practice, and Review) to be crucial in the studying process. These steps have very specific habits surrounding them for success. Remember we need to develop the habits long-term for success than just for a one-time crunch.

  • Learn — This is the first step in understanding the facts and concepts in your coursework, and it begins with good note-taking. Keep organized notes with consistent markings and structure, to make recall that much easier for you. For more specific ideas on taking notes refer to my article "Notable Notes."

    The second aspect of the Learn process is your environment. Your study environment can impact how well you retain and process the ideas and information you have gathered. Seriously, are you in an environment that is conducive to studying? Is your roommate playing X-Box, PS/2, or other distracting behavior? They may be fun to be around, but may be too distracting for you to learn. Find a place free of distraction where you have more control over your environment.

  • Practice — Once you understand a concept, you'll need to demonstrate that you can apply it. Practice is crucial for developing this application aspect. In math, you need to work problems repeatedly until you can get it consistently right. College-Cram is full of Bottomless Worksheets specifically designed to give you that unlimited supply of practice problems. We also feature flash cards for practicing your terms and definitions, in non-math subjects.
  • Review — You have learned the concept and practiced it until you are confident in your ability. Now the test is coming up, so it's time to review the information in a manner similar to that which you'll be tested in. Old quizzes or tests can greatly help here, and they are a valuable source of confidence prior to taking the test. They are also useful for pointing out the areas that you need a little extra practice with. Our collection of quizzes and Smartacus Study Sheets™ can be helpful here.

The specific study habits needed to become a successful student start with getting an early start and maintaining a solid process of Learn, Practice, and Review. Adapt these to your own unique style and you will find that studying becomes easier, with less pressure to cram at the last minute.