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object:How to Study - Not a bad skill to have
author:Dr. Robert A. Hatch - University of Florida
class:note
class:reading list

There's an old joke about three frat brothers discussing plans for the evening. One said, 'Hey, I want to go out to the movies.' The second said, 'No, I want to go out for pizza.' The third said, 'Gee Whizz, fellas, I mean, like gosh, I really need to stay in and study.' With this the fourth guy said, 'OK, let's flip a coin: Heads we go to a movie, tails we go for pizza, and if it lands on edge (and stays there) we can study later....'

Not very funny, I suppose, but neither is studying. Fact is, learning is serious business, even if it is fun and comes easy. But most students coming to the university have never really studied, and younger university students often feel at a loss. Make no mistake, one way or another, surviving university life requires you learn to study. Equally clear, if you learn to learn it will serve you a life time. To be blunt, much of the stuff you learn at a university is not important in itself. The reason is that most of the day-to-day stuff keeps changing. The trick is to learn to learn. You have probably heard the teaching clich a dozen times: Give a man a fish he eats for a day; teach him to fish and he eats for a lifetime. Enough clichs. What's important is developing disciplined study skills. And yes, you have heard this before. But now the question is: What have you have done about it? The following survey focuses on this question. It aims to provide an overview, some preaching, and a few practical tips on 'How to Study.'

How Much Study ::: Serious students (studious students) study 50-60 hours a week. Although this should be no surprise (after all, in the 'real world' people rise at 6 or 7 am and work 8 hours or more each day) many freshmen do not trust this figure. But as a matter of record, University of Florida guidelines are clear: Undergraduates are expected to study a minimum of three (3) hours for each one (1) hour of class time. The mathematics is simple. If you have a 3-credit hour class, you will spend a minimum of 12 hours each week in that course. It is likely you will spend additional time with the mid-term and final exams, not to mention research essays.

If you are an entering freshman you should feel some pride in being welcomed into the university community. And let's face it, as a university student you are privileged. Think about it. Next time you take your seat in a university lecture hall consider how many people would like to be in your place. But there is more. The honor does not make you a particularly privileged character. Rather, it identifies a seat of responsibility.

Study Hours - Add it Up ::: If you have an average course load of 15 credit hours the figures come to sixty (60) hours per week. This is a suggested minimum. But make no mistake, smart students spend more, and please note: If you are not unusually smart you may need to spend more than the smart folks. How do you know if you are smart? The paradox was summarized long ago by Pascal (a clever guy now dead) who reminds us that a person who is lame can see he is lame; a silly person cannot see his problem so clearly. If you are really - really - really smart you will study as much as your body can endure. If you are not so gifted (or not so sure) you would be smart to study your level best. The trick (given our short time here) is to learn all the best stuff we can and to put it to the best possible effect. Serious business I suppose. Perhaps another number will help frame the game, if game it be.

Another Statistic ::: The second set of numbers is that for every three students entering the University of Florida one will not receive a degree. Many problems confront entering freshman. But the solution to the problem of studying is simple. Like a lot of things, it is difficult to do but easy to understand. For example, if you want to lose weight you need to take in fewer calories than you burn. Simple to understand. So too, if you want to develop good study skills you need to diet your time and discipline your activities. But all the advice in the world is useless unless you use it. Although you already know what to do, the following tips may be useful reminders.

The Skinny ::: Study is hard work. If you already understand that study is hard work, the second step is to accept it as a daily fact of life and then, as the philosopher said, 'Just do it.' One of the facts you will have to embrace is that study requires repetition. If study is extending and internalizing your interaction with course material, a key component is, I repeat, repetition: Reading, re-reading, writing, re-writing, discussing, re-discussing, thinking, re-thinking the course material. Bored? Too bad. A long-standing learning clich is that you need to push the same stuff past your brain in as many ways as possible: See it, hear it, read it, write it, repeat it all again in as many different ways as possible. It is no surprise that universities are designed to do just that. The trick is to help yourself learn as painlessly as possible. What follows are time-honored suggestions. If the following hints are not obvious, you might consider a different line of work:
  1. Never Miss Class ::: Come to class. When you are in class listen critically. Learn to take good notes. Skinny: Attend (and attend to) all lectures. Listen to what the instructor means.
  2. Do the Required and Recommended Reading ::: And do the reading before you come to class. Take notes from your reading {Cf. infra}. Don't take notes word for word. Don't paint over the words, uncover the meaning. Do the reading. Re-read difficult material as many times as necessary to understand it. Outline the chapters. Write down questions. Think about the full range of answers. If you are not satisfied, raise questions in class, discuss the questions with classmates after class. Either way, if you have good questions they benefit everyone. Share your insights, your confusions, and your criticism. Learn when to speak and when to listen. If you're smart and articulate don't be silent and smug or overbearing and obnoxious. If you are shy and hesitant learn to trust your yourself and take a risk. How to Take Notes From Reading
  3. Take Good Lecture Notes ::: See the other files at this WebSite. Learning to take good notes is akin to learning to learn. Taking good notes is a ritual for thinking. Listen to what the lecturer means; try to understand what the author wants to say. Develop a workable system for all of your notes that combines reading and lecture notes. A ring notebook provides flexibility, it allows you to add and re-arrange material at a later date. Recopy your lecture notes the same evening; review all of your lecture notes each week. Develop a semester plan and a list of priorities. Attend university, college, and department-supported lectures. They are free but could pay large dividends. Attending such lectures will help you expand your horizon and focus your interest. You will see how a university works. You will see genuine genius and educated idiots. You will learn to distinguish pepper corns from mouse terds. How to Take Lecture Notes
  4. Study Every Day ::: Establish a daily routine where you study in one place a minimum of 4 -5 hours each day. There are different kinds and 'levels' of study discussed below. What is important is that study becomes the centerpiece of your day and the continuous element in your work week. Do not wait for exam-time to study. Exams offer the opportunity to refine what you know and to sharpen your communication skills. The best way to focus your view of things is to present it clearly in writing. Writing is a ritual for thinking.
  5. When in Doubt ::: Read the Syllabus - Read Ahead - Ask Questions: Read the correlated readings (designed to mesh with that lecture) before you come to class. The whole point of correlated readings is to prepare you for the lecture. If the readings are completed at the appropriate time you will have a 'Big Picture' framed by a general narrative and suspended by an ongoing line of argument. These readings should help you establish a set of expectations as well as some unsettling questions. The lectures should help you connect ideas you have read about and, with any luck, they should help you call key issues into question. Your job is to arrive at an understanding you call your own and can defend to a critical audience. Beginning to end, you are the center of your education. You know where to begin.
  6. Ask Questions; See Your Instructor Before or After Class or in Office Hours ::: Do not sit and fret over an intellectual, institutional, or personal problem if there is someone who can help. Communicate your concerns. If you have a problem do not hesitate to tell some one. Chances are your instructor can help or can put you in touch with someone who can. If you have questions, come to office hours and come well prepared. Recognize that others may be in line (undergraduates, graduates, sometimes other faculty, media moguls, creditors) and that some have made specific appointments. Time is valuable. Come with notes, specific books you may wish to discuss, and a list of questions. Take notes. If you return to office hours for follow-up, demonstrate that you have done your job since the last meeting. Life is short. Make your visit substantive. Simply making yourself known will not, on the face of it, improve your grade.
  7. Find a Good Place to Study ::: A good place to study varies from person to person. Personally, I like several gardens in Cambridge and a few parks and libraries in Paris. But I also accomplish quite a lot in my home office. I try to keep distractions to a minimum. I have a daily and weekly schedule; I plan out each month in light of the semester. I attempt to maintain more or less normal human working hours, that is, I avoid 'all-nighters' and try to keep a regular sleep schedule. In the long run, if you have a regular time and place for study your time will be more productive and pleasant.
  8. Study Smart ::: Spend Appropriate Quality-Time in Study: Study each of your subjects every day. It is a good idea to keep a work calendar for the entire semester. Block things out during the first week; note when the mid-terms, papers, and final exams will take place. Don't avoid certain classes because they are difficult or of less interest; both judgments could change. Make the semester a continuous effort; do no 'binge' study or 'binge' play. Make your study habits part of your life. Do not let playtime and extracurricular activities get in the way of your academic life. There will be lots of time later in life to be lazy and irresponsible. If you keep a realistic study schedule you should begin and end at regular times. When you sit down to study, start immediately. Don't dally around and procrastinate. Your study area should be just that. If you are surrounded by toys you will surely be diverted. Be honest with yourself. If you find yourself not making progress do something else. When you sit down to study, study.
  9. Consider a Study Group ::: If repetition is important (remember: hearing, hearing again; reading, reading again; writing, writing again) say and saying again can also help bring focus to your learning. A Study Group can help you identify, analyze, and verbalize problems. It often offers new perspectives and provides an opportunity to learn from your peers. It is important, of course, to pick potential members with care. Chaos multiplies faster than order and discipline. Study Groups can be an opportunity to avoid work in favor of unfocused fun. You may do better by yourself in a closet. Arguably, the best advice for a serious student is to read a few hundred carefully selected books. An orgy of reading 30 or 40 first-rate books in a month ranks at the top of the usual list of human pleasures. If you wish, as an undergraduate, you could do it. You have time and energy, and with luck, you have the curiosity and courage to risk a month or two. Read Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, Descartes, Pascal, Voltaire, Berkeley, Hegel, Marx, and Kanetz. Or you could just play Frisbee on the Plaza of the Americas. Life is choice and there is much to learn. Not making a choice is a choice.
  10. Use Your Head; Help Yourself to Help ::: There are plenty of ways to help yourself. Take advantage of resources at the library and elsewhere on campus, whether clinics for reading, writing, computing, counseling, and so on. Use the web, go to help sessions, see your instructor. But in the end it is up to you. Discover and create patterns of study that work for you.


WHAT ABOUT TESTS & EXAMINATIONS?
  Tests are one method of attempting to gauge, assess, or measure what you have learned in a course. Doing well on tests begins with good study habits. If you want to be a good student take time to develop your study skills.

  Before the Test
    Good organization, planning, and time management are essential to being a good student. Start planning your semester as soon as classes begin and study without stop until the semester is over. Other hints: Read assignments in advance of each class, attend all lectures, and learn to take good lecture notes. Review your notes each day and re-copy each night. Review all notes for all classes each weekend.

    If you develop steady study habits, regular reviews will help you avoid cramming for exams. It will also help you avoid test anxiety and make you more effective. Reviewing your notes on a regular basis may seem like empty repetition. Arguably, at its best, it is a ritual for thinking, it is an opportunity to make connections, it affords time to absorb information and a methodically means for reflecting on what it all means. Read difficult stuff two, three, or more times until you understand the material. If you understand the material you can explain it to Mom or a stranger, to the resident specialist or the village idiot. If you are having problems, get help immediately. Meet with your instructor after class, find an alternate text to supplement required readings, or hire a tutor.

    Review, Repeat, Review, Repeat, Review ... {You Get the Idea}

    Plan Your Entire Semester in Advance ::: Make sure you understand the 'Big Picture' for the semester and plan each course with this in mind. This involves mid-terms, major projects, papers, and final exam schedules. With the Big Picture in mind taylor your weekly and daily schedule accordingly.

    Daily Reviews ::: Conduct short reviews of lecture notes before and after class. Begin reviewing after your first day of class. Re-copy your lecture notes each evening as a study exercise. Review all of your notes for each class every weekend.

    Weekly Reviews ::: Dedicate at least one afternoon or entire evening during the weekend to review all of your courses. Make certain you have an understanding of where each course is going and that your study schedule is appropriate. Do the 4x6 thing: One card for each chapter. Then ask yourself how each chapter relates to other chapters, and then, how the readings relate to each of the lectures. Are there contradictions? Differences of opinion, approach, method? What evidence is there to support the differences of opinion? What are your views? Can you defend them? A good exercise.

    Periodic Tactical Reviews ::: On your calendar schedule special reviews. The week before a mid-term or final exam should be blocked out for special tactical review. If you have kept a good daily and weekly schedule, 15-20 hours should be about right for a mid-term, 20-30 for a final exam. Major papers take substantially more time and effort.

    Practical Review Tools ::: Flash cards, Chapter Outlines, 4x6 Summaries: You need to find ways to repeat and rehearse information and ideas that work for you. Any number of creative tools can be used to help you organize and remember information and make it manageable. I like 4x6 cards. They are sturdy, large enough to hold succinct information, and you can scribble ideas that jog the memory. The beauty 4x6's is that they can be carried anywhere. You can study them at the library, laundry, or lavatory. They travel on the bus, they can save you from a boring date, they can be thrown away immediately without guilt or survive years of faithful service.

    Strategic Academic Calendar & List of 'Things to do' ::: Make a prioritized list of everything you need to know for each course during the semester. Link these priorities over time on your calendar. Your list should include a brief description of reading assignments, major ideas, skills to master, new theories, definitions, and so forth. If you are really with the program, consider keeping a diary or journal of thoughts, problems, and how your concerns develop over time.

  How About a Study Group?
    Developing a study group can be smart. Such groups allow students to combine resources, share thoughts, provoke discussion, and to make a network of support and encouragement. If you arrange a Study Group it should meet on a regular basis and it should be structured around shared rules. Select members carefully. Your group should have serious members, ideally with different research skills, complementary abilities, and creative perspectives. The goal is to learn from each other and to benefit each member. Look for strong, dedicated students, often those who ask good questions in class and who take good notes. Dry nerds and goofy freaks can learn from each other; the trick is finding common ground and establishing a forum where genuine communication takes place. If you have an aversion to certain intellectual and personality types it should be a clue about yourself. Take some risks.

    How to begin? Introduce yourself after class; begin by suggesting a one-time meeting. If the first meeting goes well, begin to discuss group goals, meeting times, and other particulars. Group size should be five or six. Give it a try.

    A few warnings are in order. Don't use the group as a safety net or a security blanket, don't use it for socializing or as an excuse to avoid study. Groups can become a social support system for delay and avoidance, at their worst, they underscore and solidify complacency and ritual stupidity. From the outset establish an agenda for each meeting and a fixed time limit with agreed priorities. Make a list of the material to be reviewed; everyone should come prepared. The Study Group should help each member focus and develop disciplined habits. Follow a clear format and stick to it. As a group you might begin by comparing notes, or by going over the lecture outlines and major points found in your readings. Make sure you agree on the issues, the questions being asked, and the basic themes. Hobnob with your professor after class about your agenda and the stuff you talk about. If necessary, ask for some suggestions.

    Above all, rehearse the 'Big Picture' of the course, discuss the organizational narrative (general) and the key lines of argument (specific issues and principal forms of interpretation). You would also do well to focus on recurring themes, questions, and central problems that seem to link the course together. Once you have identified these issues in some detail you may wish to spend 30 minutes of open-ended discussion. Try to identify patterns and compare interpretations. How many different ways can you view the same material? If the answers change with the perspective, try to formulate new questions and identify the assumptions on which they are based. Wrap-up the meeting by asking each other questions and press hard for the best arguments and the most persuasive evidence. If you develop a good rapport in the group you should be able to frank, forceful, and sometimes blunt. Test each other. Learn your strengths and weaknesses, acknowledge ability, learning, and insight in others. Point out weaknesses by offering solutions. Avoid cock-sure aggression and cool coy cunning. Life is too short for shirks and smirks.

    Finally, just for fun, try to imagine what the mid-term or final exam questions might be. What makes a good question? What would you ask? Why? Have each member propose a question each week; then have each member critique each question. After perhaps two hours bring the meeting to a close. Stick to agreed beginning and ending times.

    Side benefits of the Study Group is learning to listen to each other, developing verbal skills, and finding ways to agree and disagree. Insist that opinions be defended with sound argument and detailed evidence. Don't stand for laundry lists any more than the grand but superficial synthesis. Importantly, the Study Group is yours. Make it work.

  Practical Tips for Different Types of Exams
    First Things First ::: First, I want to make clear my preference for essay exams. In my undergraduate survey classes, I require an in-class written essay for the mid-term examination and a take-home essay at the end of the course. See this WebSite for further information and suggestions. But students often take other types of exams elsewhere at the university. I offer a few tips and opinions:

    Multiple Choice ::: First, make sure you know the rules of the game. Check the instructor's directions to see if questions allow more than one answer. A standard rule is to answer each question mentally before looking at the optional answers. If you think you know the answer in advance it is probably correct; if you look at the answers first you may introduce some confusion. Another standard practice is to skip difficult questions and return to them later. Don't waste time on a problem question. Simply mark it and move on. If time permits, return to the question at the end of the period. Finally, be clear about ground rules, and don't guess if you are penalized for incorrect responses. If there is no penalty, eliminate optional answers you judge incorrect then make your best guess. It amuses me that some professors continue to call these exams 'multiple-guess.'

    A few other common sense suggestions ::: 1) If two answers seem similar, except for one or two words, choose one of these answers; 2) If the option calls for a sentence completion, eliminate potential answers that appear to be ungrammatical; 3) In general, if answers cover a wide range (10, 29, 160, 800), select a number near the middle; 4) From a clerical perspective (with machine-graded tests) make sure your mark corresponds to the question. Double-check the test question booklet against the answer sheet, particularly when you begin a new section in the booklet or mark at the top of a new column on the answer sheet. Start thinking about your GRE's, LSAT's, ETC's.

    True-False ::: I understand this type of test is still given at the university level! I'm almost speechless. From high school I recall the advice that if any part of a true-false statement is false, the answer is must false (at least as stated in a well-known book on testing). Logical but not without possible paradox. In language land, look for key qualifiers such as all, most, sometimes, never, or rarely. Questions containing absolute qualifiers such as always or never are often false and, as common sense suggests, they are almost always stupid. If you are so inclined, consider asking your instructor if such exams lead to useful learning. If there is equivocation simply say: 'Excuse me, this is a true or false question.' If you are serious, like Voltaire, say it with a smile.

    Short Answer ::: Typically, testing of this kind asks that you provide definitions or short descriptions, often amounting to a sentence or two. If you find yourself in this learning situation flash cards may help with key terms and phrases. Skills of this kind could get you on Quiz Show or other media displays of synthetic genius. No doubt future employers will also be equally impressed with your recall, problem solving ability, sound judgment, and communication skill.

    Open class: Open Book tests have always seemed rather peculiar to me. After all, if you own the book (and the real test is finding things you don't know in a limited time) why learn anything at all? In any case, if you find yourself in this sort of learning situation, the rules of the game should be clear. Rather than make the material yours through study, the trick here is to HIGHLIGHTall the cool stuff not worth remembering. Once your painting chore is completed shift your intellectual focus. Now, the night before the Open-Book Exam, write down all the stuff you can cram into the margins of the book. You know, all the stuff that will be on the exam that you won't remember by morning. Finally, the best practical strategy here is to buy a couple packages of color-coded page tabs and post 'ems. These little gizmos will save time during the exam. If you have been successful in studying you will be able to find all the stuff you couldn't remember since the night before. The problem, of course, it that you will have to keep all of your books until you die. Over the years check them occasionally to ensure the colored tabs haven't fallen out. Who knows, you may need to find something important really quick.

    Essay Exams ::: By now you have guessed I favor essay exams, at least for most forms of testing in the humanities. Personally, I think essays should play a larger role in informational, technical, and scientific courses. Essays are particularly useful in history courses. Studying for essay exams (and writing them under pressure) can be an important learning experience not merely a form of testing and evaluation. The Skinny here is that essays force a response (not necessarily an answer) that challenges assumptions while offering a variety of acceptable interpretations. The assumption of the essay is that organization, structure, and coherence add up to something more than the various parts, something more than the factoids we associate with information rather understanding.

    As a practical matter, when you respond to an essay question, it is important to be clear from the outset what the question seems to require. Take it apart. Understand each word and its possible meanings. Look for loaded or ambiguous terms that may carry hidden assumptions. A good essay question is designed to open the field to any number of complex possibilities. A good essay question, carefully taken apart, is completely stupid: No one can answer a good question. Your job is to provide an informed response that demonstrates the practical boundaries of the essay, to expose the intellectual traps that accompany any meaningful generalization. Your job is to bring abstract generalization into line with concrete particular evidence marshaled with power and grace. You need to strut your stuff. You need to deliver a fist in the forehead with the skill of a brain surgeon. Your answer (curiously) is your business. Your response will be judged on substance, strength, subtlety, and seductive skill. Any idiot can write well. Aim to write with simplicity and sincerity.

    A good response involves taking a position on a meaningful issue and defending it in detail with appropriate argument, evidence, and examples. Here the usual categories apply. Be clear about how you are to proceed. Essay questions usually ask that you do one or more of the following: analyze, argue, compare, contrast, criticize, defend, define, describe, discuss, enumerate, evaluate, examine, explain, illustrate, interpret, list, outline, and summarize. It is good practice to have a strong thesis and clearly stated objectives. It is important to present a clear argument with carefully marshaled evidence. And don't forget. A good essay has a beginning, middle, and end (As elsewhere: Tell them what you are going to tell them; then, tell them; finally, tell them what you told them). In my undergraduate survey classes I usually require an in-class Mid-Term Examination {AKA: Blue-Book Exam}. For guidelines, Click: How to Write A Blue-Book Examination.

    But enough already. You already know that studying is what makes a student a student, that it takes continuous effort to study effectively, and properly pursued, that studying and learning are life-long occupations. Be hard on yourself but equally mindful of your strengths and your weaknesses. Work on both.

    Finally, remember learning is not a game. There are rules, to be sure, but you make the moves. Never stop learning and Always take heart. And, oh yes: Always Drink your milk, Wash behind your ears, and Never - Never - Never take classes with True - False tests. T



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