Posts Tagged ‘study skills’

The Five Step FormulaOne simple thing that students can do to improve their grades, is to read their textbooks and read them at the right times! I am going to give you a 5-step formula that is very simple, but will make a HUGE difference in your understanding of new material and in your grades. This formula should be used every time you are tackling new material for your class:

Step 1: Consult your syllabus the day before each class, and see what is going to be covered in your next lecture. Then, read the corresponding textbook material during the 24 hours before the next class. Take notes using the Cornell method, and leave spaces between each topic, so you can add to them during the lecture, if needed.

Step 2: Go to class, and during the lecture, add to your notes any time you see things you missed, or if you need to clarify things.

Step 3: Review your notes (including the material covered in class) within 20 minutes after the lecture. (If you go to another class right after that one, review while you are waiting for the next class to start.) Edit, or add to your notes, as needed.

Step 4: Conduct another review of this material within 24 hours, and write study questions for the material.

Step 5: Review again in a week and any time you have a chance, go over your study questions. (See this post on portable flash cards.)

Keep track of these reviews in your planner, or each time you finish a review, write the day you should conduct the next review at the top of the page. After you have completed these five steps, you have established pretty solid bank of memories you can draw from during your next exam. If you will be having a comprehensive final exam, continue to skim/review the material every 3-4 weeks to keep it active in your memory throughout the semester.

This process is tight. You will learn and retain information better than ever, and will be far less stressed that you would be if you were cramming for every exam.

Good luck!


curve of forgetting“The Curve of Forgetting” is something I speak to all of my students about early in the semester. It is a powerful piece of information and it’s application can make a huge difference in grades. This chart is a visual representation of what happens to a person’s memory when they listen to a lecture. As they listen, the curve steadily increases until it reaches 100% of whatever he or she will know, however well they will know it. As you can see, after the lecture the curve takes a rapid and steady decline when the student does nothing to try to retain it. By day 2, if the information has not been revisited in any way, 50-80% will be lost!  After 30 days, only 2-3% of the original information is still hanging on. This may coincide with an exam date, and the student has to relearn almost 100% of the information that could have simply been retained with a little effort.

The reason this happens has to do with the instability of our short-term memory. This part of our memory is limited to just five to nine items, so our brains are constantly tossing items out to prevent the short term memory from getting too full. Therefore, if you want to keep a memory, you need to convert it to a long term memory. How does that happen? Quite simply, through repetition. Long term memory is created when chemical messages in the brain create a “neural network.”  The more these connections are used, the stronger the network becomes.  The author of a book titled The Brain in Action equates it with being similar to creating a path in the woods. “The first time you create a path, it is rough and overgrown. The next time you use it, it’s easier to travel because you have previously walked over the weeds and moved the obstacles. Each time thereafter, it gets smoother and smoother. In a similar fashion, the neural networks get more efficient, and messages travel more swiftly” (2). In other words, the more time you give “memory making” the easier it will be for you to access that memory.

If we apply this understanding to the lecture represented in the graph, we know that we must immediately begin giving our brains a hint that we want to retain that information. As you can see from the yellow line on the graph, a brief review within the first 24 hours gives your memory a fantastic boost, almost up to that 100% again. A week later, it only takes 5 minutes to reactivate the information and bump up the curve. If you continue to repeat regular reviews, you have worn a smoother path and given your brain plenty of hints that the information should be kept.

If you don’t do this, you will spend about an hour relearning each hour worth of lecture material. Therefore, it is actually a great use of your time to spend a few minutes reviewing material regularly. Another advantage is that this method decreases test anxiety because the information is in the long term memory, rather than the unstable short term memory.

Do yourself a favor and try this for a couple of weeks and then, do me a favor in return…. let me know what you think!

William Penn once said, “Time is what we want most,but what we use worst.” I have found that many of my students identify poor use of their time as a major cause of their poor academic performance. Even though they know this, most of them do not know how to fix it.Image

At the risk of sounding overly simplistic, I have a simple solution. Get a timer. Using a timer is an excellent strategy for dealing with time management and procrastination issues, and it is something I regularly recommend to students. Time and time again, students have returned to tell me how much this simple strategy transformed their study time.

Here are some helpful guidelines:

To-do lists are a great place to start. Once you have a to-do list, rank the items in order of importance. Then, allot a realistic amount of time to spend on each task. Tasks that will take more than an hour should be broken into 50 minute chunks. This will help you to manage your projects and designate hourly breaks help to keep you fresh.

Set a timer when you begin a project or assignment, and when the timer goes off, take a short break. Here is the most important thing about this part of the process: Time your breaks! If you are working on statistics, and you hate statistics, it is way too easy to walk away and never come back. A timer will remind you to return to the task at hand and it also limits your breaks to a specific amount of time. Typically, I recommend that students take a 5-15 minute break every 50-60 minutes. During the break, get up and do something else, even if it is something as simple as getting a drink.

Invest in a digital timer. They can be found in the kitchen supply section at many stores. You can also use the timer on your cell phone. However, if you find your cell phone is a constant distraction to you, you probably need to put it away and buy an old-fashioned timer.

I challenge you to begin using a timer today and see just how much you begin to accomplish. If you do, I guarantee your productivity will improve and your to-do list will shrink!

Yep, that wasn’t a typo. That is the response I received when I passed one of my students in the hall and asked how his last test went: “I got 101%!” I have to admit, it was an unexpected response that stopped me in my tracks. This young man was taking a particular math class for the third time. I could tell he was a smart guy, but he was mostly lacking the self-discipline he needed to make satisfactory progress. I told him what I thought, and I asked him to meet with me once a week so that we could work on developing several vital study skills. In our visits, I showed him how to keep a planner, manage his time, set up a study plan for tests, and a new way to take math notes. He took those skills and ran with them, and was now surpassing the goal he stated to me a few months ago to “just pass the class!”

Juxtapose this situation with another student coming in the program. Ronald was also taking a math class. He had failed it once before, and his immediate goal was the same as Josh’s; He just wanted to pass the class. A few days ago, Ronald dropped by my office. “Hey, I just want you to know I dropped that math class. I was still failing.” What was the difference between this student and Josh? Both students received the exact same services in our program. However, Ronald attended study skills sessions begrudgingly. Every time I tried to coach him through using a new kind of study tool he would say, “But that won’t work because…” He would meet with his tutor every week, but he didn’t do much of anything on his own between tutoring sessions. When I asked him why he wasn’t implementing the skills he learned from me, or practicing what the tutor taught him on his own, he would say, “Because all I need is for my tutor to explain things to me again.” Ronald thought he knew what he needed, but his current methods were leading to failure. The bottom line is, he was resistant to change.

20121113-112327.jpgUnfortunately, I see more students like Ronald than Josh. It is frustrating because I sense that most of these students are fully capable of achieving success, They just haven’t reached the point where they are ready to change anything. This is especially true if we are asking them to put more time and effort into a class they hate and didn’t want to take in the first place. I’ve been there…. I have to admit that I really didn’t want to take Spanish when I was working on my associate’s degree. But, I was able to get through Spanish I without too much trouble. When I started Spanish II, I despised verb conjugation. I didn’t really “get it”. I began to struggle, big time. I had to meet with a tutor. I had to take Spanish flash cards with me everywhere I went, even when I took my daily walk. I had to write and rewrite verb conjugation charts from memory. In the end, I got an “A”. And believe me, it isn’t because I was smart, it was because I realized that the methods I used in Spanish I weren’t going to work for Spanish II. Sometimes, you just have to be willing to change, and that willingness can be the bridge between failure and success.