Marion almost cried when she saw her first term report card. “I must be stupid!” she wailed as she showed it to her parents. “I study hard, but nothing seems to stick in my brain. What am I going to do?” Later that night when she turned on the TV to study her algebra and decide whom she should ask to the girl’s choice dance, she was still shaking her head.
If Marion’s woes sound familiar, read on. There is hope.
First, you should know that studying is not a talent you are born with. It is a skill that must be developed. Psychologists tell us that the “bright” students are quite often simply those with efficient study habits.
The following suggestions can help make you one of those “bright” students. These tips will not only make it easier for you to learn difficult material but should reduce the time you spend doing homework.
1. Set aside a time for study.
It is an advantage to have a definite time of day to do your studying. It would be a good idea, in fact, to work out a schedule of some kind for yourself.
A certain number of hours for social activities, certain hours for recreation, and so many hours for study.
2. Prepare a regular place to study.
The room you study in should be quiet and without distractions. There should be no photographs, letters, or partially read magazines lying around. Keep the door closed so that you can’t hear the sounds from other parts of the house. Of course there should be no music blaring out from a radio or stereo.
You might want to do some of your studying at the public library. It has been found that students who make a habit of studying in the library as a general rule make better grades than those who do not. The reason for this is that the library gives a student the quiet he needs for concentrated study and at the same time makes him aware of why he is there.
3. Make sure you understand the material.
It’s important that you have some understanding of what you are studying. To memorize meaningless words or vague passages out of a textbook, without an understanding of what is being studied, is a waste of time. Reading about the U.S. Civil War, without any knowledge of the events which led up to it or the effects it had on the eventual growth of the United States does little good. When you read Shakespeare or Chaucer, take the time to look up the words you don’t understand. If you don’t have a full understanding of your assignments, get help from your teacher.
Skimming is the preliminary glancing through a text or assignment before it is read more carefully. While skimming, note the important headings, concepts and definitions and perhaps underline them. Read summaries and briefly study illustrations and graphs.
Skimming gives you an idea of the basic material contained in the text and approximately how much time will be consumed in a complete study of it. Therefore, it’s always wise to start every new assignment by first skimming it.
Making an outline of your material helps you retain in your mind what you’ve learned. It will prove an invaluable aid too when you wish to review it at some future time. The questions frequently found at the end of a chapter are usually quite helpful. In fact, it’s often a good idea to read the end-of-chapter questions in advance. What better way is there to find out what a chapter is about?
6. Use self-recitation.
After reading a paragraph or two of any text, stop and think over the information that has been presented. Part of this time should be spent in reciting to yourself important definitions and main ideas. Perhaps you might jot down a brief summary of what you have read. You might want to underline passages that you especially want to remember.
Self-recitation helps you to know what progress you’re making. You are duplicating what you will be asked to do later during examinations—reproducing the material in your mind without the aid of a textbook. Material that you haven’t learned well enough, of course, should be reread for better understanding.
7. Write it out.
The practice of actually putting on paper the things you want to remember serves a multiple purpose. It forces you to give the material your full attention during the process of writing. It enables you to visualize the whole thing more clearly, as does saying things out loud, because it puts you through the activity of producing a reminder. All these devices serve to strengthen your impression of your material, and that produces a memory that stays with you much longer.
According to psychologists, you will forget most of what you have learned very shortly after you have learned it. A graph of memory always curves steeply downward immediately after memorizing stops. Then the curve gradually levels off as time goes by. Therefore, try to review what you have studied before you would normally forget it.
The ability to recall something learned is at its peak soon after the initial learning. Students are apt to blame their forgetting on poor memories, assuming that ability to recall is an inborn trait. It is normal to forget. A way to offset this normal tendency must, therefore, be found. Overlearning is the way. This means the material must be studied beyond the point where it is first committed to memory.
10. Divide study into segments.
Educators have found that short, consecutive periods of study usually produce better results than do single, prolonged periods. After you study for an hour, take a 15-minute break, then study for another hour, and so on. You’ll learn more by doing it this way, and what you learn will remain with you longer than if you spent three or four hours at your books without interruption.
Which brings us back to Marion. You will be happy to know that she applied these ten tips and enjoyed amazing results. Before long she not only stopped thinking she was stupid but became an excellent student. Studying stopped being a boring, monotonous task and became an interesting and challenging opportunity for growth. She even discovered eventually that it was really the knowledge that mattered, not the grades.
And if Marion was able to do all that, just think of what someone as smart as you could accomplish!