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Studying Effectively: General Tips

Quality of studying is more important than quantity of studying (but if you need to study more, see both the Time Management" and "Motivation" sections of this site). The following links will help improve the quality of your studying:

Learning From Lectures: Taking Notes

Are you taking good notes and making good use of those notes? You could find out by filling out this checklist.
You can improve your note-taking by making your notes more visual--or by taking notes in a different way.
How should you take notes?
Although many students seem to do best if they use either the Cornell or the Matrix method, almost any note-taking system will work for you as long as you do the following 4 things:
  1. Write down the important points. Come to class having an idea of what the important points are by taking practice quizzes and by reading the chapter summary. During class, write down points that the professor repeats, writes on the board, speaks more loudly when making, pauses after stating, or announces by saying something like "this is important", "put this in your notes, or "this will be on the test."
  2. Identify gaps and errors and then fill in gaps and correct errors. For some points, you may have left out information or left out an example that you need to make the point clear. Reviewing your notes soon after class to see what makes sense and what doesn't will help you identify those gaps. Consulting the book and classmates will help you fill in those gaps. Looking at classmates' notes will also help you see what points you missed completely and what you may have misunderstood or written down incorrectly.
  3. Revise your notes so that you can make two kinds of connections. First, you should know which are the more important, general ideas and which are the supporting details. Indeed, you should be able to look at your notes from several feet away and still immediately be able to distinguish between the main points (probably because your main points are announced in a heading that resembles a headline), the secondary points (probably because your secondary points are subheadings that fit under those headings), and the examples and details (probably because you have them as bullet points). The quickest ways to show the relative importance of points are by starring, indenting, numbering, and using bullet points.
    Second, your notes should make it easy to see the key similarities and differences between concepts. Usually, the best way to make these connections clear is by the converting lines of text in your notes into tables, concept maps, outlines, or diagrams.
  4. Have a way to test yourself over your notes, and test yourself over your notes frequently. Don't mistake reading over your notes for studying, and don't assume that studying your notes once before the exam will be enough. (Testing yourself over your notes frequently is easy if you take notes using the Cornell method.)

Concept Mapping

Learning from Textbooks

Studying Effectively: Flashcards

Memory Tips

You can improve your memory. Indeed, some world memory champions had average memories before they worked on improving their memories.


Taking Tests

Staying Focused: Avoiding Distractions

Time Management: Getting organized

Time management is a strong predictor of grades. Time management means not only having a daily "to-do" list but also knowing what you need to do in the next four weeks.
To manage your time, you will probably need an academic planner/calendar (order one here or here). Without a planner/calendar, you will probably be constantly falling behind because you will (a) tend to greatly underestimate how long things will take, (b) put off things that are important but not due immediately, (c) devote all your energy to the things that are due immediately for one class while not doing the work you should be doing for all your other classes, and (d) forget (at least temporarily) test dates and assignment due dates.
To make good use of your planner,
  1. Immediately fill it in with information from your syllabi. Moving tasks from your syllabus or from your memory to a to-do list will greatly boost your productivity--and moving information from a to-do list to your calendar will provide another big boost to your productivity.
  2. Break down big projects into smaller tasks and set self-imposed deadlines for those smaller tasks. Realize, for example, that "writing a paper" involves more than sitting down and writing a paper. You will probably need to find sources, read those sources, take notes on those sources, add those sources to your bibliography/references list, outline the paper, write several drafts of your paper, and proof your final draft.
  3. Schedule little tasks (like going over flashcards) for breaks between classes so that gaps between classes aren't wasted.

You will enjoy using a planner and the apps below if you are high in conscientiousness, but you will really need to use a planner or the apps below if you are low in conscientiousness.
If you don't know your level of conscientiousness, you can finding out by taking this test.

Instead of--or in addition to a planner--you may wish to use one of the apps below:

  • Understand the law of diminishing returns: It is important to socialize with friends. However, most days, you and your friends get the most benefits from the first hour you spend hanging out together. The second hour provides fewer benefits than the first, and the the third provides still fewer benefits. By leaving your friends after an hour to go study rather than hanging out with them all night, you still maintain connection with them (indeed,your connection might improve given that research suggests people wish their conversations with others were shorter), and you can get more school work done. In addition, you will be more able to free up time to be with friends when they really need you.
  • Apply the Premack principle: Reward yourself for studying by doing things you like to do (e.g., socializing, watching movies) after you have studied.
  • Getting and Staying Motivated

    Advice for First- and Second-Year Students

    General Psychology Resources

    To Memory Lesson
    To "What is Psychology? "