Signs you’re actually studying

ComputerHomeDesk_Icon_150x200Are your study skills in shape?

Maybe you’ve read the same paragraph over and over again, and you still don’t know what it means. Or you’ve taken notes throughout the term, but as you prepare for finals, you can’t make sense of them. Developing reliable studying skills is a skill in itself and that’s why Writing and Learning Services (WLS) consultant Paige McClelland is on hand to offer some valuable advice.

But first—how do you know you’re studying successfully? Look for these signs:

  • You understand the material, and can explain it to others.

  • You don’t understand the material, but you know what you need to work on.

  • You have a studying system that works for you—whether it’s painstakingly creating flash cards, highlighting the key words in your textbook or scheduling time to study throughout the week.

“Studying is about being actively engaged with the material and making your own personal connections—as many as you can—because that’s when you’re going to really learn the material,” says Paige. “On the flip side, studying looks different for everyone. Certain strategies might not work for you, but success is about managing what does work.”

If your study skills could use some polishing, here are things you can do:

Get engaged

“Students often tell me that they’ll read a whole page of text and then they won’t remember what the first paragraph was about,” says Paige. “One of the big things I tell students is don’t move on from a paragraph until you completely understand what the paragraph is saying.”

Paige recommends creating study questions for yourself to get actively engaged in that paragraph before you move on. “The chance of remembering that information is that much higher.”

Become a teacher of the information

“When you sit in a lecture and hear all of the information or see it on a board, you’re likely only going to remember 10 per cent of what you see and hear.” On the other hand, says Paige, “We remember 95 per cent of what we teach to someone else. That’s ultimately the goal in studying—if you can put the information in your own words and in your own examples, and explain it as if you were teaching someone else, that’s when you’ve truly understood the material.”

Be a SQ4R learner

Among other learning skills that WLS can help you with, Paige recommends the SQ4R strategy (survey, question, read, recite, review and reflect) for reading your textbook. “SQ4R is a way of reading material so you’re actually engaged and you’re likely to remember the material later on when you need it, especially for exams.”

Address the issues

If you’re procrastinating, ask yourself why. Is it that you just don’t want to write the assignment or is there a bigger underlying reason? You may need to visit your faculty member during their office hours, make an appointment with WLS or speak with a counsellor. “Check in with yourself throughout the course,” says Paige.

Read the feedback

“It always surprised me how many students don’t read the faculty member’s feedback on their essay or exam,” says Paige. “If they’re providing feedback, take the time to find out what worked and what didn’t work. Then you can focus on that for the next essay or exam.”

Know when to step away

When you get to a point in your studying session when you feel like you’re finally beginning to understand the material, do the unthinkable: take a break. “Keeping some distance between yourself and the material and coming back to it later to make sure still understand it is really important”—like returning with a fresh set of eyes to that dry paragraph you were stuck on for an hour.

“It’s one thing to think, ‘I totally understand this, this is really straightforward,’” says Paige. “It’s another thing to come back to the material and still be able to recall the main points.”

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More tips from the First-Year Student Primer series:

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