Let’s set the groundwork. Most students think that study skills are all about sitting down to memorize facts and data just long enough to pass a test. Proper study skills can and should help students do more than merely improve test taking abilities or decrease test taking anxiety. There are many sources out there that will give students simple, surface study tips, but they usually just scratch the surface of the work needed for greatest achievement in school and college. And with the competitive job market the way it is, it will be the ones who go the extra mile who will not only get the jobs but build a career.
“All greatness of character is dependent on individuality. The man who has no other existence than that which he partakes in common with all around him, will never have any other than an existence of mediocrity” James F. Cooper
Students who look at the education experience as more than just getting good grades or keeping teachers and parents happy are the ones who often not only are the greatest achievers but most content students. According to Dr. Deci, author of Why We Do What We Do, if the focus of the student is extrinsic, or outside self-motivation—motivation is for grades, prestige, respect, to please parents or teachers, and so on—the child begins to lose a sense of self or bury true self down inside. Doing so can have long lasting repercussions. He also states that for those who are intrinsically motivated the student has a “richer experience, better conceptual understanding, greater creativity, and improved problem solving.”
This is the going deep I spoke of earlier. If you want mediocrity, just go for tips and tricks. If you want to truly excel, there is some additional work to be done. Let’s get back to the issue.
So getting properly self-motivated is the first step in being able to study well and not to merely gain knowledge short term but to own it and possess it for lengthier retention. Once again, if the student is merely studying to the grade, education–or great stickiness of education–rarely happens. For example, regarding the show Are You as Smart as a Fifth Grader? most are not, and it has little to do with smarts and more to do with motivation and retention. If you haven’t worked with fifth-grade material in a long time then it has certainly dissipated. And if you are not motivated or need to refresh that knowledge no matter how smart you are you are likely to have forgotten what you learned even within months, certainly years.
But to be truly motivated to improve long-term and even short-term comprehension and retention, there must be self-motivation or a solid reason why the student is studying beyond mere grades or the desire to go to college. What specific thing or things does the student want to accomplish in life? Be of help to others? To make a difference? To express an idea? And so forth. It is the expression of a personal desire or want that will motivate best through school into college and career. But let’s move on. So what are those study skills and techniques?
Understanding limitation to greater retention and learning.
First one must understand limitations. Understanding limitation helps the student to define how best to study and retain knowledge. For example, our short-term memory is very weak. According to some education experts, it takes up to twenty times of going over material before it is truly learned or the student owns it so that it is transferred to long-term memory. It is only in the owning of the material where true education takes place, where the greatest stickiness of education occurs. Cramming is temporary and not for the serious or motivated student or potential employee, worker.
How and where to focus when studying.
This is a complex issue, and I can’t give the student everything she needs to maximize study skills and learning techniques, but I will touch upon some main concerns.
Where reading comprehension is the main focus of study, there are several things that must be done to maximize comprehension and understanding. Here I will be discussing non-fiction (history, science, anthropology, psychology). Literature is a separate issue.
- Know what you’re looking for. The student can use test questions, questions in the back of chapters, or other means for focusing in on specific points to understand the material. Often key-words will help the student focus in on important, potential test material. Some authors will tell you outright that “this is important” “critical to understand” and so forth. But at other times, key information will not be so obviously stated. But you should look for key words and phrases that point to important information. If such words and phrases as “most” “often” “frequently” “a good portion of the time” “most of the time” appear, this is where you should down shift and take some notes or annotate.
- Know where the thesis or main point resides. It is usually placed somewhere near the start or end of the chapter. Sometimes it is stated obviously at others more subtlety. It is also hinted at and might even contain words or phrases from the title. The title, if written well, should give you great direction in understanding what the thesis is. You really need to get this down before going too far in the reading. For if you don’t, it’s like trying to get a degree without declaring a major.
- Bulleted lists and checklists are key study material. Bullet lists usually summarize important information in a more easily memorable way. Checklists perform a similar function. They may occur at the end of the chapter or within it. They often summarize material, so best to read everything for comprehension and then use checklists to study from.
- Throw out your highlighter and annotate. Humans are highly forgetful and limited in retention and recall. In twenty-four hours, we forget eighty-percent of what we read without review. So rehashing or going back over material is critical. Unfortunately, some students are highlight crazy. They mark the whole page except for a few sentences, to what end? Now you just have to go back and read it again anyway. Use annotation or mark key words and phrases, put brief summaries in the margins, add questions to be answered later after the first read through and so forth. If the student does annotating correctly, when she comes back a second, third, forth time she has to merely read the key points and summaries not the entire chapter.
- Talk, talk, talk to your teacher. Don’t be shy or just guess. If the teacher doesn’t give you a study guide or tell you what to focus on in the reading, find out. Don’t go it alone. If you’re shy, ask someone else to ask or grab their hand and go up together. Ask, ask, ask is key in many areas of life and is a critical success skill. It may be the difference between a decent and excellent grade.
In such a short article, I am not able to cover all areas of study skills and / or study tips thoroughly, but you’ve got a good start here. My next article will focus on study skills related to literature, math and science. Until then, happy studying.