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In order to excel in college, you must first learn how to study properly. Contrary to historical opinion, there are many effective ways to learn information; it is a question of figuring out what works for you. What type of studying best suits you? What time of day are you most efficient? What is the proper environment for you to study in? Before you can answer these questions, you have to do a little research. It takes an effort but the rewards are more than worth it.
Memory When we first learn something, information is processed into the brain to form a neural trace. This trace first enters your sensory memory, and then, if you're paying attention, to your Short Term Memory, or STM. If you keep working to process the information and adapt it correctly it then moves to your Long Term Memory, or LTM. The information processed into your LTM is more or less permanent; with occasional reviewing you will not forget it. The trick is to adapt the information you really need into your LTM as quickly as possible. Your STM has a small capacity and a short duration; you may learn something very quickly, but in 24 hours you will lose 80%% of that information. The STM is fast and easily accessed, the LTM is slower but larger.
Repetition The key to learning something well is repetition; the more times you go over the material the better chance you have of storing it permanently. Before you begin this process, however, it makes sense that you determine the type of learner you are. There are three basic types of learning: Visual, Auditory and Haptic. Most of us are, in fact, some combination of the three, but chances are one style will suit us more than the other two. Take some time to look over the types and figure out which category best describes your method of learning.
Visual Learners: Visual learners study best when the material is graphic, i.e.. charts, tables, maps, etc. When in class, visual people should look at the professors when they are speaking, participate in class discussions and take detailed notes during lectures. When studying, study alone in a quiet place and try to transcribe your material on paper. When possible make drawings, graphs or tables of complex abstract ideas and work alone. Visual learners often have trouble working while having a dialogue, even if the dialogue directly pertains to the subject matter.
Auditory Learners: Auditory people work best when they can hear the material. Read aloud, go over your notes and talk to yourself about the important points. Before reading, set a purpose and verbalize it, after you've finished be sure to summarize out loud what you just read. Speak your ideas into a tape machine as if you were having a conversation with someone, if you can, talk to your friends about the material. Because Auditory learners sometimes have trouble keeping columns aligned, try doing math computations by hand, on graph paper.
Haptic Learners: Haptic learners are the most maligned division; they are the people that can't sit still. Haptics have to pace around the room, they must have music or a television playing in the background and are almost constantly finding themselves distracted. Despite what parents and teachers have been saying to the contrary, Haptic learning is just as effective as the other two, more traditional, types. Instead of fighting against your nature, adapt to it and find a method that really works. Make studying more physical; work at a standing desk, pace around the room, do reading while on an exercise bike, chew gum. Try to use color when you can; highlight your readings, read with a filtered light, put posters and bright colors around your desk. Haptic people should vary their activities, if you feel frustrated or 'clogged up' do something different for a few minutes. Try and keep a list of distractions as they come to you; once you write them down, they won't bother your concentration as much. If you want to, play music in the background at whatever volume you choose to. When reading, try skimming over the chapter to get a solid basic meaning before you really dig in. Try to visualize complex projects from start to finish before you begin them. Visualization is a useful tool for Haptic people, it helps you keep a positive, productive outlook on the task at hand.
SQ3R The SQ3R method is the reading and studying system preferred by many educators. Reading research indicates that it is an extremely effective method for both comprehension and memory retention. It's effective because it is a system of active reader involvement.
Step 1. "S"= Survey Before you actually read a chapter, or go over a particular section of notes, take five minutes to survey the material. Briefly check headings and subheadings in order to understand the author's organizational pattern of ideas to be discussed. Scan all visual material. Read introductory and summary paragraphs. This preview will enable you to anticipate what the chapter is about.
Step 2. "Q"= Question Create interest in the material by asking: What are the main points of the chapter? As you read, keep the question in mind and figure out the most important points. It gives you a clearly defined purpose for reading, and helps you maintain interest in the material.
Step 3. "R"= Read Read the chapter actively for meaning. Go through the paragraph before underlining, then underline key words and phrases to help you recall the main points. Be selective, you don't want to highlight non-important points or miss anything that can help your comprehension. Summarize main concepts in your own words in the margins. The more active you are in the reading process, the more you will retain.
Step 4. "R"= Recite After every few pages, close your book and recite aloud the main points to the questions you posed in step 2. Try to recall basic details as to the author's intent by putting them in your own words. Verify your answer by checking the text. If you can't remember the text, read through it again. If you don't get it now, you won't remember it for a test. Take as much time as you need to answer your questions. Don't be frustrated, this takes more time but the information will be clearer in your mind.
Step 5. "R"= Review Finally, review the chapter every so often to fix the material in your mind. Keep rereading your margin notes and under linings. Verbalize the sequence of main ideas and supporting facts to aid retention. Numerous reviews are a lot more effective than one cramming session the night before an exam. Review once right after you've finished reading and then every couple of days.
The SQ3R is time consuming at first, expect it to take ten to fifteen percent longer to read a given chapter when you first begin. Research indicates a 70%% increase in retention after two months of using the system and, eventually, a reduction in time spent preparing for exams.
Note Taking Techniques The most comprehensive note taking systems require attention on your part. You must be alert enough in class to take legible, meaningful notes. You can't rely on "writing everything down" because a lot of information in a given lecture won't help you actually learn the material. If you have problems determining the specific relevant points in a particular class, you can always ask the professor to clarify them for you.
The 2-6 Method The 2-6 refers to the way you divide the space on your notepaper. Make two columns, using the red line on the left of the page as your border. Then, when you take notes in class, use the 6 column for the notes and the smaller 2 column on the left as a highlighting system. Write main headings and important points on the left, including material you think you will be tested on. When you're finished, you should have a comprehensive page of information that you can quickly scan for important points.