Effective Study Skills
Dr. Bob Kizlik
December 28, 2012
How to Study and Make the Most of Your Time
This web page on
study skills, and what some may refer to as study tips, is designed to help you
improve your learning and understanding, and ultimately your grades. It is not
so large that it would require you to engage in mind-numbing reading of chapter
after chapter as is the case with many books on the subject. The information is
written in a way to help you "see" and "practice" proven study techniques. This
page is used in hundreds of schools and universities and is currently ranked by
Google and Bing in
the top ten for plain old "study skills" and "how to study
effectively" and #1
Google and Bing
for "effective study skills"
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There is little doubt
that no two people study the same way, and it is a near certainty that what works for one person may not work for another. However,
there are some general techniques that seem to produce good results. No one
would argue that every subject that you have to take is going to be so
interesting that studying it is not work but pleasure. We can only wish.
Everyone is different, and for some students, studying
and being motivated to learn comes naturally. If you are reading this page,
it's likely that you are not one of them, but don't despair, there is hope!
Your success in high school and college is dependent on your ability to
study effectively and efficiently. The results of poor study skills are
wasted time, frustration, and low or failing grades. It's your life, your
time, and your future. All I can say, upon reflection of many years as a
teacher, is that time is precious and not to be squandered, no matter what
you believe right now.
This guide is designed to help you develop effective
study skills. It is not a magic formula for success in preparing for tests,
or written or oral assignments. Studying any material requires work!
However, by using the techniques described in this guide, and by applying
yourself, you can gain a valuable edge in understanding material, preparing
for tests, and, ultimately, learning. This guide contains some of the best
and most effective techniques of successful students - students who
typically have high grades in high school and college regardless of the
courses they take. So read on, think about what you read, and prepare to
become a successful student! If you have questions, comments or suggestions,
please send to me.
Effective Study skills are about more than
Effective study skills must be practiced in order for
you to improve. It is not enough to simply "think about" studying; you have
to actually do it, and in the process use information from what you do to
get better. This is the central idea of this page. All that follows depends
on this single concept. There is a saying that goes like this: "Practice
doesn't make perfect; perfect practice makes perfect." If you want to be an
achiever, take this saying to heart.
The value of a schedule
Before you even begin to think about the process of
studying, you must develop a schedule. If you don't have a schedule or plan
for studying, then you will not have any way of allocating your valuable
time when the unexpected comes up. A good, well thought out schedule can be
a lifesaver. It's up to you to learn how to develop a schedule that meets your
needs, revise it if necessary, and most important, follow it.
A schedule saves time
All schedules should be made with the idea that they
can be revised. A good schedule keeps you from wandering off course. A good
schedule, if properly managed, assigns time where time is needed, but you've
got to want to do it!
Making every hour count
A schedule should take into account every class,
laboratory, lecture, social event, and other work in which you engage. There
are givens such as classes and so on that have to be incorporated. You must
focus on the other "free time" available and how you will use it. Make a
weekly schedule and block off the 24 hour day in one hour increments.
Indicate times for classes, labs, lectures, social, and work time. Also
block off a period for sleeping each day. With what is left over, plan time
for study. This gives you a rough road map of the time available. Of course,
you can revise your schedule as circumstances warrant.
When to study
The problem of when to study is critical. A good rule
of thumb is that studying should be carried out only when you are rested,
alert, and have planned for it. Last minute studying just before a class is
usually a waste of time.
Studying for lecture courses
If your study period is before the lecture class, be
sure you have read all the assignments and made notes on what you don't
understand. If the study period is after the lecture class, review the notes
you took during class while the information is still fresh.
Studying for recitation courses
For classes that require recitation, such as foreign
language, be sure to schedule a study period just before the class. Use the
time to practice. Sometimes, practice with others can help sharpen your
skills in a before-class study period.
Making and revising a schedule
Don't be afraid to revise your schedule. Schedules are
really plans for how you intend to use your time. If your schedule doesn't
work, revise it. You must understand that your schedule is to help you
develop good study habits. Once you have developed them, schedule building
The Process of Study
How to use your time
Time is the most valuable resource a student has. It
is also one of the most wasted of resources. The schedule you develop should
guide you in how to allocate the available time in the most productive
manner. Sticking to your schedule can be tough. Don't dribble away valuable
time. Avoiding study is the easiest thing in the world. It's up to you to
follow the schedule you prepared. A good deal of your success in high school
or college depends on this simple truth.
Where to study
You can study anywhere. Obviously, some places are
better than others. Libraries, study lounges or private rooms are best.
Above all, the place you choose to study should not be distracting.
Distractions can build up, and the first thing you know, you're out of time
and out of luck. Make choosing a good physical environment a part of your
Everybody has thinking skills, but few use them
effectively. Effective thinking skills cannot be studied, but must be built
up over a period of time. Good thinkers see possibilities where others see
only dead-ends. If you're not a good thinker, start now by developing habits
that make you ask yourself questions as you read. Talk to other students who
you feel are good thinkers. Ask them what it is they do when they think
critically or creatively. Often times, you can pick up valuable insights to
help you become a better thinker.
The SQ3R method
The SQ3R method has been a proven way to sharpen study
skills. SQ3R stands for Survey, Question, Read, Recite, Review. Take a
moment now and write SQ3R down. It is a good slogan to commit to memory to
carry out an effective study strategy.
Survey - get the best overall picture of what you're
going to study BEFORE you study it in any detail. It's like looking at a
road map before going on a trip. If you don't know the territory, studying a
map is the best way to begin.
Question - ask questions for learning. The important
things to learn are usually answers to questions. Questions should lead to
emphasis on the what, why, how, when, who and where of study content. Ask
yourself questions as you read or study. As you answer them, you will help
to make sense of the material and remember it more easily because the
process will make an impression on you. Those things that make impressions
are more meaningful, and therefore more easily remembered. Don't be afraid
to write your questions in the margins of textbooks, on lecture notes, or
wherever it makes sense.
Read - Reading is NOT running your eyes over a
textbook. When you read, read actively. Read to answer questions you have
asked yourself or questions the instructor or author has asked. Always be
alert to bold or italicized print. The authors intend that this material
receive special emphasis. Also, when you read, be sure to read everything,
including tables, graphs and illustrations. Often times tables, graphs and
illustrations can convey an idea more powerfully than written text.
Recite - When you recite, you stop reading
periodically to recall what you have read. Try to recall main headings,
important ideas of concepts presented in bold or italicized type, and what
graphs, charts or illustrations indicate. Try to develop an overall concept
of what you have read in your own words and thoughts. Try to connect things
you have just read to things you already know. When you do this
periodically, the chances are you will remember much more and be able to
recall material for papers, essays and objective tests.
Review - A review is a survey of what you have
covered. It is a review of what you are supposed to accomplish, not what you
are going to do. Rereading is an important part of the review process.
Reread with the idea that you are measuring what you have gained from the
process. During review, it's a good time to go over notes you have taken to
help clarify points you may have missed or don't understand. The best time
to review is when you have just finished studying something. Don't wait
until just before an examination to begin the review process. Before an
examination, do a final review. If you manage your time, the final review
can be thought of as a "fine-tuning" of your knowledge of the material.
Thousands of high school and college students have followed the SQ3R steps
to achieve higher grades with less stress.
A primary means by which you acquire information is
through reading. In college you're expected to do much more reading than in
high school. Don't assume just because you've "read" the assignments that is
the end of it. You must learn to read with a purpose. In studying, you may
read the same assignment three or four times, each time with a different
purpose. You must know before you begin reading what your purpose is, and
Getting the Main Idea
Getting the main idea in reading is central to
effective studying. You must learn what the author's central idea is, and
understand it in your own way. Every paragraph contains a main idea. Main
ideas are perfect for outlining textbooks. Make it a habit to find the main
idea in each paragraph you read.
Extracting Important Details
Extracting important details means that you locate in
your reading the basis for main ideas. There is usually one important detail
associated with every main idea. The more important details you can
identify, the easier it will be to review for examinations because you have
made a link between an idea and information that supports it. The more links
you can make between details and ideas, as well as ideas themselves, the
more powerful will be the efforts of your study.
Don't Read Aloud to Yourself
Generally, reading aloud to yourself does not help you
study more effectively. If you move your lips while you read, you're not
reading efficiently. If you read aloud or move your lips while you're
reading, you are reading slowly, so stop moving your lips. Try putting a
finger over your lips. Your finger will remind you not to move your lips.
Make an effort to read faster and retain more - after a while, you'll be
surprised how little effort it will take.
Like reading, note-taking is a skill which must be
learned and refined. Almost invariably, note taking, or the lack of it, is a
constant deficiency in the study methods of many high school and college
students. Learning the ingredients of good note taking is rather easy;
applying them to your own situation depends on how serious you are in
becoming a successful student.
Where to Keep Notes
You must learn to keep notes logically and legibly.
Remember, if you can't read your own writing a few days after taking notes,
they are of little use. By all accounts, the best place to keep notes is in
a loose-leaf notebook. Use dividers to separate the different classes you
take. Make it a habit of using your notebook to record ALL your notes. If
you're caught without your notebook and need to take notes, always have a
supply of loose-leaf paper with you. Insert your note papers into the
notebook as soon as you can. Be sure to buy a good notebook, as it will get
a lot of wear and tear.
First of all, don't underline. Use a highlighter.
Experience has shown that text passages highlighted are more easily
remembered than the same passages underlined. In outlining a text, don't
just read along and highlight what seem to important words. That technique
rarely works. The act of outlining works much better.
Taking Lecture Notes
Surveying, Questioning, Listening
Taking accurate and concise lecture notes is
essential. Develop the habit of taking notes using appropriate methods
described earlier in the SQ3R technique. For example, when you listen to a
lecture, formulate questions as you listen. Your main job in taking lecture
notes is to be a good listener. To be a good listener, you must learn to
focus and concentrate on the main points of the lecture. Get them down, and
then later reorganize them in your own words. Once you have done this, you
have set the stage for successful reviewing and revising.
Reviewing and Revising
As you prepare for examinations, tests, or other
assessments, you should spend time reviewing and revising your lecture
notes. Begin the process by reviewing your notes right after a lecture. If
you wait too long, you may discover that the notes just don't make sense.
Don't hesitate to revise your notes based on the review process.
Any form of note-taking that requires compilation of
information by categories, rather than in narrative form is best done using
index cards. You can sort, edit and arrange index cards to suit your
particular study needs. The most important point in using cards is to
indicate the correct reference or topic at the top of the card. Use the
cards for study, review, to help organize information for papers, reports,
or projects. An even better idea, if you have a personal computer, is to
organize your categorical information in a database. Once you set it up,
finding, updating and adding new information is quite easy. If you have a
printer, you can print out your notes in a variety of ways.
Survey any objective examination to find out what
types of questions are being asked. Surveying helps you to know what to
Knowing the Ground Rules
Always read directions! Indicate your answers exactly
the way the directions state. Make sure your answers are clear. Determine
what the scoring rules for the test are and follow them to your advantage.
For example, if wrong answers are penalized, don't guess unless you can
reduce the choices to two.
Answering Easy Questions First
Answering easy (to you) questions first is the best
strategy. If you stumble over difficult questions for too long a time, you
may not be able to complete the exam.
Picking out Key Words
Objective examination questions usually contain one or
more key words. A key word or group of words are those on which the truth or
falsity of a statement hinges. Learn to spot the key words in the statement
that define the meaning. If a statement contains two clauses, one of which
is false, the whole statement is false. Usually, two-statement true-false
questions are either both true or both false.
Reading Multiple-Choice Questions
Multiple choice questions are essentially true-false
questions arranged in groups. Usually, only one alternative is correct. Your
job is to pick the alternative that is more nearly true than the others.
Read multiple-choice questions the same way as for true-false. Eliminate
obvious false choices.
Reading Other Types of Questions
The methods used to answer true-false and multiple
choice questions apply to matching questions as well. Always scan the entire
list of alternatives before matching any. As in the other types of
questions, try to identify key words in each list and test them. Completion
questions require you to provide a word or phrase. When you encounter
completion questions, choose your words carefully. If you don't know the
answer, give it your best guess, as often times such responses get at least
Planning your time in answering essay questions is
more important than in objective type tests. The general rule is not to get
carried away on one or two questions to the extent that you cannot answer
that other questions in the time allowed. Read through the entire
examination first. Get a feel for the questions you are expected to answer.
If the exam allows you to choose from a number of questions, be sure to
number your answers exactly to match the questions.
When you follow directions for an essay exam, pay
attention to the key words the instructor has included. Such words as
"list," "describe," "compare and contrast," and "outline" have special
meaning. Don't "write around" the question but answer it directly. If a
question asks you to list something, don't write a narrative about it.
Answering essay questions directly is always the best policy.
After scanning the list of questions to be answered,
choose the ones you know most about. A good idea is to prepare an outline of
your answers. The outline will help you remember important ideas and facts
to be included in your response. Another technique is to do a "memory-dump."
This technique is discussed in the last section of this guide, "Power Study
Good handwriting is an absolute essential. If your
cursive writing is very hard to read, try printing instead. Most instructors
value clear handwriting. Grammar, punctuation, and spelling also count.
Well-written grammatically correct answers almost always receive higher
grades than poorly written grammatically incorrect answers, even though the
answers themselves are the same.
Writing Themes and Reports
Reviewing the Topic
Students usually have some freedom to choose the
subject of themes or reports. When you make this choice, be sure that the
topic is acceptable to the teacher, and is as interesting to you as
possible. Another consideration is that of availability of resource
material. Your task is made much easier when there is a good amount of
reference and resource material available.
Using Correct Punctuation and Grammar
As in writing essays questions, good grammar and
punctuation are a must. Most students use word processors to write papers.
Be sure to use the spell checker that almost all word processors have built
in. Many word processors also have some sort of grammar checker. Learn to
use a grammar checker, as it can point out serious flaws in your writing and
help you become a better writer. Most grammar checkers explain the grammar
rules that apply to the suggested corrections to your writing.
Gathering Materials Before You Write
Before you begin writing, assemble the materials you
will need. Use index cards, notes, bibliographies, summaries, reports and
reviews as part of your preparation process. Using index cards for
references is an excellent way to organize your materials. Computer database
programs can also help you classify and organize reference materials.
Preparing an Outline and Writing the Paper
Once you have your topic, have gathered and organized
your materials, it is time to outline your paper. Put your outline on paper!
Don't make the mistake of trying to keep everything in your head. Make your
outline in the form of main headings or ideas with sub-headings fleshing out
the flow of the paper. Using the outline as a guide begin writing begin by
asking yourself what the paper is going to say and what conclusions you want
to reach. Doing this ahead of time will help keep you focused and prevent
you from straying from the purpose of the paper. Making up the outline as
you go along almost always results in a less than satisfactory product.
Writing is important in high school and is a key to success in college and
in many professions. Become a good writer by writing, revising, and
reviewing your work. Don't be afraid to ask other students to critique your
work. Try to write in your own natural style, be aware that most good
writers go through many revisions, and be prepared to do the same. Writing
and test-taking are the end results of developing good study skills. There
is no magic formula for success. If you follow the suggestions in this
guide, apply them and think about them, you'll have taken a giant step
toward becoming a successful student.
Power Studying Tips for College Students
The following tips have proven to be extremely
powerful guides for organizing, thinking, studying, and learning in college.
They represent the best advice of successful college students. They can also
work for high school students.
Tip: Your study space should be as quiet and
comfortable as possible. Avoid studying in noisy places such as cafeterias,
recreation rooms, or lounges.
Tip: When studying, keep a waste basket handy.
Tip: Have a consistent place for everything, and above
all, keep it there!
Tip: Have everything needed for studying handy
beforehand. Don't waste valuable time looking for books, notes, of other
information. After you have assembled the items you need, put them where you
can reach them easily.
Tip: Begin studying no less than 30-90 minutes after a
Tip: Never study within 30 minutes of going to sleep.
Tip: Prioritize! Make a list of what you intend to
study, prioritize the list, and stick to it!
Tip: If possible, study no more than 30-40 minutes at
a stretch. Many students retain more by studying for short periods with
breaks in between. It all depends on what you're trying to study, but
generally, after a period of study, take a break.
Tip: Take study breaks away from your desk or wherever
you are studying. Let the break be a time to think about other things. Use
some break time to reflect, not constantly review what you have just
Tip: Distractions in the classroom are deadly. To help
avoid distractions, sit near the front of the class. You're less likely to
miss something important, and there are far less distractions at the front
than any other location.
Tip: Think! Thinking is one of the most important
things you can do in class. If you just sit there passively, and not think,
class can be deadly. Think about what the teacher is saying BEFORE writing
down anything. Writing down each word is a WASTE OF TIME. Reorganize in your
mind what the teacher says, and then write it down. This way you will be
connecting the teacher's words with HOW you think. If you do this, your
notes will make a lot more sense later on.
Tip: Pay attention to the course outline or syllabus.
Generally, important points and materials are referenced here and repeated.
Don't be afraid to ask the teacher if there is something you don't
understand. Most teachers will be glad to clarify for you.
Preparing for Class
Tip: Efficient students do not underline! Underlining
is not a productive way to emphasize textbook material. It's best to use a
Tip: Read the table of contents of your texts
carefully. If the textbooks have chapter summaries, read them first! If you
don't understand the material from the summaries, go back and highlight.
Take notes on what you have highlighted and review your notes. Tip: Break
study material into short segments of length dependent on its difficulty.
Remember, concise notes are more powerful than copious notes. Think about
the material! Then take notes on what you don't know or are not sure of.
Tip: For essay examinations, try the "memory dump"
technique. If permitted, write down everything you've memorized - facts,
names, dates, ideas, events, and so on BEFORE you do anything else.
Sometimes reading through the essay questions can distract you from what
you've studied. The "memory dump" technique requires that you write down
everything possible BEFORE you begin writing essay answers. This way, you
are less likely to forget something important.
A Final Word
The study skills presented here depend on one thing,
and that is your willingness to WANT to improve and do well in school. If
you really don't want to make the effort and sacrifice, no amount of
suggestions, ideas, or outlines can help much. You are the one who is
responsible for your education, and effective study skills can help you. To
that end, one last word of advice -- work smart, not hard.
Again, be sure
to check out my program Catalyst: Dynamically Balanced
Click here for study tips submitted by students and
"Anything not understood in more than one way is
not understood at all."
Robert Kizlik & Associates
Boca Raton, Florida