If this happens to you, it’s possible that your current study habits are failing you! But you can turn it around.
The process of learning is still a little mysterious, but studies do show that the most effective process for studying involves highly active behavior over a period of time. In other words, to study effectively, you must read, draw, compare, memorize, and test yourself over time.
The following study habits are least helpful when used alone.
1. Taking linear notes
Linear notes are lecture notes that students take when they attempt to write down every word of a lecture. Linear notes occur when a student tries to write every word a lecturer says in sequence, like writing a rambling essay with no paragraphs.
You may be wondering: How can it be bad to capture every word of a lecture?
It’s not bad to capture every word of a lecture, but it is bad to think you’re studying effectively if you don’t mess with your linear notes in some way. You must revisit your linear notes and make relationships from one section to another. You should draw arrows from one related word or concept to another, and make a lot of notes and examples in the margins.
Solution: To reinforce information and to make it sink in, you must also recreate all your class notes in another form. You have to revisit the information and put it all into a chart or shrinking outline.
Right before every new lecture, you should review your notes from days past and predict the next day’s material. You should reflect and make relationships between key concepts before you sit down for a new lecture.
You should prepare for your exams by creating a fill-in-the-blank test from your notes.
2. Highlighting the book
Are you guilty of highlighter abuse? Reckless highlighting is the root cause for many bad test grades!
Bright colors on a page make a big visual impact, so it seems like a lot of good studying is going on when you read and highlight.
Highlighting does make important information stand out on a page, but that doesn’t do you much good if you don’t do something active with that information. Reading highlighted words again and again is not active enough.
Solution: Use the information you highlight to create a practice exam. Put highlighted words onto flashcards and practice until you know every term and concept. Identify key concepts and use them to create practice essay questions.
You should also develop a color-coded highlighting strategy. Highlight new words in one color and new concepts in another, for example. You could also highlight separate topics according to a color code for more impact.
3. Rewriting notes
Students rewrite notes under the assumption that repetition is good for memorization. Repetition is valuable as a first step, but it’s not that effective all alone.
You should rewrite your notes in the shrinking outline method, but follow up with self-testing methods.
Solution: Switch class notes with a classmate and create a practice exam from his/her notes. Exchange practice exams to test each other. Repeat this process a few times until you are comfortable with the material.
4. Rereading the chapter
Students are often encouraged to re-read a chapter on the night before an exam to reinforce what they’ve learned. Rereading is a good tactic as a last step.
Just like the other study habits mentioned above, rereading is only one part of a puzzle.
Solution: Make sure to use active steps like charts, shrinking outlines, and practice tests and follow up with rereading your chapter.
5. Memorizing definitions
Students spend a lot of time using flashcards to memorize definitions. This is a good study method, as long as it’s a first step in the process of learning. As students progress through the grade levels, they are expected to progress in cognitive skills.
Once you’ve exited middle school, you can’t expect to do well on an exam by memorizing the definitions to terms. You must learn to memorize a definition and then define the significance of the new vocabulary terms you encounter. If you’re in high school or college, you should be prepared to explain how terms are relevant in the subject, compare them to similar concepts, and explain why they matter at all.
Here’s a real life example:
Solution: Once you have memorized the definitions of your terms, give yourself a short essay practice test. Make sure you are able to define a term and explain why it is significant. Be able to compare and contrast your term to something or someone of similar significance.
The act of testing and retesting yourself somehow makes the information stick.