Learning How to Study

The Boston Globe recently ran an article claiming that today’s college students aren’t studying as much as students from previous years. In the article, professors Philip Babcock and Mindy Marks state that today’s average student at a four-year institution studies for just 14 hours week, down from an average of 24 hours a week in 1961.

While it is tempting to place the blame on the influx of distractions or on the breakdown of the professor-student relationship, one of the core problems is that, according to a 2008 survey, students “simply do not know how to sit down and study.” At first glance, this problem seems almost absurd. How can people not know how to study? How can students, who have gone through 12 years of education before coming to college, not have mastered this fundamental skill? However, when I started thinking about the nature of studying and reflecting on my own experiences, I wasn’t surprised that students have difficulty wrapping their minds around this complex (and somewhat abstract) action.

Beyond helping students succeed in their classes, studying on the collegiate level is a vital part of the educational experience. Although the time spent in class can certainly contribute to a student’s understanding of the material, studying outside of class can help students explore their own interests and see the connections between the subject and the rest of the curriculum. Moreover, studying can also allow students to extend their knowledge of the subject and discuss the topic with their peers.

To help you get a jump-start on developing your study habits, here are a few tips:

  • Don’t treat college like it is high school: This might seem obvious, but a surprising number of people (including me) go into college thinking that it is just like high school. When I started college, I loaded up on classes but I didn’t stop to think about the time that I would need to spend reading and studying before and after class. Unlike high school, where the majority of learning might have occurred in class and the teachers gave you very specific directions and made sure that you were keeping up with the readings, college professors expect you to be able to do the readings on your own and to manage your time. Although I eventually learned the error of my ways, my first year in college was a definite shock.
  • Go beyond the yellow highlighter: Although highlighting can be a very helpful practice for some students, it doesn’t help a student interact or comprehend the material. Rather than just highlighting key passages and calling it a night, take notes (in the book, on a separate sheet of paper, or on your computer) and question the text. A recommended approach after reading a chapter is to ask yourself, “What is the key concept being discussed?” and then write a one paragraph summary of the salient points of the chapter. The more you can interact with the material, the better you will understand it and the more you will be able to contribute to the class discussions. Another advantage is when write a paper, you can refer to your notes and not have to rifle through the textbook to find a point you wish to make.
  • Find the right time: Scheduling a time and place to study is key. While scheduling a specific time to study might seem a little neurotic, having a reminder on your Google calendar or in your planner can provide a much-needed prompt to leave the quad and sit down with your textbooks.
  • Find the right place: Consider the amount of distractions you can block out, and then explore your campus and surrounding areas to find a place that fits your studying needs. Although a dorm room might initially seem like the perfect place to study, the general bustle of people coming and going can make it less than ideal. Instead, find the campus library or a nearby coffee shop and plan to take advantage of the relative silence.
  • Form a group: According to Richard J. Light, the author of Making the Most of College, “almost all students who are struggling academically” share the common habit of studying alone. It can seem very tempting to study on your own, but don’t discount the value of sharing your ideas with a group. Not only does it hold you accountable for knowing the material, but sharing your ideas and debating other people’s can help you better understand the information.

Do you have your own study hints? Feel free to share them in the comments section or on our Facebook page.

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