How to study: When there is a text book

The following is NOT the only way to study. It is a way to study and I expect you will adapt it and make it your own. Between an associates degree, two bachelors degrees, a masters degree and a doctoral degree the following is a strategy for creating the best outcome from a class.

Educational books and text books are created on a hybrid approach to information flow. The most important information is first in the chapter, the front of each paragraph, and the conclusions of the chapter. The chapters are usually set up from start to finish with general information to specific topics.

That means there are some specific techniques you can form into a rapid learning strategy with great outcomes.

Do this before you go to class.

Gut the material. Read the first section of an assigned chapter, the first sentence or two of each paragraph, and the first paragraph of each subsequent section. Read the sentence on either side of each bolded word (sometimes they use italics). Read any call out boxes (gray boxes, special sections) or the titles of figures, diagrams or pictures.  Read the entire conclusion section of the chapter. You can highlight sections based on this technique. If your professor is using a textbook provided PowerPoint presentation it will basically be the same. Why not just read the PowerPoints? You lose the information flow.

While you are in class.

Cement the context.Write down clearly EVERY question that the professor asks. A good professor will generally ask questions that are open ended and may be very easy to get down and a lot harder to answer. An excellent technique is to write the questions down in or near the section where the content to answer it is located in the text book. If you are using a Kindle or other note taking software you can use call outs or the notes section. Some Kindle applications allow you to basically make flash cards to study later.

Why not read the entire chapter through before you get to class. It can be a waste of time. You are learning and the context, information, data, and reasoning you need to do may be very difficult to accomplish. The principle of reading topic sections first will give you context, and allow you reflect on professorial questions.

After Class.

Make the information yours. Go back and read the entire chapter from start to finish. It will actually be much easier and you may see areas of concern, question, or things you really need to understand better. This is your third trip through the material. If there are citations inline, end of page, or end of the chapter it is time to start pulling on that thread. A good technique is to download those references when possible and place them in a citation tool like EndNote, Mendely, Zotero or similar. Gut them just like you did the chapter before you went to class. You are creating the citation library necessary for writing a paper in the class.

How to know the questions before the professor. You may or may not have questions at the end of the chapter. If you do have questions on the left side of the margin I like to write the question number where the information can be found. If these are assigned as part of the homework you are likely far ahead with your highlighting. The standard text book comes with a question bank often times and that question bank is based on the very sections you highlighted. A good technique is underline the answers to the questions, so you can see what is highlighted and underlined. This is giving you an idea of where the professor is likely focusing. Some professors are just lazy and have no structure. Those are the breaks and you will likely get that idea early rather than late in the semester.

Before an exam.

Get an A on the exam. Depending on the program and professor you will have read 8 to 12 chapters from a book at the end of the semester. Standard text books are usually written around 16 chapters or 32 chapters so they fit into a standard semester. Your job is to gut the material across the board. This should be your fourth trip through the material. Read each of the questions you wrote down. These are likely the exam questions or close to it. If you are allowed to make notes, for an open note test, you should have highlighted the important parts.  If you are allowed an open book test. OMG you are set in gold.

During an exam.

Use your time wisely. Answer the questions you are sure you know and go back. Some computer tests will not allow this so you will have to adjust based on the test administration technique. Some interesting insights from years of giving tests. Lots of students don’t answer questions. On a multiple choice you have between 20% and 25% getting the question right with a guess. Strangely, if you change an answer you have better than odds even of getting the question wrong. I have seen many times on exams people change a right answer to a wrong answer.

Not all professors should be trusted. A great indicator of a sucky professor is the use of a lot of double negatives in test questions. If you see two double negatives in test questions the professor is likely an idiot or using a poorly constructed test bank. There are many types of test questions that don’t test the material but test the aptitude of test takers. I’ll try to cover test taking in a future blog post.

I don’t have enough time for that.

You get what you pay for. Somebody is paying for your education and at some point you have to determine how much you respect yourself. There are various rules on how much you should study per credit hour you take. Figure if you are in class for 3 hours you should likely be studying between 6 and 9 hours per class. This is where the Pareto distribution comes in. If you study 3 hours you will likely get a B. You will be doing what the 80 percent are willing. Double that number and you will be in solid “A” territory. If you are really good and study 9 hours per 3 hours you will have a good chance of being top in the class.

Zero to 9 hours is a failure waiting to happen. Studying is like a muscle you have to exercise. The habits you build doing it regularly will manifest as results over time. The more you use the tools the easier they get to results. Start with the basics found here and you will already be doing much more than most students.

Follow ups.

I will look at writing on how to take notes in a math class, how to write a paper, and how to interact with a tutor in the future. Let me know if this helps you. I might do a YouTube on this too if you think that will help. If there are worksheets or additional readings apply the same principles as you did for the text book.