WHY NOT IMPROVE YOUR STUDY SKILLS?
Dr. Jim Bell, Professor of Psychology 2009
What is an effective systematic approach to use when studying?
Why is reciting so important?
How can I remember information longer?
How can my concentration be improved?
How can I learn more from textbooks?
Is it possible to learn more from lectures?
What are some good ways to prepare for tests?
Can listening skills be improved?
Read this handout, write answers to the questions using a computer and then try out the
Turn in all WRITE assignments.
This handout was written to help students who wish to improve their study skills to be more
efficient and effective learners.
Reflection: What do you want to learn?
A Brief Review
What do we mean by learning? Learning is a change in behavior for the long term
that occurs as a result of active practice.
A. "a change in behavior" - new behavior, new knowledge, new skills. You can do
things you could not do before the learning.
B. "active practice" - making a response, being involved, active not passive, involves
effort, repetition, doing, thinking, reflecting, talking.
II. Teachers are like coaches.
A. Teachers provide information you are to learn (they specify what is to be studied,
they explain ideas).
B. Teachers provide hints on what is important to learn and effective ways to go
about learning (study hints, study questions, example answers, Answer Keys).
C. Teachers provide feedback on how well you are doing by asking questions, giving
quizzes and tests, using written assignments, using problems, having conferences
and correcting work.
III. Students are the learners.
Students can learn to be more effective learners. Learning how to learn more effectively
is one of the major goals of a college education.
A. Older view of students: Students are like sponges that soak up water. Teachers
pour out knowledge that students soak up. Learning takes place if students read,
see, and listen.
B. Newer view of students: Ask yourself these questions:
1. Do I want to learn?
2. Do I know what to learn?
3. Do I know how to effectively learn?
4. Will I put in the required time and effort to learn?
5. Am I actively involved in my learning?
WRITE: Use a computer and put on a separate sheet.
1. What do you plan to remember?
2. What study skills are you working to change?
Check on Learning for p. 1. Put on a separate sheet this heading and your 2 answers.
I. Introduction To Improving Your Studying
II. A Systematic Approach to Studying: KSQ3RO
III. Use of Your Tine
V. STUDYING Textbooks and Articles
VI. Learning from Lectures
VII. Test Taking Tips
VIII. Learning From Textbooks
IX. Improving Class Manners
X. Listening Tips
XI. In Conclusion
XII. Sources for Further Reading
Before going further, look over this booklet to get an idea of what it contains.
I. Improving Your Studying: An Introduction
A. Studying involves a complex set of behaviors which are learned.
If your prior learning was incomplete, ineffective, or incorrect, you would be
handicapped in your college work. Unfortunately, most students learned how to
study through trial and error methods. Once learned these methods are difficult to
Until you feel a need to change or find your methods to be ineffective, you will
continue to use your time inefficiently. You will persist because you are not aware
of better methods. When you do try these new methods, you may temporarily do
It is the nature of skill learning that unlearning an ineffective skill results in
poorer performance during the new learning phase. Once the new skills are
learned, however, performance can increase dramatically. Unfortunately, some
students start to change their old methods, see their performance drop, and then
grab hold of their old methods. A word to the wise is efficient.
Learning more efficient study skills is exceedingly important. This handout is
designed to acquaint you with current psychological research and thinking on
effective studying and encourage you to evaluate your own study skills, revise
them, and become more efficient in your studying and encourage you to evaluate
your own study skills, revise them if necessary, and become more efficient in your
B. What are the 4 components for successful learning?
1. Do you know what you are to study?
Before starting an assignment, it is essential to know what you are to
learn. In this course, learning objectives are used to specify what you are
to learn. Look over the written learning objectives prior to doing
homework assignments. If you are not clear on what to do, check with a
classmate or me. Previous students have recommended that before
coming to class you check the homework for the next week to be able to
ask questions where you are not clear.
2. Do you want to learn?
Are you willing to devote quality time to learning?
Doing assignments to get them done results in some learning. Many
students report they used the Loaf Cram approach in high school. That
approach results in little long term learning. Doing assignments because
you have the desire to learn results in more learning. In a course like this
that focuses on improving your thinking the desire to learn is very
important. Long term learning takes time, effort, and dedication. It is not
3. Do you know how to effectively and efficiently learn?
Wanting to learn results in effective learning when paired with knowledge
of how to effectively study. Previous students reported that they had
learned how to memorize information, but they had little practice in
solving problems or thinking critically. Research from Educational
Psychology has demonstrated that students at all levels of achievement can
improve their study skills.
Effectively learning involves using both your time management skills and
your study skills. Efficient learning results when you think about how you
are learning and self assess your thinking to improve. For example, if you
notice that you get several phone calls whenever you study, you can
become more efficient in learning by developing a strategy to deal with
Most previous students reported that they had to change how they
approach homework assignments. For example, when dealing with
homework that requires thinking, most students learned to study when
they are fresh. A tired brain requires more time to learn. Self change is a
lifelong process. A number of ideas to help you change are made in this
4. Do you know how to self assess your learning through metacognitive
thinking to make changes?
Self assessment and metacognitive thinking will be introduced early in the
course since most students have had little experience using these two
approaches. One of the major goals of a college education is to develop a
self-directed learner, someone who wants to learn, knows how to learn,
and is working to be a more efficient learner. Few interesting jobs in our
society do not require continuous learning. Living in a rapidly changing
society requires adjusting to change.
C. What are 4 different ways to read?
Flexibility in reading is a part of efficient learning. Flexibility in reading means
using different approaches for different assignments. Time is saved when reading
assignments are approached in different ways.
1. Scanning- If you wish to quickly get ideas of the topics in a source, look at
the title of the book, scan the Preface, look over the Contents, check the
Chapter Headings, scan the Glossary, and scan the Subject Index. Scanning
is a process which should take only a few minutes to let you know the
major topics of your source.
Application: When this semester have you scanned? When should you
2. Skimming – Skimming includes fast reading to get the big picture. Most
reading of novels for leisure is skimming.
Application: When have you skimmed?
3. Close reading- If you are to summarize or report what you have learned,
you will need to digest the source. Close readings results in thorough
understanding of what the writer is saying by giving close attention to the
ideas and their relationship.
There are many ways to do close reading which is another name for
effective study of a source. You might underline, highlite, make notation,
write notes, summarize, or outline. Some courses have study guides to help
close reading. Some courses involve the use of small groups to help in
understanding a source. Long term learning for most of us involves using
several of these strategies.
Application: What is your approach to close reading?
4. Critical Evaluative Reading-If you wish to judge what to believe, you
analyze the article into the central idea, key points, and evidence. You
critically evaluate both the evidence and the author’s reasoning. After
critical evaluative reading, you can tell someone what you accept from the
source, what you question, and the reasons for choices. Critical Thinking,
another name for critical evaluative reading, is a major goal of college, but
is not often taught directly. This approach can take time until you get
efficient at it.
Application: When did you last use your critical thinking skills?
D. Check on Learning for pages 3-5.
WRITE: Explain what you learned from these pages. Label: Check on Learning
for pp. 3-5.
1. What is studying?
2. Explain each of the four components of learning.
3. Explain each of the four different ways to read.
II. A Systematic Approach To Studying: The KSQ3RO Method
Let’s look first at your overall method of studying. Answer “never”, “seldom”,
“sometimes”, “usually”, “always”, to the following questions.
WRITE your answer on the lines provided for 1-12.
_______ 1. Do you get an overview (the big picture) of an assignment before starting
_______ 2. If you are given learning objectives, do you use them to guide your
_______ 3. If not, do you make up your own?
_______ 4. When assigned a reading of 15 pages or less, do you read straight through
to the end of the assignment?
_______ 5. After reading a short section in a textbook, do you close the book and
attempt to recall the main ideas of the section?
_______ 6. Do you organize what you need to remember?
_______ 7. Do you read with a pencil or a pen in your hand?
_______ 8. Do you underline the first time through a reading?
_______ 9. Do you underline complete sentences?
_______ 10. Do you make notes about your reading in your textbook?
_______ 11 Do you review what you have just read before going onto other work?
_______ 12. Do you review any time other than just before a test?
Did you write your answers to the left of each question on the line provided? If you
didn’t, you did not follow instructions. One big reason for decreased learning is not
following instructions. Being active in learning is essential.
Check Your Learning for p. 7.
Without looking back WRITE your answer to these questions. Label as Answers for p. 7.
1. How do most students learn their study skills?
2. When is a student likely to change his method of studying?
3. What often happens when students start to modify their study methods?
Look back to check your answers.
Did you answer these three questions correctly? Yes No
If you answered the three questions correctly, you were actively involved in your reading.
If you were not able to answer correctly the three questions, it was not due to a poor
memory, for the information probably never was stored in your long term memory. You
were passively reading. To retain information you must actively work to retain
information. You must focus on what you wish to learn. Active involvement through
studying is a crucial step for putting information into long term memory.
Psychological research has developed a systematic approach to studying which
emphasizes active involvement on the learner’s part. The method is the KSQ3RO
method-Know, Survey, Question, Read, Recite, Review, and Overlearn. In this section on
the KSQ3RO method are suggestions related to the 12 questions above, on page 6.
Getting started studying is often difficult. If you have a study plan with a specified
starting time for a subject, it will be easier to start. Decide approximately how long you
are going to study and what you will accomplish. For example, plan to study psychology
from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. each night. Before sitting down to study, make sure you have all
your relevant study materials available: pencil, pen, textbook, handouts, paper. Then
begin studying. Knowing exactly what you are to do saves confusion and frustration.
Consequently when assignments are given, be sure you understand what is expected. If
you are not sure, check with your teacher.
A. Know What You Are To Learn (K)
Before starting to study, be clear on what you are to learn. Know what you are to learn.
Know what you will need for your studying: written material, paper and pencil,
1. You have a big advantage when your teacher uses learning objectives (sometimes
called learning objectives) or study questions. These devices focus your attention
on what you are to learn. The learning objectives indicate what you are to learn
and how you will be evaluated, whether you are to demonstrate rote recall,
recognition (multiple choice), or explain something in your own words.
2. Find a place to study that is free from noise and distractions, such as a ringing
B. Survey (S)
Surveying is spending a few minutes getting familiar with a book, a chapter, or an
assignment. You are looking for key bits of information to help you put into perspective
what you will be learning. Scanning is another name for surveying.
1. Surveying a total book - Read first the preface or introduction to get the author’s
view on what has been written. Pay particular attention to comments about the
organization of the book. Next scan the table of contents. Most textbooks have a
detailed table of contents which is well worth studying. Surprisingly, the index at
the back of the book can provide substantial information. The major concepts can
be recognized because several page numbers are devoted to such concepts. A
concept listed on only one page is not likely to be a significant concept in that
Scan the book and note the organization of the chapters. Are there topic outlines?
Are study questions listed? Are bold headings or indentations used? Are
summaries provided at the end of each chapter? Is there a glossary at the end of
the book? If summaries are provided, in one evening you can get a good idea of
what is in the book.
2. Surveying a chapter - Look first at the table of contents to see how the chapter fits
into the total book. If an outline of the chapter is given, see if you can discern the
relations between the various parts of the outline. Go next to the summary and
read it. Note any new words you do not know. Start at the beginning of the
chapter and work your way through focusing on the headings. In textbooks,
headings are very useful guideposts to the content.
3. Surveying an article - Check to see if there is a study guide for what you are to
read. If there is, read through it to get an understanding about what you will be
studying. Survey the article itself to see if you can get some quick hints which
will help you understand the article.
Isolated bits of information are very hard to remember. The best way to remember some
information is to relate it to things you already know. The activity of relating new
information to old information increases the meaningfulness of the material. You are
putting new information into a web you have already made. Research demonstrates that we
remember answers to questions better than material just memorized or read.
After surveying, raise questions. If you have been provided with study questions, use
them to guide your reading. If you are not given study questions, make up your own.
Take a heading and turn it into a question. Once you have read a small section formulate
a question which was answered in what you just read.
1. Practice- What questions might you raise from knowing that the heading of the
next section is “Reading”? Check Your Learning: WRITE three questions. Label
Check p. 9.
D. Read (R)
Some students believe that reading is all that is involved in studying. More precisely they
believe that reading and rereading are studying. Most of us developed our reading skills
when the most important thing to remember was the story line. However, reading textbooks
and articles is very different from reading novels, magazines, and newspapers. Here are some
suggestions for reading course material.
1. Read actively. Read to answer questions. Read to form questions. Read to see
how one section relates to another. Active reading helps focus your attention. For
example, what does the step Read deal with? What is important to me in my
2. Read to understand new terms. Often they are defined by the context. Keep a list
of new words in a notebook and write the page number in parentheses where the
term was discussed. You may want to check a glossary if there is one or your
3. Read everything but not in the same way. Don’t overlook the writing under
graphs and pictures. Stop and figure out what the significance and meaning of
charts and graphs are.
4. Underline. Research isn’t clear on the value of underlining. Most college students
report they underline or highlight after one term in college. If you underline, note
these suggestions. If the book is yours, write in it.
a. Do not read with a pencil or pen in your hand. If you have the pencil in
your hand, the tendency is to underline the first time through. That process
is a mistake. You can not tell what is important until you have finished a
section and understood the full section. So do not do your underlining
until the second or third time through.
b. Do not underline complete sentences. Make up your own sentences by
selecting a few words here and there which communicate the important
c. Do not underline complete paragraphs. If underlining is to point you to
important points for review, select just those parts of the paragraph which
you need to remember.
d. Use a consistent method. Do not underline definitions in one section and
then not underline them in the next. I use “D” for definitions. Writing note
in the margins and using symbols can improve the value of your
underlining. For instance a “√” could indicate information which should be
remembered. Additional checks indicate greater importance. (“√ √”) The
most important ideas can be marked with an “X”. Use an “o” to indicate the
author’s opinion. Use a “?” next to material you do not understand. Ask for
help then. Use numbers in the margin when several points have been made.
Be sure and write down the key to your system. Writing the symbols and
their meaning on the inside cover of the text is a good idea and at the front
of your notebook. As you go along, you may add new symbols. Record
these along with your original symbols.
Since no two people will underline and make exactly the same notes, do
not buy a book which has any underlining or notes. The dollars saved from
getting a used book are not worth the decreased learning and increased
Most students underline with a pen or pencil. This habit focuses you just
below the words in the line you should be concentrating on. It is better to
use a marker that you can see through so that you will be rereading the
words as you underline.
E. Recite (R)
After you read a section, stop. Close your book. Sit on your book. Seriously. Say out loud
the meaning of what you just read. If examples are given, repeat them. In addition,
attempt to make up your own examples. This talking to yourself while sitting on your
textbook is sometimes called self-testing or recitation to oneself. It is extremely important
to remembering. Open your book and see if you covered the main points of the section.
Then go to the next section and repeat this procedure.
The single most important fact about long term remembering is that it depends on the
original learning. If material is partially learned, it will be partially remembered. Talking
to yourself about what you just read is the single most important part of studying. It is the
part that most students do not use. The more difficult the material the more time you need
to spend talking to yourself (reciting).
Rereading a passage which you understand is a waste of time. So your first goal is to
understand a section of the textbook. Once you understand, do you remember? Recite to
yourself the main points. Check to see how well you remember. If you remember almost
nothing, reread but start with a smaller section. Recite to yourself and then complete the
section. If you don’t firmly put the information into your long term memory, you will
promptly forget. Be active.
When you are ready to stop studying psychology for the day, close your book. Sit on it.
Write down the main ideas you need to remember and the details you remember. Open
your book and check to see if you remembered completely and accurately. Since this
procedure may be new for most of you, it needs practice. Try it out. Use it whenever you
are studying. Try it with this handout.
Before putting away your book after reviewing, look at the organization of what you need
to remember. If there does not seem to be any logical organization, organizing the
information will pay rich rewards in decreasing the time needed to remember and in
better recall. Your goal when you complete an assignment is to be able to specify what
you have learned.
If you can write down what you know, or better yet, tell someone why you know, you
will be able to convince your teacher that you have learned, and convince yourself. And
your worries about tests will decrease!
If you can not write down or tell someone what you have just studied, it is not likely that
you will pass the test or contribute meaningfully to class discussion. Worse yet your time
will have been wasted. Most of us do not have time to waste.
Let’s assume you study one-half of the assignment on Tuesday evening. It is now
Wednesday, and you are going to work on the second half. First review what you studied
earlier. Talk to yourself about what you remember. If you are a bit hazy, clear this up
before going on to the new material. If possible, also review just before class. One good
idea is to come to class early and review immediately before class.
If you have used the KSQ3RO method to study, taking test is relatively painless. Your
review for the exam will be mainly talking to yourself about what you remember. Talk to
yourself about what you understood. Look over your underlining and notes to check your
memory. The final review before an exam should consist of very few looks at the
Reflection: Think about your answers here without looking back. What systematic
method of study has been discussed here? List the seven steps in order and describe the
essentials of each step. Write.
G. Overlearn (O)
Overlearn means studying beyond normal studying. Often we stop studying as soon as we
think we have memorized an answer. Too often we are kidding ourselves. We don’t have
a firm grasp and the information soon melts away. Continue your reciting until you have
the information solid. Continue studying. Overlearning results in less forgetting. When it
is time to review just before class or a test, the earlier time spent in overlearning will be
Check on Learning: WRITE: What is the KSQ3RO learning method? WRITE and
then check your answer. What do you plan to do for each step? Label Check p. 11.
III. Use of Your Time
How effectively do you use your time? Answer never, seldom, sometimes, usually or
always for 13-19.
_______ 13. Do you have a plan of study for each day?
_______ 14. If so, do you stick to it?
_______ 15. Do you have sufficient time for sleep?
_______ 16. Do you get sufficient exercise?
_______ 17. Do you spend too little time on social activities?
_______ 18. Do you have enough time for study?
_______ 19. Do you feel you use your time effectively?
If you answered several of the above with seldom or never, I recommend you read this
section. Using time is a big problem for people who have lots of things to do and not enough
time to complete them. If you answered usually or always go to section IV. Students,
professors, doctors, businessman, and homemakers want to accomplish certain goals and
never seem to have enough time. Time is a most precious possession. Once it is spent it can
not be reclaimed.
Check Your Learning: How do you presently spend your time? WRITE. Optional.
A. Make an activity record for a week. For each day list how you spent your time in 15
minute intervals. Be specific and accurate. For example:
Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
B. At the end of the week summarize the amount of time you spent in the various activities
that you have listed.
Summary for a Week’s Activity
Activity Hours Spent Like to Spend Hours
Study at School
Study at Home
Recreation and Exercise
Do you feel you need more time for some activities? List next to the hours you spend
how many more hours you would like to spend. Are there some activities you want to
spend less time on? Put a minus sign and the number of hours you want to cut down next
to the number of hours you are spending.
Reflection: What conclusions would you draw from the summary table? Write.
C. Develop a time schedule.
1. Write in time for set activities: sleeping, eating, personal grooming, and classes,
outside work, family, hobbies.
2. Schedules study time.
a. Plan your study schedule so that every day at approximately the same time
you study the same subject: 7:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.- Psychology.
b. Most of us have a tendency to overlook short blocks of time.
3. Plan the remainder of your week.
a. Plan in exercise, social activities, and family time.
b. Extra recreation periods can be scheduled as a reward for study.
c. If you are taking a full college load and working more than 15 hours each
week, something will suffer. You may get too little exercise and sleep, do
poorly on your job, and/or fall behind in your classes.
All of us at one time or another have had difficulty concentrating. Answer the following
questions with either never, seldom, sometimes, usually or always, for items 20-24.
_______ 20. Do you study several subjects in the same place?
_______ 21. When you daydream, do you remain in front of your books?
_______ 22. Do you have the radio or TV on when your study?
_______ 23. Do your breaks tend to become longer than your study period?
_______ 24. Do you find a very comfortable place to sit and study?
If you answered several of the above with usually or always, I recommend you study this
section. If you answered never or seldom, scan this section and go to the next section.
A. Specify that your study area is just for studying.
Concentration can become habitual if competing responses, such as daydreaming,
are not allowed to occur. The basic idea here is to arrange your environment so
that when you put yourself in your studying environment you study and only
1. Use sufficient and even lighting. Too little light produces eye strain.
2. Do not study on or near your bed. Why?
3. Eliminate distractions. What are your distractions?
a. Take down interesting pictures that might distract.
b. Put magazines and fascinating books elsewhere.
c. Study away from a TV, radio, or conversations.
d. If you study in a library, choose a spot away from the door,
discussion groups, or heavy traffic. Sit with your back toward
e. Let friends know that your study place is for studying.
f. Attempt to study in comfortable temperatures. Warm rooms lead to
drowsiness and poor concentration. Fresh air can help. Breaks
taken as walks can increase your feeling awake.
g. Don’t select too comfortable a chair.
h. Study alone except when you need help or are reviewing.
4. If you feel you must have musical background, use instrumental music and
not vocal music or talk shows.
B. If you start daydreaming, leave your study area.
1. If you aren’t concentrating (you find you have no idea what you just read or
you were thinking of something other than your study material), get up and
turn away from your books. Don’t look at your books.
2. Stop studying when you are not concentrating on your learning. “But, I would
never do any studying.” If you have trouble concentrating, try these
suggestions. (1) When not concentrating, stop studying. (2) Review the sort of
person you are trying to become, the particular habits and skills you are trying
to learn. (3) Review also the various ways for better achieving your ends.
(4) Select a few of them to practice during your next study session.(5) Then
do something else for a few minutes- listen to a record, wash a pair of socks,
rearrange some furniture, do anything which requires five minutes or so and is
different from the activities involved in studying. (6) Then turn to your
studies, and start out studying. Begin, at least, with all the enthusiasm and fire
at your disposal.
“No matter how low you rate your abilities to concentrate, even you believe
you can concentrate for five minutes. Do so. If you cannot concentrate
longer than that, stop at the end of five minutes-for a few minutes. Repeat
the process sketched in the paragraph above, stopping whenever you find
yourself daydreaming.” (Voeks, 1970, p. 49)
C. If possible, study the same time each day in a set study area.
1. It is important to study the same time every day on the same subject since
getting started is a major problem for many students. If it is 9:00 am and
you are to study Sociology, seeing that it is 9:00 am gets you started on
2. If possible, study English in one place, say the LRC in one corner and
biology in another corner, and psychology in your study area at home.
D. Don’t start thinking of uncompleted tasks just before study time. Getting started
on time is very important. It is too easy once the stimuli for starting have occurred
to get involved in another task and miss the entire study period. When you are
about to study, don’t get involved in a new activity, such as a discussion on sex,
politics, or religion. Don’t check your emails.
E. Keep a reminder pad.
While studying, you may remember something you were supposed to do. Jot that
down and then forget it until you have finished studying.
F. Work under pressure.
Most of us work better under pressure. Some need only a little pressure while
others need much more. Set up deadlines for yourself ahead of the ones your
instructor has set. Finish reading before the discussion, not after. If you find you
have plenty of time to study, set your time and then schedule in other activities
you wish to do.
G. Train yourself to ignore distractions. How might you do that?
H. Make your studying active, not passive.
1. Anticipate what is coming next
2. Relate what you are reading to yourself. Ask yourself: “How does this
relate to me?” “How does it relate to what I already know?”
3. Close your book and review outloud. Check your reviewing.
I. Don’t attempt to study for too long without a break.
1. Experiment to find out your best working schedule.
2. Most people find half hour to an hour with a five minute break an effective
study schedule. A longer break is taken after the second hour.
3. Make your breaks completely different than your study periods. Hold very
carefully to your set break time. It is very easy to let breaks become longer
than the study periods.
Check Your Work:
WRITE on a computer (Label as Check p. 17)
1. Where do you study? Review: Write a description of your study area.
2. How might you modify your study area to cut down on distractions?
3. Pick at least two of these suggestions and try them. What happened?
4. Which of the ideas of concentration are ones you would like to try?
5. Put down here ideas you are going to start using tomorrow. Use them. How did
they work out?
V. Studying Textbooks And Articles
A. How to best utilize textbooks and articles.
1. Do not read texts or articles as you would read a newspaper.
2. Think as you read- do not merely memorize or reread.
3. How often you read something is immaterial. How you read it is crucial.
4. Underlining the first time through a text is usually inefficient.
5. Attempting to study material before you understand it is worth little.
6. Preview each chapter- read the introduction, headings, summary; read
quickly for high points; formulate questions to be found in careful study of
the text; study to answer your questions; overlearn, review.
7. Use the index to read other sections on the same topic.
8. Read in the way you converse with an esteemed friend. Actively respond.
Ask questions, look for clues to answers, make tie-ins between topics and
your previous knowledge, and reconcile differences, read to understand.
9. Read with a zest to find out more about the world in which you live and to
find partial answers to your questions.
10. Practice making intelligent and intelligible summary statements. The major
part of study time should be spent in talking about and integrating what you
11. Develop a better vocabulary. Don’t let new words pass. Keep a good
dictionary handy. Use it. Practice using new words in your every day
12. Write notes in the margins.
13. Read selectively, varying your speed with the nature of the material. Scan,
(survey), skim, and closely read.
14. When some passage is incomprehensible, re-read it in a new way. Try
stopping after each sentence and asking what it means. If the section still
can’t be understood, mark it and return after reading further.
15. Integrate textbook material with class activities. How do they relate? If
more than one text, organizing takes time. But the shorter time to learn
and better remembering is well worth the time spent in organizing.
B. Learn how to use study guides if they are provided.
VI. Listening Tips
A. These listening tips are useful both for instructor talk and discussions.
1. Disregard distractions such as a noise and don’t let it interfere with
listening. Don’t try to listen while you are doing two or three other things
2. Immediately try to detect the central idea of what the speaker is saying.
Look for repeating, emphasis, pauses.
3. Listen along with and ahead of the speaker. Try to anticipate what she
will say next.
4. Don’t let your prejudices interfere with understanding. You may not agree
with a speaker, but try to absorb his message. At first don’t argue mentally
with what is being said. Make sure you understand before disagreeing.
5. Check out your understanding with the speaker. “Is this what you are
saying?” “I understand you to be saying…” “Is this correct? “Let me
check out with how I understand what you are saying.”
6. Accept controversy. Check your tendency to stop listening while thinking
up a smart retort. Instead plan a question based on her remarks. Not the
kind that will cut the opposition down to size, but one that will make sure
you are getting what is said.
7. Repeat instructions or introductions. Unless you can do so, you will not be
able to carry them out or remember them properly.
8. Learn to concentrate. Practice such games as “take 2 plus three, minus 5,
plus 4, time 2, minus 6-what’s the answer?”
9. Run a listening test. Listen with someone else and see how many ideas
you both recall and try to agree on a pretty specific statement of the main
ideas that were presented.
10. Evaluate the speaker’s message. Ask yourself if his information is recent,
if he is competent to speak on the subject, and if he is biased in any way
about the subject.
11. Separate out facts, hypotheses, theories, evidence, conclusions and
implications. If evidence is given, is there any evidence which would
contradict the speaker’s view point? Does she discuss opposing evidence?
Is she fair? Does she tell you how the evidence was gathered?
12. Note how speakers use authorities. Do they just quote them? Do they site
one? Do they tell who his sources are? Doe he tell who the sources are?
Do they tell how the authority arrived at their viewpoint? Do they tell you
why the authority should be believed?
13. Pick a controversial issue where you and a friend differ. Summarize what he
said. Ask to be corrected if you leave anything out, underemphasize, or distort.
Reverse the procedure.
14. Learn to ask intelligent questions. Describe what you want to know. Frame a
question which allows the speakers a chance to be creative and
communicate to you what you are interested in. Reading widely, listening
carefully and thinking will lead to your becoming interested in more topics.
15. Compliment the speaker. Make her feel important, since she is. Don’t
assume it is clear you appreciate talking with her.
B. Reflection: What are other tips you can think of? Write.
VII. Improving Class Manners
A. Do not cut classes. Research indicates persons who earn low grades tend to cut
classes much more than students with top grades.
B. Be on time. Research indicates that students who come in late have on the average
lower grades than students who are on time. Being late is also disruptive to the
rest of the class.
C. Don’t leave class early. Wait until your instructor has dismissed you.
D. Actively participate in class.
E. Don’t whisper in class.
F. Get projects in on time or earlier.
G. When you plan to see an instructor, carefully think through what you wish to say
or ask. Many students have indicated to me that making notes before coming in
H. If you wish to make criticisms about a class or instructor, do a bit of preliminary
thinking. Is the problem really his or her fault? Can you suggest a solution to the
instructor which could be tried? Try out your idea first on a couple of students to
get their reactions. Then talk to the instructor. Generally the instructor will be
more open if you bring up the problem in a conference out of class rather than
before all your classmates.
VIII. LEARNING FROM LECTURES – optional since so few lectures in
A. Before the lecture, do the following:
1. Arrive at class early and sit near the front.
2. Read any written materials related to the lecture before coming to class.
3. Review the previous lecture.
4. Use a large loose-leaf notebook. Have two pens ready to use.
5. Write on only one side of each sheet.
6. Draw a vertical line about 2½ inches from the left side.
a. Take class notes on the large right hand side.
b. Use left side for organizing notes after class.
7. Leave the first ten pages of your notebooks blank so you will have room to
keep all of the assignments in one place. Note down the date given and
what is due when. Leave blank pages at intervals so you can summarize
your notes. If you have an assignment sheet, instructors often give hints
during class of things to watch for. Record these hints at the start of your
B. During the lecture, do the following:
1. Write legibly.
2. Don't try to write everything. Write the central idea and key points.
3. Look for general ideas.
4. Identify examples, definitions, facts, theories.
5. Use a system of abbreviations. Put your system at the front of your notebook.
(E = example)
6. Skip a line to show the end of an idea.
7. Be accurate. Ask a question if you are not sure.
8. Note questions or places you are confused.
9. Be active; think along with the lecturer; anticipate.
10. Write down the significance of information.
11. Ask questions to clarify.
C. After the lecture, do the following:
1. Review your lecture notes soon after class.
2. Organize your notes into a better form the same day. Fill in the gaps, look
up confusing information, write out sections not filled in. Outline the
3. In the left column put in key phrases or words related to material on the
4. Cover the right side and recite aloud from the key phrases.
5. Organize the words and phrases from the right side of your notebook for
6. Rote recopying of class notes is usually not worth the effort. Rewording is
useful as is filling in gaps by using your textbook.
IX. TEST TAKING TIPS – Optional since there are so few tests in
A. Preparing for Tests
1. Be clear on what the test will cover. Look carefully over the learning
2. Set up a study schedule so that you will have sufficient time for review.
a. Use several sessions since they are more efficient than one long
b. Actively recall the important information learned in earlier study
sessions. Ask yourself questions and give the answers from memory.
Then check to see if you correctly remembered.
3. Attempt to predict test questions.
a. Textbook headings, notes you have made over the readings, and
lecture notes contain cues to questions which will be asked. Go
over previous test. Use study questions. Formulate essay questions,
such as “What suggestions were given for taking examinations?”
b. If possible, work with a friend making up questions and answering
c. If you are hazy on an answer, look up the correct answer and read
it. Close your book. Recall the answer. Open your book and check
to see if you were correct. At the end of your review again go over
those questions which were earlier hazy.
4. Work to make the material meaningful and organize what you know.
Meaningful material is learned faster and retained longer than material
poorly understood. Organizing information you have to remember results
in better recall for both essay and objective examinations. Attempt to gain
a perspective on what you have learned. How does this material fit into the
total course? Relate ideas to each other. Look for applications in your own
Take the information you are responsible for and boil it down to the
essentials. This process forces you to look at the big picture and essentials.
B. Test Taking Tips
1. Arrive ahead of time with all and only those materials allowed during the
testing period. Select a chair away from the door and other distractions.
2. Read the instructions very carefully and follow them. Know if guessing is
3. Look over the full test before starting. Estimate how much time you will
need for each section or for each question. In addition, make sure you
have a complete test.
4. Multiple-choice exam tips
a. Go through the exam and answer all the items you are fairly certain
about. Don’t waste time on difficult items the first time through.
You may pick up information from the remainder of the test.
b. Go back and answer questions which are now obvious.
c. If items are still left, then: don’t just guess but try and eliminate
clearly incorrect answers. If still no idea, select your impression
when you first went through the test. If no notion at all, select b or
d. Go back over exam to make sure you still agree with your previous
e. The belief that going back and changing an answer result in a
wrong answer is false.
f. Watch your time limits. Budget your time.
g. Do not read into the question.
h. Watch carefully the meaning of double negatives.
i. Make sure you are answering the right questions and making the
answer correctly on the answer sheet.
5. Short answer exam tips.
Read the question carefully, give a concise answer. Make your answer
readable. Do not include incorrect information. Do not spend a long time
on the item. You will have to remember material better than for a
6. Essay exams tips
a. Read the entire set of questions before starting to write. Start with
the question on which you feel the most qualified to write. For full
credit, you must answer the question asked and not one of your own
creation. Make at least a sketchy outline of your answer. Be as
specific and also as complete as possible. Leave space for additions
to your answers.
b. Budget your time. Allow time to re-read your answer.
c. Use the terminology of psychology in your answer.
d. Write legible using accurate spelling, grammar, and punctuation.
e. Try all questions. If you have no idea, start writing ideas on
another page and be surprised at the useful information which
f. Think. Practice before the exam writing out answers. Anticipate
questions. Review with friends and talk out answers.
(The above points come in part from Virginia Voeks, On
Becoming an Educated Person. Philadelphia, Saunders, 1964,
1970 and Whittaker, 1970, p. 275.)
7. Be sure to read the directions carefully. Directions in the essay-type test
are part of the test itself. Below is a list of key words (directions) that are
used often in this type examination. Develop an understanding of what
each word calls for.
C. After the Test
1. Look over the test and note those items you had difficulty with.
2. As soon as possible after the test, go back and look up the correct answers.
Study them until you know why they were correct.
3. Attempt to analyze whether there was any common reason why you
missed the items. For instance, you might have ignored double negatives
or written down the wrong answer.
4. If the test is returned, study carefully those items you missed. Again see if
there is a pattern. Did you incorrectly read the question? Did you attempt
to bluff when you did not know the answer? Was your organization poor?
Did you write too little? Was your answer incomplete? Did you spend too
much time on easy questions?
D. Ideas on Taking Tests
Irving McPhail in an article Why teach test wiseness? In the Journal of Reading,
October, 1981, pp. 32-38, has listed a number of ideas to use when taking tests.
Not all of the ideas apply for each kind of test, but I thought the list would be
useful. Ideas are quoted.
1. Time-using strategy
a. Begin to work as rapidly as possible with reasonable assurance of
b. Set up a schedule for progress through the test.
c. Omit or guess at items which resist a quick response.
d. Mark omitted items, or items which could use further study to
assure easy relocation.
e. Use time remaining after completion of the test to reconsider
2. Error-avoidance strategy.
a. Pay careful attention to directions, determining clearly the nature
of the task and the intended basis for response.
b. Pay careful attention to the items, determining clearly the nature of
c. Ask examiner for clarification when necessary, if it is permitted.
d. Check all answers.
3. Guessing strategy
a. Always guess if right answers only are scored.
b. Always guess if the correction for guessing is less severe than a correction
for guessing formula that gives an expected score of zero for
c. Always guess even if the usual correction or a more severe penalty for
guessing is employed, whenever elimination of options provides
sufficient change of profiting.
4. Deductive reasoning strategy
a. Eliminate options which are known to be incorrect and choose
from among the remaining options.
b. Choose neither or both of two options which imply the correctness
of each other.
c. Choose neither or one (but not both) of two statements, one of
which, if correct, would imply the incorrectness of the other.
d. Restrict choice to those options which encompass all of two or
more given statements known to be correct.
e. Utilize relevant content information in other test items and options.
(As you go through a test there are answers to later items often
from other questions and answers.)
5. Intent consideration strategy
a. Interpret and answer questions in view of previous idiosyncratic
emphases of the test constructor or in view of the test purpose.
b. Answer items as the test constructor intended.
c. Adopt the level of sophistication that is expected.
d. Consider the relevance of specific detail.
6. Cue-using strategy (I only cited some of the ideas here.) (Summarized)
a. Often correct answers are longer than wrong answers.
b. Sometimes the grammar of the sentence gives away the answer.
c. Often the correct answer is the second item.
d. Watch for key words; always, all, most, never, none – usually not
E. Improving My Performance On Tests
“I didn’t score as high on that test as I wanted to. But where do I start? Maybe I
should list possible reasons why I might have done poorly and then focus on the
ones which were true for me. Then I can think of solutions to try next time.”
“In what ways can I improve my studying and taking of tests to improve my
learning and test scores?”
1. Was I clear that a test was scheduled?
a Did I check the assignment sheet?
b. Did I check with other students?
c. Did I check with the teacher?
2. Was I clear on what would be covered and how it would be covered?
a. Was it clear what the test was going to be over in terms of reading
and class activities?
b. Was it clear what type of questions would be asked?
c. In what ways can I be better prepared next time to know what will
be on the test?
3. Do I know about good study skills? How to take tests?
a. Did I read this booklet on study skills?
b. Did I pick up any hints from students or the teacher on studying
and test taking?
4. Did I study the right things? Did I study thoroughly?
a. Did I read this assigned material?
b. Did I study and overlearn the material?
c. Did I fill out any study manuals or materials?
d. Did I review notes taken in class?
e. Did I use other study helps?
f. Did I pull together all of the above information?
g. Did I try to form questions and then write practice answers?
5. Did I put in enough time to do well?
a. Did I budget enough time for reading, making notes, outlining, and
b. Did I leave enough time to review and put the information into
long term memory?
c. Did I plan ahead so that time was available to handle unexpected
events in my life?
d. Do I need to learn how to better budget my time?
6. Were there things about the test or testing situation that pushed my
performance down? (I have to be very careful here not to put blame on
factors outside myself that I have little control over, and then conclude
that I have no ideas for improving.)
a. Was the test unfair?
1. Was the test over minor points?
2. Were the questions unclear?
3. Were the questions tricky?
4. Were the questions unexpected?
5. Was the format of the test strange?
b. Was the test situation itself a problem?
Was the test too long?
Were there distractions during the test?
Was the clock missing or were there no comments from the teacher to
alert me to the amount of time left so I could better budget my time?
Were there too many people in the room to concentrate?
Was the room too hot? cold?
7. Did I not handle the test well?
a. Did I scan over the test to see what was asked and then budget my
b. Did I freeze? Did I panic?
c. Did I give up when I saw I would not do well?
d. Did I let personal problems or concerns distract me during the test?
e. Did I let what others were doing distract me?
f. Did I get over anxious for this test because it counted so much? Was
new? Was unusual? Was so specific? Was so long? Was so
g. Did I write too much for some items and too little for others?
h. Do I get too anxious each test and not do well?
8. Did I use all of the help available to me?
a. Was I prepared for class so that I brought things to class I was
b. Did I seek help from classmates? Do I have the phone numbers of
c. Did I ask questions of the teacher before or after class?
d. Did I go to an office hour for help?
e. Did I call or email the teacher for help?
9. What are my goals?
a. Am I satisfied with just sliding by?
b. Do I want to put in the effort to do very well on tests?
c. Do I want to put in the effort to learn more than is expected?
e. Do I want to become a self-directed learner?
f. Do I want to become very competent?
X. In Conclusion
All of us can improve our learning and study skills. It is your decision. Those who chose to,
do improve. Those who decide it is not worth the effort are making a different choice.
Good luck with whichever choice you make. Don’t make it lightly. In our complex and
rapidly changing society the educated person of the future will have to be continually
XI. Sources for Additional Reading
McCay, James. The Management of Time, 1959. BF 637.T5M3.
Vocks, Virginia, On Becoming an Educated Person, 1970
See Dr. Bell’s Home Page: http://classweb.howardcc.edu/jbell/index.html for
XII. Apply Your Learning
WRITE: List your plan to improve your study skills. Be Specific. Label Apply p. 26.
Name: Date: Class:
XIII. Evaluation of Why Not Improve Your Study Skills?
Your thoughtful reactions to this booklet can help improve it. I wrote this booklet to help
students learn about improving their study skills in the hope that they would take the information
and actually improve their own study skills.
Tear out this page and turn it in to provide usefully feedback to me. Thanks. Fill in the blank or
circle the answer which is your view.
1. How much time did you spend on this booklet? If you are not sure, use your best
estimate. Circle your answer.
1 hour 2 hours 3 hours 4 hours 5 hours 6 hours 7 hours more
2. Were you clear about what this booklet was designed to do? Yes No
If no, please indicate what was unclear. Any suggestions for making things clear would
3. Do you feel confident that you know what is involved in good study skills?
a. on a systematic approach to studying Yes No
b. the use of time Yes No
c. concentration Yes No
d. studying textbooks and articles Yes No
e. listening Yes No
f. taking and preparing for test Yes No
If you answered “no” to any of the above, please help me understand your reasons.
4. Have you tried any of the suggestions from this handout? Yes No
If yes, which ones and how did they work?
5. Do you plan to try ideas from this handout? Yes No If yes, which ones and why?
6. Please rate this handout on the following dimensions. Place and X in the space which best
defines your view for each set of words. Place an X between each of the five sets of words.
“I found this booklet to be:
Interesting _____ _____ _____ _____ ______ _____ _____ boring
Difficult _____ ______ _____ _____ ______ _____ _____ easy
Relevant _____ ______ _____ _____ ______ _____ _____ irrelevant
Bad _____ ______ _____ _____ ______ _____ _____ good
Valuable _____ ______ _____ _____ ______ _____ _____ worthless
7. How would you rate this handout?
a. very poor
f. very good
8. How might this handout be improved? Be specific please.
9. Please any other comments which might be helpful to me or that you wish to make about