Studying Effectively

When you sit down to study, do you find that your attention is easily distracted by other tasks? Do you find it challenging to take good notes? Perhaps you find yourself rereading the same information over and over without learning anything new. At exam time, are you always cramming? If this happens to you often, then take some time to find out more about how to study effectively, so you can make your study time more productive. Check out the following resource to find out about the process of learning.

Click here for a readable script of The Learning Process.


Further Suggestions for How to Study Effectively

  1. Be an active learner. As a post-secondary student, it is essential that you develop the ability to think and learn independently. If you are an online learner, it is perhaps even more important to develop effective study habits because much of the coursework is done on your own, and the instructor may not remind you of upcoming readings, assignments and exams. Now more than ever, it is important to be an active learner. This means you should do the following:

    • Take notes when you read something
    • Review what you learned at the end of each week
    • Contact the instructor for assistance
    • Use strategies to make you feel more involved or connected to the topics. For instance, if the course has an online discussion board, check the postings often and submit comments frequently. If you meet face to face with your class, try to participate in class discussions or group activities
    • Highlight sections in the textbook or readings that:
      • present key points
      • raise issues or concerns
      • relate to ideas from your other courses
      • are difficult to understand
      • are important to review
      • answer your questions about the topic
  2. Plan Your Learning. It is important to plan time for studying each week. Failure to plan your study time increases the likelihood that you will procrastinate or fall behind in your studies. Here are a few ideas to keep in mind as you make your study plan:

    Plan what you will study at different times in your week

      Be as specific as possible about what you will study, including the subject, the activity, and your goal. This will make it easier to know if you are using your study time effectively.

      For instance, you could plan to study the behavioural characteristics of children with autism from your psychology class. At the end of the study session, you could quiz yourself to list and describe these characteristics. If you can do this, you will know that the study plan worked and that you met your goals.

    Plan to study in shorter sessions

      They are more effective than longer sessions. This is especially true when you need to memorize new vocabulary and terms.

      For example, if you were reading the book, Thinking in Pictures: My Life with Autism, and needed to memorize the 14 parts of the brain and their functions, it would be more effective to study in three short study sessions rather than one long session. The book discusses 14 different parts of the brain. At first glance, the list looks very large.

      To make the learning task manageable, it is helpful to break this study task down.

      Session 1: Study the reticular formation, sensory strip, brain stem, motor strip and parietal lobe and their functions.

      Session 2: Begin by reviewing the concepts from session 1 for about five minutes. Then study the new materials and learn about the thalamus, occipital lobe, cerebellum and amygdale.

      Session 3: Spend the first 10 minutes studying the information from sessions 1 and 2. Next, move on to the new information and study the frontal lobe, limbic system, corpus callosum, temporal lobe and cerebral cortex.

      By the end of the third session, you should be familiar with all 14 different parts of the brain. Continue to review regularly to maintain your knowledge.

    Find an effective study location

      It is best to have a place that is focussed and free from distractions. Plan to keep your study materials together so you don't waste time looking for your supplies.

    Prioritize your activities

      Keep a list of upcoming assignments and quizzes. This will help you prioritize what to study. It will also help you prepare for peak periods, like midterms and finals. Keep this list in the calendar of your learning management system or in your agenda. Add reminders and notifications a week or so before an assignment or exam, so you have time to prepare.

    Keep track of weekly and monthly deadlines

      This may be done using either electronic or written day timers.

    Study at your “best” time

      When identifying study periods, try to choose the times of day when your concentration level is highest.  If you are a night owl, don’t schedule study times for the early mornings.

    Study the materials that you find most difficult first

      When your concentration level is highest, you will be better able to focus on complex material. Save the easier materials for later. You’ll want to tackle the hardest tasks when you are feeling more alert and fresh. The easier ones will probably require less concentration and effort from you, so they can probably be accomplished with less difficulty later on.

    Use your course outline and module outcomes as a study guide

      The purpose of the outline and module outcomes is to give you an overview of the course. The modules are the main topics; if you organize your study session around these, you will cover all the main topics.


  3. Avoid Common Pitfalls. Although it may take some practice before you become good at using effective study strategies, the alternative is worse - you may waste time following unproductive study habits you have developed over the years. In fact, there may be times when you have fooled yourself into thinking you are studying when you have actually been wasting a lot of time. Look at the following statements to identify things you might be doing that squander your study time.

    Click here for an "Avoid Common Pitfalls" document that will work with text-to-speech software.