Study Hacks Blog Decoding Patterns of Success

Q & A: Recording Lectures, Dealing with Definitions, and Spreading the Good Word

November 21st, 2007 · 5 comments

Have a happy Thanksgiving! Because of the holiday, I’ll be skipping the usual Friday post to aid my postprandial recovery. I’ll be back in action on Monday.

From the reader mailbag:Questions and Answers

What are your thoughts on recording lectures?

Cal responds:

A waste of time. The motivating principle of the Straight-A method is to minimize the time spent studying. Reviewing tape would egregiously violate this philosophy. Instead, upgrade your note-taking skills until they can keep up with the professor. Here are some tips to help in this effort:

  1. Take notes on a laptop. You type faster than you write.
  2. Don’t transcribe. Instead, attempt to capture the big ideas with lists of evidence to support the ideas. You don’t have to capture everything (see here for more detail).
  3. Take advantage of lulls. When the professor digresses, or answers a question, dump the backlog from your short-term memory onto the page.
  4. Ask questions when lost. Forcing the professor to clarify gives you room to catch up.
  5. Spend five minutes after class cleaning things up. This is the instant-replay strategy from last week’s Monday Master Class.

The same reader also asks:

In Straight-A you say note cards are best for things like dates, artists, and formulas. I was wondering if this holds true for definitions? Or should the definitions be handled in your regular notes?

Cal responds:

Definitions are a perfect fit for flash cards. As with all flash card based studying, isolate this work from the rest of your review. Do it in little chunks spread over a long period of time. A personal favorite of mine is taking advantage of commercial breaks in TV shows to get up to speed.

Another reader writes:

I am a huge fan, and I have implemented your techniques in my academic life. This does, however, come with several consequences: I’m kicking ass in my environmental science class (for my major) and other people are beginning to notice this. The average grade is a C, C- in the class, and I have a solid A; so with the midterm coming up, how do I teach the Straight-A method to my classmates? In other words, if I’m sharing the Straight-A gospel, what do I start with?

Cal responds:

Your best bet is to buy each of your friends a copy of my book. In fact, why stop at one copy? I suggest buying them, and, perhaps, also their extended families, a new copy every day for a few months — just to get the acclimatized.

If this fails, you might try sending them to this blog. The key is to describe it as “advice to reduce study time,” and not as “advice to increase your grades.” Students tend to associate getting better grades with doing more work, and this will lead them to get defensive and name a million reasons why their schedule sucks. Reducing work, however, sounds quite appealing. Once they see their stress begin to fall and their grades begin to rise, they’ll be hooked. At this point, they can move on to Straight-A and How to Win to get more serious about revamping their habits.

5 thoughts on “Q & A: Recording Lectures, Dealing with Definitions, and Spreading the Good Word

  1. Justino says:

    Beginning This fall I have transtitioned to taking all my notes on the computer. The only problem I have encountered so far is that I have not yet figured out an effective strategy to take notes on books. I am in my senior year but am taking Graduate level history seminars where the reding load is heavy. I have found it distracting and challening to stop every so often to take notes on my computer and then go back to where I was in the book. It ends up becoming a time consupming process and/or distracting me from getting into the reading. I would really like to hear any ideas people have on this as it is a pain to have one set of notes in a notebook and the other on my laptop. the last thing I want to do is waste time typing up nots from a notebook if I could figure out an efficient way to avoid it. Any advice on this?

  2. Study Hacks says:

    Successful strategies can vary depending on the subject matter. The approach I described in my most recent book was as follows:
    (1) Identify the question being asked and the conclusion reached. record these on your computer.
    (2) Read the article. As you progress, make check marks in the margins when you encounter interesting evidence or arguments (don’t break stride).
    (3) When done, go back to the check marks, and record a quick description or note on your computer for the most important ones.

    They key from this approach is two-fold. First, you can read without interruption. Second, it puts more focus on the important comprehension (the main argument) and less on the individual bits of evidence.

  3. jane says:

    What about using flashcards for learning equations and constants? Do you have any ideas for studying engineering and physics? I’ve been having a little trouble. Anything to improve.

  4. Mercy says:

    what if none of my professors allow laptops in the classroom?

  5. Sara says:

    Thanks for the advice. I like recording, it works very well for me, because you can re-play the lecture even when relaxing and having closed eyes, or doing some manual activity and that way you actually study even without knowing :).

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