Monday Master Class: 5 Bad Study Habits You Should Resolve to Avoid in 2008December 31st, 2007 · 13 comments
Toxic Study Habits
I often tell students that there is no magic bullet strategy for increasing their grades. Different people have different work personalities. Some tips that work great for one person might barely make a dent for others.
Negative habits, however, are universal. There are some distressingly common mistakes made by undergraduates that will always lead to more pain and waste more time than necessary. In this year-end post — the last of 2007 — I want to help you avoid the worse of these toxic habits. Below are five terrible study habits that you should resolve to drop like, well, a bad habit, as you head into 2008.
Bad Habit #1: Studying Without a Plan
Do you still use “study” as a specific verb? For example, as in: “I’m going to go study, see you in 12 hours.” If so, you’re in trouble. “Study” is ambiguous. No one can “study.” What they can do is specific review activities, such as “convert first month of lecture notes into question/evidence/conclusion format,” or “quiz and recall study guides 1 to 3.” If you head to the library planning, vaguely, to spend time “studying,” you are likely to waste time. Instead, always first construct a specific plan that outlines specific activities.
Bad Habit #2: Skipping Classes
Do you regularly skip class? If so, and I say this with all discretion, you’re weak. Attending class is your primary responsibility as a college student. If you can’t handle this small little piece of self-control, requiring, at most, a few hours of your time a day, then how can you expect to muster the discipline required to become an efficient, engaged, high-scoring student? Beyond the general wussyness of side-stepping the lecture hall is the practical reality that every hour of missed class will require 2 – 3 hours of copying notes, bothering your friends, and reading to learn the information from scratch. Attend class. Always. Make this non-negotiable.
Bad Habit #3: Using Rote Review
Do you study by reading and re-reading your notes to yourself silently? Stop! I know it feels good, in a monkish, masochistic, pain equals progress sort of way to beat your brains against a book hour after hour, but it’s also a terribly inefficient way to review. Instead, lecture to an imaginary class, out-loud, about the main topics, without reading off your notes. If you can state an idea once, in complete sentences, out-loud, it will stick. You don’t need to re-read it a dozen times. If you can’t capture it out-loud then you don’t understand it yet. Go back. Review. Then try again.
Bad Habit #4: Studying After Midnight
Do you frequently study well past midnight? If so, and again, I say this with all discretion, then you’re an idiot. But you’re also in good company. A surprisingly large percentage of college students think the proper way to review is to wait until 10 or 11, then push through until 3 or 4. This terrible on so many levels I don’t know where to begin. So let me just sample a few high points from the abundant terribleness. First: you can’t concentrate in the middle of the night. Second: staying up that late screws you up the next day, you get sick, you can’t focus, you need naps, class becomes an ordeal, your health and fitness decrease. And so on. Work early, in small concentrated chunks. Get your work done well and fast, and leave your nights for relaxation and, dare I say it, sleep.
Bad Habit #5: Not Taking Notes on Your Reading
Do you think it’s sufficient to simply make it through your reading assignments without writing anything down? It’s not. Ideas from the reading will show up on the exam. If you don’t learn and record these ideas when you first do the assignment, then how will you be able to answer the corresponding questions on the test? Too many students think they can solve this problem by reviewing their readings right before the test. Obviously, this won’t work. The math is simple. Hundreds of pages of dense reading. A day or two review. You’re not going to make it through everything at the last minute. Treat readings like a lecture. Take concise, informative notes on the main big ideas. You don’t have to record every last fact and pore over every word. Learn to hone in on the main thesis, and capture the bullet points needed to intelligently write about it later on. When review time comes along, you should have no need to crack your books again — the notes should be sufficient for an efficient review.