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Monday Master Class: 5 Bad Study Habits You Should Resolve to Avoid in 2008

December 31st, 2007 · 11 comments

Toxic Study HabitsNew Year

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.

11 thoughts on “Monday Master Class: 5 Bad Study Habits You Should Resolve to Avoid in 2008

  1. Russ says:

    I think studying without a plan is one of the most common mistakes that any student can make. They feel as though they have achieved a lot afterwards, but they could’ve done so much more. Smart studying for a shorter period of time is much more effective than general studying for long periods.

  2. Julian says:

    I wonder if the question/answer/key ideas method works in every case. Actually I can’t really apply it, because in my exams often not only the key ideas are relevant, but rather details are the core of the exam. Unfortunatly even the lectures rarely match for this technique. Maybe this is because of the structure of German courses (they probably tend to love every nut, bolt and screw sometimes). I.e. I attend the lecture “comparative politics”. And we actually go through different types of democratic (and non-democratic) systems. Look at different countries etc.. There are no real cores or big key ideas. It’s just tables, tables tables and so on. You just can’t apply this method there, at least I couldn’t find a way to do so. This leads to simple rote review. Even though I have to say, I rarely do any intense cramming or rote review (and this leads to habit #2), because if you attend class regulary there is just so much less need to cram because you memorized so much just due listening in the lecture (this premises that you don’t sleep during the lecture).

  3. Study Hacks says:

    @Julian:

    Check out this previous post:

    http://calnewport.com/blog/?p=103

    It discusses how to adapt question/evidence/conclusion for more fact-based courses.

  4. Kare says:

    Wow, I’ve never thought of the imaginary class idea before. Very good one, I’m a kinesthetic learner and I need to act/perform things to learn, thank you.

  5. lazersgopewpew says:

    I don’t know but I’ve noticed that I can concentrate better at night, I sat down the whole morning trying to get algebra into my mind (Yes I am in a school not college) and I failed this time I decided I’ll start studying when there is no one around me (Night) and in 4 nights I learned every thing in algebra except linear and simultaneous equations.

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