This is the first in a three-chapter series on how to study effectively and efficiently. In this chapter, we will explore how to build a strong foundation for success by getting organized and setting your expectations of yourself.
Start with Getting organized
There is nothing more important than organization when it comes to studying successfully.
In fact, it is the only way that you can be sure that you are not wasting time on mindless tasks and that you are making the most of your study time by focusing on your priorities.
How to get organized
Getting organized starts with knowing what your priorities are, and in what order they need to be done.
Once you have this set, divide up your work into small chunks so that it is easier to get through all of them without feeling like it’s an overwhelming task.
For example, if your priority list was reading textbook chapter one, answering questions about chapter one from the textbook in preparation for tomorrow’s class, and reading chapter two in anticipation of Tuesday’s class, then break those three tasks down into sections that would take no longer than fifteen minutes each: read five pages of chapter one; answer five questions from chapter one; read ten pages of chapter two.
Getting organized doesn’t just happen magically.
If you are already overwhelmed with other things going on in your life or don’t know where to start, try delegating some of these things out.
Figure out what people around you can help with and ask them.
Having someone else do something that takes away some stress off of your plate will make room for focus during times when you really need to buckle down and really get serious about doing well academically.
Here are six things you need to do to get organized:
1) Establish your priorities and divide them into manageable chunks
Organization starts with knowing what your priorities are and then dividing up your work accordingly.
Make sure that you’re only doing what needs to be done at any given moment, rather than getting side-tracked.
A good idea might be to keep a timer next to your desk while you’re working so that you can stay focused and mindful of how much time has passed.
Try asking yourself is this what I should be doing right now? whenever there is a possibility that you may be spending too much time on something irrelevant.
Organization also means minimizing distractions.
Turn off notifications and other noises on your phone and computer so that you aren’t tempted to check social media or texts while trying to study.
It also means figuring out how long it will take you to complete a chunk of work before beginning it so that if you’re running late, you know what needs to be cut in order to finish on time.
When organizing isn’t enough, taking care of yourself mentally is crucial as well.
Manageability and prioritizing go hand-in-hand because if you put everything on your to-do list, you’ll never be able to figure out which tasks are most urgent.
The key is being able to quickly decide which items need attention first, which ones can wait until later, and what can be delegated to others who might be better equipped to handle the responsibility.
2) Change Your Time Habits
Getting organized requires changing your habits in regard to what time you spend on schoolwork and what is on other aspects of your life. This is difficult, but it can be achieved in time.
Start by setting a time to work and stick to that time, either early morning, midday, or evening.
At first, you will feel tired and unproductive, but eventually, your body and brain will adapt to the new schedule and you’ll find yourself getting more done in less time.
Your alarm should become your friend and you need to be prepared for the sleepiness that will come with the change in your schedule.
Stay hydrated and caffeinated, and consider listening to music if it helps.
Give yourself a reward after you get your work done for doing something that you probably wouldn’t have done otherwise (call a friend, take a nap, watch TV).
3) Establish a Daily Study Routine
In addition to time management, establishing a daily routine will ensure that you are always on track.
Remember getting organized doesn’t mean getting rid of everything you enjoy, it just means finding a way to balance all the different things going on in your life.
You want to be happy and healthy while also pursuing academic success.
There is no reason why you cannot do both, but not when they are pulling against each other instead of supporting one another.
The key is having a routine that you follow on a day-to-day basis and is tailored to your personal needs.
Figure out what your optimal time of day is, and make that your time for schoolwork.
If you happen to be more productive in the afternoon, don’t try to force yourself into the mornings.
Some people like to work on weekends or during their lunch break, and that’s fine, as long as it fits in with the rest of their routine.
And once again, prioritize what matters most and plan accordingly.
4) Get the most out of your time.
Many students are not using their time wisely, and often wish that they had more hours in a day to accomplish what needs to be done.
While it is important to set aside time for activities outside of school, it is also necessary to utilize your time productively and efficiently.
- Is this task really worth the amount of time I’m putting into it?
- Can I finish faster or with less effort if I focus on other priorities?
- Can I delegate this task to someone else? Am I focusing too much on grades rather than learning the material?
- Am I procrastinating because I am bored with what we’re studying?
- Do you know which tasks tend to require more time than others so that you can allocate your time accordingly?
5) Practice Accountability
Being accountable will go a long way in getting you organized and motivated.
To stay accountable, you can join an online study group where you can post updates about your progress and ask questions to receive feedback from other students who are at the same level as you.
Not only does this help you keep up with your studies, but it also gives you a chance to collaborate with peers and meet people who share similar interests.
Another technique to improve your accountability is to start a blog.
Blogging will give you a record of your progression in school, it will motivate you to continue writing and allow you to reflect on what has been working for you.
Now that you have got yourself organized, it is time to set goals.
You want to make sure that your goals are realistic, specific, and measurable. It is also important to identify what you will do when you do not meet your goals so there is accountability for your actions.
Goal setting can be difficult because we all have different priorities, interests, and commitments in our lives.
But if you take the time to really think about your situation and plan accordingly, goal-setting can be an incredibly rewarding experience.
Remember that this process of goal-setting is not something that has a definite endpoint.
Your study goals may change over time as life circumstances change.
For example, if you are trying to prepare for a test but find out that the test has been cancelled, then you may need to adjust your plans and re-evaluate your goals.
If you find out that an assignment is due two days earlier than expected, then you would need to quickly evaluate how much more work you could get done during those two days or whether it would be worth extending deadlines on other assignments in order to get the assignment done on time.
Study Plan Goals
Before starting any type of study plan, it’s important to first have clear goals.
These can either be specific tasks such as reading x number of chapters or general ones like improving comprehension skills; however, they should never conflict with one another.
For example, if your goal is to learn a foreign language then you probably shouldn’t add improving comprehension skills onto the same list.
Your goals should be SMART, which is an acronym that stands for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound.
Goals that follow these guidelines are much more likely to be achieved than those that don’t; however, it’s important to keep your goals flexible enough that you can change them if need be.
As long as you’re able to maintain an idea of where you’re going, there should be no problem continuing your progress.
What are examples of SMART study goals?
Study goals can vary greatly depending on who you are and what stage of college you’re in.
Some common objectives are to read x number of pages from the book assigned, improve vocabulary skills, master multiplication facts up to 12×12 and review notes from past lectures.
The key is to make sure your study goals fit into the context of your degree program, interests and life outside school.
Here are examples of SMART student goals to get you started :
- Master addition, subtraction, division and mixed operations up to 12×12 by the end of this semester.
- Improve my retention rate by reviewing my notes from previous lectures before class starts in the morning.
- Learn French during my free time this summer and use what I’ve learned in my classes next year.
- Read x amount of chapters per week for every textbook I’m assigned this semester.
- Give presentations about historical figures I’ve learned about throughout the course of the year.
- In two weeks, I will give presentations on Leonardo Da Vinci and Marie Curie, both Nobel Prize Winners in science. Next semester, I would like to give a presentation on George Washington Carver, the inventor of hundreds of products including rubber tires, glue and linoleum.
- Study for tests using flashcards and by the end of the semester, take a practice test to see what areas I am weakest in
- Each day, I will spend 30 minutes on homework, 15 minutes on reading and 10 minutes watching TV/going online/talking to friends.
Hone Your Visual and Audio Skills
Effective studying necessarily requires both listening and visual skills.
When your instructor talks, you should be taking notes or using your pen or pencil to draw diagrams on the page.
You should also be watching the professor’s facial expressions, gestures, and movements in order to gather meaning from his or her lecture.
On the other hand, when you are reading something that isn’t a transcript of what was said aloud, it is important that you visualize what is being described by observing images and drawings rather than simply reading text.
What Visual Skills do I need to Study Effectively ?
Visual skills are equally as important as auditory skills when trying to study effectively.
Whether you are writing down what is being said or drawing out diagrams while someone else is speaking, it’s crucial that you use all five senses to take in all the information possible.
For example, if your textbook has pictures alongside written passages, try looking at the pictures first before reading through any text.
The most important visual skills necessary for effective study are reading comprehension and visualization.
Reading comprehension refers to understanding what words and phrases mean when they are put together into sentences.
It is essential that students not only understand every word but also how they relate together in order to comprehend the full passage.
Visualization can help with this process because it allows people to see the world around them even if it doesn’t exist.
A person who can picture themselves sitting at a table eating lunch will have no trouble imagining what a written sentence like I am going to go eat lunch now would look like.
Visualization skills are especially useful when reading abstract passages because they allow readers to create their own mental image of whatever is being talked about so that they can fill in the gaps in their understanding with their imagination.
What listening and audio skills do I need to study effectively?
There are two types of auditory skills: receptive and productive.
Receptive skills include the ability to hear something properly and remember it after some time has passed without having to re-read it again.
Productive skills involve actively producing sounds such as speech, music, etc.
Auditory learners tend to find productive skills more helpful in learning new things because they get immediate feedback on whether or not they have done something right whereas receptive skill learning relies heavily on self-assessment abilities.
However, receptive skills are still very important in an academic setting because many professors speak far too quickly for productive speakers to keep up and may rely on certain terminology that is impossible to produce vocally.
Also, note-taking relies heavily on auditory comprehension which makes note-takers one of the most visually focused groups among all visual, auditory, and mixed learners.
If you are a note taker, make sure that you are taking detailed and complete notes, and not just hastily scribbling words on the paper. If you cannot follow what is being said or read, then you will not be able to adequately explain it in the future.
Listening skills are important when it comes to understanding what is being said.
The most important listening skills necessary for study are listening comprehension and auditory discrimination.
Listening comprehension is a person’s ability to hear something, recognize it as being said, and understand what is being communicated.
Students who are not skilled listeners might not be able to discern the difference between words that sound alike, such as door and dare. This could lead to confusion when reading or listening later on in the semester.
Another listening skill that is important for studying is auditory discrimination, which is a person’s ability to hear something, recognize it as being said, and distinguish it from similar sounding words.
In college, classes often focus on difficult or unfamiliar terms that can be easily confused.
Someone who lacks auditory discrimination skills may not be able to tell the difference between words that are different in spelling but similar in sound, such as spoken and drown.
When a student is in a lecture or a seminar and the professor is using terms that are unfamiliar to the student, it can be confusing for that student to figure out what is being said because they don’t know what words are being used.
When there is more than one person talking, auditory discrimination skills become even more important because it becomes hard to know when you should stop listening and start paying attention to another speaker.
How to Improve Listening Skills
Listening is an activity that takes place on three levels: attention, understanding and remembering information received.
These levels correspond to different parts of the listening process, which can be improved by following these guidelines:
To improve your attention level, try counting backwards from 100.
Chances are you’ll notice your mind wandering off before reaching 30.
Paying close attention to your surroundings requires concentration and effort, which doesn’t come naturally to everyone.
Try practising this exercise several times throughout the day to sharpen your concentration.
Don’t worry about how long it takes to reach 100 or if you’ve reached it correctly; just continue until you notice yourself getting tired or bored with the task at hand.
You’ll also be exercising your brain to help it work faster.
This is the easiest of the three levels to practice.
One of the best ways to understand what someone is saying is to paraphrase what you think you heard them say in your own words and ask for clarification.
This way, you’re not only thinking critically and listening carefully, but you are also clarifying any misunderstandings that occurred while listening.
Asking questions during class time can feel embarrassing, but make sure you do it anyway! It will only serve to better prepare you for tests and quizzes.
Asking a question during class is also more beneficial than writing down notes that are unclear.
When people take notes while listening, they tend to write things down word-for-word without taking the time to really digest what’s being said.
The result? Notes full of filler words like you know and stuff.
Ask questions when necessary!
By asking questions during lectures, you show that you are interested in learning new material and are willing to go the extra mile.
Not only does asking questions give students a chance to clarify concepts covered in class, but it also provides opportunities for teachers to correct misconceptions students may have about certain topics.
This is where most of us struggle.
There are many techniques available to aid in memorization.
In order to remember something, it must first be encoded into memory and then stored there.
Brain imaging studies have shown that some memories seem sticky because they remain active over time and appear as bright spots on a PET scan.
Some memories are encoded through rote repetition, others through visual imagery.
For studying purposes, remembering involves encoding and storing information so you can retrieve it later.
To be effective consider using the same encoding technique used to remember something to store the information you want to retain.
For example, if you use flashcards to learn vocabulary, create flashcards for studying. If you repeat the vocabulary out loud, repeat important facts out loud.
Know the necessary study resources
Before you start working on your classes, you need to know what resources are available.
For example, if you are taking online classes and will be studying with textbooks, it is important that you buy them ahead of time so that when classes start and professors give due dates for homework assignments, research papers, etc., you do not have to worry about running around looking for resources.
Here is a list of resources you should familiarize yourself with:
The class syllabus will give you an overview of what topics will be covered throughout your course.
This is especially important if you are taking online classes because it will give you an idea of how much time you need to dedicate to each subject and whether or not there are any special assignments that may require more time than others.
The syllabus should also include information about when the due dates for homework, projects, tests, etc., are so that you can make sure you have enough time to complete them before they are due.
For example, if one assignment has a due date during finals week, you might want to ask your professor if it can be pushed back so that you do not have too many things due at once.
Class readings and Textbooks
Textbooks are an essential resource for all students, regardless of major or course level.
While some schools offer access to textbooks online through their library systems, most still rely on students buying their own copies.
So it is important to familiarize yourself with which books you will need as soon as possible so that you can purchase them ahead of time.
If your school does not have textbooks available online and you know what classes you will be taking next semester, it is also a good idea to start looking for used copies early because they tend to sell out quickly.
Other class readings may include handouts from lectures, articles, etc., but these resources should always be readily available at your campus library.
The course schedule will tell you when and where each class is held.
This information is especially helpful if you plan on attending lectures regularly because it will let you know when and where each one takes place. This is also important if your classes are at different times or locations, as you may need to adjust your schedule accordingly.
The schedule al should also include any special events that will be taking place throughout your semester, such as guest speakers, field trips, etc., which may require additional time outside of class.
If you are taking online courses, you should familiarize yourself with any online resources that are available for students so that you can take full advantage of them during your studies.
For example, many schools have discussion boards or other forums where students can ask questions about assignments and topics covered in lectures.
You might also want to look into whether or not there is an online tutoring center on campus because these centers often offer free tutoring sessions through email, phone calls, etc., which can be helpful if you get stuck on a particular assignment.
There are numerous writing tools that you can leverage to study effectively in college.
Take the time to familiarize yourself with these tools so that you know how to use them when it comes time for an assignment.
For example, if your school offers online tutoring or even just free office hours through email, phone calls, etc., you should familiarize yourself with how these services work ahead of time so that if something comes up during finals week and you need extra help, it will be easy for you to reach out and get assistance without having to go through too much trouble.
Grammarly is another great tool because it checks spelling and grammar as you type. This is especially helpful if English is not your first language because sometimes people who speak English as a second language make mistakes that native speakers do not notice (e.g., saying you are instead of you’re).
The last thing you want to do is turn in assignments with grammatical errors, which can lower your grade on assignments significantly.