Academic Support - Study Skills

Characteristics of a Successful Student

Many students new to college do not know what it takes to be successful in the college environment. They understand good and bad grades in a general way, and they sense that they should attend classes, but that is where their knowledge begins and ends.

Most instructors know what a good student is – and is not. For one thing, a good student is not necessarily the most intelligent individual in the class.

The following is a list of some characteristics of good students. This list is a description of what a hard-working student does and what a teacher likes to see. By learning these characteristics, you may better understand the day-to-day and class-to-class behavior of successful students.

The idea is to provide you with guidelines you can follow which will help you get down to the business of becoming a serious, successful student.

  • Successful students attend classes regularly. They are on time. They listen and train themselves to pay attention. If they miss a session, they feel obligated to let the instructor know why before class begins, if possible, and their excuses are legitimate and reasonable. They make sure they get all missed assignments (by contacting the instructor or another student), and understand specifically what was covered in class. Successful students take responsibility for themselves and their actions.
  • Successful students take advantage of extra credit opportunities when offered. They demonstrate that they care about their grades and are willing to work to improve them. They often do the optional (and frequently challenging) assignments that many students avoid.
  • Successful students are attentive in class. They don’t talk, read, or stare out windows. In other words, they are polite and respectful, even if they get a little bored. They also participate in class even if their attempts are a bit clumsy and difficult. They ask questions that the instructor knows many other students may also have.
  • Successful students see their instructors before or after class or during office hours about grades, comments on their papers, and upcoming tests. Successful students end up at their instructor’s office door at least once during the semester. They’ll go out of their way to find the instructor and engage in meaningful conversation. These students demonstrate to the instructor that they are active participants in the learning process and that they take the job of being a student seriously.
  • Successful students turn in assignments that look neat and sharp. They take the time to produce a final product that looks good, and reflects of a care and pride in their work. Successful students seem driven to complete their assignments. All work and assignments are turned in, even if some of their responses are not brilliant.

Motivation and Goal Setting

Visualize Success


You are your own best motivator. Your motivation must come from within yourself. Others may try to encourage you, but you are the only one who can attain what you desire. You must convince yourself – you can! 

Success comes in cans! 

Throughout your college years you will have to make many choices; view these choices as opportunities. Don’t allow yourself to be burden with problems; they are really only challenges. Train yourself from the start to put your time and energy into finding solutions to your challenges, not in complaining. You must adjust your attitude and retrain your thought process. 

Start with surrounding yourself with positive people. They will encourage and nurture you. Stay away from negative people because they will discourage you and sabotage your dreams and goals. 

You need to hold yourself accountable. Write a letter of intent to yourself, date it, and sign it. Put this letter some place where you will see it everyday. Go to a friend or fellow student and make a commitment to each other. It helps to be accountable to someone else. 

If you develop your dreams into goals, and your goals into realities, then your realities will become your successes! 

Goal Setting 

Goals provide direction in your life and nurture your motivation Goals are like road maps; they get you from one point to another. Goals provide the direction you need to reach your destination, the motivation to sustain you on your trip, and a way to measure your progress. The best way to get results is to plan for the future, but live one day at a time.

Think about the future. How do you define success? What makes you happy? What drives you? What makes you get out of bed in the morning? Does success mean family, money, security, prestige, to help others, improve the environment, solve problems, a career, a degree? Whatever you decide, the key is to strengthen your will to succeed. To succeed, strengthen your will – to strengthen your will, succeed. This sounds circular, and it is – it is a positive feedback loop. 

To get this positive feedback loop started, develop a long-term plan. Where do you want to be 3-5 years from now? What do you want to be doing? Where do you want to live? What kind of vacations do you want to take? What is your house going to look like? What kind of car will you be driving? What color will the car be? 

Get very specific with your dreams and your plans. If your dreams are specific, your goals will be specific. Never ask yourself the questions – “What if”, or “What would happen if”. Make the questions a positive affirmation of what you will do! 

Prioritize your goals – what is the most important goal for you and what is the first thing you need to do to start towards that goal? Then plan backwards in time and outline the major steps it will take for you to arrive at that future destination. 

Once you have the big picture, break your outline into individual, short-term goals. Short -term goals should range from daily goals to one-year goals, midterm goals should range from 2-3 years, and long term goals are up to 5 years. 

Make your list very specific and realistic. You want to be successful in reaching your goals, but at the same time, these goals should challenge you. At the end of each day reward yourself and strengthen your resolve for tomorrow. 

Some Suggested Goals:

    • Be a Life Long Learner
      We live in exciting and interesting times. We live at the crossroads of revolutions in electronic technology, genetic engineering, and international economics. The only certainty in life is change, opportunity for some, and future shock for others.

      Education is the door to opportunity. Your most valuable asset and skill in life as well as in the market place is your ability to learn and to apply this knowledge.

    • Clarify Educational Plans
      If you have declared a major, great! If not, do not worry – it is okay. Many students are unsure of their major until they are about halfway through college. If you don’t know what you want to major in, then research various careers, talk to counselors, visit businesses, and/or interview people already working in the fields you are interested in.
  • Become an Efficient, Successful Student
    No matter what your goals are, work at maximum efficiency. Be a student who works smarter as well as harder.

Twelve Steps for Effective Studying

Studying effectively is a process, not an event. The process leads to success. 

    1. Plan a definite time for studying every day. This will discourage procrastination and prevent a pile-up of work. Studying every day, even for a short period of time, keeps you from falling behind. Prioritize your list and begin completing the most difficult material first.
    2. Know the purpose of and understand each assignment before leaving class. If you understand what to do and how to do it, your study time will be shortened. Keep a record of all assignments in a special section of your notebook or on a separate calendar.
    3. Predicting the amount of time you need for each assignment causes you to work smarter as well as harder and more productively. By keeping track of the actual amount of time you spend on your assignments, you are more likely to concentrate and less likely to become bored.
    4. Time yourself to see how long it takes you to read five pages of your textbook. This will help you determine the amount of time needed to complete a reading assignment. Because a textbook is loaded with information, you may have to read some sections more than once. Even instructors have to reread material. Allow time for reflecting and thinking about what you have read.
    5. Reading assignments are usually completed and due prior to the instructor lecturing on the material. Take a little time before class to review the material so you are ready to participate in class discussions and are prepared for any quizzes.
    6. Adopt a textbook reading strategy, (like SQ4R), or whatever works for you. Pay attention to charts, diagrams, and special “boxed text” areas. They are definite aids to understanding the material.
    7. Every time you study, spend at least ten minutes reviewing the material from your previous study session. These “refresher shots” are part of the secret for long-term memory retention. This habit of frequent review also results in less time needed for studying prior to a major exam.

Know the percentages! We retain:

      • 10% of what we read
      • 20% of what you hear
      • 30% of what we see
      • 50% of what we see and hear
      • 70% of what we talk about with others
      • 80% of what we experience personally
      • 95% of what we teach to others
  1. Study during the day. You are probably less efficient at night.
  2. Study for 30 to 40 minutes and then take a 5-minute break, or if your concentration and discipline will allow, study for 50 minutes and take a 10-minute break. Get up walk around, stretch, drink some water, or eat a light snack. Taking regular breaks refreshes your mind so you can concentrate better, finish faster, and retain more.
  3. If you do study at night set a “stopping time” for yourself. This “time frame” will encourage hard work in anticipation of the clock going off. You may even set a goal for yourself to complete an assignment before the time limit. This increased impetus may help you to concentrate.
  4. Do not cram the night before a test. Distribute your review in half-hour segments over a period of days. If you do not adopt a structured study schedule, you will not master required course material and you will set yourself up to fail.
  5. Learning is accumulative. New ideas must be incorporated with previous material from lectures, readings, and any other assignments such as labs. You have to continuously make the connection in your mind from new material to previously learned material and/or experiences. Putting it all together is easier if you schedule time daily to read, to think, to write, to reflect, and to review.

Improved learning is the natural result of this 12 Step approach to studying and effectively using your time.

Not having enough time to study means you lack organization, so by managing your time, you have control over your life and a chance to do more of what you want to do.

Be proud of what you can achieve through daily accomplishments!

Time Management

The foundation for success!

You have a task or a goal you want to accomplish. This could be a single task or a number of tasks that you need to take care of in a day or over a period of a few days. Without a structured approach to these tasks you would be like a car spinning its tires on an icy road; there’s a lot of effort being put into reaching a destination, but the vehicle, you, is virtually stuck in the same spot wasting gas. 

To achieve your destination you must take all the known obstacles and conditions into consideration. Allowances must also be made for the possibility of unknown conditions that will ultimately arise. The best method or “plan” most successful in accomplishing goals is “time management”. 

Time management is the appropriate use of and structuring of your time in order for you to maximize your time. If you learn how to maximize your time, you will have ample time to successfully accomplish everything you need to and want to accomplish. Accomplishments don’t just happen; they are carefully planned for. 

Professionals from all walks of life have written volumes on what are the best approaches to managing your time. In every author’s rendition there is one unanimous absolute rule – you must use a calendar on which to write a detailed, prioritized schedule. 

For every author, there are that many views on what type of calendar you should use. The important issue here is for you to use any kind of calendar you feel comfortable with, and one that will allow you to view a complete day on one page and enough room on that page to write concise directions. 

Before going on this journey into the realm of time management, take a few minutes and complete the “Study Behavior Inventory”. Knowing where you are right now in your approach to your studying will enable you to design a workable schedule. 

This assessment is just that, an assessment, not a test. You are simply to answer “yes” or “no,” but your answers must be honest. This is for your benefit and no one else’s. Once you have finished, return to this page and continue with the next paragraph. 

It’s good to take a look at yourself once in a while!

How many questions did you answer yes? How many no? Research indicates that the most effective and successful college students answer no to all 25 questions (Brown, 1977). It may be helpful as you think about your study behavior to review those items that you answered yes. You might want to ask yourself how those particular behaviors affect your study effectiveness.What does this have to do with “time management?” 

As you probably noticed, there were a number of questions dealing with time, place, and amount of work accomplished. These are directly related to how you manage and spend your time. 

If you are spending a lot of time accomplishing very little, maybe you are day-dreaming too much, and not concentrating on the task at hand. If this is the case, you are wasting time. 

Time is like money, once it’s spent, it’s gone, – you won’t have any more until next pay day, or in this case when the sun comes up. If you find you are not able to get very far when studying, then maybe you are not allowing for enough time. 

So you see, it is a combination of many aspects all of which revolve around time; the amount of time you spend, when you spend it, where you spend it, and how you spend it.

Keep this next statement in the forefront of your mind: A procrastinator spends twice as much time and energy accomplishing half as much as someone who organizes his/her time. 

Does getting organized involve work? YES! What does it take to get organized? It takes discipline, dedication, drive, determination, desire, practice, and a lot of patience and consistency. These attributes are the elements of success that can neither be given to you nor done for you by someone else. 

To become an efficient and effective manager of your time, you need to become efficient and effective with the process. You have the ability to perform all these attributes – you just need to DO IT! 

Having your time and life organized is similar to organizing for a trip. Remember two people can take different roads and arrive at the same destination at approximately the same time. The differences between the two trips are the scenery’s, the road conditions, and how fast they each had to drive to reach the same conclusion. 

Personally I prefer to take a well paved, smooth road, admiring fantastic scenery, and have planned well enough in advance to take a leisurely trip. What kind of road are you traveling? 

Listening and Note Taking

Anything done well is the result of persistency, consistency, and practice!

Hearing is a spontaneous act. Listening, by contrast, is something you choose to do. Listening requires you not only to hear what has been said but to understand as well. Understanding requires three activities:

  • dynamic listening
  • paying attention
  • concentration

The best way to concentrate is to start with anticipation. Review your notes from the last lecture and make sure you go to class having read the assigned material. Use this method to cultivate a mindset that is needed for 100% concentration during a lecture.

Be a comprehensive listener! Comprehensive listening has to do with the feedback between speaker and listener. The speaker has an obligation to make his/her words comprehensible to the listener. The listener, in turn, must let the speaker know when he/she dose not understand. 

Both parties must make a conscious effort to accept their individual responsibilities. You may think this is a 50/50 proposition, which in part it is; however, both parties must be willing to give a 100% for effective listening comprehension to be achieved.

The best way for you to let the speaker know that you don’t understand is to ask questions. A surprising number of students are too embarrassed to ask questions. The only dumb question is the one that goes unasked.

Twelve Guidelines to Effective Listening:

  • Sit where the instructor will always see you, preferably in the front.
  • Pay attention to content, not the lecturer’s appearance or distracting habits. Judge the material, not the delivery.
  • Put aside emotional concerns. If you disagree with what is being said, hold your judgment or fire until after class, then see the instructor.
  • Find areas of interest; listen for ideas, not just facts, and words; put new ideas to work during the lecture by using your imagination.
  • Intend to get down a good written record of the lecture material; be a flexible note taker.
  • Listen for new rods and watch for signals of important information; listen for examples the instructor provides to define or illustrate main ideas. Note these examples with “EX” in your notes or textbook.
  • Read in advance about the topics to be announced in class and relate them to something you care about.
  • Exercise your mind with challenging material; keep your mind open even if you hear emotional words.
  • Be prepared to ask questions in class. Use facial expressions to let the instructor know that you don’t understand an idea completely or you would like the information repeated.
  • Don’t stop listening or taking notes during announced periods or toward the end of the lecture until the instructor concludes.
  • Work at listening instead of pretending to listen.
  • Resist external distractions such as someone coming in late to class, a pager going off, maintenance mowing the grass, other students talking.

Taking Good Notes:

Learning to take notes effectively will help you improve your study and work habits and to remember important information. Often, students are deceived into thinking that because they understand everything that is said in class, they will therefore remember it.

As you take lecture notes and make notes from your textbook, you will develop the skills of selecting important material and disregarding unimportant material. The main secret to developing these skills is practice. 

Check your results constantly. Strive to improve. Notes help you to retain important facts and data and to develop an accurate means of recording and arranging necessary information.

Here are some hints on note making:

  • Don’t write down everything you read or hear. Be alert and attentive to the main points. Concentrate on the “meat” of the subject and forget the trimmings.
  • Notes should consist of key words or very short sentences. As a speaker gets sidetracked, it is often possible to go back and add further information.
  • Take accurate notes. You should use your own words, but try not to change the meaning. If you quote directly from the author, quote correctly.
  • Think a minute about the material before you start making notes. Don’t take notes just to be taking notes! Take notes that will be of real value to you when you review them at a later date.
  • Have a uniform system for punctuation and abbreviation that will make sense to you. Use a skeleton outline that shows importance by indenting. Leave lots of white space for later additions.
  • Omit descriptions and full explanations. Keep your notes short and to the point. Condense your materials so you can grasp the main points rapidly.
  • Don’t worry about missing a point. Leave space and pick up the material you missed at a later date, either through reading, questioning, common sense, or looking at a classmate’s notes.
  • Don’t keep notes on oddly shaped pieces of paper. Keep notes in order and in one place. A three-ringed or spiral notebook is preferred.
  • Shortly after taking your lecture notes or making textbook notes, go back and edit (not copy) your notes by adding extra points, spelling out unclear items, etc. Remember, we forget rapidly. Budget time for this vital step just as you do for the class itself.
  • Review your notes periodically; three types of review are daily, weekly, and a major review just before a test. This is the only way to achieve lasting memory.

Lecture Notes:

There are many note-taking techniques available to help you become a more efficient note-taker. The following are two very good examples. The first example deals with taking good lecture notes and the second with textbook notes.

The notes you take in class are really a hand written textbook. In many instances, your lecture notes are more practical, meaningful and more current than a textbook. If you keep them neat, complete, and well organized they’ll serve you splendidly.

The Cornell System of taking lecture notes is a prime example:

The keystone of this system is a two-column note sheet. Use 8 1/2 by 11 paper to create the note sheet. Down the left side, draw a vertical line 2 1/2 inches from the edge of the paper. End this line 2 inches above the bottom of the paper. Draw a horizontal line across the bottom of the paper 2 inches above the paper’s edge. In the narrow (2 1/2″) column on the left side, you will write cue words or questions. In the wide (6″) column on the right, you will write the lecture notes. In the space at the bottom of the sheet, you will summarize your notes.

NOTE: You can use this system if you use lined notebook paper too. Disregard the red vertical line and make your own line 2 1/2″ from the left edge of the paper.

Textbook Notes:

The second example of efficient note taking deals specifically with taking textbook notes and preparing for exams. The Soprano Study/Reading Technique involves six steps for accomplishing this. This system, in contrast to the SQ4R system in the Study Skills package, is another method for note taking. You should look at both methods carefully, try them both, and then decide which will work the best for you.

The six steps of the Soprano Technique are:

  • Read your textbook paragraph by paragraph without a pen or highlighter in hand.
  • After you finish a paragraph, decide if any information in that paragraph is worth highlighting or underlining. Ask yourself, “Is this really important? Does it support and define the main topic?
  • Pick up your highlighter or pen and highlight or underline the most important key words or phrases of that information, or write “key words” notes in the margins.
  • Then put a number in the margin of the text next to the highlighted or underlined material. Use numbers in ascending order to note the importance of the highlighted or underlined material.
  • Put the same number and page on a separate sheet of paper in your notebook. Then write out a question based on the information you have just highlighted or underlined in the textbook. Essentially the information you have just highlighted or underlined in the text should answer your questions.
  • Proceed with your study/reading of the text. Every time you decide to highlight or underline text material, assign it a number in the margin of the textbook next to the highlighted information. Put the same number in your notes and create a question about the information you have just highlighted or underlined.

Memory and Learning Styles

The main reason we forget something is because we never really learned it in the first place.


A good memory is something we must work towards. Things are forgotten because they never really made a strong impression on us in the first place. The reasons for this lack of impression are as varied as from one person to the next. Nevertheless, the most common reasons are:

  • you are thinking about something else – you are not listening;
  • you do not think the idea was important;
  • you do not take or have the time to learn or store the material properly.

To remember information, you need to know that your memory operates on four levels of efficiency. Your ability to remember something increases from level 1 to level 4 depending on what you do with the information.

  • Level 1:Hear or read the material once (not reliable for a test).
  • Level 2:Read the information and review it once or twice (this is cramming – you will forget most of what you have read).
  • Level 3: Read the information, review the material several times, write it down, and test yourself over the next two days (expect fairly good recall).
  • Level 4: Repeat and frequently write down the information over a period of 3-6 days (gives you excellent retention).

If you do not review what you have learned, you will forget 70% within an hour and 84% within 48 hours. One of the best forms of review is teaching or telling someone else about the information using your own words. This is where study groups become invaluable.

Learning Styles

People learn and memorize information using a variety of “learning styles.” Learning styles are how you concentrate, process and remember new and difficult information. You may remember information more easily through any combination of the following styles:

  • hearing
  • seeing
  • reading
  • writing
  • illustration
  • first hand experience

Be aware of your best styles. Most information presented to you in college is by lecture. Reading textbooks and other related material, as well as doing all the assignments are the other parts of the learning equation. It is beneficial for you to combine learning styles to be successful.

When you are studying:

  • Say the information;
  • Write it down;
  • Read it over and over;
  • Put it into a form or format that will make sense to you;
  • Draw a diagram;
  • Relate the information to what you already know;
  • Picture and try to experience what you are learning;
  • Teach the information to someone else.

Reading Strategies

Reading is Important 

Reading is probably the most important activity we can do to “get ahead” in life. However, many of us take reading for granted. We feel we are too busy to read, or maybe we don’t enjoy reading. Not only is it important to read effectively when you study, but reading for pleasure at least 20 minutes a day will improve your life and your ability to read. 

Read whatever interests you – just read, be flexible, and remember to keep reading every day.

Flexibility in what you read is extremely important. Being flexible means reading different types of materials. 

Reading novels, newspapers, magazines, periodicals, or poetry will enable you to adopt different approaches to the different materials. Words may be words, but you read the daily newspaper differently than you read a novel and much differently than you read your textbook.

An effective approach to reading is in the development of a successful strategy.

One successful strategy for textbook reading is: SQ4R

  • Step 1:   Survey
  • Step 2:   Question
  • Step 3:   Read
  • Step 4:   Record
  • Step 5:   Recite
  • Step 6:   Reflect

S = Survey / Preview Rationale:

To become familiar with the material before you read, and to activate any prior knowledge you have of the subject.

Make the book your friend; look at the cover; review the Table of Contents, Introduction, and Index, and back cover to become familiar with the format and the material.

Survey the assigned chapter. Look at the chapter title and topic headings. See how the chapter is organized and how many pages are in the chapter.

Quickly read the chapter introduction, the first sentence of each paragraph and the chapter summary to see what material will be discussed in the chapter and how it is presented.

Q = Question Rationale:

To make the reading process a critical thinking exercise and to focus your attention on what information you need to get from the reading.

Reading with a purpose (to answer questions) increases concentration, comprehension, retention, and interest in the subject matter.

Questions to have in mind to answer as you read may come from:

  • your instructor;
  • worksheets, take home tests, quizzes;
  • questions throughout and at the end of the chapter;

Change the main headings into questions, e.g., “Reduce Study Stress” to “How can I reduce study stress?” Then as you read the section write down the answers to your questions or make a notation in the margin. Get engaged with the material.

R = Read Rationale:

The information is necessary in order to master the course material.

Read one section at a time to understand the material and answer your questions. Do not read to memorize the information. On paper write down chapter headings and titles to use as outline notes later in this process.

Keep focused on your reading. Helpful hints include:

  • write down problems on paper to be handled later;
  • schedule reading breaks every hour or half-hour if it is a difficult subject;
  • make associations or visualize the information to make it more meaningful;
  • do not take notes while reading;
  • read aggressively, with the intent of getting answers, noting supporting details, and remembering major points;
  • As you read, use a pencil to put check marks in the margin by important ideas. Be sure all your questions have been answered.
  • Reread sections as needed. Be an active reader.

R = Record Rationale:

By incorporating the motor activity of writing information down, you will have review notes and you will better establish the information into your long-term memory.

After reading each section and page, reflect and summarize the information in your notes. Put ideas into your own words to reinforce your understanding of what you have read. Taking notes at this point in time will almost ensure that you are noting the important parts of the section. 

Go back over the paragraph and highlight or underline only the main ideas and supporting details with no more than 10-15% of the page highlighted. Use marginal notations as a way to separate main ideas from examples and each of those from new terminology.

Write brief study notes under your chapter headings and titles, which will help encode the information in your long-term memory for easier retrieval and recall.

R = Recite Rationale:

Activating long-term memory storage is aided tremendously by hearing and verbalizing the material. If you can explain the concepts to another, you have mastered the material.

Recite out loud the information you have read. Tell yourself the major concepts of the section using your own words. Ask yourself questions on your reading and answer those questions out loud.

Study with a friend or in a group to discuss and reinforce the material. Studies show that students who recite forget only 20% of learned material within a two-week period. Those who do not recite or discuss the material forget 80% of the information in the same time period.

R = Reflect / Review Rationale:

This is a metacognitive activity to make you a more self-aware learner. It also enhances long-term memory storage for successful retrieval at a later date.

Reflection weaves new ideas into old, by comparing the new ideas with ones you already know. By asking yourself, “Upon what evidence are these new ideas and information based?” and “How can I use this new material?” you should increase your creativity, your knowledge, and critical thinking skills.

Review the material within 24 hours. This moves the information from short-term to long-term memory. Review often. Revise study notes as needed. The more you review, the more information you will learn and retain. This avoids last minute “cramming” for a test.

Practice the SQ4R technique with one subject over a two-week period to become familiar with the process and to begin realizing the benefits.

There are many textbook reading strategies available, SQ4R being just one, which can aid you in mastering the volumes of content found in college texts. The importance of adopting a strategy, which is comfortable for you, cannot be underscored enough. Use a strategy to tackle those textbooks before they tackle you!

Memory Tips and Test Taking Strategies

Knowing More & Remembering it Longer

Remembering Strategies

  1. Select
    • Select what you want to remember.
    • Ask the teacher
    • Examine your class notes
    • Read the text assignments
    • Study the handouts
  2. Remember
    • Choose your techniques that will help you remember.
    • Visualize
    • Associate
    • Apply
    • Repeat
    • Use mnemonic devices
  3. Review, Read, Recite, Rewrite
    • Use these techniques to keep what you want to remember in your memory.

Using Mnemonic Devices to Remember Information

  • Rhyme A rhyme is a poem or verse that uses words that end with the same sound. Example: Thirty days has September, April, June, and November. All the rest have thirty-one except February which has twenty-eight.
  • Acronym. An acronym is a word that can be pronounced that is made by using the first letter of other words. Example: The names of the five Great Lakes in the U.S. form the acronym HOMES (Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, Superior).
  • Abbreviation. An abbreviation is a group of letters made from the first letter of each word to be remembered. Example: FBI is an abbreviation for the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
  • Acrostic. An acrostic sentence or phrase is formed by words beginning with the first letter of each word to be remembered. Example: The phrase very active cat might be used to recall the three typed of blood vessels in the human body: veins, arteries, capillaries.
  • Pegwords. A pegword is a word that helps you remember something by forming a picture in your mind. Pegwords are used to remember lists of things. Each pegword helps you remember one thing. If you memorize 10 pegwords, then you can use them to remember 10 things. If you memorize 20 pegwords, you can remember 20 things.

Using Repetition to Remember Information

  • You have probably used repetition many times without realizing it. Anytime you have read, said, or written something a number of times to remember it, you have used repetition. A good way to remember information when using repetition is to read, say, and write what you want to remember. For example, if you need to remember a list of words and their definitions, here is how to use repetition to do this:
    • Read aloud the word and its definition. If you need to, use a dictionary to help you pronounce a word.
    • With your eyes closed, say the word and its definition.
    • Without looking at the word, write the word and its definition.
    • Repeat the steps until you can write the word and its definition from memory three times without an error.
    • Do this for each word on the list.

Four Ways to Forget

  • Disuse. Information not periodically used withers and disappears. Do you remember all of your previous telephone numbers?
  • Interference. It is easy to confuse materials that are similar and related. When confused, we are more likely to forget which is which. Learning two similar foreign languages at the same time may present some problems.
  • Repression. We have very strong systems of belief. Sometimes what we learn doesn’t fit with what we believe. When in conflict, odds are our beliefs will win. Believing that we are no good at remembering names will make it all that much more difficult to learn new names.
  • Not learning it in the first place. This is probably the number one culprit in forgetting. Even if we’ve been exposed to something, unless we solidify the learning we are not likely to remember it.



Taking Objective Tests

If you are taking an objective test (multiple-choice, true/false, or comparable type), you will probably achieve your best results by following this procedure:

  1. Read an item through quickly, with high concentration, and answer on the basis of your first impression.
  2. Then re-read the item, asking yourself what it really means and expressing its thought in your own words.
  3. Ask yourself if your original answer still appears correct in light of your close analysis of the item, but do not change your answer because of a mere doubt.
  4. Always keep in mind that your instructor is not attempting to trick you in the questions. They are designed to measure your knowledge of a subject, not your ingenuity in solving verbal puzzles. So don’t out-smart yourself looking for devious, tricky interpretations and ignoring the obvious, straightforward meaning.

Essay Tests

In taking a test where you are to write answers in your own words, observe these guidelines:

  1. Read the question carefully. Then re-read it and express its meaning in your own words. Check each word in the question to be sure that your interpretation omitted nothing important. To give a satisfactory answer to a question, you have to correctly understand what the question is asking.
  2. Answer the questions you know first. This way you will be sure not to use all your time puzzling over questions you do not know the answers to, and then run short of time for writing answers you know well.
  3. Outline your answer on a piece of scratch paper before starting to write it in full. In this way you can organize your thoughts and check your answer against the question for possible omissions. Writing from your outline, you can present what you know more clearly and completely than you could if you just started writing down your thoughts as they came to you.
  4. Write with a good pen, or a well-sharpened No. 2 pencil, so that your writing can be easily read. Also, watch your penmanship, spelling, and punctuation.
  5. Read over your answers after you have finished your paper, checking for thought and completeness, as well as for spelling, punctuation, and sentence structure. All these factors are related to your mastery of course material. What is involved in answering a question “completely” is determined by the question’s wording and the preferences of individual professors. From the number of questions on the test and the amount of time you are allotted, you can form a rough approximation of how fully you should answer the questions.
  6. Count your questions and answers before you hand your paper in to be sure you did not overlook anything. Be sure your pages are in correct order so the instructor will not have to shuffle through them trying to sort them out.

Preparing for Finals

  • At least a week before exams, shift into overdrive by beginning an extensive review. Set up a detailed time schedule for the remainder of the semester.
  • Attend all classes as instructors often use the last few classes prior to an exam to summarize, review, and clarify.
  • Prepare summary sheets, one set for text and one for lecture.
  • Pick out the most important facts.
  • Organize information into categories in a manner different from the way you first leaned it. For example, History is chronological, so try organizing your notes under headings that emphasize time instead of themes.
  • Review summary sheets and include key words for important facts.
  • Recite information orally – ACTIVE learning is essential! How you store information determines how well you retrieve it, so use all your senses when reviewing.
  • If you must cram, resist trying to memorize too much material. Select only a handful of facts even at the risk of leaving out something important.

During Exams

  • Arrive early and remember to BREATHE!
  • Read and listen to directions.
  • Skim the exam and plan your time.
  • Answer the easy questions first to build confidence and create momentum. You may work the test from back to front, answering the last question first.
  • A question you can’t answer can be skipped, often another question will trigger your memory or provide that elusive answer.
  • Answer all questions.
  • Save a few minutes at the end to go back over questions you skipped, to review your answers and look for careless mistakes.

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Acknowledgements – Contra Costa College and Contra Costa College DSPS Program

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