Dr. Montgomery’s Top Five Study Tips for Successful Students
This may be your first year of college and you want to get a great start to the next four (or five) years of your life. Maybe you’re going into your second year and you realize that you need to re-evaluate what worked and didn’t work last year. This might even be your third year and you’re rapidly realizing that you need that internship and your current grades aren’t cutting it. And if this is your fourth year? Well, I don’t know if I can help you, but give it the “old college try” anyway! Your future employers might be impressed by your sudden academic up-swing.
Study Tip #1: Office Hours Rock!
In my experience, college students sort themselves out very quickly between the first and second exams. There are those that intuitively get the material, those that just need to spend more time studying, and those that really need help. In this last group I often find my favorite students: the ones that come to my office!
Oh, I love those students. I get to know them a little better, I get to figure out how they think, and they make me a better teacher.
I know I am not the only professor that gives away little nuggets of information that might just show up on the exam. Your professor is the one writing the exam, so why not pick his or her brain about the subjects that you are learning. Many times I will re-focus a student’s attention away from the minute details and into the big picture and inevitably these are the things that I will choose to test them on.
Study Tip #2: Read Over Notes Before Class (and Ask a Question)
I used to worry all of the time about why my students weren’t asking questions in class: did that mean the material was too simplistic or did it mean it was way over their heads? When I think back on my time as an undergraduate, I never asked questions in class either. It wasn’t because I didn’t have any, but I needed time to process the material.
So don’t let your professors make you feel like you have to ask the intelligent questions in class; most of them probably didn’t do it either! What does seem to work really well, though, is to look over the notes from the last lecture period (or more) and formulate a question to ask at the beginning of class.
By asking a question at the beginning of class, you will get a review of the material and won’t feel the pressure of having to come up with one in the middle of the snap to your squad. (Yes, I know that’s what you were doing!)
Study Tip #3: Rewrite Your Notes (and Soon!)
I have noticed that my most successful students will eventually figure out that they will not remember what their quick notes meant after a few days (and long nights) have passed. Certainly no one remembers their shorthand if a week or more has gone by.
Taking an hour or so to rewrite the notes you took in your classes every few lectures will help you sort out your shorthand, give you a chance to figure out what still makes sense and what content has lost its meaning since the original lecture, and many students learn better during a physical activity and rewriting notes is a physical activity that can help connect the dots.
Study Tip #4: Limit the Distractions
One evening I was working on some slides for class but I was also half watching TV and listening to my kids play with their dolls. As I was giving my lecture the next day, the students started giggling. I didn’t think I had made a joke but one of the students in the front row pointed out what was funny: my Powerpoint slide about milk quality included one line about how Barbie wanted some tea and another line about which dancer should have been cut from the show.
Our brains can only truly focus on a limited number of things at once. If you find yourself checking your email three times in two minutes, maybe it is time for a break. Turn off the phone, shut down the computer, and put on some instrumental music if you can’t stand your roommate chewing his fingernails. Well, you know what I mean.
Study Tip #5: Go to Class (Really?!)
As silly as it sounds, attending lecture (and lab) is the best way to excel in a field of study. I have students that will attend class sporadically and still do well on the exams because they have good short-term memories or they have excellent test-taking skills.
But one thing you have to realize is that many of your courses are going to build on each other.
The short-term retention might get you through one class but the next professor is going to have certain expectations of you. Spending time listening to your professor is going to give you a clue as to how a professional in your field of study thinks. A Petroleum Engineer teaches his students how to think like a badass oil baron, a history teacher shows her students how to look at things as a historian would, and so on. Just being there when the information is given makes a world of difference.