New Ways to Improve Study Skills

Smart students hate studying. Having grown up in an education system that permitted them to treat school like a day job, the overtime that comes at college is often a surprise.

Every article I have ever read approaches this subject from the point of view that you are already in the process of studying for a big test. This is like comparing riding a bike for the first time with flying a jet; with the latter, you WILL crash and burn. Before attempting to do something challenging, you have to start small and work your way up.

Unfortunately, inadvertently or not, we learn from a young age that good studying is evidence of indentured servitude, a grittier-than-average grindstone, and a well-chafed nose. This is the reason some people hate math or science. Having been trained to fear the process of knowledge acquisition, they avoid what they might actually find fascinating.

“Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” – Confucius

Have you ever noticed how some people with amazing technical skills never even graduate high school? How do they learn how to do all of this with such a limited education? I can tell you why: They love what they do. Instead of fearing the process of learning, they watch the clock every day until they finally get to go home and tinker with their automobiles or electronics.

A school’s job is not to teach you facts and dates. Its only purpose is to guide you toward the path of life-long learning, in effect, teaching you how to learn. The problem is that most of us have so much else to be thinking about and such a bitter taste in our mouth about school that we do not (or cannot) allow this to happen. Once you learn HOW to learn, the world is a much more interesting place.

What is your favorite thing to learn about in the entire world? When reading or watching a video about it, do you feel bored? Of course not. I am going to show you how to apply this elsewhere.

As soon as you graduate high school or any summer thereafter, start this project. It will work during an easy semester, too, but you will get the most out of it during a summer. The main goal is learning how to take the same habits and methods you used to learn about something you love and apply them to a college course.

  • Pick a subject similar to a typical college course. The only criteria is that you are already interested.
  • Go to the library, a discount online book store, or talk to a friend and find a textbook on this subject. Most professors use textbooks, so it is a good habit to get used to following their systematic approach. This textbook will be your guide for the rest of the summer, so make sure that it is not more than 4-5 years old and that it is at least thick enough to knock somebody out.
  • Scour the internet for the major themes and concepts of the subject. The textbook probably has these, but it is more fun to peruse Google. This also gives you an opportunity to make sure that you have chosen a topic for which you have enough interest. Eventually you’ll be able to do this, but for now you aren’t quite ready for that.
  • Keep a notebook. Use dividers, plastic page protectors, the whole nine yards. In order to make this applicable, you need to try and match the conditions as closely as possible. Every time you “have class”, date the paper and take clear, legible notes.
  • If possible, sign up for a class at a local community college. Your actual university never has to know about this grade unless you want it to. This is just an experiment. The tests do not matter, homework doesn’t matter, and if you decide the research paper isn’t for you, who cares? The point of this exercise is to learn how to study, which, despite the popular misconception, means how to learn. (HINT: Even if you can’t afford it, just find out what time the class meets and show up. This is especially effective if the class is huge. If the class is small, just tell the professor you are auditing. If forced to leave, continue your study at home as originally planned.)
  • You are an adult, now. Start using a daily planner. If you are as addicted to the computer and as frugal as I am, a download will suit you better than a 30 dollar leather-bound organizer from the mall. Every Sunday is your chance to get ready for the week to come. List important things you need to finish on their corresponding days, and be sure not to overwhelm yourself. Mark on your planner which hours of each day will be spent studying. You must treat these times as sacred and allow nothing except an emergency to interrupt you.
  • Find or construct your workplace. As much as this sounds like some New Age/Feng Shui stercus tauri, it is actually beneficial. A place for learning should not also be the place for City of Heroes. Whether a quiet corner of a library or your back porch, find a place that has little distraction and makes you feel ready to learn. (NOTE: I am not being literal when I say construct. This usage is more along the lines of using earplugs, incense, etc; however, if you want to build yourself a castle in the woods with sap-covered bookshelves and a drawbridge made out of a half-exploded Ford Pinto, be my guest.)
  • Go to any huge retail store with a few bucks. While here buy anything school-related you will need for the summer. (Pens, paper, condoms, chloraseptic spray, two Dora the Explorer lunch-boxes in case one breaks.) Going into a new school year always means new supplies, so make your usual purchases to keep the same spirit alive.

At this point you might feel this is too much for you to handle. That’s normal. Change is incredibly difficult for creatures of habit, whom we all are. You must stay positive. Remember, this is something you want to be learning about anyway!

Now that you have all of this planning out of the way, it’s time to get started.

Find an adequate reward system.

Studying for 14 hours straight is not as beneficial as studying a couple hours a day throughout the week, so break up large periods of time into smaller sessions. Once you finish each study session, reward yourself handsomely. If you have a fast metabolism, eat your favorite snack. For the rest of us, watch a few clips on YouTube every time you finish a chapter.

It is safe to say that human beings are pretty much as mammalian as the rest of our furry lactating friends, so use this to your advantage. Only reward yourself when you accomplish your goals and you’ll be drooling at the sound of the bell in no time.

Create deadlines for yourself.

Procrastination is little more than the visible representation of a person’s desire not to be bossed around. Most people who are used to wasting an entire night of sleep to study for an exam or to write a paper have probably laughed through this entire article. They feel that they don’t need to do things any other way because they like the notion that they control their destiny. They may be right, to an extent, but there is a better way to go about doing this.

During this summer, make your own deadlines. Pretend a professor wants something the 14th, and instead set your own personal deadline of the 12th. By doing this, procrastinating is defying nobody but yourself.

Do big things first.

People would rather spend two hours organizing a medicine cabinet than cleaning out a garage. We are afraid of big tasks. We think we’ll just give up. The sad part about this is that by finishing the difficult tasks first, they are out of the way and the little tasks practically finish themselves. When trying to learn everything about George Washington, which is an enormous task, one must break it up into many smaller tasks. By breaking up a larger task into all of its smaller components and spreading out each small component over a couple weeks, you will notice a vast improvement in the amount of ground you are able to cover. That horrible feeling of being overwhelmed will also finally be put to rest.

Review is necessary.

Review is a great opportunity to see how much you are learning. As you go through a lesson, make yourself a little quiz for the next day based on the important information you have found. Take this quiz and see how you do. If there are things which you have forgotten, go ahead and put them on the quiz for tomorrow. Once you feel that you have once again successfully subdued the material, move on with the new stuff.

I originally wanted to put “Study every day.” after every sentence in that last paragraph, but I felt that it was too distracting. If for some reason you cannot stand the thought of looking at a book on a particular day, do something fun with the subject such as watching a movie or trying to sketch a battlefield. Hell, go down to the mall dressed up like Napoleon and try to teach the security guards the finer points of war.

I probably won’t be able to put any of your own ideas on this article since it is long enough already, but feel free to send them in.

Good luck, and have fun.

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