Study Environment

Where you study is just as important as how you study. A good study environment should be quiet and free of distractions.

  • It's a good idea to have a desk which is devoted entirely to studying. You will find that you get into the habit of beginning to study as soon as you sit down.
  • Turn off the television and radio. Have the answering machine, a family member or roommate take phone messages. Close the door to your room so that you are not bothered by people dropping in.
  • Have everything you need, such as writing material and books, close at hand.
  • Be sure you have sufficient work space. Remove everything from your study area that is not related to what you are studying at the time, so your space is uncluttered. The area should be large enough so that you can work comfortably.
  • Use a chair that supports your back, not one that invites you to lounge and eventually fall off to sleep. Never study on your bed.
  • Be sure that there is adequate lighting.
  • Arrange your desk to face a blank wall rather than a window, so you don't become distracted by what's going on outside.

Effective Reading

Much of your study time will be taken up in reading books, journals and articles for your courses. Of course, the way you read while studying is not like reading a book for pleasure. There is a method which can make your study reading more effective - the PSQ5R method. PSQ5R stands for Purpose, Survey, Question, Read selectively, Recite, "Rite", Reflect and Review. Here's how it works:

  • Purpose: Before you start reading, spend 5-10 minutes determining why you are reading the material. You have to know why you are reading a book to study effectively. Are you supposed to be looking for general concepts or specific information? How does this tie into the instructor's
  • Survey: Look quickly through the entire item you are reading and find out how it is organized, e.g. topic and chapter headings, etc. This allows you to understand the author's purpose, and what material is relevant to what you are studying. This can be a valuable way to save time.
  • Question: Determine what questions you need to have answered before you read the material: what problems or topics are of concern to you? You will learn better if you are actively searching for answers to particular problems, and you will be better able to ration your time while reading.
  • The 5 Rs -- Read selectively, Recite, "Rite", Reflect and Review: If you have followed the above advice, you are now ready to start reading the material, and will benefit from the work you have already done. Do your reading with the purpose and your questions in mind. If you mentally recite what you have just learned, you are much more certain to remember it. As well, you should write down what you have learned from the reading, usually in an outline or point form. At the end, you should spend a few minutes thinking about the material, and deciding whether or not your main questions have been answered by what you have read. Review the material within 24 hours to ensure that you remember what you have learned. The review should not be a rereading of the article, but an attempt to see what you remember, and if you need to review your notes again.

Note Taking

You will need to develop note taking strategies that work with different disciplines, instructors and their varying speeds, styles and methods of lecturing. While you can sometimes persuade an instructor to slow down or repeat something, in general, you have to find a way to take notes quickly. The best way to take good notes is to think of it as an active listening process and to be selective in what you write down.

  • Before the lecture, you should read the assigned material. If you don't have time, still spend 5-10 minutes skimming the material before the lecture. This will help you identify the most relevant information from the lecture. If you can, quickly review your notes from the last class to give you better context. From time-to-time, review the course outline to see what topic you are focusing on.
  • During the lecture, watch for cues from the instructor as to what information is most relevant. Notice how the instructor has organized the material. If the organization is not logical to you, try to organize the material with headings yourself. If there are gaps in your notes, trade notes with classmates, or fill them in right after the class while your memory is fresh. And don't hesitate to stop your instructor and ask questions.
  • Be selective in note taking: don't write down every word the instructor says, although you should write down any information which the professor puts on the blackboard or overheads. One technique you can use to take better notes: develop a consistent set of abbreviations for use in note taking. Also, develop a comfortable way of identifying key concepts and ideas in textbooks.
  • Finally, after the lecture, review your notes within 24 hours. Studies have found that we can remember more things within that time period.


Two frequent complaints of students are that they can't concentrate while studying, and that they can't remember the material which they studied. There are many techniques for improving your concentration and memory, although you will have to see which one suits you best.

  • Plan what you are going to study in order of priority: If you spend a lot of time reviewing information which is not vital, you will have trouble concentrating.
  • Break your study time up into manageable periods of time, and schedule a regular break.
  • Deal with your anxieties: Personal or course-related anxiety, daydreaming and lack of rest are the most common barriers to successful concentration. Anxiety can be alleviated by various relaxation techniques, including doing something which normally calms you. Other types of anxiety result because you see the entire task as a whole, rather than breaking it down into manageable portions.
  • Avoid distractions: Places which are noisy, poorly lit or ventilated, or where you normally do other things, are the wrong places to study. You should pick a study spot which doesn't strain your eyes or body, where all the supplies you need are on hand, and which is a place where you will only study to maximize your concentration.
  • Try some techniques to improve your ability to memorize: Organize and summarize your notes into essential ideas; try to remember a difficult set of concepts by turning the first letter of each word into an acronym. Constant recitation and review of course material will improve your ability to remember what you studied.

Preparing for Exams

There are several different kinds of exams; your instructor will likely know well ahead of time what types of questions will be asked. Choose a method of preparation which suits the type of exam you'll be writing.

For Problem-Solving

Go through past homework assignments, lecture notes and your textbook. Then,

  • Copy out problems.
  • Mix them up.
  • Solve as many as possible.
  • Check your answers.
  • For any you do not answer correctly, try to find similar problems and keep working on them.

For Short Answers

After reviewing your lecture notes and textbook,

  • Make a list of important terms.
  • Write down a definition of each term as it was used in the course.
  • Think of examples or illustrations of each term.
  • Figure out the term or concept's relevance to the course.

For Essay Questions

Review old essay assignments and exams and select a number of topics that seem central to the course. Then,

  • Write thesis statements containing the subject and three main points.
  • Write an outline for each thesis statement (the more detail -- facts, figures, illustrations, quotations -- the better).
  • Write as many essays for each of these as possible, only giving yourself as much time for each as you will have on the exam itself.
  • Look over your trial essays, paying attention to areas that could be improved.

For Objective Tests

(multiple choice, true/false, and matching questions)

  • Study concepts and examples, as well as facts.
  • Study your texts and notes by actively looking for the kind of material that can be answered objectively (i.e.: dates, names, precise details).
  • Get old copies of exams in the same format. Look for patterns in questions and answers throughout certain disciplines.

For Take-Home Exams

Treat them like essays; provide carefully researched and well-constructed answers; if appropriate, type or word-process your answers.

Last updated: 2/25/2009 7:40:12 PM