Studying is the art of grasping the information that’s in front of you and organizing it for recall, but under some conditions it can be painfully difficult. Your author considers himself a good student but this wasn’t always the case. During graduate school a medical condition induced panic attacks and disorientation at inopportune times. The good news is that he picked up a few tidbits to share with you now because of his previous difficulties.
Strive to eliminate distractions in any way you can. Find a nice quiet spot that you use day after day and study in that one spot all of the time. Your mind will come to associate this area with work. If you can make sure there is no Internet access and no one around to chat with. The remote corner of a library is best. If you can go near the movable stacks or in the reference section people will be less likely to disturb you. I know that in the local university people often go to the library to socialize as much as they do to learn so hopefully your student body is a little more studious than ours. Turn off all of your electronic devices so that text messages or phone calls don’t hinder you. School is your job after all and you should show up to your study area on time, every time.
I highly recommend that you exercise at least twice per week to get optimal performance from your brain. If you can do it right before you hit the books. The Dopamine that floods your body will relax your nerves and whatever you do as you come down will have a positive association with it. Also do warm-up exercises for your mind. A puzzle magazine is an excellent way to get your mind on track. You want to choose something of medium difficulty so you don’t frustrate yourself at the outset.
Take extensive notes during class. Listening actively lets you take in more information. Also ask questions. The person speaking to you has devoted their entire career in many cases to the field they teach. Why let such a wonderful resource go to waste? Ask things that the text doesn’t cover if you want to know. The more that you talk to them the better the chance their enthusiasm will have a positive effect on you. I like to record my thoughts about the material too so that I understand the material as a story, but there is no one right way to take notes. Through trial and error find what jogs your memory the most. I know that if I’m studying labor relations I will make a mental note to go and Wikipedia Samuel Gompers later or look up a certain word that the author used.
Take notes while you study, particularly while you read. There is no excuse to have a page unmarked. To build long-term neural connections digest the material as thoroughly as you can. Chances are if you read the material superficially it won’t be with you for longer than a few days. This is why cramming is never a long-term solution.
Don’t be afraid to venture outside of the book. Web sites like Academic Earth, the aforementioned Wikipedia, and even other user-content sites can be a great supplement to a boring text book. Occasionally it’s okay to make concessions and allow your brain to try another approach if the current one isn’t working. You might consider buying a well-reviewed textbook off of Half.com cheaply and reading that instead if assignments don’t come directly from your actual textbook. This is a good way to save some money while making your academic journey a little simpler. You live in a wondrous age with an ease of information unparalleled in the annals of man. To say that your professor knows the one and only way to learn is to discount many viable options.
Get in a study group as soon as you can. Try to include students who are more capable than you because they will remain on task and offer helpful hints. A phrase I hear variations of often is ‘you are the average of your five closest associates’. Just like the college weightlifting team competes for how much they can squat so does your genial geek compete with others for academic bragging rights. Having the right people in your circle can work miracles. To be our best it is often wise to seek out those who will bring out our inner competitive urges.
Don’t let the work ahead of you psyche you out. No course that you’ve been admitted to is too difficult for you or the registrar wouldn’t have let you in. You had the credentials to get into this school and by God you’ve got the tools to succeed. What’s in front of you is a harmless book, or in some cases a whole pile of them, that never killed anyone. The days are long but semesters go by in a flash. Geography 101 lasts three-and-a-half months but the lessons you learn as you survive will help prepare you for the challenges after college.