The sharper the skills, the easier and more fun learning becomes. Note taking, communication, presentation skills, papers, test taking, and time management skills are later carried over to become life and job skills. A student’s goal is to work smarter not harder, and study skills are the number one strategy. Study skills are the most important tool for succeeding in college, and everyone can improve them.The purpose of college curriculum is exposure to assignments and obstacles outside of a student’s comfort zone, not unlike a complex obstacle course. Through course challenges the learner must “know thyself” and develop study skills.
Why Students Fail
Students fail or withdraw from their courses for many reasons. A good strategy is to be preventative and look at strategies for success that would prevent any of the following reasons students fail.
The student did not attend the first day of class, complete their online HOP attendance assignment, were dropped for non-payment, or the student did not complete the pre-requisite courses.
Too stressful, feeling of failure, or no support
Strict attendance policy
Failure to show up, log in, and do the work is a time management problem
Students take on too many courses, and have a lot of outside responsibilities
Personal issues, or not enough margin in their lives for emergencies and other things
Priority placed on other responsibilities or other courses…because if it is out of sight, it can be out of mind
Refusal to try new things, do what is being asked, or be flexible
Refusal to have a time management system
Too many classes “I made a choice to keep my other classes that were easier, and withdrew from the harder course, so I could take it when I could be successful.”
Did not have the skills needed to learn (not limited to reading comprehension and the ability to follow instructions)
Did not communicate clearly with the instructor
Did not like the instructor, and it caused poor grades
Success in the Classroom
Study Ahead of Class
The best way to reduce the amount of study time is to study material ahead of class, working smarter not harder. Think of your instructor not as a “sage on the stage,” who only delivers content, but as a facilitator to learning.
Use the course schedule to determine what the instructor will cover that day. Then, prepare an outline of notes including the chapter title, chapter headings, bold terms, and figures and table descriptions.
Use these items to outline the chapter and create possible test questions. Then answer the test questions. This basic groundwork will allow for the in class time to be high quality learning time instead of just an hour of lecture and taking notes as quickly as possible.
The brain works by connecting new information to previously known information. By reviewing and hand-writing these notes before lecture, students can increase learning by being prepared and engaged during class.
Here is an example of how to study new material ahead of class:
What is the topic or title of today’s materials? Create questions about the topic.
What are the learning objectives or key ideas I need to learn?
What do I already know about this topic? Connect the learning to previous experiences.
Identify the big picture.
Do an activity: draw, list, label, research, question.
What makes the least sense that I can ask about in class?
Review for recall and retention.
Be fully prepared for class, and sit where you are not distracted. Have your book out, and turn to the page or image the instructor is referring to giving your full attention and focus. Getting a good night’s sleep, a balanced diet, and exercise all greatly improve learning.
Hand write notes in your own words if possible. Leave as much white space as possible to reduce clutter and distraction. Engage in the material by asking questions. Learn how to adapt to different instructor expectations. A critical element to your success in the workplace is learning how to adapt to different personalities, expectations, and teaching philosophies. Students who end up getting an instructor they don’t like can be the best experience to teach them about overcoming challenge and stretching them outside their comfort zone.
Students need to study material using repetition in order to build long term memories. Also, students need to practice material in “test format” instead of just “notes format.” Working in study groups is an excellent way to compile notes and quiz each other. Also, if you can teach it, you know it. If a study group is not an option, teaching an invisible student and talking concepts out loud is very effective. By teaching you are putting concepts into your own words, own examples, and using everyday language.
Where and When to Study
The time and location of where you study is one of the most important strategies for success. Schedule your school work as if you were going to work. Have the same time and location planned each day. Typically, you are sharpest first thing in the morning and are less likely to procrastinate.
The best location to study is a distraction-free area where you are not constantly interrupted. The library or tutoring lab in a clean cubicle is an excellent place to reduce distraction. Another option is a quiet coffee shop. By going to “work” at a location where you can focus, you can build a routine that will become a habit.
Here is a recap:
Reduce distractions by staying as far away from them as possible.
Create habits and built in accountability to show up at a work location at the same time and place each day.
Work as early in the day as possible, when you are the most focused and least likely to procrastinate.
Passive learning is:
• Distraction filled
Active learning is:
• Highly focused
Active learning increases the quality of your work in less time. The action of purposeful practice requires focused attention and improves performance.
One good way to fine tune your technique is to avoid watching TV, listening to music, and being surrounded by activity and noise to increase your cognitive focus.
If you always study in the same way in the same place, the repetition will create a habit that you will perform automatically.
Perhaps the greatest difference between active learning and passive learning is feedback.
In order to improve your abilities, you have to measure them. When you measure how well you know something, then you know how much you need to improve. The best way to study is to test yourself. Then, you can go back and focus on learning what you do not know well.
A second way to get feedback is coaching. Students can learn faster when working with others. With a tutor, study partner, or instructor learning is greatly improved.
A study coach can:
• track your progress
• help you improve
• hold you accountable
Active learning strategies help build habits as a lifelong learners.
Your goal as a learner is to get the most out of your education while you are here. Being here is a privilege, and it is somewhat easy to just pass through surviving at the minimal requirements. But there is more to learn and more you can glean with deliberate practice to get better. Get the most out of your education while you are here!
Why Taking Notes Increases Learning
In college, students are expected to take detailed notes. They are expected to understand why they are important. However, very few are ever taught how.
Why It Works
The action of note taking works. The action of writing and reviewing notes increases learning (Mayer and Johnson, 2008).
Students who take notes get higher grades than those who don't (Boyle, 2007; Boyle, 2010; Kiewra, 1985; Kiewra & Benton, 1988).
Also, taking notes increases focus and adds personal meaning (White and Barnard, 2007). But why?
How It Works
It works because those who write their notes themselves retain more information (Titsworth, 2001).
Research shows information is better remembered if it is generated from your own mind, rather than printed out or simply read (Piolat et al., 2004).
The mind processes information like a computer. Lecture material goes in, meaning is generated, and then written down.
Finally, connecting new material to previous knowledge or experience encodes that information in memory (Kiewra et al 1995).
Why Sometimes It Doesn’t Work
Taking notes is the greatest challenge students have because they have to: listen, focus, think, write, question, and choose what information is important all at once.
And the more complete the notes, the better a student performs. The problem is they are too busy writing to learn or think, or they are just not focused (Ryann 2001, Boyle, 2010, Konrad et al., 2009).
A lecturer can speak as quickly as two to three words per second, while on average students write at one fifth of that speed. This leads to inaccurate and incomplete notes covering only 20-40% of lecture material (Makany et al., 2009 and Piolat et al., 2004).
How to Generate Meaning
Learning from lectures notes is like building a car out of putty. At first, the putty is cold and not pliable. But, after being molded, it warms, and then an object can be built.
In this same way, notes are useless unless they are reviewed and revised, similar to molding putty. Also, known as the generating effect, students must generate ideas, connections, and questions, or their notes are useless (Kiewra et al., 1995; Titsworth, 2001).
To review, students must take good, complete notes, connecting information, and generate meaning through the review and revise step to be successful (Faber et al., 2000, Piolat et al., 2004).
One type of notes that has been proven to be effective is the Cornell Note system. This system gives a format for note taking that allows students to generate test questions and summaries of information. Watch our video to learn more.
Boyle, J. R. (2007). The process of note taking: Implications for students with mild disabilities. The Clearing House, 80(5), 227-232.
Kiewra, K. A. (1985). Investigating notetaking and review: A depth of processing alternative. Educational Psychologist, 20, 23-32. doi: 10.1207/s15326985ep2001_4
Kiewra, K. A., Benton, S.L., Kim, S., Risch, N., & Christensen, M. (1995). Effects of note-taking format and study technique on recall and relational performance. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 20, 172-187. doi: 10.1006/ceps.1995.1011
Kiewra, Kenneth A., and Benton, Stephen L. "The relationship between information-processing ability and notetaking," Contemporary Educational Psychology, 13, 1988, pp. 33-44.
Konrad, M., Joseph, L. M., Eveleigh, E. (2009). A meta-analytic review of guided notes. Education and Treatment of Children, 32(3), 421-444. Retrieved from 38
Makany, T., Kemp, J., & Dror, I. E. (2009). Optimizing the use of note-taking as an external cognitive aid for increasing learning. British Journal of Educational Technology, 40, 619-635. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8535.2008.00906.x
Mayer, R. E., & Johnson, C. (2008). Revising the redundancy principle in multimedia learning. Journal of Educational Psychology, 100, 380-386.
Piolat, A., Olive, T., & Kellogg, R. T. (2004). Cognitive effort during note taking. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 19, 291-312. doi: 10.1002/acp.1086
Titsworth, B. S. (2001). The effects of teacher immediacy, use of organizational lecture cues, and students’ notetaking on cognitive learning. Communication Education 50, 283-297. doi: 10.1080/03634520109379256