Read an Excerpt
How to Study
By Ron Fry
Career PressCopyright © 2012 Ron Fry
All rights reserved.
How to Start out Right
"It is not enough to understand what we ought to be, unless we understand what we are; and we do not understand what we are, unless we know what we ought to be."
Taking a good, honest look at yourself is not the easiest thing in the world. In the next two chapters, I'm going to help you:
* Evaluate the current level of all your study skills, a necessary step to identify those areas in which you need to concentrate your efforts.
* Identify the study environment and learning style that suit you.
* Categorize all of your school subjects according to how well you like them and how well you do in them.
How to Keep Score
In the next few pages, I'll explain the 11 primary study skills covered in this book: reading and comprehension, memory development, time management, library skills, computer skills, textbook note taking, classroom note taking, library note taking, classroom participation, writing papers, and test preparation. Then I'll ask you to rate yourself on your current level of achievement and understanding of each: "A" (excellent) for mastery or near mastery of a particular skill; "B" (good) for some mastery; "C" (fair to poor) for little or no mastery.
But let's do a "down-and-dirty" test first, just to give you a taste of what's to come. Read the following 28 statements and consider which apply to you. If a statement does apply, mark "Y" (for yes). If not, mark "N" (for no):
1.  Y  N I wish I could read faster.
2.  Y  N I go to class, but I don't pay a lot of attention.
3.  Y  N I rarely review for tests, but I do spend hours cramming the night before.
4.  Y  N I think I spend more time studying than I need to.
5.  Y  N I usually study with the radio and/or TV on.
6.  Y  N I rarely finish all my homework on time.
7.  Y  N I usually write assigned papers the week (or the night) before they're due.
8.  Y  N I read every book at the same speed and in the same way.
9.  Y  N I'm an IM whiz but I can never seem to find the information I need on the Internet.
10.  Y  N I'm overwhelmed with too much homework.
11.  Y  N I can never complete my reading assignments on time.
12.  Y  N I always seem to write down the wrong stuff in class.
13.  Y  N I frequently forget important assignments and test dates.
14.  Y  N I get nervous before exams and do worse than I think I should.
15.  Y  N I frequently must reread whole passages two or three times before I understand them.
16.  Y  N When I finish reading a chapter, I usually don't remember much of it.
17.  Y  N I try to take down everything the teacher says, but usually can't understand any of my notes.
18.  Y  N I can only study for about 15 minutes before I get bored or distracted.
19.  Y  N When I'm working on a paper or report, I spend most of the time with a thesaurus in my lap.
20.  Y  N I always seem to study the wrong stuff.
21.  Y  N I don't use any kind of calendar.
22.  Y  N I study for some tests, but I always forget what I studied when I get there.
23.  Y  N I don't have enough time to do well in school and still have a social life.
24.  Y  N I can't figure out the important points in my textbooks.
25.  Y  N When I look at my class notes right before a test, I can't understand them.
26.  Y  N I hate to read.
27.  Y  N I get marked down on essay tests because I don't organize them well.
28.  Y  N I spend a lot of time on my computer, but it feels like most of it is wasted.
What do your answers mean? If you answered yes to questions:
* 2, 5, or 18, you need to work on your concentration.
* 1, 8, 15, 16, 24, or 26, your reading and comprehension skills are holding you back.
* 3, 14, or 22, you need to learn the proper way to study for tests and how to reduce test anxiety.
* 4, 6, 10, 11, 13, 21, or 23, your organizational skills are letting you down.
* 7, 19, 27, you're spending a lot of time "writing" papers but haven't learned proper research or organizational skills.
* 9 or 28, you need to hone your computer skills.
* 12, 17, 20, or 25, you need a better system for taking notes in class and from your textbooks.
It is not as important how many "yes" answers you had as it is how many were grouped in a specific area—the one in which you obviously need help. (Though 10 or more yes answers should certainly indicate big problems in more than a single area.)
Let's go into a little more detail and get an even firmer handle on the current state of your study skills. I've listed the primary study skills on the next page. Take a separate piece of paper and rate yourself on each of them (from reading to test preparation) before you read the rest of this chapter. Then give yourself two points for every A, one point for every B, and zero points for every C.
If your overall rating is 18 or more, give yourself an A on the "Initial self-evaluation" line; 13 to 17, give yourself a B; and if 12 or less, give yourself a C. This is your assessment of your study habits as they exist right now.
Now let's review each of these areas, giving you insight as to what "excellent," "good," and "fair" really mean. As you read each section, fill in your rating on the "Your Starting Point" chart—and be honest with yourself. This evaluation will give you a benchmark from which to measure your improvement after you've completed the book. File it away and make the comparison when you've completed reading.
Remember: There are no right or wrong answers in either of these assessments. They are jumping-off points from which you can measure your progress and identify those areas in which your skills need improvement.
Speed, comprehension, and recall are the three important components of reading. Comprehension and recall are especially interrelated—better to sacrifice some speed to increase these two factors. To test your reading and comprehension skills, read the passage below (excerpted from American Firsts by Stephen Spignesi, New Page Books, 2004). Then close the book, jot down the key points made in the selection you read, review the text, and compare your notes with the reading selection. You will get a good idea of how well you understood what you read and just how good your "top-of-the-mind" recall is.
Bar codes are everywhere these days. They are automatically printed on almost every manufactured item—even though there are still many retail outlets that do not use bar code scanning devices. Someday, though, everyone will, the thinking goes, and so the code is printed on more than 95 percent of consumer items.
A bar code consists of 12 numbers separated by double lines at the beginning, middle, and end of the sequence. A laser/optical scanner reads the pattern of the numbers and instantly identifies the item and its correct price. Bar codes have been a boon to the retail industry, as well as the United States military, which requires that every single item it purchases have a scannable bar code. Bar codes allow speedy checkouts at stores, continual inventory updating, and accurate information about purchasing patterns.
Bar codes were invented in 1948 by Bernard Silver, a graduate student of Drexel Institute in Philadelphia, and Joseph Woodland, his partner. They initially worked with ultraviolet ink, but eventually settled on the pattern matching system in use today.
Some conspiracy theorists believe that the government eventually plans to have bar codes placed on every citizen, either on the back of the wrist or on the forehead, for constant monitoring of the populace. Interestingly, it was recently announced that laser bar code technology has advanced to the point where bar codes can now be imprinted directly onto meat and eggs and be read without damaging the product.
This means that, yes, bar codes can now safely be placed on human flesh. Imagine a future in which you order a ticket to a baseball game at home on the Internet using your own personal bar code ID number. When you get to the stadium, you hold out your hand, and an optical scanner reads the bar code tattooed (or whatever) on the back of your wrist. The master database (which everyone will be sharing by then) confirms that you did, indeed, purchase a ticket, and you get whisked through the entrance in the time it takes to swipe a bag of chips across a grocery store cash register scanner.
Science fiction? Not really. We're pretty close to this scenario already.
Score: If you can read the material straight through and accurately summarize what you've read, all in less than two minutes, give yourself an A. If you have some problems reading and understanding the text but are able to complete the assignment in less than four minutes, give yourself a B. If you are unable to complete the assignment in that time, remember what you read, or produce accurate notes at all, give yourself a C.
Test #1: Look at the number following this paragraph for 10 seconds. Then cover the page and write down as much of it as you can remember:
Score: If you remembered 12 or more digits in the correct order, give yourself an A; 8 to 11, a B; 7 or less, a C.
Test #2: Below are 12 nonsense words from a language I just made up and their "definitions." Study the list for 60 seconds and try to remember each word, how it's spelled, and its definition:
Simpoc to cry
Delmak old man
Triddle to wade
Mccusker to dream
Armulla coffee cup
Frabje to skip
Done? Close the book and write down each of the 12 words and its definition. They do not need to be in the order in which they were listed.
Score: If you accurately listed nine or more words and definitions (and that includes spelling my new words correctly), give yourself an A. If you listed from five to eight words and their definitions, or correctly listed and spelled nine or more words but mixed up their definitions, give yourself a B. If you were unable to remember at least four words and their definitions, give yourself a C.
Your effective use of available study time can be measured by two yardsticks: (1) your ability to break down assignments into component parts (e.g., reading, note taking, outlining, writing); and (2) your ability to complete each task in an efficient manner.
Score: If you feel you use your time wisely and efficiently, give yourself an A. If you know there are times you simply run out of time, give yourself a B. If you can't tell time, give yourself a C.
Making the most of the library is a function of understanding its organization—and using it! The more time you spend there—studying, reading, researching—the more productive you'll be. You'll become adept at tracking down reference materials and finding the information you need quickly.
Virtually all libraries follow the same organization—once you understand it you'll be "library literate," no matter what library you use. In this book, you'll discover what kinds of resources are available (books, periodicals, directories, encyclopedias, dictionaries, magazines, newspapers, documents, microfilm files) and learn how to find materials using the Dewey decimal and Library of Congress Systems as well as the library's computerized system.
To better evaluate your library skills, answer the following questions:
1. What collections are restricted in your library?
2. Where would you find a biography of Herbert Hoover in your local library? Where is the reference section in your local library?
3. Given the Dewey number for a book, could you find it in less than five minutes? The Library of Congress number?
4. How often have you been to the library in the past six months? The past month?
5. Do you know how to find books, periodicals, and so forth using the library's computerized card catalog?
Score: If the answers to these questions are all obvious to you, indicating a steady pattern of library use, then you can claim to have the library habit—give yourself an A. If you're unable to answer at least four of the questions or will freely own up to a spotty record of library use, give yourself a B. If you don't have the faintest clue of where the closest library is, give yourself a C.
It's virtually impossible now to succeed at almost any level of education without complete mastery of the computer. But knowing how to use a computer is just the beginning. You have to know how to use it to study more efficiently and more effectively. That includes learning how to write better papers, keep your schedules, and taking advantage of the almost limitless research possibilities available online.
Score: If you are capable of doing just about anything online short of hacking the Pentagon, and have made your computer equipment a key tool in your quest for more efficient studying and better grades, give yourself an A. If you are adept at word processing and playing games and at least can get online, but have never used 75 percent of the other tools on your computer and "wipe out" more often than surf, give yourself a B. If you don't even know what "being online" means and need four minutes to figure out how to turn your computer on, give yourself a C.
Different arenas—at home with your textbooks, in the classroom, at the library, and online—require different methods of note taking.
From your textbooks: Working from your textbooks, you should identify the main ideas, rephrase information in your own words, as well as capture the details with which you were unfamiliar. Take brief, concise notes in a separate notebook as you read. You should write down questions and answers to ensure your mastery of the material, starring those questions for which you don't have answers so you can ask them in class.
In class: Class preparation is the key to class participation. By reading material to be covered before class, you will be able to concentrate and absorb the teacher's interpretations and points. Using a topical, short sentence approach or your own shorthand or symbols, take notes on those items that will trigger thematic comprehension of the subject matter. Your notes should be sequential, following the teacher's lecture pattern. Review your notes at the first opportunity following class. Fill in any blanks and add your own thoughts.
In the library or online: What's the difference between taking notes at the library or working at home with library books or those you've found online vs. your own textbooks? Sooner or later you'll have to return library books (if you're allowed to take them out at all), and librarians tend to frown on highlighting them. And unless you plan to print out every Web page you find and wield your magic highlighter, you need an effective system for taking notes right from the source, whether it's a library book or Web page.
Score: Are your note-taking skills sufficient to summarize the necessary data from your textbooks and capture the key points from classroom lectures and discussions? Do they allow you to get the information you need from a variety of sources, prepare detailed outlines, and write good papers? Give yourself an A. If you feel you are deficient in any one of these, give yourself a B. If notes are what you pass to your friends in class, give yourself a C.
Most teachers take each student's class participation into account when giving grades, no matter how many pop quizzes they pull or how many term papers they assign. And, you may have discovered, there are teachers out there who will mark down even those students who "ace" every paper and quiz if they seem to disappear in the classroom.
Score: If you are always prepared for class (which means, at the very least, reading all assigned material, preparing assigned homework and projects, and turning them in on time), actively participate in discussions, and ask frequent and pertinent questions as a way of both trumpeting what you already know and filling in the gaps in that knowledge, give yourself an A. If you fail in any of these criteria, give yourself a B. If you aren't sure where the classroom is, give yourself a C.
Excerpted from How to Study by Ron Fry. Copyright © 2012 Ron Fry. Excerpted by permission of Career Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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