Studying effectively is not a matter of chance.
Do you find yourself stressed out or overwhelmed because you can’t seem to recall the readings you pored over last night or the week before? Unless you have a photographic memory, reading, watching or heating information will not make it stick. As a university student, it’s imperative to develop a study technique that will help you retain as much knowledge as you can. There is a myriad of skills and techniques that you can adopt and adapt to suit you and your goals.
The SQ3R Method
SQ3R (or SQRRR) is an acronym that stands for the five steps of the reading comprehension process. This technique helps you identify important facts and retain information in an efficient manner.
- Survey: Instead of reading the entire book, start by skimming the first chapter and taking notes on any headings, subheadings, images, or other standout features like charts.
- Question: Formulate questions around the content of the chapter, such as, What is this chapter about? What do I already know about this subject?
- Read: Begin reading the full chapter and look for answers to the questions you formulated.
- Recite: After reading a section, summarize in your own words what you just read. Try recalling and identifying major points and answer any questions from the second step.
- Review: Once you have finished the chapter, it’s important to review the material to fully understand it. Quiz yourself on the questions you created and re-read any portions you need to.
The PQ4R Method
This method takes an active approach to learning that improves memorization and understanding of the topic. PQ4R is an acronym that stands for the six steps in the process.
- Preview: Preview the information before you start reading to get an idea of what the subject matter will be. Skim the material and read only the headers, subheadings, and highlighted text.
- Question: Ask yourself questions related to the topic, such as, What do I expect to learn? What do I already know about this topic?
- Read: Read the information one section at a time and try to identify answers to your questions.
- Reflect: Did you answer all of your questions? If not, go back and see if you can find the answer.
- Recite: In your own words, either speak or write down a summary of the information you just read.
- Review: Look over the material one more time and answer any questions that have not yet been answered.
The Feynman Technique
The Feynman Technique is an efficient method of learning a concept quickly by explaining it in plain and simple terms. It’s based on the idea, “If you want to understand something well, try to explain it simply.” What that means is, by attempting to explain a concept in our own words, we are likely to understand it a lot faster.
How it works:
- Write the subject/concept you are studying at the top of a sheet of paper.
- Then, explain it in your own words as if you were teaching someone else.
- Review what you wrote and identify any areas where you were wrong. Once you have identified them, go back to your notes or reading material and figure out the correct answer.
- Lastly, if there are any areas in your writing where you used technical terms or complex language, go back and rewrite these sections in simpler terms for someone who doesn’t have the educational background you have.
The Leitner System is a learning technique based on flashcards. Ideally, you keep your cards in several different boxes to track when you need to study each set. Every card starts in Box 1. If you get a card right, you move it to the next box. If you get a card wrong, you either move it down a box or keep it in Box 1 (if it’s already there).
Each box determines how much you will study each set of cards, similar to the following schedule:
- Every day — Box 1
- Every two days — Box 2
- Every four days — Box 3
- Every nine days — Box 4
- Every 14 days — Box 5
If you’re a visual learner, try mind mapping, a technique that allows you to visually organize information in a diagram. First, you write a word in the centre of a blank page. From there, you write major ideas and keywords and connect them directly to the central concept. Other related ideas will continue to branch out.
The structure of a mind map is related to the way our brains store and retrieve information. Mind mapping your notes instead of just writing them down can improve your reading comprehension. It also enables you to see the big picture by communicating the hierarchy and relationships between concepts and ideas.
So, how do you do it?
- Grab a blank sheet of paper (or use a tool online) and write your study topic in the centre, such as “child development.”
- Connect one of your main ideas (i.e., a chapter of your book or notes) to the main topic, such as “developmental stages.”
- Connect sub-branches of supporting ideas to your main branch. This is the association of ideas. For example, “Sensorimotor,” “Preoperational,” “Concrete operational,” and “Formal operational.”
- TIP: Use different colours for each branch and draw pictures if it helps.
Try one for a month and see how how it works for you and keep experimenting until you find what brings you the best results.