Study Techniques

There are many techniques that may be used to improve the effectiveness of your study.

Know What is Important to Learn

The first step is to identify what is important to learn. You do this by analysing and using:

  • course specifications as a checklist for what to learn
  • self-assessment questions and exercises at the end of examinable modules
  • past exam papers or questions provided by your lecturer
  • lecturer's exam hints in the lectures, teletutorials, audiographics and online discussion group

Test Yourself

To test yourself, you can:

  • work on problems in your textbooks and Study Book that are similar to the ones that will be in the exam
  • try to reproduce your summaries, mind maps, mnemonics etc without looking at them
  • make up exam questions and answer them, then check with your textbooks etc
  • use your study group friends and give each other mock tests

Taping or Telling

This technique has three main strengths. The first is that you will have to put the work into your own words either out loud, on a tape or to a friend.

The strength of doing it with a friend is that  you will have to explain it a number of times before he/she understands! In doing this you will be learning a little more each time you repeat it.

The other advantage is that you are using another of your senses, hearing, to help you learn. The more senses you can involve, the better you can learn.

study group is a useful avenue for this strategy.

Chunking

This is a process of reducing your textbook and lecture notes over and over again. You make summaries of your summaries of your summaries of your summaries of your .... It is best to do this at least three times, preferably five. Each time you make a new summary by reducing the previous one, you are revising the material and learning more of both the detail and main ideas. Each time you summarise you need less writing, headings, outline or detail to remember the same amount of information. Eventually you can lock up whole chunks of material behind a few well-chosen terms or brief lists or skeleton diagrams.

Diagrams, Summaries, Mind Maps

You will have already come across diagrams and tables (especially in science) and summaries (especially in history). Mind maps are just a special type of diagram or table, a special type of summary. All of these techniques help to give you a picture of what you are trying to learn and how the bits of it fit together. Pictures are more easily remembered than long lists of words.

Just because you are familiar with these ways of organising information, don't forget to use them as often as you can. It is in the process of making these tables, diagrams, summaries and mind maps that you understand and learn.

Mnemonics

This is a very old, and still effective way to learn information that can be broken down easily into bits. Two common mnemonics are acronyms and acrostics.

  • Acronyms
    These are probably the most common mnemonic used. First, identify the important or key words in your work. Then take the first letter of each of these words and make another word. You may have to use synonyms of the key words sometimes to make the acronym work better. For example, PASS is an acronym for Plan, Act, Survey, Stop.
      
  • Acrostics
    These are useful when you can't easily make an acronym and there is a sequence you have to learn, where the items must be in a particular order. You take the first letter of each word of the sequence and use it for the beginning of words in a sentence you make up.

For example, the planets in order of distance from the sun are Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto. To convert this list to a mnemonic take the first letter of each planet and make a word. Join the words up in a sentence. Then you have something like:

My Very Eager Mother Just Swam Under the North Pole.

Recalling the sentence helps to trigger recall of the planets in their order from the sun!  The possibilities for using this type of memory technique are only limited by your ingenuity.

But remember, the important thing is that mnemonics are a tool for learning, not just something that's a bit of fun that takes up a lot of your time to compose.

Memory Techniques

Mindtools website (UK commercial provider)

Study Techniques for Groups and Individuals

There are also special study techniques for groups and for individuals.