Study Advice

Hi 303- Here is some study advice from Ron and another professor to a student who was asking for some study advice about 303 in the past. I hope this is helpful. (First is from Emily, the other professor; the second is from Ron.)

“Hi X,

Here is a process I adopted to remember the material in readings. (Bonus it works pretty well for every course, not just 303. Even math courses! :) )

1. Read the passage in the manner you described. Focus on key words and definitions. If possible, because this is so important, remember the definitions exactly as the reading specifies (i.e., take no creative liberties in re-interpreting or rephrasing a definition of a key term).
(Aside: what’s a key term? Basically any term for which the author supplies a clear definition is something worth remembering. In particular, those which figure heavily in the remainder of the argument)

2. Focus particularly on what factors distinguish similar concepts from one another. E.g., pay attention to what distinguishes appeal to authority from appeal to common wisdom…

3. For (1), and (2), record your findings in the margins of the readings, trying to flicker your eyes from the terms to your notes. Helps especially to highlight the words as you described. Trick is to create a visual memory to which you can refer for steps 4-5.

4. The most important step: put your readings away, get a sheet of paper, and spend fifteen minutes writing everything you remember from the readings. Try to re-construct the ‘flow’ of the reading. That is, how the introductory points led into the main points and finally the conclusion. Remember the examples and evidence the author presented. Basically, you know you understood the ‘point’ of the reading if you force yourself to re-construct the author’s argument.

5. Now, convert your summary into a concept map. This is where you want to rehearse your definitions. Force yourself to write out the definitions of the key terms as best you can. Use arrows to connect them to the parts of your argument summary that you think they play into. Question your reconstruction actively: why are you joining this concept to that one? What did the author mean by this? Write down your questions on a separate paper. Also, write down everything you -can’t- remember (sounds paradoxical, but you know what I mean. A tip of the mind thing where you remember the reading mentioned -something- important, but can’t quite recall what it was).

6. Return to the reading. Read it a second time, but skim it- seeking only to fill in the gaps of your knowledge.

Steps 1-6 should be completed at least the evening before the class.

7. Completed day of class, preferably a few hours before quiz time.
Review your map. Make yourself rewrite the definitions. Just try and remember the words of each definition that represent the major distinguishing quality of the concept.

I hope that helps. It sounds like a lot of work, but I found it a very effective means of learning large volumes of material.

If you would like more explanation, I can arrange a meeting with you before the midterm to hash out a ‘study guide’. I will be holding a session before the midterm also.

Hope that helps. Best,

“Hi X,

I think Emily’s given some useful advice. Another approach (somewhat
similar to a briefer form of what she mentions) is to imagine yourself
describing what you’ve learned to someone else. Pick whoever you like;
they should be uninformed, but intelligent and argumentative, so that
they can ask tough questions. (The degree of argumentativeness is up
to you. :-) ) Then try to paint a clear picture of what you’ve learned,
and try to persuade them that it’s interesting/useful/whatever…
(This essentially draws upon the observation that the best way to
learn something is to teach it.)

FWIW, I always have to read things at least twice, sometimes even three
times. Otherwise, the details just don’t stick that well. Fortunately,
things usually go much faster the second time.

My guess is that there are probably people at UBC who specialize in
helping students improve their learning skills. (As Emily mentioned,
these are fairly general concerns for any course.) So keep in mind
that we’re not professionals at this, and that those folks say would
likely be of greater use. But in the meantime, hopefully some of this
will help.