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Study skills

Study methods play a crucial role in the academic success of a learner. An understanding of these methods improves the your chances of performing well. This section seeks to expose you, the learner to study skills and methods you can make use of in trying to achieve the best marks.


Study methods

There is no one absolute definition to describe study methods but you can use the working definition provided below:

Study methods refer to methods and strategies a learner can make use of when studying. Thus, just like a war, studying requires strategies that can be employed to increase the chances of success.

It is worth noting that each learner has his/her acquired methods. Therefore, study methods should not be seen as prescriptions. Following are some of the methods the learner can use when studying:


Focus area 1: Note-making:

Note-making should not be carried out thoughtlessly and passively.  Making notes should be driven by a need and purpose. Taking notes is a great way to remember important concepts that were taught and emphasized in class. Not only does taking notes help when preparing for an exam, but it also forces the learner to listen more carefully during class. Also, taking own notes allows the learner to put concepts in their own terms, making it easier to understand. Quality notes also help the learner feel more organized and prepared. Having a sense of organization will increase his/her confidence.

How to Take Effective Notes

There is no right or wrong way for learners to take notes, but there are some helpful tips that can make note taking more useful for studying later on. You can develop your own style of note taking that is most effective for you. Browse the following tips to learn how you can take better notes that can make studying more productive.

  1. Be prepared for class – Go to class prepared with anything you’ll need to take notes. Have a notebook dedicated to taking notes only for that class. Remember to have extra pens and pencils, and even highlighters so you can highlight important terms or concepts. Take a binder or folder where you can organize your notes or any hand-outs you receive during class.

  2. Learn how to be a good listener – To take effective notes, you need to have good listening skills and good judgment. During class, focus only on the teacher. Try not to be distracted by other learners, and remember to turn your cell phone off. By anticipating and eliminating distractions, you will be able to better direct your attention. Remember, you do not need to write down everything your teacher says. It is your job to discern what is important enough to take notes on. When your teacher stresses a key concept, not only will it likely be on the test as a direct question, but it could be the basis for solving several other questions on the same test. If your teacher writes content on the whiteboard, it is probably important enough to jot down in your notes. Also, pay close attention to any charts or documents your teacher presents, and whenever your teacher presents an unfamiliar term or fact, write it down. If you are ever in doubt, it is probably a good idea to take a quick note.
  3. Learn how to take notes in a way that is helpful to you – It is important that you develop a note-taking method that suits your learning style and works best for you. This may include using a notebook, flash cards, and even different coloured pens to identify important terms. You should also use abbreviations when taking notes as opposed to writing full sentences, which is extremely time-consuming. You can even set up your own system for abbreviations and symbols. Put concepts in your own words so that when you go back to study your notes you will easily know what your teacher was discussing. Paraphrasing material is a great way to check your understanding of core concepts.
  4. Compare notes with other students – Comparing notes with other learners is an effective, yet underutilized strategy. Many students only ask to see other learners’ notes when they’ve missed a class. By comparing notes with others, you gain perspective and see what other learners in the class found to be salient information. Get to know some of the best note takers and schedule a time after class each week to compare notes. This is also opportunity for you to test your command of the material by attempting to explain it to others.
  5. Review, edit, and organize your notes – After class, it is a good idea to review your notes and make any edits necessary. Oftentimes, notes become messy and disorganized because you are trying to keep up with the teacher during the period. It is worth the additional time to rewrite your notes in a more organized way. Also, research any terms or concepts you didn't completely understand during the lecture. Additionally, in order to protect the content you’ve spent hours creating, you’ll need to keep your notes in an organized, safe place. Clearly label the binder or folder you are using for each class. You should date your notes and reference any chapters in your textbook that your notes correspond to for easy lookup later on.



Focus area 2: Mind-mapping

At the heart of Mind Mapping is the striking combination of imagery, colour and visual-spatial arrangement, which is proven to significantly improve information recall, compared to conventional methods of note taking and learning.

Research shows that Mind Mapping can help children recall words more effectively than using lists, with improvements in memory of up to 32%.

Other researchers indicate that Mind Mapping improves the long-term memory of factual information in their participants by 10%.



Focus area 3: Assignment and essay construction

Essay planning and structure

Undertaking an essay should not be a haphazardly done activity. It is really important to plan your essay before you begin writing. Planning will save you time later. It is also essential that you have a starting point to plan from, even if it is in a very rough form.

Essay structure

All essays share the same basic structure, although they may differ in content and style. The essence of an essay is an opinion, expressed as a proposition, and a logical sequence of arguments and information organised in support of the proposition.

Virtually, every essay requires some attention to detail. Perhaps the most critical aspect of any essay is interpreting the question. This activity will ensure that you understand what needs to be done. It is advisable to check the meaning of any words or terms within the assignment question by looking up your course notes, study guide, textbook, or dictionary.

If the essay question includes a direct quote from a particular author, then you could try to locate a copy of the source (article or paper or text). This will enable you to identify the context of the writer's statement. This can lead you to supporting evidence for the author's position that you may need to consider when writing your assignment.

Identify the three main parts of the question. Normally, there are three main parts to assignment questions:

Command: These are command or directing words that tell you what to do, such as “Discuss”, “Analyse”, “Compare”, “Critique”, or “Evaluate”. For more on this see the section on assignment command words.

Topic: The general area of discussion. The topic can be determined by taking the command word and asking “what?” after it. For example, Discuss “What?”, Compare “What?”

Focus: The specific area of the topic that you need to concentrate on. Sometimes there is more than one focus in a question. This can usually be extending the strategy above: Discuss - what? - in relation to what?

When approaching an assignment, apply the same principles discussed above. The planning phase of the assignment is crucial. Ensure that you understand what is required of you. You can ask your teacher for clarity should you feel uncertain.

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