General Study Tips

Note Taking

  1. Full-sized, three-ring notebooks are best for containing all lecture notes, handouts, and notes from the test and readings. Why? Pages can be arranged chronologically with pertinent handouts inserted into lecture notes for easy reference. If you miss a lecture, you can easily add the missing notes. Course materials are together in one notebook.
  2. Date and number your note pages and your handouts. It will help with continuity.
  3. Give yourself plenty of blank spaces in your notes, as well as plenty of room to write. This will allow you to make additional notes, sketch helpful graphics, or write textbook references. Your notes will be easier to read if you write in pen and use only one side of the paper.
  4. Law-ruled or summary margin paper is helpful with its three-inch margin on the left side of the page. If you can't find this paper, draw the margin on each piece of paper. This sets one up for using the Cornell format of note taking. Write your notes on the right side of the line. After the lecture, use the left margin for key words or phrases, or sample questions when you review the notes.
  5. Take as many notes as you can. If you miss something, leave a space, you may be able to fill in the blanks later. Do not stop taking notes if you are confused or if you want to ponder a particular concept. You will have time for that later. Abbreviations are extremely helpful. Suggestions for abbreviations are listed in this section.
  6. It may be difficult to make your notes look great or to have them extremely organized as you write them. Work with your notes as soon after class as possible when your recall is at its best. You may be able to fill in some blanks. Color coding can bring some organization to your notes. For example, identify concepts and categories by highlighting items with a particular color. If you still have problems organizing your notes, begin to formulate a specific question for your professor or study groups.
  7. As you review your notes, look at the information as answers to questions. As these questions become more clear to you, jot down the questions in the left margin. You may also write key words or phrases in the left hand margin that cue your recall of definitions, theories, models, or examples. Now you are ready to try to recall the information in your notes. Cover the right side of your notes, leaving only these clues (whether there are questions or key words) to test yourself.
  8. As you begin to put the material of the course together, add a somewhat generic question-WHY?-to your answers. You need to know why any particular answer is correct. You need to know why the information is pertinent to the course. This will also prepare you for essay exams, as well.

Adapted from The Leader's Guide to Supplemental Instruction, University of Missouri-Kansas City.

Eight Ways to Abbreviate

1. Symbols and graphics.

= equal , * important, > greater than, = does not equal, ** very important, < less than, & and, # number, $ cost/money, w/ with, w/o without, vs verses/against, () = information that belongs together

2. Abbreviations (don't worry about punctuation).

cf = compare, eg = for example, dept = department, NYC = New York City, mx = maximum, mn = minimum

3. Use only the first syllable of the word.

pol = politics, dem = democracy, lib = liberal

4. Use the first syllable and only the first letter of the second.

subj = subject, cons = conservative

5. Eliminate the final letters; just use enough to recognize the abbreviation.

assoc = association, biol = biology, rep = repetition, intro = introduction, concl = conclusion, info = information

6. Omit vowels from the middle of words.

Bkgrd = background, pprd = prepared, estmt = estimate, Gov = governor, rdng = reading, orgnsm = organism

7. Use apostrophes.

Gov't = government, am't = amount, cont'd = continued

8. Form a plural of a symbol by adding "s."

Co-ops = cooperatives, libs = liberals, /s = ratios

Adapted from: Pauk, W. (1984). How to study in college. Boston: Houghton Miffin Company.

Reading Textbooks in the Biological Sciences

Bob can't seem to figure out what's important when he read his biology textbook. Everything looks important. And the objective test questions on exams make him feel that he has to memorize everything in the book. As a result, when he finishes reading the chapter, he's highlighted nearly everything in it-but he really doesn't know what he's read.

If you're like most students, you read-and re-read, and highlight-every word of your biology textbook, the same way that you would a novel: one word after another. However, since much of the information is organized in diagrams and charts, and key concepts are often defined by structure and function, you would become more efficient-and understand more-by using this method:

  1. Pay attention to diagrams and charts. Use the text as a dictionary to help you read these illustrations more closely.
  2. Try to figure out as much as you can by looking at a diagram alone. Use the writing in the text only to confirm and supplement the diagram.
  3. If you think you'll need to identify parts of a diagram on an exam, make a tracing-paper copy of the diagram-or just cover the illustration in your biology textbook as you test yourself.
  4. Make sure you can define the italicized words-both by example and by their relation to the main headings and subheadings of the chapter.
  5. Learn the steps of the important processes described in your textbook (the ones your instructor discussed in class).
  6. Make up an Information Map or two for each chapter. (IM's will help you read your textbook more easily, and remember facts on objective tests.)

Marking Textbooks

  1. Finish reading before marking. Never mark until you have finished reading a full paragraph or headed section and have paused to think about what you just read. The procedure will keep you from grabbing at everything that looks important at first glance.
  2. Be extremely selective. Don't underline or jot down so many items that they overload your memory or cause you to try to think in several directions at once. Be stingy with your markings, but don't be so brief that you'll have to read through the page again when you review.
  3. Use your own words. The jottings in the margins should be in your own words. Since your own words represent your own thinking they will later be powerful cues to the ideas on the page.
  4. Be brief. Underline brief but meaningful phrases, rather than complete sentences. Mark your marginal jottings short and to the point. They will make a sharper impression on your memory, and they will be easier to use when you recite and review.
  5. Be swift. You don't have all day for marking. Read, go back for a mini-overview, and make your markings. Then attack the next portion of the chapter.
  6. Be neat.Neatness takes conscious effort, not time. Later when you review, the neat marks will encourage you and save time, since the ideas will be easily and clearly perceived.
  7. Organize facts and ideas under categories. Items within categories are far more easily memorized than random facts and ideas.
  8. Try cross-referencing. For example, if you find an idea on page 64 that has a direct bearing on an idea back on page 28, draw a little arrow pointing upward and write "28" by it. Then turn back to page 28 and alongside the idea there, draw an arrow pointing downward and write "64" by it. In this way, you'll tie the two ideas together, in your mind and in your reviewing.
  9. Be systematic. There are many ways to mark the text: single and double underlines; the use of asterisks, circling, boxing for important items; and the use of top and bottom margins for longer notations. If some of these ideas appeal to you, work them into your marking system, one or two at a time. But use them consistently so you will remember what they mean at review time.

Adapted from The Leader's Guide to Supplemental Instruction, University of Missouri-Kansas City.

Multiple Choice Exam Questions

**Read the directions for the exam before you begin!!

  1. Attempt to answer the question without looking at the options. If necessary, cover the answers with your hand.
  2. Eliminate the distractions. Analyze the options as true/false questions. In a negatively worded question (as in "which of the following are NOT�"), put a T or F beside each option, then simply select the false statement.
  3. Never be afraid to use common sense in determining your answer. It is sometimes easy to confuse yourself by attempting to recall the "right" answer rather than simply reasoning through the question. Make sure your answer makes sense.
  4. Answer the questions you know first. Often answers to questions you don't know are supplied in other questions. Go back to answer the difficult questions later.
  5. When guessing, do not change answers. Research indicates your first answer is usually best. However, don't be afraid to change answers when you have good reason for doing so.
  6. When guessing, choose answers that are not the first or last option. Research indicates that the option in the middle with the most words is usually the correct response.
  7. Answer all questions. Unless points are deducted for incorrect responses (sometimes the case with standardized tests), leave enough time to answer all questions. Even educated guesses are better than no response at all.
  8. If the first option is a correct one, look at the last option to make sure if is not "all of the above" option. The same is true for the "none of the above" question. It is also a good idea to read all answers before marking yours. Remember, the instructor is looking for the "best" answer.
  9. If options appear similar, chances are one of them is the correct response. The same is true for quantities that are almost the same.
  10. Allow time at the end to check for carelessness.

Adapted from The Leader's Guide to Supplemental Instruction, University of Missouri-Kansas City.