Can you study less and get better grades?

In learning on September 17, 2008 at 2:59 am
Photo by Mollyali (thank you!)

Photo by Mollyali (thank you!)

I ran across an interesting posting today about studying. Basically, it says that studying long hours doesn’t necessarily mean getting the best grades in a class. Check it out here:

Study Hacks Blog: Why the Number of Hours you Spend Studying Means Nothing

I agree. Studying for hours on end doesn’t necessarily mean success. I remember one winter semester, when one of my best students failed to come for the final. The morning came, and he wasn’t in his seat. I’m a worrier, so I thought something terrible may have happened to him. What if he got in a car accident? What if he was sick and had no one to take him to the hospital? What if he was mugged on his way to class? It turns out that he’d been studying so hard for my final that he fell asleep while studying and slept through the exam. That’s studying too hard, I think!

Still, when you’re an international student, it sometimes does take long hours to get the studying done. During undergraduate school, my roommate was from Korea, and we took a literature class together. We had to read four or five novels during a semester. This was my favorite kind of studying. I would sit back in the dorm with a cup of tea, relax, and read for a couple of hours before class. That was my studying. Nothing stressful, nothing that seemed like work to me. My roommate, on the other hand, spent hours with the dictionary next to her, making detailed notes and lists of questions to ask me later. It wasn’t fair, but she had to spend a lot more time than I did. Still, there is a point when, even for international students, too much studying might just be ineffective.

How do you make studying faster and more effective, then? In addition to what the Study Hacks post says, here are a couple of my ideas:

1) If the test you’re studying for is all about memorization, use memory tricks, rather than repetition alone. Instead of reading the chapter in the textbook four or five times, pick out the stuff you think is likely to be on the test, and focus on memorization. Mnemonic devices are great for this. If a word or idea reminds you of a story from childhood, a person, or something else, link the two together in your mind, and you’ll be more likely to remember the information. The weirder the image or story, the more likely you are to remember your piece of information. If that doesn’t work, try setting the thing you have to remember to a tune. I still remember the long list of prepositions I had to learn when I was 11 years old, because my 6th grade English teacher had us sing them to the tune of the song “Yankee Doodle.”

2) If you’ve studied really hard and still have problems doing well in the class, talk with your teacher or TA. I remember taking an accounting class when I was in college. I was a literature major, and numbers have just never been my strong point. I wanted to take accounting anyway, and I figured that, with enough hard work, I could do all right. Still, when I got in the class, things just didn’t go well. I studied hard, read all the chapters, did the practice questions. Still, I couldn’t do the accounting stuff. I knew there were two columns in an accounting ledger, but I couldn’t figure out why — and why we had to put things in columns, instead of adding and subtracting. Once I got help and learned why this was done, the questions weren’t so hard, and (more importantly) I didn’t have to study so hard to get the grade I wanted.

3) If you’re working on a project or a paper, start early and take lots of breaks, instead of trying to put in many hours all at once. Especially when it comes to writing, taking breaks can making finding grammatical errors and editing in general go so much faster and easier.


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