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Study Strategies

Jefferson is a unique school with unique and challenging learning demands that are often unfamiliar to many students. To meet these challenges and new demands you will obviously need to work HARD, but you will also need to learn how to work SMARTER than you ever have before. That is, Jefferson will require you to adopt new and more efficient strategies and habits of studying and learning. As a student in the health sciences most of what you learn here you will DO in your practice as a health professional. Therefore you will need to learn how to APPLY what you’ve learned into your practice.

In order to apply or perform what you’ve learned you must ACTIVELY engage in the process of acquiring new knowledge. The following is a blueprint for helping you create strategies for each of your individual courses.

Get the “big picture” of the course in mind. What is the main objective of this course? By the end of the semester I should be able to (fill in the blank)? Once you have the objectives and themes of the course you can start predicting what you will need to do, or plan to do, in order to study.

The How:

  • Scour the syllabus:
    • Examine how the course is designed.
      • What kind of structure is there to the lectures?
        • Are they a group of lectures/readings catagorized by system, process, group, etc?
      • How is the course material organized?
        • Do the readings coincide with the lecture topic?
        • Are the readings in chronologic order in the text (i.e. lecture 1, chap.1; lecture 2, chap. 2)? If not, why?
      • What role does the text play in the design of the course?
        • Is lecture the main source of authority and information in the course? Does the textbook or course packet play a ‘supplemental role’, a place to go for clarification?
    • Determine course objectives
      • Does the syllabus make any declarative statements as to what you will learn?
    •  Anticipate Assessment?
      • How will you be graded? What will you need to do, in order to prove your competency with the material?
      • How you will be assessed will determine how you should prepare and study.
  • Plan your Approach
    • How much time do you estimate you will realistically need to set aside outside of class?
      • Think about you what need to do in order to understand the material. Base this on what you already know about the material, how much material you are responsible for and what you will need to do with the content: summarize, recall, analyze, etc.
      • Think about ways and times during the semester you can assess and diagnose what you know and need to know.
      • Always overestimate how long you think something will take you, no matter what!
      • Remember: It’s quality over quantity in regards to studying; It’s not how much time you spend, it’s how you spend it! Be strategic, work hard and SMART.

Lectures move fast and bombard you with large amounts of new information, therefore, it’s imperative to have a plan to approach how you will effectively learn from lecture. Knowing your BDA’s (before, during, after) of lecture will help you manage and prioritize the new knowledge. What you do Before and After a lecture is equally important to what you do During the lecture to understand and retain the content. Breaking up, or chunking, your approach to lectures and readings will help you manage the challenging workload.

  • Before
    • Preview the lecture slides before lecture.
      • Focus on the main concepts, themes topics of the course
      • Find out the topic for that day or week to orient your selection and prioritization of material in class, and if you haven’t read the assigned readings, at least skim them
      • Predict (i.e. guess) what your professor is likely to say about the topic, and what is most important for you to pay attention to
      • Develop general questions, as simple as: "What is that?"; "How does that work?"
      • Set a purpose or objective for yourself
  • During
    • Stay Attentive, keep your purpose in mind
    • Make notes that you could use to study
      • Write in a language (not necessarily your professors) that you will understand an hour or a month later.
    • Print out PowerPoints & lecture slides prior to lecture and take notes on slides during the lecture. (if using iPad for notes download your notes into a note-making app, such as iAnnotate, Evernote, etc.)
      • Focus on capturing what is not on the slides.
  • After
    • Revisit the slides and assigned readings after lecture, as soon as possible. Research has shown that reviewing your slides within 24 hours, greatly increases retention.
    • Fill in things you missed, make them more clear, see connections that weren’t obvious, identify deeper patterns and connections, etc.
    • Compare notes with a classmate
    • Use your lecture notes in conjunction with your reading
    • Synthesize, or condense, class notes into smaller documents that you can use as study tools, such as: tables, concept maps, diagrams, illustrations, etc.   

You will be responsible for learning large amounts of information in a short amount of time each semester. How do you manage this? Once you begin to start understanding the material you want to actively work at retaining, organizing, and connecting that knowledge. Studying and learning is an ongoing process of deliberate practice, not something you do days before the exam.  

The How:

  • Review Often
    • Revisit notes and readings quickly after lecture and return to that material as needed when learning new information
  • Organize and Categorize
    • As you study gather all of your materials: notes, visual aids, annotated readings
    • Draw NEW maps, diagrams, summary charts, etc. and/or attempt to further synthesize the information. These can be used as references to review previous material and useful when preparing for exams.
  • Transform your notes
    • Condense your notes; Re-write lecture/reading notes in your own words, when possible, into smaller texts that focuses on the most important and significant details.
      • These can be used for future study, such as condensed notes/study guides, flash cards, etc.
  • Look for Patterns
    • Look for information, themes, ideas, theorems that reoccur within chapters or lectures.
    • Ask yourself: “Does the information have a similar structure?"
  • Select & Prioritize
    • What information seems to be most important?
    • Predict what to anticipate on the exam.
    • Ask Yourself: “In order to understand this (big picture) what details do I definitely need to know?
  • Integrate with prior knowledge
    • What do you already know? How has this changed in lieu of new information? What can you do now that you couldn’t before?
  • Explain to others
    • Form a study group
    • “lecture” /teach a friend, spouse, house pet, mirror  or a wall what you’ve  learned, in your own words.
  • Analyze returned assignments/exams
    • Look at what you did correctly. How did you remember, prepare, or study that helped you?
    • Identify what mistakes you made. Was the error due to complexity of question, lack of preparation, overconfidence, etc.? 
  • Assess your knowledge
    • Do a personal diagnostic: Quiz yourself; predict exam questions and answer them.
    • Compare questions and answers with classmates.

What would happen if you thought of your exams as a performance (like a game, recital, rehearsal)? You might prepare for them differently.  This perspective will help you more actively engage and approach your studies in a more purposeful and strategic manner. Exams are your opportunity to show what you know, to perform.  In order to perform at your best you need to practice. Preparing for an exam is practicing for an exam, and you can start preparing for the exam after your first day of class.

The How:

  • Predict performance task, think like your professor:
    • Find out how you will be assessed and prepare to answer those type of questions
    • Grasp the big picture of the course and your professor’s objective’s
    • Predict exam questions by reviewing main principles, themes and concepts.
  • Practice remembering
    • Try to explain difficult material to someone or something else.
  • Practice tasks:
    • Explaining
    • Applying
    • Arguing
    • Solving
    • Evaluating
    • Figuring Out
  • Visualize performances
    • Reduce stress and anxiety by thinking of yourself in the test room, answering questions with confidence.
    • Take a practice exam in a classroom and time yourself.
  • Outline answers
    • Predict questions and outline your answers for written exams.
  • Memorize
    • Notice that “memorizing” is literally the strategy of last resort. Not only do you want to do as little of this as possible, you want to do this last in your study process. Anything you can learn and be prepared to recall by means other than rote memorization will be more readily applicable and transferable, so try to learn it my other means unless you have no other option. Additionally, you’ll find that these other more active, creative ways of studying are more engaging and enjoyable for you.