Improving Your Study Methods
2009, updated by Michael Krigline (see "Sources" below), www.krigline.com.cn
I. How to Take Good Notes: The Five R’s
A. Recording – write down the main ideas and supporting facts
1. Use an outline format to show the difference between major and
a. In your notes, indicate the material’s significance
by using an outline form [e.g., (A,B,C) for main points, but (a,b,c) for
b. Listen closely for your professor’s signal words that
indicate major points (such as “this is important” or “be sure you
c. Take lecture notes using only the left or right half of your
page; leave the other side free for complementary notes on this
topic from your textbook.
2. Strive to mentally participate in the flow of the lecture, don’t
just passively listen
a. Develop a big picture view: don’t get distracted by
b. Concentrate on the overall point or theme of the lecture;
how do sub-points support that theme?
B. Reducing – summarize the material in a simple form
1. Summarize using your own words instead of trying to copy the
2. Remember that notes are reminders, not a transcript
or copy of the material.
a. Copy verbatim only definitions and other material
that needs to be memorized.
b. Quickly write notes in brief phrases, not complete
c. Develop your own system of abbreviations for long
words (e.g., medc=medicine, medl=medical)
C. Revising – look over and fix the material as soon as possible
after recording it
1. Fix (revise) confusing fragments of information in
2. Clarify abbreviations; be sure you will still know what they mean
a month from now.
3. Are there some connecting thoughts or facts missing? If so, find
4. Don’t be afraid to ask a classmate or your teacher for help.
D. Reflecting – think about what you’ve written down
1. Did you get the meat or substance of the lecture? Can you
see the big picture?
2. Can you discover the flow of your professor’s ideas?
3. Do you see both general information, and particular
E. Reviewing – review your notes the same day you took them,
and also before the exam.
1. Involve more senses by reading your notes out loud.
2. Begin early when studying for exams; make time to review several
times, not just one time.
II. Studying for Exams
A. Compile all of your source material (lecture notes, textbook
notes, handouts, things you have found on the Internet, etc.), and
separate it into topics before starting.
B. Begin studying early for the upcoming test; this requires planning.
1. Gauge starting time on the number of exams and conflicting
assignments. (If you have more than one exam or assignment due on the same
day, then decide which one you will start working on first, and begin
early enough to get everything done.)
2. Start studying at least three to four days prior to your
3. Take into account the time needed for extracurricular
activities. (You need to do more than “just study”; be sure your schedule
includes time to exercise, honor work or family commitments, and spend
time with your friends.)
C. Be an efficient studier. (see section III below)
D. Concentrate primarily on lecture notes and secondarily on reading
material. (Most teachers choose to lecture about the most important things
in the textbooks, and design exams to find out if you understood what they
considered to be most important.)
E. Keep your eyes on the big picture.
1. Integrate information from many sources in order to get a
more complete understanding of the material.
2. Analyze each bit of information to determine its
significance and role in the overall concept.
F. Consult your professor if your notes or textbook are unclear.
G. Study using the following suggested procedure: (1) carefully
study your lecture notes; (2) with each section of notes, find supporting
ideas in pertinent reading material (i.e., review and take notes
from your books and handouts); (3) go over the notes once again in reverse
order and be sure you can tie the whole concept together.
III. Being an Efficient Studier (Do the most in the least
amount of time.)
A. Study a subject no longer than two hours at one sitting.
B. Take short breaks approximately every forty-five minutes (at least
stand up and walk for a minute to get your blood moving)
C. Stay focused and concentrate deeply while studying.
1. Minimize interruptions (turn off your mobile phone) and
background noise (don’t be near an interesting movie or a friend’s
2. Set a goal to be accomplished before taking your next break
(e.g., “get to page 121” or “finish question 2”).
D. Don’t waste small amounts of time, use them to study. (Believe it or
not, you can accomplish a lot in just ten minutes.)
1. Read a section of a required book.
2. Recite a list of things to memorize.
3. Study a review sheet or review your notes.
4. Discuss class-related topics with your classmates.
IV. How to Prepare for and Take an Exam
A. Before the exam
1. Exercise the night before, get plenty of sleep, and eat a good
2. Get up early, and spend some time looking at key notes to refresh
3. Walk to class (walking gets your blood moving); arrive about 15
minutes before the test starts, and just relax while you wait.
4. Do not study once you’re inside the classroom; cramming
will only create confusion for you in the test.
5. Trust your preparation (say to yourself: “I’ve studied hard, so
I’m ready for this”), but never be over-confident (over-confidence
makes you careless).
B. During the exam
1. Quickly look over the test pages, looking for parts that will
need more time (like essay questions); then go through the test carefully
and methodically. Look at the back of test pages (if it is printed
“double-sided” then you don’t want to leave half of it blank!).
2. If you truly don’t have an answer for an item, skip over
that questions (i.e., don’t waste time thinking about what you don’t
3. Watch the clock to be sure you have time for every section. Many
teachers do not allow mobile phones in the classroom, so wear a watch
(don’t plan to use the clock in your phone).
4. Take a short “mental break” in your seat for a minute or two if
you start to feel yourself panicking, but don’t “look around the
room” (lest teachers think you are cheating).
5. Make an educated guess when you are not sure of the answer: e.g.,
eliminate choices that are clearly wrong, and then look for clues to show
you the best remaining answer.
6. If you have extra time, check your paper before turning it in; be
sure you didn’t leave anything blank, but don’t change any answers unless
you are sure you made a mistake (your first guess is normally best). Be
sure your name and other essential information is on the paper.
V. Dealing with School Frustrations
A. Consider the past unchangeable, and study to change the outcome of the
B. Realize that you are never defeated until you accept defeat.
C. Keep your studies moving forward. Review to prepare for the next
test or course, and learn from your mistakes (especially in “skills
courses” like a foreign language). But do not waste time thinking too much
about what you have done wrong (like trying to prove that your answer
wasn’t really incorrect).
D. Realize that the first grades of the semester will probably be the
worst. Instead of being discouraged, remind yourself that you will do
better next time, once you are used to the subject or professor.
E. Put forth your best effort; after that, don’t worry. If
you truly do your best, you have nothing to be ashamed of, even if the
results are disappointing.
F. Religious people often find peace and strength through prayer (such as
peace of mind before an exam, and the strength to forgive someone who hurt
you). If you are looking for extra help, this might be a great place to
G. No one is perfect, so forgive your friends and teachers, just as you
want them to forgive your own mistakes. Remember that forgiveness is a
great source of peace and harmony.
Sources: This information was adapted for Chinese students by Michael
Krigline, M.A., in 2009, based on a handout given to new students at
Columbia International University in Columbia, South Carolina. The
original material listed this source: Harves, Gene. Harves Guide to
Successful Study Skills. New York: New American Library, 1981.
1. Without looking back, tell your partner the “five R’s” of good
note-taking. Then try to summarize each “R” in your own words.
2. Did anything on this handout surprise or encourage you? Tell your
partner about it.
3. Look at II.B.3. Tell your partner about your extracurricular
activities. When and why do you do them?
4. Look at II.D. This advice is true for American teachers. Is it true for
Chinese teachers? If not, rewrite this section, and discuss any other
sections that do not apply to Chinese teachers.
5. Section III.C. says to concentrate while studying. Tell your partner
about your favorite study environment. What is happening in the
6. Ask your partner a question about “preparing to take an exam”; be sure
the answer is in section IV.
7. Tell your partner about some of the frustrations you have dealt with as
8. Which piece of advice in section V do you find most helpful, and why?
If you have time, translate section V into Chinese, and see if your
partner agrees with your translation.