Do you start studying for most exams one or two nights before the test? Do you complete most of your homework problems the night before they are due? Do you put off going over lecture notes until you begin preparing for an exam? If you answered yes to at least one of these questions, you are not using effective study techniques and are therefore not getting the most out of your classes. You are not alone. Most university students do not study in a manner that results in meaningful, long-term learning of concepts and development of problem-solving skills. The good news, however, is that these strategies are simple to learn and generally result in an immediate improvement in your learning and your course grades.

These study strategies involve getting the most out of your lectures, your homework assignments, and your tests and quizzes, as well as your professor and fellow students. In order to achieve a high level of success in science courses, you will need to implement a variety of learning strategies. Some of these are listed below.

  • Preread the material that will be covered in lecture before the lecture. Use the syllabus provided by your instructor to determine the appropriate material to preread. By previewing the material, you'll be much better prepared to understand it when it comes up during the lecture.

  • Be an active participant in the lecture. Sit near the front of your class, where you will be able to focus on the lecturer, avoid distractions, and see everything clearly. Try to form mental pictures of the phenomena being discussed, because visualizing the material will help you to retain more of the concepts.

  • Take good notes, and review and rework them as soon after the lecture as possible. Develop a note-taking system that works for you. (Several different types are discussed in books on study strategies.) Research studies have shown that reviewing lecture notes within a few hours after the lecture considerably increases retention and understanding. Note areas where you are unsure and seek assistance from your instructor.

  • Form a study group with classmates. Actively discussing the material with fellow students will help you better understand the concepts and remember the material.

  • Visit your instructor's office hours regularly. Discussing concepts with your instructor will help you to clarify any you find confusing and will also help you get to know a faculty member better. This may come in quite handy when you are seeking letters of recommendation or information about graduate programs.

  • Attempt your homework problems only after you have studied the material and know it well enough to work through the problems without looking at analogous sample problems or reviewing the solution in the solutions manual. One of the biggest causes of low performance on science tests is the habit of using the examples to do the homework. You must do the problem yourself; do not let the example do it for you!

  • Rework all missed items on homework, quizzes, and previous tests as soon as possible after they have been returned to you. This will help you clear up any misconceptions and master material that you hadn't before.

  • Use tutorials and other resources available through the learning center on your campus. Workshops on time management, listening and note taking, test preparation, test-taking, and other topics will be quite helpful as you develop the learning strategies that will enable you to achieve academic excellence.

If you use these strategies regularly, you will find that your studying will be more efficient and you will achieve success in all of your courses, including the ones in science. Students who use these strategies faithfully can experience a dramatic increase in their GPAs.

The keys to making any improvement strategies work for you, however, is to start using them and then to use them consistently. So, it is imperative that you begin implementing these study strategies immediately. Begin right now by prereading the material for your next lecture, or by calling friends to set up a study group, or by visiting your professor during her or his next office hours, or by resisting the temptation to use the sample problems to do your homework. The important thing is that you begin now, and watch your performance skyrocket.

Recommended References

Longman, D. and Atkinson, R., Study Methods and Reading Techniques (Wadsworth Publishing Co., Belmont, CA, ed. 2, 1999).

Ellis, D. B., Becoming a Master Student (Houghton Mifflin, Boston, MA, ed. 9, 1999).

*Dr. Saundra McGuire is an adjunct professor in the Department of Chemistry and director of the Center for Academic Success at Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge. She earned her undergraduate degree in chemistry from Southern University, also in Baton Rouge, and a Ph.D. in chemical education from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Dr. McGuire can be reached at smcgui1@isu.edu.