These tips and tricks are courtesy of a great part-time instructor, Joe Domitrovich, who has been teaching history in high school and college for the past 45 years. Also, check out the Study Skills resources in this Guide.
Mr. D’s Study Tools
The following are suggestions to help you do well in my class and, hopefully, in all your classes. If you are doing VERY well in your academic career, stick to what you are doing. However, even then, some of these ideas may enable you to do well with less time and effort spent. The goal is to work more efficiently. Students often say that they need to study harder. I think the key is to be more organized, more disciplined and to study SMARTER, not harder. I hope that each of you will find at least one or two ideas here that will help you be more efficient.
A. Reading: Divide the number of pages you have to read by the number of days in which you have to read the assignment. If you are to read an assignment for Monday, for example, you should have read it before you come to class on Monday.
Skim the reading (if four days and 40 pages, the first ten pages) . By skimming, I mean I want you to read the first sentence of each paragraph. Why the first sentence? Usually, in textbooks, the first sentence is the topic sentence of the paragraph. It tells you what the rest of the paragraph is about. When you read the topic sentences I want you to make each of them into a question.
Now read the full ten pages (or whatever it comes out to be). By making the topic sentences into questions, you are answering those questions while reading. Why is that important? In your reading you are preparing for the exam. What is on the exam? Questions. We teachers do not want you to know this, but you will be surprised how many topic sentences become test questions. By reading this way, you are answering potential exam questions. Now, don’t tell your classmates this little secret. It is just between us.
Skim Day One’s reading
Skim Day Two’s reading just like you did for Day One yesterday
Now read day two’s reading.
Skim Day One
Skim Day Two
Skim Day Three
Read Day Three
Continue in this fashion.
Even when you finish with a chapter, continue to skim it. DO not hit the “Mental Delete Button.
Sometimes a professor will give you a list of people or terms that might be on the exam. If not, make your own list. You will prepare identifications from this list in a two sentence format.
Sentence One: Use this sentence to answer the “journalist” questions. Who, What, When, Where. Tell who the person was, what he or she did, when he/she lived (for me, in European, the correct quarter century, in U.S. the correct decade is close enough) where he lived.
Sentence Two: To write the book, the author had to leave out a lot of important people. In this sentence, you need to tell why this person was important enough to be in the book. What did he/she do that was so important?
Write or type each of the identifications. When you can do one five times correctly without looking at the original, you have it. Cross it off your list.
Unless told differently, you can use this format in any class.
I know that you all have been told how to take lecture notes. Write the important things. Write the main points. What clues to use? Voice inflection. Loudness. Repetition. The teacher writes on the board. The teacher says, “Write this down.” I disagree with the premise and with the hints. First of all, you do not know the main points. That is why you are in the class.
My advice to you is to try to write everything the prof. says. For me, it is a lot like the textbook. I do not have time to tell you everything I want to tell you. Therefore, everything I tell you is important. If you wait to decide if something is important enough to write, I am two or three sentences past that. You will never catch up.
Also, if you try to decide what is important enough to write in your notes, you are playing a guessing game with me. I am the one making the exam. What if you guess wrong? You are probably not going to pull a muscle in your brain by knowing more than you need to know. Don’t try to guess with the instructor.
As soon as possible after each class, type your notes into your computer. This helps memory and also allows you to see gaps or things you missed. The next day, before class, ask the prof about the gaps. Hopefully, as you do this, you will get better and have fewer gaps.
Each day, in the few minutes before the next class, quickly read over your notes from the previous day. This helps in memory and helps to make that next class make more sense.
Each evening, read over all of your lecture notes from that class. Repetition is the key. Also, read those notes out loud.
In my class, half of the exam questions are from the text/readings and half are from the lectures.
This is the format I demand on each essay and paper in my class. Once you master this format, you will be able to use it on anything you ever write, even through your PhD dissertation. I call it the multi-paragraph format.
First, you really should prepare an outline before you start writing. If you make a good outline, writing the paper is very easy. It practically writes itself.
First Paragraph – Also called the Introductory Paragraph
This is the most important paragraph in the paper/essay. In this paragraph, you will tell the reader what you are going to say. For example, if it is on the causes of U.S. entry into World War One, you might mention German Unrestricted Submarine Warfare, the Zimmerman Telegram, Wilson’s World View, and American Bankers.
The most important sentence in each paper/essay is the first. You each have one paper to write each time. I have ninety to read. Give me a reason to WANT to read YOURS. Grab my attention. DO NOT start a paper/essay with, “In this paper I will…” My thought when I read that is, “In this paper, I will fall asleep.” You only get one chance to make a first impression. The first sentence is that chance. Spend a good bit of time crafting that first sentence.
In the body of the paper/essay, you will have at least one paragraph for each point you mentioned in the introduction. Do not mention something in the introduction and leave it out of the body. Also, do not mention something in the body if you have not mentioned it in the introduction.
This is similar to the introduction. Bring your points together here. If the first sentence is the most important, the last is second. The first sentence is your first impression. The last is the last impression. Make it a lasting one.
Many professors give you a list of possible essays for the test ahead of time. If you are lucky enough to get that, take full advantage. Write an outline for each possible question. Get to the point where you can write each outline five times without looking at the original.
On an exam, before you start your essay, write your outline. Why take the time to do this? A couple of reasons. One is that it will refresh you memory and make the writing so much easier. Two- if you run out of time, the good prof. will be able to look at your outline and see where you were going and give you credit.
E. Preparing For Exams
My track runners begin preparing for the State Track Meet 162 days before the meet. You should have the same attitude for an exam. Your preparation for the first exam should begin the first day of class. For the second exam, the day after the first exam.
Form a study group. Students in law school and medical school do this. They do it because it works. Very seldom have I had students form and use a study group and not get an A in the class. I have a colleague who told his students, “Cooperation means graduation.”
Skim each of the chapters
Read each of the chapters
Read over your typed lecture notes.
Practice writing your essay outlines
Practice writing your identifications.
When you study and read, think in terms of questions. Questions are going to be what is on the exam. Prepare for that.
If you follow my suggestions as you go along, the last few days before an exam should be fairly easy. The day and night before should be a light review. A light jog or helmet, shorts and tee shirt workout. This should be a confidence builder.
A thread that runs through my Study Hints is “repetition”. The key to memory is “See it. Say it. Write it. Many times.” I believe that the brain stores EVERYTHING it sees, hears, writes, etc. The key is to be able to get to where it is stored and retrieve it. There is a story. A woman gets in a taxi in New York City and asks the driver, “Do you know how to get to Carnegie Hall?” He responds, “Practice, practice, practice.” If you follow my suggestions, that is what you will be doing.
The only way to get better at making six foot putts is to practice making six foot putts using the proper technique time after time. The only way to get better making free throws is to practice making free throws using the proper technique time after time. The only way to learn how to play a song on a guitar without looking at the notes is to practice it time after time.
When you do this, you are making mental pathways to where the information is stored in the brain. The more times you do something, the more plainly the path is marked. The easier it is to retrieve the information. That is the way we learn in athletics. That is the way we learn.
Spend time each day skimming and reading. Spend time each day typing lecture notes and reading lecture notes out loud. Spend time each day practicing essay outlines and identifications.
Football players spend 12-15 hours a week practicing for a football game. Should we not spend at least as much time practicing for academics?
I hope that this helps you. I really want each of you to be a 4.0 student. I can give you the tools. You have to supply the motivation.