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How To Study: The Basics

One Instructor's Unofficial Advice on How To Study


Weekly Schedule Grid (Example)

A realistic and achievable schedule can be nearly miraculous. People often don't want to hear or believe it, but it is usually true. If you manage your time to get the necessary work done while allowing for rest and play, you'll be a more effective student and a happier person. A realistic and achievable schedule includes items that are specific about subjects and times. "I'll stay up all weekend and finish everything" is NOT realistic or achievable. An example of a realistic and achievable schedule entry is, "I'll study for my math course on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 6 to 6:50 PM."

CLICK HERE to see a video describing one busy student's method for managing time, and CLICK HERE for a slightly different perspective. 



Dictionary, Notebook and Pencil

At a minimum, getting good grades in college requires reading, writing, and review. Your daily and weekly plans need to include time for all three of those activities, in addition to other kinds of work individual classes might require.


Laptop computer and paper notebook

Most people get discouraged if they try to tackle a giant pile of work all at once. It is often easier to break the work up into individual tasks so that you can complete each step in a period of time that is comfortable for you, such as an hour, 30 minutes, or even 20 minutes. For example, you might read one chapter for English, take a short break, then do the problems in this week's chapter in Math, take a short break, then read 10 pages from your Biology textbook. By doing this, many students discover that their ability to concentrate for longer periods of time increases. 


Photograph of student taking notes in a paper notebook

Since you'll need to review from time to time, you'll need to take notes. What exactly that means may vary, depending on your learning style and the kinds of courses you're taking. For most people, taking notes in class does NOT mean writing down everything the instructors says. Many students should write down only specific details, such as names, dates, technical terms, and formal definitions. After class, you can go back over your lecture notes to add information that links the details into an organized structure. You can take notes on assigned readings as well. There are many suggested methods for taking notes, such as Cornell Notes, but the best method is the one that works for you.

CLICK HERE to see a 3-minute video on how to take Cornell Notes.


Computer screen with shorter (summarized) text on the right

It is often helpful to summarize reading assignments. Write down the author, title, and year of publication. Describe in one short paragraph the main points of the reading. Write a one sentence assessment of the evidence provided by the writer. A reading summary could be on a note card, a single page in your notebook, or an electronic equivalent. When you study for tests and assignments, you'll be able to review the reading summaries together with the lecture notes from the course.  


Textbook with parts highlighted by a student

Textbooks typically present information that is dense and complex, so just reading through a textbook chapter as if it were a novel or short story is NOT effective studying for most students. BEFORE you read the text of the chapter, stop and think about the subject and title. Read the opening and closing paragraphs FIRST. Read the headings within the chapter. If there are images, examine them and read their captions. Read margin notes and inset boxes if these are included. Skim the chapter, reading only the first sentence (or what appears to be the topic sentence) of each paragraph. Read the chapter only AFTER you've developed a conceptual outline of it in this way. Most students find their reading retention is a lot better if they study textbooks using this method or some variant of it. 


Outline of a human figure reviewing notes

Review your notes, including pages in your notebook, reading summaries, and textbook highlighting (if you highlight while you read). You'll need to do this in preparation for tests, but that should not be the only time you review. Reviewing your notes should be part of your weekly study schedule, and that kind of regular review makes preparing for tests much less stressful.


Question marks floating above the head of an outlined human figure

You'll learn better if you actively ask yourself questions about readings and assignments. What's the subject of a particular reading? How does it relate to the course? Why might the instructor have selected that book, article, or chapter, rather than something else? What kinds of questions might the instructor ask about the reading in class or on a test? What were the main points of the assigned reading? Did the writer do a good job of explaining and supporting those points? How or how not? These kinds of questions help build memories of readings and other kinds of assignments.


Pie chart showing phases of writing as Prewrite, Draft, Revise, Edit, Publish

Writing a good paper requires a series of steps that are often better done on different days than all at once. If possible, do your research, brainstorming, and outlining on one day, then write a draft the next. On the following day read your draft and consider how to improve it. Have you followed instructions and fulfilled the assignment? Have you made one or more points and supported them? Could the paper be organized differently to communicate more clearly? Revise your paper into a final draft accordingly. Proofreading is vital, and is often more effective when done the day AFTER you wrote your last draft. 


It is generally understood and accepted that your writing and other kinds of submissions will often make use of the words and ideas of others. Academic integrity requires that you acknowledge the sources you use by indicating which parts of your work are based on the work of others, and fully identifying the sources for each. This is done by means of CITATION and BIBLIOGRAPHY. Failing to acknowledge your sources is PLAGIARISM. The detailed requirements you're expected to meet will vary from course to course and from instructor to instructor, but the basic principle is universal. Help is available from the Writing Center and the Library.

CLICK HERE to visit the Library's web page on avoiding Plagiarism.  


Calendar with a due date circled in red

Check the syllabus or list of due dates for each of your courses at least once a week. What assignments are due this week? What's going to be due next week? Have you scheduled study time to complete those assignments?


Example of the My Grades page from Blackboard Learn

Some instructors will provide markups and comments, as well as grades, for each assignment you turn in. If you're submitting work online, you should be able to see the grades, comments, and markups within the same Learning Management System in which you submitted the assignments. These are important resources. Did you get the grade you thought you'd get? Did the instructor suggest specific improvements? If your grades are lower than you expect, it is important to take corrective actions earlier rather than later.


Student Success Center Banner (Office of Academic Affairs)

Important resources for studying more effectively and getting better grades include your instructor, your academic adviser, the Student Success Center, and the Office of Writing and Learning Services. Most of us, even if we're doing well in school, can get better at studying, managing time, and managing anxiety. If you notice that you're having trouble with a particular course or with college work in general, the time to get help from one or more of these university resources is NOW.


How Do I Learn Best: Reading, Visual, Listening, Hands, Writing, Technology, etc.

What works best for someone else might or might not work for you. One person might learn better from reading and writing text, another might need to speak into an audio recorder then listen, while another might need to map topics out in charts and diagrams. Many will use a combination of these, applying different learning styles to different topics. Don't be afraid to experiment with different techniques. The best learning method is the one that works for you. 



eBooks in Loyola's Library Catalog (you'll have to log in if you're off campus)

How to Study: And Other Skills for Success in College, 5th ed. (2003), by Mundsack, Deese, Deese & Morgan

How to Study & Learn, 2nd ed. (1996), by Peter Marshall

Updated 26 Nov 2021