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Unformatted text preview: In this chapter you
will explore Confessions of a COLLEGE STUDENT . . . ‘‘ ’’ MADISON DURRETT, 19
Wofford College comprehending, and remembering are essential
to getting the most out of your college experience. Although many students
think that the only reason for studying is to do well on exams, a far more
important reason is to learn and understand course information. If you study
to increase your understanding, you are more likely to remember and apply
what you learn not only to tests, but also to future courses and to life beyond
You might have learned to study effectively while you were in high school,
or you might be finding that you need to learn more about how to study. In
college you will need to spend time out of class reviewing course material,
doing assigned reading, and keeping up with your homework. Occasionally,
you will also want to go the extra mile by doing additional (unassigned) reading and investigating particular topics that interest you.
This chapter offers you a number of strategies for making the best use of
your study time. It also addresses the important topic of memory. There’s no
getting around it: If you can’t remember what you have read or heard, you
won’t do well on course exams. 1http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/bb/neuro/neuro05/web2/mmcgovern.html. Studying will help you accomplish two goals: understanding and remembering. While memory is a necessary tool for learning, what’s most important is
that you study to develop a deep understanding of course information. When
you truly comprehend what you are learning, you will be able to place names,
dates, and specific facts in context. You will also be able to exercise your
critical thinking abilities.
The human mind has discovered ingenious ways to understand and remember information. Here are some methods that might be useful to you as
you’re trying to nail down the causes of World War I, remember the steps in
a chemistry problem, or absorb a mathematical formula:
1. Pay attention to what you’re hearing or reading. This suggestion is perhaps the most basic and the most important. If you’re sitting in class
thinking about everything except what the professor is saying or if you’re
reading and you find that your mind is wandering, you’re wasting your
time. Force yourself to focus. 2. “Overlearn” the material. After you know and think you understand the
material you’re studying, go over it again to make sure that you’ll retain
it for a long time. Test yourself, or ask someone else to test you. Recite
aloud, in your own words, what you’re trying to remember.
3. Check the Internet. If you’re having trouble remembering what you have
learned, Google a key word, and try to find interesting details that will
engage you in learning more, not less, about the subject. Many first-year
courses cover such a large amount of material that you’ll miss the more
interesting details unless you seek them out for yourself. As your interest
increases, so will your memory for the topic. 4. Be sure you have the big picture. Whenever you begin a course, make sure
that you’re clear on what the course will cover. You can talk with someone who has already taken the course, or you can take a brief look at all
the reading assignments. Having the big picture will help you understand
and remember the details of what you’re learning.
5. Look for connections between your life and what’s going on in your
courses. College courses might seem irrelevant to you, but if you look
more carefully, you’ll find many connections between course material and
your daily life. Seeing those connections will make your courses more interesting and will help you remember what you’re learning. For example,
if you’re taking a music theory course and studying chord patterns, listen
for those patterns in contemporary music.
6. Get organized. If your desk or your computer is organized, you’ll spend
less time trying to remember a file name or where you put a particular
document. And as you rewrite your notes, putting them in a logical order
(either chronological or thematic) that makes sense to you will help you
learn and remember them. 7. Reduce stressors in your life. Although there’s no way to determine the
extent to which worry or stress causes you to be unable to focus or to
forget, most people will agree that stress can be a distraction. Healthy,
stress-reducing behaviors, such as meditation, exercise, and sleep, are especially important for college students. Many campuses have counseling
or health centers that can provide resources to help you deal with whatever might be causing stress in your daily life. Kenneth Higbee describes two different processes involved in memory.
The first is short-term memory, defined as how many items you are able to
perceive at one time. Higbee found that information stored in short-term
memory is forgotten in less than thirty seconds (and sometimes much faster)
unless you take action to either keep that information in short-term memory
or move it to long-term memory.
Although short-term memory is significantly limited, it has a number of
uses. It serves as an immediate but temporary holding tank for information, some of which might not be needed for long. It helps you maintain a
reasonable attention span so that you can keep track of topics mentioned in
conversation, and it enables you to stay on task with the goals you are pursuing at any moment. But even these simple functions of short-term memory
fail on occasion. If the telephone rings, if someone asks you a question, or if
you’re interrupted in any way, you might find that your attention suffers and
that you essentially have to start over in reconstructing short-term memory.
The second memory process is long-term memory, and this is the type
of memory that you will need to improve so that you will remember what
you’re learning in college. Long-term memory can be described in three ways.
Procedural memory is knowing how to do something, such as solving a mathematical problem or playing a musical instrument. Semantic memory involves
facts and meanings without regard to where and when you learned those
things. Episodic memory deals with particular events, their time, and place.2
You are using your procedural memory when you get on a bicycle you
haven’t ridden in years, when you can recall the first piece you learned to
play on the piano, when you effortlessly type a letter or class report, and
when you drive a car. Your semantic memory is used continuously to recall
word meanings or important dates, such as your mother’s birthday. Episodic
memory allows you to remember events in your life—a vacation, your first
day in school, the moment you opened your college acceptance letter. Some
people can recall not only the event but also the very date and time the event
happened. For others, although the event stands out, the dates and times are
harder to remember immediately. 2W. F. Brewer and J. R. Pani, “The Structure of Human Memory,” in G. H. Bower (Ed.), The
Psychology of Learning and Motivation: Advances in Research and Theory, vol. 17 (New
York: Academic Press, 1983), pp 1–38. It can be easy to blame a poor memory on the way we live; multitasking has
become the norm for college students and instructors. Admittedly, it’s hard
to focus on anything for very long if your life is full of daily distractions and
competing responsibilities or if you’re not getting the sleep you need. Have
you ever had the experience of walking into a room with a particular task in
mind and immediately forgetting what that task was? You were probably interrupted either by your own thoughts or by someone or something else. Or
have you ever felt the panic that comes from blanking on a test, even though
you studied hard and thought you knew the material? You might have pulled
an all-nighter, and studying and exhaustion raised your stress level, causing
your mind to go blank. Such experiences happen to everyone at one time or
another. But obviously, to do well in college—and in life—it’s important that
you improve your ability to remember what you read, hear, and experience.
As one writer put it, “there is no learning without memory.”3 On the other
hand, not all memory involves real learning.
Is a good memory all you need to do well in college? Most memory
strategies tend to focus on helping you remember names, dates, numbers,
vocabulary, graphic materials, formulas—the bits and pieces of knowledge.
However, if you know the date the Civil War began and the fort where
the first shots were fired but you don’t really know why the Civil War was
fought, you’re missing the point of a college education. College is about
deep learning, understanding the “why” and “how” behind the details. So
don’t forget that while recall of specific facts is certainly necessary, it isn’t
sufficient. To do well in college courses, you will need to understand major
themes and ideas, and you will also need to hone your ability to think critically about what you’re learning. Critical thinking is discussed in depth in
Chapter 5 of this book. Although scientific knowledge about how our brains function is increasing
all the time, Kenneth Higbee suggests that you might have heard some myths
about memory (and maybe you even believe them). Here are five of these
memory myths, and what experts say about them:
1. Myth: Some people are stuck with bad memories.
Reality: Although there are probably some differences among people in
innate memory (the memory ability a person is born with), what really
gives you the edge are memory skills that you can learn and use. Virtually
anyone can improve the ability to remember and recall.
2. Myth: Some people have photographic memories.
Reality: Although a few individuals have truly exceptional memories, most research has found that these abilities result more often from
learned strategies, interest, and practice than from some innate ability.
Even though you might not have what psychologists would classify as an
exceptional memory, applying the memory strategies presented later in
this chapter can help you improve it.
3Harry Lorayne, Super Memory, Super Student: How to Raise Your Grades in 30 Days
(Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1990). 3. Myth: Memory benefits from long hours of practice.
Reality: Practicing memorizing can help improve memory. If you have ever
been a server in a restaurant, you might have been required to memorize
the menu. You might even have surprised yourself at your ability to memorize not only the main entrees, but also sauces and side dishes. Experts
acknowledge that practice often improves memory, but they argue that
the way you practice, such as using special creative strategies, is more important than how long you practice.
4. Myth: Remembering too much can clutter your mind.
Reality: For all practical purposes, the storage capacity of your memory is
unlimited. In fact, the more you learn about a particular topic, the easier
it is to learn even more. How you organize the information is more important than the quantity.
5. Myth: People only use 10 percent of their brain power.
Reality: No scientific research is available to accurately measure how
much of our brain we actually use. However, most psychologists and
learning specialists believe that we all have far more mental ability than
we actually tap. Wired WINDOW Throughout history, human memory has been a topic of great interest and fascination for scientists and the general public. Although severe problems with
memory are extremely rare, you’re in good company if you find that your memory occasionally lets you down, especially if you’re nervous or stressed or when
grades depend on immediate recall of what you have read, heard, or written.
So how can you improve your ability to store information in your brain for
future use? Psychologists and learning specialists have conducted research on
memory and have developed a number of strategies that you can use as part of
a study-skills regimen. Some of these strategies might be new to you, but others
will be simple commonsense ways to maximize your learning—ideas that you’ve
heard before, though perhaps not in the context of improving your memory.
The benefits of having a good memory are obvious. In college, your memory
will help you retain information and ace tests. After college, the ability to recall
names, procedures, presentations, and appointments will save you energy and
time and will prevent a lot of embarrassment.
There are many ways to go about remembering. Have you ever had to
memorize a speech or lines from a play? How you approach committing the
lines to memory might depend on your learning style. If you’re an aural learner,
you might choose to record your lines as well as lines of other characters and
listen to them on tape. If you’re a visual learner, you might remember best by
visualizing where your lines appear on the page in the script. If you learn best by
reading, you might simply read the script over and over. If you’re a kinesthetic
learner, you might need to walk or move across an imaginary stage as you read
the script. Although knowing specific words will help, remembering concepts and
ideas can be much more important. To embed such ideas in your mind, ask
yourself these questions as you review your notes and books:
1. What is the essence of the idea?
2. Why does the idea make sense? What is the logic behind it?
3. How does this idea connect to other ideas in the material?
4. What are some possible arguments against the idea? Mnemonics (pronounced “ne MON iks”) are various methods or tricks to
aid the memory. Mnemonics tend to fall into four basic categories:
1. Acronyms. New words created from the first letters of several words can
be helpful in remembering. The Great Lakes can be more easily recalled
by remembering the word “HOMES” for Huron, Ontario, Michigan,
Erie, and Superior. 2. Acrostics. An acrostic is a verse in which certain letters of each word or
line form a message. Many piano students were taught the notes on the
treble clef lines (E, G, B, D, F) by remembering the acrostic “Every Good
Boy Deserves Fudge.”
3. Rhymes or songs. Do you remember learning “Thirty days hath
September, April, June, and November. All the rest have 31, excepting
February alone. It has 28 days time, but in leap years it has 29”? If so,
you were using a mnemonic rhyming technique to remember the days in
4. Visualization. You use visualization to associate words, concepts, or stories with visual images. The more ridiculous the image, the more likely
you are to remember it. So use your imagination to create mental images when you’re studying important words or concepts. For example,
as you’re driving to campus, choose some landmarks along the way to
help you remember material for your history test. The next day, as you
pass those landmarks, relate them to something from your class notes
or readings. A white picket fence might remind you of the British army’s eighteenth-century approach to warfare, with its official uniforms
and straight lines of infantry, while a stand of trees of various shapes
and sizes might remind you of the Continental army’s less organized
Mnemonics work because they make information meaningful through
the use of rhymes, patterns, and associations. They impose meaning where
meaning might be hard to recognize. Mnemonics provide a way of organizing
material, a sort of mental filing system. Mnemonics probably aren’t needed
if what you are studying is very logical and organized, but they can be quite
useful for other types of material.
Although mnemonics are a time-tested way of remembering, the method
has some limitations. The first is time. Thinking up rhymes, associations,
or visual images can take longer than simply learning the words themselves
through repetition. Also, it is often difficult to convert abstract concepts into
concrete words or images, and you run the risk of being able to remember
an image without recalling the underlying concept. Finally, memory specialists debate whether learning through mnemonics actually helps with longterm knowledge retention and whether this technique helps or interferes with
deeper understanding. To prepare for an exam that will cover large amounts of material, you need
to condense the volume of notes and text pages into manageable study units.
Review your materials with these questions in mind: Is this one of the key
ideas in the chapter or unit? Will I see this on the test? As suggested in
Chapter 7, you might prefer to highlight, underline, or annotate the most important ideas or create outlines, lists, or visual maps.
Use your notes to develop review sheets. Make lists of key terms and
ideas (from the recall column if you’ve used the Cornell method) that you need to remember. Also, don’t underestimate the value of using your lecture
notes to test yourself or others on information presented in class.
A mind map is essentially a review sheet with a visual element. Its word
and visual patterns provide you with highly charged clues to jog your memory. Because they are visual, mind maps help many students recall information more easily.
Figure 8.1 shows what a mind map might look like for a chapter on
listening and learning in the classroom. Try to reconstruct the ideas in the
chapter by following the connections in the map. Then make a visual mind
map for this chapter, and see how much more you can remember after
studying it a number of times. Instructor’s
class time Student “owns”
only 25% of
As a result,
2 choices A better
“active listening” 1 choice is to
what she hears
(zzz dead end) Here’s why
Here’s how to
4 benefits of
active listening Diagram of
reviewing as soon
as possible Emphasis on
recite” In addition to review sheets and mind maps, you might
want to create flash cards. One of the advantages of flash
cards is that you can keep them in a pocket of your backpack or jacket and pull them out to study anywhere, even
when you might not think that you have enough time
to take out your notebook to study. Also, you always
know where you left off. Flash cards can help you
make good use of time that might otherwise be
wasted, such as time spent on the bus or waiting
for a friend. Writing summaries of class topics can be helpful in preparing for essay and
short-answer exams. By condensing the main ideas into a concise written
summary, you store information in your long-term memory so you can retrieve it to answer an essay question. Here’s how:
1. Predict a test question from your lecture notes or other resources.
2. Read the chapter, supplemental articles, notes, or other resources.
Underline or mark main ideas as you go, make notations, or outline on a
separate sheet of paper.
3. Analyze and abstract. What is the purpose of the material? Does it compare two ideas, define a concept, or prove a theory? What are the main
ideas? How would you explain the material to someone else?
4. Make connections between main points and key supporting details.
Reread to identify each main point and the supporting evidence. Create
an outline to assist you in this process.
5. Select, condense, and order. Review underlined material, and begin putting the ideas into your own words. Number what you underlined or
highlighted in a logical order.
6. Write your ideas precisely in a draft. In the first sentence, state the purpose of your summary. Follow this statement with each main point and
its supporting ideas. See how much of the draft you can develop from
memory without relying on your notes.
7. Review your draft. Read it over, adding missing transitions or insufficient
information. Check the logic of your summary. Annotate with the material you used for later reference.
8. Test your memory. Put your draft away, and try to recite the contents of
the summary to yourself out loud, or explain it to a study partner who
can provide feedback on the information you have omitted.
9. Schedule time to review summaries, and double-check your memory
shortly before the test. You might want to do this with a partner, but
some students prefer to review alone. Some faculty members also might
be willing to assist you in this process and provide feedback on your summaries. Where to go FOR HELP . . . Chapter REVIEW . . .
One-Minute PAPER . . . Applying What You’ve LEARNED. . . Building Your PORTFOLIO. . . ‘‘ ’’ ...
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This note was uploaded on 05/02/2010 for the course US/101 AAGI0NMRC4 taught by Professor Kathybaucum during the Spring '10 term at University of Phoenix.
- Spring '10