Study techniques

Why do some    students get good grades while others do not? Some may respond by saying that it has to do with differences in the level of intelligence. However, there are very intelligent students that repetitively continue to fail, because they do not dedicate enough time to doing homework, are not interested in studying, or simply because they do not know how to study. Intelligence alone does not guarantee academic success.

   Still, what really is studying? For some students, academic life means simply to be enrolled in a school and attend some classes. Studying, however, is something more; it is to learn about a wide range of knowledge through the exercise of one’s intellect, memory, and will power, as well as with the capacity to analyze, synthesize, and compare, etc. The dictionary explains that studying means to exercise reasoning in order to be able to achieve or understand something.

   In order to study well and to carry out whatever job to term in a responsible manner, three things are necessary: capacity, motivation, and the knowhow to work or study.

   To have the capacity to study requires intelligence, as well as the rest of other human faculties. There is no doubt that intelligence is closely linked to academic success. Logically, in an environment of equal conditions, an “intelligent” student should be able to get better grades than his or her less intelligent classmates.

   To want to study requires the wish to do so, as well as the determination to gain some knowledge. There are students that with an average level of intelligence manage to get good results due to having put just enough personal effort and for having dedicated just enough time to studying. Motivation and wanting to study are just as important as intelligence itself, if not more. Many students fail not due to their lack of intelligence, but due to not being interested in studying, having apathy, leaving the work until the last minute, in other words, due to the lack of motivation.

   Knowing how to study is the third factor that can help in achieving a good academic performance. There are cases where the student may have just enough intelligence and dedicates just enough time to studying, however, the results are still poor and ends up failing. This may be due to the student’s bad study techniques. This is where the gap between effort and performance is noticeable.

   Other than these very important factors, there are other factors that should be taken into consideration, such as assimilating previously acquired knowledge, dedicating enough time to studying, and using adequate and effective tools, for example text books, dictionaries, and atlases, etc.

   We can only do little to improve intelligence, but we can do more to improve motivation and especially study techniques. There are general techniques that have been proven by actual experience, as well as by the theoretical and experimental knowledge of pedagogy and psychology.

   Study techniques are a complex of actions and strategies used to understand and memorize the concepts and contents of different subjects. These actions and strategies are the ones that are most commonly used by students that get good grades in school.

   Some students tend to argue that they already have a study system and do not need another one. Sometimes I compare studying with typing. There are two techniques for typing: write with one finger of the hand while looking at the keyboard, or write with all fingers without looking at the keyboard. The first form of typing has no method, with a lot of hand movement and a low typing rate per minute. Instead, the person who types with all fingers has learned to do so by applying a method, there is a higher typing rate per minute, and it is probable that this method beats the former in any contest. The same happens with respect to studying: One can study by applying a personal system or by following study techniques that have been tested before and that have been proven to be effective for many students.

   In order to gain these techniques or strategies, it is convenient to attend a specific course that usually orientation departments of institutes and colleges tend to provide. For students who have access to a computer, they can follow this course through a software program on this subject, such as the one that is widely described in the following Educational Applications website:

   The objective of these courses is to teach the student effective techniques so he or she can put them into practice in order to study efficiently and reach higher personal autonomy when it comes to studying.

   In this course, the following areas are explored:

   1. Establishing a weekly work schedule or diary. This schedule should most importantly be doable, adaptable to changing circumstances, and met in a more or less regular manner.

   2. Reading comprehension of texts. Something that is not fully understood should never be learned by memory. In order to understand, a text must be read attentively as many times as needed in order to attain a satisfactory comprehension level. If a word is not understood, a dictionary must be used.

   3. Underlining and marking the main ideas. Key words or significant phrases of the main ideas of a text should be marked with red and blue colors, pencils, pens, or highlighters.

   4. Making summaries. Once the main ideas of a text have been underlined and marked, it is necessary to further organize them by summarizing them; numeric or mixed schemes as well as synoptic tables are tools that can facilitate this. It is convenient that the student knows how to easily apply these techniques in order to give structure to main ideas, which will be useful in the future when the time comes to retain and recover information.

   5. Memorizing. It is in this phase that the summaries, schemes or tables that were made from the lesson have to be retained. In order to test if the concepts have been learned well, the text should be covered and explained as many times as necessary until it is known by heart. The idea is to retain and know the content, however, not word by word. It is also convenient to review the material many times before the exam.

   6. Preparing the exam. Apart from memorizing the main ideas, one must know how to express them through writing as well as orally. For taking exams, it is recommended to follow the following guidelines: read the questions carefully; make a small summary or scheme for personal use; answer the questions with complete and well structured phrases; use all the time that is available; and use the time that is left to check for errors.

   In order to really learn how to study, it is not sufficient to know these or other techniques, it is mainly necessary to put them into practice on a daily basis for all possible subjects until adopting the habit to naturally applying these techniques. The combination of theory and practice will improve academic performance (Translated by Gianna Sanchez Moretti).

   Arturo Ramo

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