Improving your Study Habits as a Self-Learner
Paz Eulalia L. Saplala, Ph.D.
Give yourself time to adjust to the distance learning mode. Consider the following:
- How to improve your concentration,
- How to improve your comprehension of the learning materials,
- How to make notes, and
- How to prepare for and take examinations.
IMPROVING YOUR CONCENTRATION
- Clear your mind of distractions. It will be difficult to focus on your studies if you are worried about bills to be paid, work due in school if you are a teacher, or medical and other problems. Worrying will not solve your problems. What actions or concrete steps can you take to attend to these problems? If you have done the best you can, then turn your concentration on your studies.
- Go to your designated study area which should be relatively free from physical distractions. The act of sitting down at your study table should be a sign to yourself and to others, like your family, that you are determined to study seriously.
- Follow your timetable for study. Do not sit down to study only when you feel like doing so or you are in the mood to study. Chances are such moods are infrequent.
- Assign your study time to those hours when you are physically and mentally alert. It will be difficult to concentrate when you are physically exhausted. When is the best time for you to study? Perhaps you can perform some tasks at some other time of the day or request your family to help out and share in the burden of work so that you have a chance to study when you are still mentally and physically alert.
- If you have divided your learning modules into daily portions for study, then you have specific daily targets to accomplish. Focus on these targets. Concentrating on specific tasks helps you to avoid wasting your time.
- Know your span of concentration. If, despite your resolve to study, you are unable to concentrate after thirty or forty minutes, then get up, and take a shot break. Walk around the house, go out into the garden and breathe in some fresh air. A short break refreshes the mind and allows you to focus again with vigor on your work. Do not engage in a task that will keep you from going back to studying.
- You may wish to work on a system of rewards and penalties. Reward concentrated and successful study time with something you enjoy doing. But you may need to penalize yourself for delinquency in your studies. In the absence of the teacher, you are your own disciplinarian.
IMPROVING UNDERSTANDING AND COMPREHENSION
Here are some pointers on how to improve your understanding and comprehension.
1. At the start of a lesson, try to get a view of the general picture and at the same time try to find out the parts that make up the whole.
- Skim the unit or units to be studied to get a sense of the whole lesson.
- Read the objectives and figure out what concepts or principles are involved.
- Concentrate on understanding a particular concept.
- What are the details that help you to understand the concept?
- Do not just memorize details; understand the principle behind them.
- Is there a pattern in the development of the ideas, a logic you can follow?
- Can you see how one part relates to the next and how parts make up the total picture?
2. Familiarize yourself with new terms.
- Any subject, whether in the sciences, mathematics or the social sciences and the humanities, will have its own set of technical terms that operate within the subject area.
- Learn what those terms mean in the subject you are taking. Knowing the meaning of these terms will make it easy for you to follow the discussion in the module where these terms appear.
3. Pay attention to and try to understand the visual aids in the modules. These maybe sketches, graphs, charts, diagrams, etc. The writers took pains to include these materials as learning aids.
4. Learn to make notes.
5. Be an active, not a passive, reader. For the passive reader, words are just words. For the active reader, the words transform into concepts, ideas, principles, facts. As the process of transformation occurs, comprehension takes place. You are an active reader if you can form questions in your mind as you read, and try to find answers to these questions in the modules.
6. Relate what you study to previous knowledge that you have. If what you are learning is inconsistent with what you knew before, try to find out why this is so. Have you been harbouring false concepts? Are your notions outdated? Is there really an inconsistency?
MAKING NOTES AS AN AID TO COMPREHENSION
1. Marking or annotating the learning material.
- Underline main ideas and important details.
- Colored annotation can call your attention to key words, phrases and sentences.
- Jot down comments, questions, key points in summarized form.
- Use your own symbols to register your reaction to the learning module – question marks, exclamation points, wavy lines, asterisks, etc.
2. Taking notes from reference materials.
- Put together materials gathered from various sources in one folder.
- Organize notes by topic.
- Use the outline form with headings to present main ideas and supporting details.
- For individual quoted entries which you may need to use in a paper you plan to write, use index cards (which come in various sizes).
- Record sources of notes – title and author of text, year and place of publication, publisher, page number (s). if you write down these important facts about your references, you save yourself time in having to go back to verify your sources.
- Your notes should reflect your selective critical thinking.
- A profusion of notes that are disorganized may defeat the purpose of note taking as an aid to learning.
3. Concept mapping as a form of note taking.
- The purpose of a concept map is for you to show the relationship between ideas.
- A concept map also helps you to get an overview.
- One kind of concept map radiates from the center. Box the central idea in the center of a page of paper. Place subordinate ideas in smaller boxes around the central box. Connect the smaller boxes to the central box using lines and arrows to show the relationship.
- The vertical or hierarchical map is usually used to show structural organization, as for example in the plant or animal kingdom. It may also show relationships of positions within an institution. The boxes are arranged in a vertical order, to show a relationship in a descending or ascending order.
- The linear map helps fix in your mind the logical movement from one idea to the next. Ideas are placed in boxes arranged in a horizontal manner.
PREPARING FOR AND TAKING EXAMINATIONS
Review regularly. It is a sensible practice to study and review daily in small units or portions. That way, the material to be studied is within manageable limits. The frequent review also helps refresh your memory.
- A quick review of the lesson of the previous day will help you to move more easily into the modules to be studied for the day.
- Such a review also helps to link one unit to the next so that you perceive the subject as a whole and not as unrelated units.
- Towards the end of your study period for the day, quickly go over what you have studied. The summary at the end of a module or unit will help refresh your memory.
As the exam date nears:
- About a week before the examination, make a general review of the most of the units to be covered by the exam. Pay particular attention to those parts you find difficult to comprehend.
- Ask yourself if you have fully understood all the topics.
- Put more time to studying the difficult parts.
- Review the exercises in the modules.
- Practice doing the computations or solving problems. Do not just go over problems you have solved before. Try solving new ones.
- Review the marked assignments that have been returned to you and take note of the comments written by the marker. Consider how you can improve you work.
Have a clear view of the entire picture and how the parts relate meaningfully to the whole.
- List down all the topics to be covered in the exam.
- Make a concept map to help you perceive the relation between topics.
- Make notes to help you understand those parts of the modules with which you have the most difficulty.
Be prepared to answer different types of exams
- Multiple choice
- True or false
- Matching type
- Short essay answers
- Problem solving
- Drawing diagrams or illustrations
Check your examination schedule
You should have a schedule of the examinations and the units to be covered in each exam. Before the exam:
- Double check the date, time and venue.
- Check as well the coverage of the exam.
- Eat and sleep well.
- If you have studied daily and done your review regularly, there is no need to lose sleep the night before the exam. Lack of sleep might cause mental blocks during exam time.
- Plan to arrive at the learning center on time. While the exam may be given towards the end of the study session, it is wise to avoid being late. The prospect of being late may cause you to become anxious and a bit nervous.
- Be sure to have the writing materials you will need for the exam, such as pencils, ballpens, paper, calculator (if you are allowed to use of one).
- Quickly plan how to divide the examination period in terms of the number of questions to be answered.
- Take note of the mark value of the questions as you plan your answers and allocate your time.
Answering the exam
- Read and answer the questions carefully. What do the questions require you to do:
- Analyse, enumerate, discuss, explain, solve, select the right answer, etc.
- Answer the easiest question first so you don’t lose time.
- Avoid leaving a blank, but if points are deducted for wrong answers (in multiple choice or true or false), then be careful how you answer,
- Write neatly and legibly.
- Number your answers clearly - #1, 2, 3, etc.
- Give yourself time to review your answers.
- Above all, WRITE AN HONEST EXAM. The cheater brings dishonour to himself or herself.
Saplala, P.E. 1997. Improving Your Study Habits as a Self-learner. UP Open University.