The Study Dude – Study Tips from a Semi-Anonymous Friend

Studying from a distance often means studying alone. Without any other students to serve as examples or help, just figuring out the best ways to learn the material can be a task in itself. As The Study Dude, I’ll try to give you the advice you need to help make your learning easier.

There is nothing more that the Study Dude wants than to see you whip off A+ after A+, make it into graduate school, and become a professor. I made it all the way through graduate school, myself, but stopped short at the PhD. So, what went wrong?

Well, in these articles, I’ll show you lessons learned on how to study with the hope to groom you for your greatest performance ever! I’ll also give you straight and honest opinions and personal anecdotes?even the embarrassing ones that you wouldn’t ever dare read about from any other study tip guru.

Today’s study tips are based on a reading of Coles Notes Study Skills Study Guide (2012).

The Study Dude had a troubling quirk of not wanting to miss a detail. This meant I highlighted almost the entire page, for page after page, of readings, then typed up and memorized every highlighted tidbit. While it worked marvellously for a lighter course load, when the clinch came on in full-time graduate studies, I yearned for a better method. To make sure that you don’t shoo the Study Dude away when it comes to exam time, here are some tips on how to highlight.

– Read the paragraph in full and then go back, aiming to highlight the main idea (every paragraph should have one)?again, only once the entire paragraph is fully read. Do this for each successive paragraph.
– don’t feel obligated to highlight entire sentences. Sometimes, just a few poignant words in a sentence, here or there, will capture the main point.
– don’t use multiple color highlighters as this just proves confusing when it comes time to transfer your highlights to a computer.
(Coles Notes, 2012)

Admittedly, the Study Dude was a big brown-noser throughout school?often assuming the role of teacher’s pet ever since grade three. While this may seem contemptible to most, Coles Notes highlights courteous behavior toward the instructor as essential to success.

For example, not only will courtesy impact your grades now (especially for participation), but later in your academic career or job search, you will oftentimes find these professors lending you a hand with reference letters. Sound decent? Here is what Coles Notes say about making friends with your instructor:

– Always be polite, courteous, and respectful to your instructor.
– Always give honest reasons for missed assignments or exams?your instructor will typically know when you are telling the truth or not and will respect you that much more for coming up with an honest answer.
– If there is conflict that arises between you and your instructor, continue to be nothing less than polite and courteous, while considering?and taking responsibility for?what it is that you might have done wrong in the matter.
(Coles Notes, 2012)
(But the Study Dude refuses to believe you did wrong anyway, so That’s not important)

Note Taking
Sometimes the Study Dude uses brilliant self-made shorthand in note taking, such as using symbols such as “+” for “and” and “=” for “in conclusion”. Also, I underline key points and put additional thoughts in the margin?all while documenting every word the instructor says almost verbatim. However, when it comes time to review the notes, my eyes glaze over at endless pages of large scrawl that even I have trouble reading.

So, what is the solution? While taking actual (albeit obsolete) shorthand courses could work miracles in note taking, it can take more than a year to learn shorthand in enough detail to use. Coles Notes, on the other hand, has some ideas, as documented below, but the Study Dude remains on the quest to find you a better solution. Here are some of the ideas in the book:

– don’t record every word your instructor says verbatim. Paraphrase.
– Create a system for shorthand note taking, such as abbreviating proper names once they are introduced, using symbols such as “+”, “=”, “-“, “w/o” for “without”, or “b/c” for “because”.
– Indent segments to show hierarchy of thought wherever applicable.
– Do the readings that relate to the lecture prior to the class so that you will know the structure and content in better detail.
– Take lots of notes on the readings prior to the class, too, as this will fine tune your ears and allow you more time to find patterns and make connections between points.
– Leave out almost everything but the nouns and verbs (omitting items such as prepositions such as “to” and “from” and articles such as “the” and “an”.)
– Document the main ideas and leave spaces to fill in detail later on when you return to your notes for further study.
(Coles Notes, 2012)
– Use the “!” or some other symbol in the margins to denote important points (that will likely be on tests) (This one is not in the book, but the study dude relied heavily on it.)

After reading Coles Notes on the topic of note taking, I’m hesitant to try out the ideas in the book. You see, I don’t want to miss documenting a single thing the instructor says.

Quite frankly, I am phobic of paraphrasing?especially of getting so lost in thought on what to paraphrase next that I miss out on the main idea. It seems the above method requires you to do the readings in advance in order to be on your toes enough to paraphrase, all while making instant connections and seeing instant patterns. What about if you haven’t done the readings? If the lectures and the readings aren’t in sync?

Well, while Coles Notes are pretty sound, the above system leaves me a little leery about switching to this method out for good.

Later on in the Study Dude series, we will look at a more hearty method for taking notes, as outlined by Stefanie Weisman in her book The Secrets of Top Students: Tips, Tools, and Techniques for Acing High School and College.

So, there’s nothing to fear. The Study Dude is determined to make right for you all the wrongs I made in grad school?one A+ at a time.

Coles Notes. (2012). Study skills: Study guide. Mississauga, Ontario: John Wiley & Sons Canada, Ltd.

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