The Study Dude – What Smart Students Know

Study Tips from a Semi-Anonymous Friend

There is nothing more that The Study Dude wants for you than for you to be loved by the world for your soul?and your giant brain!

Well, in these articles, as The Study Dude, I’ll try to give you the study tips you need to help make your learning easier. 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 a reading of Adam Robinson’s What Smart Students Know: Maximum Grades. Optimum Learning. Minimum Time. (1993).

Condensing Notes
The Study Dude never got so innovative as to continually condense and integrate study notes, as advised by Adam Robinson (1993). Instead, I highlighted nearly everything on each and every reading or lecture note page and transferred the massive pile of ideas onto cue cards. This system was so cumbersome that it left me at a loss when taking a full course-load plus acting as a TA in grad studies.

Now the Study Dude is going to share with you the secret elixir to making exam time more manageable and more time efficient. Here are Robinson’s (1993) timeless tips for condensing notes:
– At the end of the first week of school, type up study notes that combine your readings and lecture notes.
– At the end of each and every week, add the new information from lectures and readings into your notes, but organize and consolidate them more succinctly each week.
– Never throw away any of your earlier versions of condensed study notes, but keep them always on hand for reference (as you may need to investigate the notes in more detail, which an earlier version might better convey)
– Your first week of class should result in one page of notes, each week gradually getting larger (reaching up to a hundred pages by the 2/3rds point of the course), but then decreasing in size to one page of notes. Your aim is to be able to condense the course into one or two pages of notes by the end of the semester (while maintaining, again, all of your prior versions of the condensed note for additional detail).
– When you have your final one or two pages of condensed notes at the final week, if it is two pages long, photocopy it.
– You should be able to recite the information on your study notes by heart.
– Again, your study notes should be reorganized, restructured, and consolidated on a weekly basis.
– After the first week of classes, make a rough outline of major topics by referring to the Table of Contents in your textbook and the syllabus (and the week’s lecture notes, of course). This initial sketch should constitute one to two pages of your first round of study notes.

Choosing a Topic
When choosing a topic, the Study Dude recommends you link your topic with either something that you are naturally interested in or something into which you already have insight.

Robinson (1993) has a complete strategy for writing papers, and what follows is his advice on how to most effectively choose an essay topic:

– Find topic ideas by reviewing summary sheets, your study notes (see above), or lecture notes.
– Also find topic ideas by reviewing your textbook bibliography, suggested readings, index, or Table of Contents. Sometimes a surprising book or article title might take you in a fascinating direction.
– Look in the Readers’ Guide to Periodical Literature for magazine articles that might present a new and exciting topic idea.
– Consult a reference librarian at your local library or at the university for assistance.
– Find topic ideas by looking up the subject matter in an encyclopedia or periodical.
– Overlap topic subject matter with areas you are familiar with. For instance, if you have a music background, integrate a history course topic with an investigation of the role of the saxophone in a certain past political leader’s charisma. Even go as far as applying your topic to multiple classes you are taking or have taken.
– Ask your instructor for ideas.
– Choose a topic you know something about.
– Make sure your topic is not strictly factual, but is something can be disagreed upon (or is somewhat controversial, but not overly controversial).

Find the Expert Questions
The Study Dude took classes mostly in math to start, developing a problem-solving knack that is a must for the sciences. When I tried a dance class, believe it or not, it was a drastic transition from the learning style to which I was accustomed. In dance class, you had to practice hard, spend lots of time lifting weights and doing cardio outside of class, and write essays on famous dance icons. Practice and performance?not problem solving?were essential to dance classes.

I longed to take English classes and anatomy classes, but the unknown of what the shift in the study demands would be left me reticent. These weren’t the problem solving classes I was accustomed to. My dilemma was similar for taking a computer science class: what mode of study do computer science classes require and how cryptic might this be from a newcomer’s perspective?

With the above in mind, Robinson (1993) encourages us to quickly determine the “expert” questions in any subject and hone in on them right away. These expert questions are the crux of exams. To summarize, here is the foundation of these expert questions that will get you started in the right direction for any type of diverse class format you take:

– Every type of course, whether it be English, math, art, or sociology has at least twelve questions that could be considered “expert questions”, or questions that you would be expected to know in order to have an expertise in the subject matter.
– For analytical and responsive subject types, such as art history, dance theory, English, literature, philosophy, and theology, the questions would be different from a problem solving course, such as math or chemistry.
– Literature classes will have common expert questions, such as “who is the major character?”, “what does each character want?”, “what are the obstacles that each character faces in light of attempting to achieve what they want?’”
– In a literature class, there are many questions that can be broken down into topics such as character, theme, setting, and so forth.
– In math, which is a problem solving type of course, the expert questions can include “what is the pattern?”, “if one variable changes, what will be the change in the next?”, “what does each step of the problem try to capture or solve?”, “how can I derive this formula from scratch?”, “is this question generalizable?”
– The important thing is to start isolating the key questions that arise in your readings and lectures. Make them general so they can be applied to multiple examples or situations.

Supplementary material
One of the many hallmark features of Robinson’s (1993) book is his emphasis on students acquiring multiple sources of supplementary materials. For instance, when you get your textbook, go to the library and bookstore to get similar books on the topic for added reference. When you get stuck in your main textbook, look up the subject in the index of other supplementary sources, and have a go at learning from a different perspective. Plus, the added perspective of different authors from different books will provide additional and often unique problems for you to get a better mastery of the subject.

The Study Dude knows someone who did so well with utilizing supplementary materials that he was PhD fodder. You, too, can excel by scouring supplementary materials. After all, Robinson (1993) says that we must understand the material before we commit it to memory.

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.

Robinson, Adam. (1993). What Smart Students Know. Maximum grades. Optimum learning. Minimum time. New York, NY: Random House.

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