The Study Dude
Study Tips from a Semi-Anonymous Friend
The Study Dude
Volume 25 Issue 40 2017-10-13
There is nothing more that The Study Dude wants than for you to fly through graduate studies, get nominated for a Nobel Prize, and commit to memory the first 40,001 digits of pi.Coles Notes. (2012). Study skills: Study guide. Mississauga, Ontario: John Wiley & Sons Canada, Ltd.
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 on a reading of Stefanie Weisman’s Secrets of Top Students: Tips, Tools, and Techniques for Acing High School and College (2013).
eBooks Versus Print: Why eBooks Reduce Learning
When The Study Dude heard that Athabasca University was proposing to replace hard copy books with eBooks (and not merely supplying both as options), my eyes watered and the tissue box emptied. I know what works for me, and eBooks seem in too premature a state to be an effective replacement for print. However, I thanked my lucky stars when the Student’s Union advocated for better alternatives (such as providing both print books and eBooks). Yet, the Study Dude and the SU are not alone in the view that eBooks are relatively poor substitutes for learning: much research supports this view.
Stefanie Weisman (2013) provides ample research to support the view that eBooks are unsatisfactory learning tools relative to print books. Here are some of the highlights:
• A study by Jakob Nielsen, indicated that reading speeds were greatly diminished on iPads and Kindles (relative to print books), with 6.2% and 10.7% reductions in reading speed, respectively. This roughly translates to you needing an extra full hour of wasted study time for every nine hours of study when you use these devices. That’s an additional 10 hours needed of wasted study time for every 90 hours you invest. Over an entire semester, the total hours you waste reading on these devices become draconian.
• Jakob Nielsen also found that reading off of iPhones reduces reading comprehension by close to 50% (relative to a full screen monitor). That means, you would have to study 20 hours to comprehend readings that would otherwise take you 10 hours to master.
• A 2009 experiment at Reed College revealed that a program that issued Amazon Kindle DX to students had less positive feedback relative to print books. Issues reported with the Kindle DX included (but were not limited to) the lack of ability to display more than one page at a time, highlighting difficulties, and annotation problems.
• A study done by University of Washington Researchers demonstrated that Kindle interfered with what is called "cognitive mapping" (i.e., students had an inability to recall the location of where they read the text, which served to impair recall of the text itself).
• A University of Notre Dame focus group found a number of issues with the iPad, including the shortcomings of annotated highlighting, shoddy ability to type or handwrite notes on the product, limited multitasking capabilities without multiple documents opened side-by-side, and, the Study Dude’s favorite, the issues with trying to flip to and find pages not in sequential order.
(as cited in Weisman, 2013)
• Weisman (2013), however, says it succinctly, when she states "the best readers physically interact with their books—writing in the margins, circling key passages, dog-earing pages, slapping on Post-it notes, picking up other books for comparison, and so on" (p. 129).
The Study Dude believes while these devices can make reading efficient in locations or situations where the hard copy of the book is not available, relying solely on these devices for reading purposes (at the expense of a print textbook) not only reduces learning but also wastes considerable time.
Researching the Paper
When The Study Dude researched papers, it was usually done on the first day of paper topic assignment. I visited the library on the very first day and collected lots of materials on the topic, especially articles. In the articles, I would highlight anything that stood out as interesting and put a keyword that captured the essence of the highlighted piece in the margin. I would then gather them together and either place them on cue cards or go the easier route and type them up and then sort them by theme.
Not entirely unlike The Study Dude, here are Stefanie Weisman’s suggestions for researching the paper:
• Spend 5% of your paper research end writing time looking for a topic.
• Try to choose the least obvious choice of topics if given a choice in the first place.
• Look for any potential topics that inspired you during the course, or look for surprises in your notes such as contradictions, ambiguities, or controversial points to write about.
• Spend 30% of your paper research and writing time compiling researched points of interest or relevance and coming up with a thesis.
• Rarely use Websites in your citations, except if they are research institute or university affiliated. Don’t cite Wikipedia, but use it to find real research that you can cite.
• Learn google search criteria tips (outlined in Weisman’s book on page 148) such as entering "filetype:pdf" when you want just a PDF.
• Research JSTOR, ProQuest, EBSCO, and even the free Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ)
• Skim the materials you have, noting the more interesting points you find, and reading the footnotes for potential topics.
• Write down (or type up) any key points such as facts, names, dates, and anything else that may strike you as interesting or relevant.
• Write down your views on ideas in the research material, while being especially vigilant for finding holes in the authors’ arguments or contradictory or controversial points.
• Review notes, while being aware of any emerging themes. When you get that much material together, themes will inevitably start to emerge, which can become the foundation of your thesis.
• Devise a (typically) one sentence long thesis that takes a stand. Make it extra juicy by adding the counterargument in a subjective clause at the beginning of the thesis statement.
Once your research log finalizes and the thesis emerges, you can begin making an electronic outline by cutting and pasting points in your research log under the various headings (i.e., themes) that formed your thesis. With that in place, the paper practically writes itself!
Revisiting Note Taking: A Better Method
When The Study Dude previously read Coles Notes on note taking in a prior edition of The Study Dude, a promise was made to find a better system. You see, Coles Notes (2009) advocated for many wise lecture note-taking strategies, but with the glaring exception of advising students to paraphrase all or most of the instructor’s lessons. I knew there must be an easier method for you, and, yes, The Study Dude found one...
Stefanie Weisman devised a system that was not unlike that used by myself in my undergraduate years. Thankfully, it doesn’t require the student to work double time paraphrasing the entire lecture. Here are some of the salient points for taking lecture notes:
• Write nonstop in large print (more like scrawl) and don’t worry about being neat.
• Write down every point, whether major or minor, as it is all prime fodder for testing.
• Always write down the main idea and sub ideas as these are often tested through essay questions
• Always write down names, dates, places, and general facts as these often appear in multiple choice questions.
• Tighten up your notes through doing the following: omit superfluous words such as "the" and "a", omit adjectives and adverbs, substitute in shorter synonyms such as "so" for "therefore", and use mathematical symbols such as the equal sign to show relationship and plus or minus signs in place of "and" or "less", respectively.
• Connect related parts with arrows pointing from one to the other.
• Copy word-for-word everything written on the board by the instructor.
• Underline vocabulary terms, circle big ideas, and star anything that may be tested.
• Write in the margins, noting key points, things to return to, or potential essay topics or exam questions.
But, most of all, don’t spend precious time "paraphrasing" everything the instructor says (sorry, Coles Notes!). Instead, tighten it with math symbols, numbering, and shorthand.
Bonus: Free (Yes, Free!) Flashcard Software
Stefanie Weisman (2013) recommended a free flashcard software program for making your own flashcards for viewing on your computer. The software is called Anki and is available at http://ankisrs.net/.
The Study Dude is smitten by the possibility of creating electronic flashcards—especially for making a personalized vocabulary deck. I was so intrigued by the prospect that I downloaded the program and tried it out. It’s a very simple intuitive program that has a rather bland and small, yet practical, interface. It has a field for what you wish to enter on the front of the card, and a field for what you enter on the back.
The Study Dude took it even further. For vocabulary purposes, I decided that whenever I arrive at a baffling word in a textbook, I would write it on a list on the final page of the textbook and later transfer it to the flashcard program. Additionally, I would look up the word on dictionary.com and copy and paste the definition into the back of the electronic flashcard. Ah! Instant IQ booster...
Later in The Study Dude Series, we will explore advice from Dr. John Medina, the director of the Brain Center for Applied Learning Research , who claims (in his book Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School) to be able to rid of the idea of homework altogether through the brain’s memory rules. Yes, no homework!
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.
Weisman, Stefanie. (2013). The Secrets of Top Students: Tips, Tools, and Techniques for Acing High School and College. Naperville, Illinois: Sourcebooks.
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