When it comes to effective studying, there is no universal method that fits every student or subject. Developing good study habits is largely a matter of the individual student figuring out what works best for him or her. There are, however, some practical methods and guidelines to follow.
Two common study habit mistakes are procrastination and cramming. Cramming is studying too much at one time, perhaps spending only a relatively short period of time on an enormous amount of information. Thus, the student crams the information in, but does not assimilate it. These mistakes sabotage any attempt to form good study habits.
In contrast, two rules of thumb for good study habits are planning and repetition. By planning a study schedule, a student can estimate about how much time it will take to learn the material at hand, and what activities would be the most effective use of this time. Repeated exposure of the brain to the same information makes the information more likely to be retained. Through repeated exposure, information becomes something one simply knows, rather than something one has temporarily memorized.
Regarding specific methods for employing good study habits, one method is to know what one is about to learn. For example, in the case of textbooks, the student should flip through the entire portion to be studied, and read each of the chapter titles and section titles. If the textbook provides questions at the end of a section, these should be read prior to reading the section. This way the student knows what issues to heed, and can analyze them as they appear.
After reading the section, the student can test comprehension by answering provided questions without turning back to the appropriate pages. If vocabulary terms are provided, the student should try to jot down some facts from the reading that pertain to the vocabulary. All this work should be written down in an organized fashion, which creates a study review guide for the student to follow at a later time.
Some reading material is not in textbook form, such as literary novels, essays, or scientific reports. Highlighting key information can be useful, though students often forget exactly why they had highlighted a certain passage. In this case, it may be helpful write marginalia next to the highlighted text, noting connections to other important ideas, or simply reactions one has to the text.
A similar method can be used with borrowed books that cannot be marked. Post-its can be written on and placed on the appropriate pages of the original text. A particularly good study habit is to use an organized Post-it system wherein each Post-it features a group of related pieces of information. For example, one might have a Post-it titled, “Important People”, followed by a short list of these people. Then separate Post-its can be devoted to each person providing more detailed information. The Post-it method is a particularly useful strategy in employing good study habits because these Post-its can later be transferred to a separate piece of paper creating a study guide.
Other good study habits include partnered and group study sessions. Through these methods students can share ideas, and help each other expand upon the material. In addition, when one student teaches another student a piece of information, this indicates that he or she already has a firm understanding of that material, and has committed the information to memory.
When faced with a particularly large amount of study material, students may choose to divide the information among them, and rely on each of their study-mates to deliver a comprehensive report of their assigned information. This is not a bad study habit, however, each student should read all of the material, and be familiar with the issues that their study-mates may be presenting. This way the reports given by each study-mate will be a review for each student, rather than presenting information with which the student is completely unfamiliar. Furthermore, if the material is presented in linear progression, students may not understand their own portions of the material without reading what came before it.