My Study Methodology

Introduction

Here in Potchefstroom it is now officially research time.  Yes, the exams are but 17 days away and it is the time that most students are hitting the textbooks, catching up on their reading and studying their butts off for the coming papers (I hope).  I thought this would be a brilliant time to waste a few minutes typing, and to explain to the one or two people who might read this in the future, how exactly it is that I study.

So what is studying in the first place?

You might think think this is a stupid question for me to ask.  Everyone knows what studying is, right?  Well, no.  Each person has his/her own interpretation of what studying is and what it should be.  So let me enlighten you, alright?  I’m just kidding.

I believe studying to be the process, in which ever form it may take, of imparting to oneself knowledge, in such a way that it is possible to revisit that knowledge and use it in the answering of questions and the altering of one’s opinions, goals, ideals, convictions, actions, behaviour etc. in a meaningful way.  Essentially it is whatever you do with knowledge that lets you remember and use it.

My Methodology

So, using this admittedly broad definition, let us look at my methodology, and the reasoning behind it, for my studies.

Preparing for class

Many of you (of the one or two reading this) are going to tell me that before class prep isn’t studying.  This is why I defined studying first.  Studying is any process that etc. etc. etc.  By this logic, the moment you first begin to look at knowledge you are already busy with the study process.  So let us continue.

Before one can begin ‘studying’ one needs to be exposed to the knowledge.  And before I go to class, I prepare.  I use the textbook and often read other material on the subject.  I broaden my knowledge base and get question ready for class.  Those in high school will likely not understand why I do this. So let me clarify.

At university, it is not the lecturer’s responsibility to explain and go through the work with you.  It is their responsibility to answer your questions.  It is your responsibility as a student to go through the work, prepare questions, and ask them during class so that the lecturer can answer them.  Class isn’t about you being taught, but it is an opportunity for you to ask for guidance and explanations for that which you don’t understand.

Notes, Notes, Notes

This is a very important step in my studying process.  When sitting in class I make notes.  Not just to have them for later reference, but to help me remember.  Academic studies (the exact studies hopelessly escape my ind) have found that people remember better when using more senses.  This is because your mind makes connections.  Have you ever tried listening to soft, orchestral music while studying?  Or have you sung your material to yourself?  Have you then found yourself thinking of the song or humming the tune in which you memorised the work to yourself during the test or exam.  If you have then you know exactly what I mean.  When a person is studying, the brain connects all the different senses and uses them to strengthen the connection in the brain associated with memory.
In essence, the more senses you use, the better you remember.
By writing or typing down my notes, I associate what the lecturer is saying with the visuals I am producing on screen or paper.  The motoric action of writing or typing these notes also further strengthen the memory of the comments or arguments in my mind.  This greatly reduces the need for further study.  It does not replace it though.

Immediate revision

This is something most students don’t do.  I go home in the afternoon, and go over the work we have discussed in class.  I look at my notes, make further notes in my textbook explaining my questions.  I mull over and think about what has been discussed, and I often write a little ramble about it.  These processes help to strengthen the long term memory circuits regarding that specific information in my mind.  By firing signals through those neural pathways they grow physically stronger and the likelihood of remembering them become exponentially stronger.

Later revision

I often spend my entire Saturday on this.  I take the textbooks and go through all the work that has been done throughout the week.  I revisit arguments, place them in the bigger picture with regards to the rest of the week’s work in that and other subjects.

How do I revise?

It is important to know how to revise, and not just that one needs to revise.  I revise by breaking down the arguments into their smaller parts.  I then try to write a summary of the work.  But not just any summary.  My summaries look similar to those of a teach preparing for class.  I make notes of the important parts, and then stand behind the mirror explaining those points to my reflection as though it has no idea what is going on.  This further strengthens the memory circuits.  Not only am I repeating the work, but I am now utilising my audiovisual senses to strengthen those parts of the circuits.

Before the test

Before the test I simply go through my work again, often repeating the process I use to revise.   Its simple really, repeat, repeat, repeat.

Why it Works

The process that I use is far more effective (I have found) than any other process.  There are several reasons for this.

  1. Time:
    The study process is spread out over time.  It results in me frequently revisiting and re-firing those neural circuits, preventing them from being cut due to inactivity.
  2. Sensoric involvement:
    I utilise all my senses during my study process.  By using as many of my senses as I can, all the different branches of the circuits are strengthened and present.
  3. High level reasoning:
    I don’t just try to memorise the words of the theories and the arguments.  I spend time breaking them down, arguing about them and analysing them.  I create my own opinions and examples.  I spend time conceptualising the ideas.  All this strengthens the circuits in my brain because I use my entire brain to remember the work, not just a particular part.
  4. Repetition:
    By revisiting the work frequently over a period of time, I repeat the work numerous times.  The more you repeat something, the better you remember it.  This is a fact of life.

Conclusion

My method may not be very popular with most people.  It does, after all, involve spending a lot of time on the work over several weeks/months instead of a single afternoon.  But it ingrains the knowledge into your being so that you remember and can utilise it for many years instead of forgetting it a few weeks after you write the test/exam.  It is a method that makes the knowledge a part of your being instead of a coat that you throw off after a while.
I hope you have enjoyed reading this and have gained a few ideas to help you when you are studying.
Sincerely

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