Studying ability often becomes a factor of prior exposure, time availability, fluid intelligence, mental stability, and a bunch of other random factors that all need to align reasonably well. For a small fraction of the population, these things will align. For any given person, they're not going to align all that well. For some people, they're not going to align well at all, and they may not make it.
What ends up happening is that the person can't truly properly keep up, so they end up surviving instead. And they may succeed in doing just that, but learning will be damaged. Most studying techniques fall short because they do not properly account for this survival mode and are not really the techniques that help someone, well, survive.
Proper learning is not rushed and hyper competitive, but what the average student encounters is.
Taking very dense notes, for instance, can easily backfire if it takes too much time and if it's not truly needed. Knowing what to learn, how to learn it, what not to learn, etc., are all separate skills, and not everyone has them. And it's not something that can easily be summarized because it's more of a skill than a piece of knowledge, and most of it comes down to your personal strengths as well as weaknesses.
There are plenty of successful students who have broken all of these rules and I'm sure we all know a few.
Exactly. Unfortunately, I was way too idealistic during my studies. I was a "real" learner, meaning I had no problems actually explaining concepts to my fellow students. But unlike them (who often couldn't) I didn't focus my energy on "hacking" the GPA. I once witnessed a fellow student getting almost full points on a task for simply writing down a only slightly related exercise he memorized (including numbers not mentioned in the actual task!). I wouldn't have thought of that! Another time I lost points for using my own words to give an answer. I asked the TA how what I wrote was wrong. She said it was actually correct but not noted in the sample solution and thus: no points. Naturally, as a result of things like these my GPA is pretty mediocre now which makes job hunting a pain. :(
We live in hyper-information times where there are multiple options for pretty much everything. This often leads to too-much-choice-paralysis. Learning how to deal with it may be very important skill.
For new programmers "simple" things like the choice of programming language, framework, style, whatever - can be overwhelming. It seems to me that often people go for dogmatism as a "tool" of choice for fighting over-information.
Learning how to evaluate things quickly, making a choice without falling into dogmatism hole, being open to other ideas and above all making steady progress are becoming, imho, essential skills.
You are quite correct that students have individual styles- strengths and weaknesses. What works for me won't work for you and vice versa. Moreover, what works for me with math won't work for me with psychology.
But there are things that are more valuable to do than other things simply because of the way brains work. Rewriting notes, for example, is a waste of time. Re-organizing notes, however, is priceless.
This is one professor doing his best to help, and I appreciate that. But there is better information out there.
That's not really how things like this work. Competitive, live-or-die environments will always have a group that will not be able to survive those environments. It's in the definition. If you create an environment which requires a near-perfect alignment of factors, there will be many people who do not have that alignment and those people will be at risk.
> You are quite correct that students have individual styles- strengths and weaknesses.
And some people have more weaknesses than strengths. For those people to survive, they need to have access to something other people do not, which is unlikely.
Professors should stop trying to help, and should instead ask struggling students, as well as students who used to be struggling but stopped, and vice versa. But I've never really seen anyone listen to a struggling student, they're usually just labeled lazy and ignored. Advice on studying coming from people who likely had very little issues with it due to the good alignment of factors is near-useless to people who do not have such an alignment. It's much easier to do your homework every time when you can quickly understand the material due to prior exposure or good fluid intelligence. It's a different story when it takes you 5 hours to solve problem #1 and there are 10 total. Something's gotta give.
Advice on how to study better is not needed. Studying better requires time, a nurturing environment, time, good pedagogy and/or structure, and time. It is known, it's just not done, because it's not the priority. There are techniques, yes, and different approaches, but they themselves require time to figure out, and time can smooth over such problems. When you take away time from people, you must admit the goal is less about teaching people something and more about trying to figure out who to toss aside. And you will notice also that in such an environment, the students can get better at studying all they want, and the filter will just get more stringent and narrow. The problem is the environment. If you ignore the environment, all you will see is better and better coping strategies combined with a mysterious lack of improvement of the overall situation.
And this is coming from someone who had it pretty all right compared to some people I knew.
The libraries near me are all really just rec-centers, my uni is a 70min bus ride away, so having a place to just "study" is incredibly difficult.
I still manage, but I can only imagine what having one's own roon must be like and the time saved from travelling to and from school...such is life.
Thanks for the reply, puts into words a lot of what I've been thinking about lately.
One word of caution: don't turn up the volume to drown out the background noise. You only need to be able to hear the brown noise, not overwhelm everything else. I did that and my hearing was off for a day and a half. I think that because the sound energy is distributed more evenly throughout the spectrum you're getting more intensity on your eardrum than you think.
[a] I only generalise because it's true for almost any chosen route in my town: bus time = 2x bike time = 4x driving time.
It's true- you can only do your best. The problem I have is when a student is capable but doesn't know how. If for exactly that student that I built studyswami.com
But I've never really seen anyone listen to a struggling student
Then you've obviously never been a struggling student in my class.
Advice on how to study better is not needed.
Yes- it is. There is a lot of info out there about how to do it that isn't filtering down. There is also something very weird going on that I personally don't understand. There is a reluctance on the part of the student to change what they do. That reluctance may actually be the root of the problem. Somehow, they will listen to a trainer tell them how to bench press, but they won't listen to a professor tell them how to study. Very weird, and something I'm actively trying to overcome.
EDIT to add: Indeed there are competitive environments, but most colleges that I'm aware of don't want to see their students fail.
It's also worth remembering that not all students have study skills, and so having an article that lists both reasonably useful advice (even if it isn't perfect) AND (even more importantly) gets the student thinking / reflecting about how to improve their performance can be valuable.
I'm gonna guess (since you're here on Hacker News) that you've got a paying job in the tech sector, which in turn requires a whole lot of self-management skills (like managing your time). There exist perfectly good people who are, say, 18 and terribly naive about what they'll need to do in order to get ahead. Maybe their high school wasn't terribly demanding, maybe they just didn't push themselves that hard. Sometimes they arrive at college, realize that they actually want to do better, and having something like this can sometimes help a light go on.
But yeah - if you're holding down a tech job then this probably all seems super-basic.
I'm also studying part time. And I don't even know how I've made it this far. Studying has always been difficult for me. I have no problem understanding complex ideas or theories. I just suck at remembering them, and keeping a schedule to study so that I can do well in exams.
I have sent you an email.
I've been on all sides of the academic issue- good student, struggling student, and teacher.
What you should do, in my opinion, is to focus almost exclusively on the ideas explained and try in any way to oppose them, when you find something you feel shouldn't be how it is, ask. The mere exploration of the concepts gives deep understanding of them and will require you almost no extra work at home. Often it will literally need no extra work at all. Also, when the teacher answers your question, you will get even deeper insight and so will the teacher (especially when it comes to higher levels of teaching) and most other students who care to learn. Jotting down notes is a nice way to force yourself to formulate the ideas yourself, if you don't already do so, but most often, these notes needn't and shouldn't be read. They should just be written down.
With regard to notes, I found the same thing. Take thorough notes in a blank notebook. Disregard printed-out slides or other materials until after the lecture. Rarely return to your notes -- the value is in having written them down in the first place. (Who on earth has the time to rewrite notes?)
Note-taking in the real world is quite different. Keeping detailed meeting notes is my preferred strategy for staying awake. In one job, where we had a lot of meetings about the same subject, I did retype my notes, and then I took more notes on the printouts. Then I typed them up again and repeated ad nauseam. By the time I left that job, I had accumulated a 100 page book with minute details and history of our process.
"The key idea of taking good notes in class is to write down as much as possible."
I guess the post does mention to adapt strategies based on the teacher's style, but I found (some/most) lecturers I had were just speed-writing on the blackboards as fast as possible (95 perhaps?), in barely legible writing, while also explaining the concepts.
My calc & linear lecturers were like a weird, comical race where the lecturers were master speed-writers with a side of obfuscation, so not only couldn't I keep up sometimes with the notes, the actual verbal explanation/concepts were falling by the wayside.
As an aside I had this lady's father for calc:
At some point you'll be able to say your Calculus lecturer was the Queen's father. Just think how different his life would've been if his daughter didn't meet the Prince at the Slip Inn bar (you can't make this stuff up).
As an aside, he put an \inf on his coat of arms.
What I found that helps - which unfortunately doesn't scale very well given how much students have to learn in a given time - is to teach others. Become a TA. Answer other people's questions, explain stuff. It may be an individual thing, I always work better that way in all parts of life - doing things other people need, I don't have a lot of questions myself and I do much better under this system.
Not picking on your comment, just wanted to share a little anecdote. We had this one retired guy in grad school who already had 2 Ph.D.s in other disciplines and this was probably his third. OMG he would incessantly ask questions in class. They were not even helpful questions -- very basic and mundane. In an algorithms class he asked the prof. how he came up with those numbers in an example even though he had already said that they were random. At which point the prof. rolled his eyes and said "magic!"
His actions were very annoying and slowed down the class significantly by breaking the flow. When asked privately why he would do that his answer was he was helping out others who may be too afraid to ask basic questions. I felt like banging my head on a wall.
No idea what people thought, or if I crossed the line. If they're too shy to ask questions they're probably too shy to reprimand me for it.
But if you're asking basic questions even though you understand but you think the explanation might be confusing for others, you're probably just holding up the class.
I feel like people approach higher levels of education more like a job than like a game to master. It's all the same.
I had a B average after my freshman year. During the break, I had dinner with a university professor. I asked him how I could improve my grades and he shared the following points of advice.
1. On the first day of class observe the students who ask intelligent questions and are engaged. Sit by and study with them.
2. Finish small assignments a day before the due date and large assignments a week before. This is a forcing function to 1) manage your time effectively (referenced repeatedly in the article) 2) befriend your TA's and professors.
This advice helped me improve my grades and I felt a massive lift in my learning ability.
There's some great points here. One for discussion that I'd disagree with is copying your notes. Here in medical school, it's literally temporally impossible to copy your notes and actually get to all the material. It's definitely an extremely effective way to learn the material, but unfortunately when you have so much material in so little time, it's just not feasible (FWIW, an average semester has 25 credits of courses for me).
I'd also add in spaced repetition studying - this has been an extremely effective method of studying for me, and I've learned more via spaced repetition studying of previously made flashcards than I have from reading the textbooks. And it does a phenomenal job of isolating the material you need to know from what you already know.
Engineers learn existing systems - and many kinds of them - to be able to create new ones. Medical doctors instead work on only one already existing systems. Engineers can experiment and fail, many times. Medical doctors should "do no harm" first of all. So that limits the creativity and determines how you learn from the outset. Therefore which methods work will also be different.
I second this. My med school strat is as follows: I write questions in Workflowy during lecture based on what I think could be tested from the lecture. Then I import them into a SRS app I built and drill them all the week before exams. Works pretty well.
are you taking the time to make them yourself, or are you using source that made them for you?
A reddit user named brosencephalon when through First Aid* (2015 I think?) and made about 13000 Anki cards for everything in it. It's been extremely popular on the r/medicalschool subreddit, with multiple people saying they did well on boards as a result.
* First Aid: First Aid for the USMLE, published every year. It's basically the bible for medical students preparing for the board exams (namely, the USMLE, or US Medical Licensing Exam, of which there are 3 parts. The first one is taken at the end of the 2nd year of medical school.)
> If you must work (in order to make ends meet), you should realize the limitations that this imposes on your study time.
What exactly is such a student supposed to do with this observation, other than conclude "education is not for people like me"?
Eg - when I was studying maths and physics, I found the best thing was to not take notes in class, but spend all my time trying to fully comprehend the concept.
When I was studying french, flash cards and memorisation schedules were key to the hardest part of it - vocab. I'm sure there is a better way to do this however, I am dyslexic, but I still only scraped through even though I put in the most effort.
When working on project based assignments (such as design), I found the best way was to ensure I was fully excited about my idea - that would power me through. And test early.
Basically - match the method to the subject, and yourself.
For anyone who's completed a CS degree, how much studying did you do per night. I understand working on projects etc can eat up hours but I don't really include that.
Back at college just now and starting university in Sept. I had never studied in my life until college (coasted of natural ability all my life) and I'm finding it difficult to even spend 1hr a night. (Average mark currently is 80%) 5hrs per night seems insane to me.
When studying I either understand the concept fully and fire through it rapid. Don't understand it and spend ages figuring it out/trying to find answers online. Or have no idea, can't find anything in the textbooks/online and resort to crying in the corner.
You have to relearn almost everything they teach you on your first job anyway. The contents of the courses were always horribly outdated, the only things I really needed were general programming skills, research methods and project management lingo.
They usually say at least three hours study for each hour of class, I used that as my guide
> difficult to even spend 1 hour a night
The more abstract and mathematical the class, the longer I know it will last and I can use it. The more specific classes like learning C++ were immediately useful.
That said, I did have to kick myself to memorize dozens of species of fungi and their attributes for my science requirement class.
You never know what will come in useful. English writing class seems like BS? Not if it teaches you to write documentation, e-mails etc. better.
> can't find anything
I've been there too. It makes me skeptical of these people who say Coursera etc. will destroy colleges. I can always ask my professor after class or during office hours.
You're going to be rooting around in your work life as well, so aside from the class material, you're exercising this skill as well.
That would put me at 18hrs of studying a day :/
Due to years of posting nonsense online, English is easy for me (top of the class). Not looking forward to my 2 science requirements though as thats where I struggle to concentrate.
If I was to create a study guide I wouldn't tell the student anything they should be doing, but rather ask questions that lead them back to their source material:
* What are you learning about currently?
* Why do you find it challenging?
* Why is it important?
* What is the general idea?
Learning by applying some memorization technique sounds boring to me, in comparison to curiosity-based learning using socratic/thoughtful questioning. Instead of responding to study work with a fight-or-flight response, asking questions allow you to break out of that fearful mindset and start to examine the topic and as you ask questions about it you'll start to find little bits of interesting knowledge in it.
It is certainly true that typing out notes is generally a bad idea. I have and can take notes on a computer while basically unconscious and getting no benefit from them; transcription is easier than and a distinct activity from taking notes.
However, with pen computing, the computer becomes a very useful note taking tool. I can write out my notes in OneNote while recording the lecture. If I miss something or want clarification, I can go back and listen to the lecture, linked up by time with the notes I took.
I can go back and search my notes - they are useful for quickly reviewing a topic I may have studied in the past.
I like color coding my notes. I can write in any color, recolor after the fact if I want a different structure, and generally add multiple channels of cues for my studying.
Digital ink & paper have potential to replace physical notes without the negatives of typing.
>Dividing that 25 hours by those 5 days gives you 5 hours of studying per night
Haha. Final year PhD checking in. I've never, not in my entire life, never, done any more than 2 hours study (outside of classes, lectures or labs) on a single night. My brain would just stop focusing after a couple hours.
Plus, why would you need to study if you focus during classes and actively try to understand what's going on?
I also strongly recommend Cal Newport's book "How to Become a Straight-A Student" (https://www.amazon.com/How-Become-Straight-Student-Unconvent...). I've read a lot of books on studying in college, but I think this one really is one of the best way to study.
> Well, of course, you don't have to do all of it at once. Try various of these suggestions to see what works for you.
For me to learn, I heavily need to motivation. Hence I usually spend a couple of days pondering before doing anything productive.
Also, at uni, I learned that taking notes in maths classes is a recipe for disaster. How come? The mere act of writing down and arranging formulas on my sheet takes enough thinking power that I can no longer follow the lecture. What's better, having one single good shot at understanding things, or having not understood things and the incomprehensible scribbling of your notes also makes zero sense without the professor's explanation? The former for me. As long as I know the broad subject names, I can read up on my own.
This time-intensive strategy might be suboptimal in the long run if it reduces the time available for doing homework / sample problems, which is almost certainly the most effective way to actually learn the material.