How to study better

Today college students have so many distractions that prevent them from learning. Many students come to class with laptops and often receive or send emails during class. Some even play computer games online during lectures. With smart phones, many could “texting” with friends instead of listening to lectures. As a professor, I often ask students to close their laptops and turn off their mobile phones during my lecture. When students told me that they need laptops to take notes, I told them that all my lectures are available online before class and they should print them out and write their notes on it rather than using laptops.

I often remind students that to succeed in college, they should learn to be a good listener. All important things that students must learn are often presented by professors in their lectures. By listening and understand the lecture well, they have more chance to succeed than just reading textbooks. There is a difference between hearing and listening: Hearing is passive but listening is active. Listening requires students to pay attention and think about what they hear. With “Learning by Doing” method, course materials are always available to students before class so they must read and complete assigned works BEFORE come to class. By reading materials ahead of time, they are aware of what will be taught in class and they are ready to learn more. This is the “first time” they learn.

In class when listen to the lecture, students can identify what the professor expect them to learn and verify with what they have learned. This will give them a sense of purpose for their of learning. Because students can think faster than the professor can speak so they can evaluate what is being said and what they have learned or understood. This is the time for student to ask questions to clarify what they have learned and confirm their understandings. By focus on what the professor is saying, students can avoid the issue of let their minds wander to other things. By being an active listener they make a conscious choice about their learning and this is the “second time” they learn.

While students can think faster than the professor can speak but they cannot write faster so taking notes requires them to make decisions about what to write, instead of writing everything. Since they print out the lecture materials and write their notes on it, they will have more complete “Study materials” for review. This allow them to pay more attention to what is important and filter out unnecessary things. By taking good notes about what the professor says and have readiness attitude, students are committed to more learning. After class, as they review their notes and compare with what they have learned, they will understand the materials better. This is the “third time” they learn. Several researchers have found that when people learn something three times, they retain the materials much better.

As College students, you do NOT want to wait until testing time to begin study. You must be “active learners” as soon as you start the class. Do NOT give up or stop listening when you find the materials being taught difficult to understand. Listen more carefully and work hard to understand what is being said. Do NOT hesitate to ask questions. Every professor like to answer questions because questions make the class more interesting, more lively and can help them improve the way they teach. If you stay focused on LEARNING, you will SUCCEED for sure.


  • Blogs of Prof. John Vu, Carnegie Mellon University
"Like" us to know more!