How to study part 2

Most students focus their energy to learn the material AFTER class. When in class, they listen to the lecture and try to write as much as they can on their notebook. Since they cannot write faster than what the teacher says, their note is always incomplete. After class, they try to study this confusing note full of missing information and concepts. Some students have to compare their note with the textbook which consumes more time and more frustrating. Others wait until the last minutes before the exam then cram these incompleted materials and hope to pass the exam.

This type of studying is NOT effective, creates more stress about exams but this is the way many students are still doing throughout their times in school.

In Active learning method, the teachers should post the lecture materials on a website or let the students know what will be taught next so students can read them BEFORE the class and prepare for the lecture. By spending some time learning the material earlier they can save many hours of ineffective study later.

On the first day of class, I always advise students to follow my “How to study” guideline as follow:

BEFORE CLASS: Two days before the class, students must read all the materials and prepare to take a short quiz or answer questions related to the reading materials. My reading materials are short, often take about 30 minutes to read so it is not a burden to them. Students must know the topic and objectives of the lecture. (i.e., if they do not know what they are learning, they cannot go further). My reading materials are mostly short articles to let them know about concepts in the lecture materials without going further into the detail.

DURING CLASS: Students should be actively listening during the lecture since they are already prepared. They DO NOT need to take notes because I also post my lecture (i.e., slides and other reference materials) on the class website following the class. Of course, students could write down detailed concepts or any confusing information so they can ask after the lecture. I often lecture about 15 minutes then start the questions and answers session to allow students to ask any confusing or incomplete information. A class discussion often follows the questions session where students are encouraged to write down all information exchanges during these sessions on their notebook.

AFTER CLASS: Within 4 hours after the lecture, students should review their notes to understand the information that they wrote. I often advise them to compare their note with what they learn BEFORE the lecture and DURING the class to identify any missing information or concepts. They should check with the textbook, refer to the lecture slides to fill any gaps that they think are missing. By this time, most students already learn the materials three times so they should be able to understand the materials well enough. If they still have questions, they can discuss with friends during group study or bring to class the next day for questions and answers session.

By having a complete information in the notebook, with important concepts, questions, and answers, they can review them before the exam and most are doing well throughout their time in school.


  • Blogs of Prof. John Vu, Carnegie Mellon University

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