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Better Grades in 5 Minutes or Less

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Hereís the bad news: If youíre a college student, then youíre probably terrible at studying. The twist, however, is that this is also good news. When youíre terrible at something there exists tremendous room for immediate improvement. This article will help you take advantage of this situation. Below are listed three simple tips for upgrading your study habits (and by extension, your grades). None of these tips ask you to spend more time studying, and you should be able to read and internalize them in five minutes or less.

Will this advice alone push you onto the Phi Beta Kappa rolls? No. Probably not. The full range of techniques employed by top students -- as outlined, for example, in my recent book, How to Become a Straight-A Student -- are more involved. But the basic idea is the same: studying is a skill, and like any skill you can be good at it or bad at it. If you get good at studying, the academic portion of your life becomes less stressful. The following three tips will hopefully help impart this idea and start you down a path toward complete mastery of your courses. And even if it doesnít, itíll just take five minutes to find outÖ

  1. Sketch a Study Schedule

    Most students study without a plan. Instead, they wait until they get freaked out by the close proximity of the exam, pile up their books and notes, and then begin slogging through, page by page. This is a bad idea. Without structure, youíre liable to spend too much time on material you know and too little time on material you donít. Also, the lack direction makes it harder to focus as your mind is always churning in the background trying to decide what to work on next and calculating whether enough time remains to finish what needs to be done.

    Consider trying the following: one week before the exam take 60 seconds to sketch out a quick schedule. Decide what type of preparation makes sense and when you are going to do it. Then try to follow this schedule as closely as possible. This tiny piece of structure goes a long way toward getting your exam prep done smarter, faster, and with less worry and stress.

  2. Work in Hermit Mode

    Donít work in distracting places. This isnít rocket science, but most students ignore this idea. They figure that although their dorm room or the main floor of the library might be a little ďbusy,Ē it probably doesnít make a huge difference.

    Theyíre wrong. It does make a difference. Find an isolated study spot. Try high up in the stacks or at a small library on the outskirts of campus. Complete isolation will help you focus. And focus, as it turns out, is crucial. The more you can focus the faster (and better) you can master the material. That means less time studying.

  3. Never (ever) use Rote Review

    Reading silently over your notes is a terrible way to study. Itís also a mistake made by almost every student. The problem with this rote review approach is that your mind doesnít pay very good attention when you are reading to yourself. Itís content to let the words fly in without ever expending the mental horsepower needed to put the information into structures and extract the kind of meaning that will be expected from you on the upcoming exam.

    This is why you should never (ever) use rote review. Unless of course you enjoy both poor grades and sleep deprivation. Almost anything more interactive will invariably produce better results. Iím fond of the quiz-and-recall method, in which you lecture out loud, as if you are an expert addressing an imaginary audience, on the big ideas presented in class. This sticks the concepts in your brain like glue, and it is quite time efficient (once youíve lectured about a particular idea, you can move on, confident youíll remember). Iím sure there exist dozens of other techniques that will also work. You could, for example, meet with a classmate, and challenge each other with questions, or write an essay on the major topics -- from memory. The key, however, is to pick an approach that doesnít involve just silently reading ideas over and over again.

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