Posted by: W. E. Poplaski | June 8, 2008

How to Study: The Great Migration II


Have you ever taken a biology test—or maybe it was history or social studies—after studying your heart out by reading that chapter in your textbook a half-dozen times, and still done poorly?  And, to add insult to injury, you find out that your friend who read the book only once did better than you!  What gives?


Well, what we have there is a failure to migrate.  That info never left the textbook. Before it can get into your head it needs to get out of the book.  So, the first step is to get it out of the textbook. 


You do that by taking notes on the material in the textbook.  You should only read the text once—and then only for the purpose of taking notes—after that you refer to your notes when you need to review (and only go back to the textbook if your notes are too sketchy on some points).  Now, you have gotten the info out of the text and halfway to your head. [Of course, subjects such as Literature—especially poetry—require several readings, but this technique works well for biology and history.]


The second step is to move the info from your notes to your head.  That requires you to review your notes frequently.  The Note-taking 1 link in the column on the right takes you to a website that gives a good description of how to do that (under the Cornell Method). 


Briefly, the Cornell Method requires you to draw a vertical line down your note paper, about two inches from the left margin. You write your notes to the right of this line.  Later, you write cues—or tags—to the left of the line that describe the notes immediately opposite.  You review by covering up the right hand side, and using the cues, attempt to recall the hidden info.  If you can do it, your salmon have made it upstream (see the post, How to Study: The Great Migration I for an explanation of that metaphor)!  


You are not there, yet. William Rapaport has another great tip (see the How to Study link in the column on the right under STUDY TIPS).  He recommends recopying your notes.  Using loose-leaf notebook paper really facilitates this.  Recopying your notes has a couple of things going for it.  First, the physical activity of recopying your notes helps you to remember them. Second, when you first wrote your notes you most likely did not write complete sentences, and probably used shorthand.  Recopying allows you to ‘fill in the gaps’ before you forget.  A good time to recopy is when you are writing in your cues.  Try to get the recopying done within 24-hours of taking the notes.


Use the Cornell Method (or the Modified Cornell Method, see the links NoteTaking 3, and especially Note Taking 5 under STUDY TIPS) whether you are taking notes in lecture class or from a textbook. It works whether you are in high school, college or graduate school.  The STAR note taking system is another formulation of the Cornell Method.  Here is a link to the STAR system.


So, about that biology test.  There’s a good chance the poor grade resulted from you being too passive in the learning process.  You cannot read a biology (or history) text in the same way you would read a romance novel. Using the Cornell Method of note-taking and reviewing ensures that your learning will be active.  Then it is just a short step to completing the migration on the exam.


See also,

How to Study:  Focus



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  2. […] (continues from— )  […]

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  4. […] Also see The Great Migration II […]

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