Things I DIDN’T Learn in College: Part 3 – How I Learned to Study

by Ron Haynes

TextbooksUnless you’re a human knowledge sponge, learning to study can be an unnatural process. Where else in your life do you listen to someone speak to you about a subject you’re not interested in for the purpose of passing a test? If you’re interested in the subject or if you’re motivated by your boss to study for a certain subject, things take a different course.

When I was in college I stumbled upon a study technique that consistently produced A’s in my classes. It did require a lot of work, but when I fully developed and followed these ideas, I aced my classes. I’m not talking easy 101 type classes either, I was excelling in 300 and 400 level courses in undergraduate school and 500 to 700 level courses in graduate school. Your mileage may vary, but here’s how I did it:

1. Read the chapter outline for the lecture. Do not read the whole text, only read the subject headings and familiarize yourself with the illustrations, concepts, and general ideas. Allow several hours to go by and then re-read the chapter, making careful notes of key terms and concepts and any questions that arise in your mind.

2. Go to the class and take notes on a plain legal pad. Do not worry about making these notes look pretty, just write down every key idea, copy the instructor’s illustrations that he or she draws, and make notes of any and every reference to the text that the instructor makes. Listen for a synopsis and pay close attention to what the professor indicates as important. They generally have a habit of dropping hints along these lines. Key phrases include “Remember that . . .” and “Most importantly . . .” Use your own shorthand, abbreviations, and symbols such as med for medicine, gov for government, % for percent, comm for communication. The list can be as long as you want it.

3. Find a quiet spot (library, dorm room, study areas, or apartment) and re-read the chapter that was covered during the lecture.

4. When you return to your dorm room or apartment, sit down with your legal pad, any handouts or other information distributed in the class, your textbook, and a new spiral bound notebook. Make sure you have at least 90 minutes of uninterrupted time, a glass of a non-alcoholic beverage, any other tools (calculator, ruler, etc) and a very good pen. Then imagine that you are a textbook author and re-copy your notes into the spiral notebook. Write as neatly as possible and recopy any illustrations or images from your textbook or handouts. In this spiral notebook also re-work any problems that are in the textbook. At this point you now have a personalized textbook that covers the information from your class. Use complete sentences and abandon the abbreviations.

5 . Read and re-read everything in your new personalized textbook several times. If you don’t understand something, try to re-phrase it into an different question.

6. Do any and all homework in your new personalized textbook. If this homework must be turned in, make copies for yourself to keep in the personalized notebook.

7. Participate in any and every study group. Use this opportunity to make sure you didn’t miss something in class. Pose questions that you think the instructor might ask. Be sure and bring your notes to these study groups. Chances are you can sell copies! (jk)

8. Go and talk to your professor during his or her office hours. Ask for clarification for items you just aren’t sure you understand. Don’t be afraid to ask for help! Professors generally love to help struggling students. These people have made a life out of studying their field of interest and they are usually very happy to explain their knowledge and experience to you.

When I incorporated these steps, I discovered that I was studying 2-1/2 hours for every hour I was in class. That’s a lot of work if you’re taking a 15 hour course load, a total of 52.5 hours (including class time). When I decided that I would view my college coursework as a regular job, I excelled, making straight A’s and the President’s list. When I slacked off and decided it was too much work, my performance suffered. Funny how this concept easily transfers to real life.

Looking at my college coursework as a job meant that I was in class at 8:00 AM and would use every hour up until 5:30 as my “work time.” I would take a 30 minute lunch, but I didn’t waste any time during the whole day by playing video games, chatting with friends, “hanging out”, or goofing off. Because I structured everything this way, my evenings were free. I was able to watch TV, play video games, go out with friends, or do research for any papers that I had to write.

When test time came around, I found that I was naturally prepared and could approach the test with a great deal of confidence.

Don’t get me wrong. This is a very labor intensive, very difficult set of steps to follow for every course, and every course may not require this much structure. I was in Business Finance and it sure helped me. Later, when I was getting my MBA, it proved extremely valuable.

I used this method when in undergraduate school as well as when I was working 60+ hours per week taking a double load in graduate school. It can be done. I know because I did it.

About the author

Ron Haynes has written 988 articles on The Wisdom Journal.


The founder and editor of The Wisdom Journal in 2007, Ron has worked in banking, distribution, retail, and upper management for companies ranging in size from small startups to multi-billion dollar corporations. He graduated Suma Cum Laude from a top MBA program and currently is a Human Resources and Management consultant, helping companies know how employees will behave in varying situations and what motivates them to action, assisting firms in identifying top talent, and coaching managers and employees on how to better communicate and make the workplace MUCH more enjoyable. If you'd like help in these areas, contact Ron using the contact form at the top of this page or at 870-761-7881.