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Study Skills Self-Help Information
Study tips from Virginia Tech's Division of Student Affairs.


Reading for college classes is very different from reading in high school. For starters, there's much more of it. You may have 30 pages of reading to do in three different classes - all at the same time. And to make matters worse, the material tends to be dense and difficult to understand! So, how do you get through it? You need to have a reading plan.

Silence really is golden. Many students will insist that they can study while listening to music or to the television in the background. But if you are singing along to your favourite song, then you aren't focusing on your studying. And watching television while reading tends to mean "I read during the commercials." It is best to choose a quiet environment where you will not be disturbed. You cannot get any effective studying done if you are constantly being interrupted by your telephone ringing, your roommate, or loud noise from down the hall.

Physical Comfort
In order to be productive, you must be physically comfortable. Make sure the room is neither too hot nor too cold. Also, you cannot concentrate if you can't hear yourself think over the sound of your stomach growling! So make sure you have eaten (snacking while studying is okay - just try to make it something healthy: fruit, nuts, carrot sticks, etc.). If you get tired or bored, take a break. There is no point in pushing through if you don't retain anything. So stretch, relax. If you are still distracted, try switching subjects for awhile.

Time Management
Plan your schedule so that you have enough time to do your reading. Make a list of all the things you need to accomplish. Prioritize the list and then schedule a realistic amount of time for each task. After a few sessions, you'll have a better idea of how long it takes you to accomplish something. Allot time for reading during your most productive time of day. If you are not a morning person, waking up early to study before class is probably going to be a waste of time because you won't be able to focus. Likewise, if you get sleepy right after lunch, then perhaps you would do better to get your most important work done in the morning. Finally, don't set up a reading marathon. Stop studying when you are no longer being productive. The best way to retain information is to plan shorter time blocks for reading - but have them more frequently.

Active Participation:
Have you ever read an entire page and once you got to the end you found out that you couldn't remember anything you'd just read? Reading through 30 pages of a history text without actively engaging yourself in the material will leave you without a clue as to what you just read. This is because the mind tends to wander after awhile if you are not actively engaging the material, especially if the material is dense. For better retention, try relating what you are reading to similar concepts you've already covered. Taking notes by summarizing your reading forces your mind to analyze the material and question what is most important. Surprisingly, highlighting is not as effective a means of reinforcing your reading as you would think. Often, a student ends up highlighting an entire page and still has not retained any of the necessary information.

Plan of Attack

  1. It is always to your benefit to peruse your assigned reading before you actually begin to read. By getting a general overview of the material, you are in a better position to determine your objective, or what you are meant to be getting out of the reading. Look at the topic headings and sub-headings - these are good indicators of what the author (and probably your professor since they chose the book!) thinks is most important.
  2. Determine what questions you should be able to answer after reading the material. Think of possible test questions. This will not only help you with concentrating, but will also help you prepare for the test.
  3. As you read, try to relate the material to other topics. Remember, memory is contextual. If you can integrate new information with something you already know, you have a much better chance of remembering it.
  4. Finally, take notes - in your own words - to reinforce your comprehension.

Taking Notes

  • You are not in class to take dictation, so don't write down every single word your professor says. Instead, try to summarize lecture material in your own words as much as possible. However, you should copy down anything your professor takes the time to put up on the blackboard or the overhead projector.
  • Create a set of abbreviations to use when taking notes. This will help you write faster and make it less likely that you will miss getting something important down before your professor moves on.
  • Try to review your notes right after class, filling in any details that you may have missed. Going over the lecture notes while the subject is still fresh in your mind will help reinforce your retention of the material.