Are you a productive reader?

Reading is an important and often endless task in college, yet most students detest it. Why? Because they’re not productive. If reading a twenty page chapter takes you forty-five minutes, then no wonder you don’t want to do it. For most classes, there’s no way around reading, so why not make sure you’re getting the most out of it?

1. Don’t tackle too much at once.

If you’re assigned a five chapter chunk for homework, work on one chapter at a time. This doesn’t make the challenge seem endless. Also, don’t procrastinate, I know it’s hard, but if you start early and have time for breaks (a few minutes to an hour to a day), then it’s much easier.

2. Read once for main points

Skim through the reading, get all the main points, headers, bold words, everything that sticks out.

3. Take good notes.

Write down the big picture, either in an outline, a mind map, anything.

4. Read once more for details.

Once you have your notes on the important ideas, go back through and see if there’s any details you missed. Think dates, names and places, stuff that your professor might ask, but isn’t necessarily what you’d call “important” in the grand scheme of things. This is more for history, political science, and psychology classes. When you’re getting into physics or the like, this isn’t as important.

5. Study your notes.

Now that you’ve got your great notes, don’t look at the book again. If you’ve gotten the important info out of if, you don’t need it anymore. Knowing that you only have to go through your book once or twice helps.

8 ways to aid your memory

It is easier to forget something than to remember so to help yourself remember something, apply as many of the following techniques as possible.

1. Be flexible. Experiment with what helps you remember, whether it’s a mnemonic or simply adding color.

2. Overlearn. Practice and reorganize what you intend to remember in as many ways as possible. Use it while speaking and writing, even act it out. The more time you spend, the more it’s ingrained.

3. Imitate. Schedule study time to reflect the time of day when you’ll be using the material (make study time the same as test time). Create a similar environment. Study without music if the room will be quiet. Study at a desk instead of on your bed.

4. Rephrase and explain. Try role-playing. Take the view of the teacher and explain the material to someone else, your dog, or a stuffed animal. You definitely understand the material when you can teach someone else.

5. Eliminate accidental and unrelated associations. A study situation where a phone rings constantly produces breaks in the association process. If you’re singing along to Eric Clapton throughout your study session, you will relate the material to Eric Clapton. This is only helpful if your topic is indeed Eric Clapton.

6. Eliminate previous mistakes. Take note of any previous mistakes you’ve made while studying and don’t do them anymore. If music distracts you, don’t play music during your next study session.

7. Decide on order of importance. Some things are more important than others. In a particular chapter or topic, decide what’s the big picture and organize everything else around that.

8. Become emotionally involved. This doesn’t always work with schoolwork, especially if you don’t care about a particular subject. But notice how you remember things you care about. If you can somehow relate the topic to something you care about, you’ll remember it better.

How to create a successful outline

Not enough people know how to properly create an outline and that amazes me. The first step is to actually understand the material you’re reading because if you’re simply taking chunks of the chapter, you’re not going to get anywhere. There are different types of outlines, there’s one that the professor wants you to hand in, outlining your research paper and there’s an outline of a chapter. This lesson is going to cover both.

Research outline

This will be the guts of your paper. Once you’ve figured out your topic and the general direction of your paper, creating an outline is pretty straightforward. You really need to know your thesis before completing the outline and my suggestion if you’re confused, is to not worry about the thesis until the end. Start with the information.

Once you’ve gathered your research, you generally know the idea of what you want to talk about first. If you’re completely lost, choose the idea that would be a great opener – something that’s controversial, interesting or your audience would agree with. To choose what’s next in line, ask yourself, “After idea A, what is an easy transition?” If you’re going from dogs to VCRs, there’s probably not going to be an easy connection. Transitions between different sections can be made very simple if you choose topics that seem to flow well together. Also remember that nothing is set in stone. If later you realize you should have put topic B where topic F is, change it.

Because this article is so long, I’m going to cut it off here and allow you to view the rest of entry if you choose to do so. (more…)

3 academic programs for Mac users

Gearfire is publishing an article about his favorite academic programs for Windows and I’m posting a sister article for Mac users. Personally, I don’t use academic-based software that much. I do have these three applications on my computer and use them sometimes, but so far this semester, I haven’t had too many assignments or a difficult class. I use NeoOffice the most out of any program, for word processing and spreadsheets, but I also use Skim. There are other programs out there, but with my experience, these are great for students. Note taking is usually done in a text editor/word processing program anyway.

Genius Genius is a flashcard-based application to help you memorize things. I use this, especially for political science in memorizing hoards of vocab words. It organizes info using the “Leitner “learning cardfile” system, and it quizzes you using a spaced repetition method.” Based on performance, it repeats certain words.

Schoolhouse Schoolhouse is the homework manager for Mac. It sorts and organizes assignments, tests and projects. The smart notebook feature introduced in other Apple software is there, as well as classcasts so you can publish subscribable assignments on the web. My favorite thing about this software is the grade calculations. You can input all of your grades for each class and it keeps track of your average. It’s much better than trying to do it myself. Schoolhouse integrates a calendar/GTD program with keeping track of school work as well, which makes this an excellent tool for students.

Skim Skim is a PDF reader (yes, I know, Preview is wonderful!) that lets you write on them so you don’t have to print out notes to take notes. I use this for my political science class (well, when I actually went to his class, I haven’t in over a month.) The professor gives us a copy of the powerpoint in pdf format and I use Skim to write all over it. It saves me from the cost of ink and paper.

What to do if you’ve got writer’s block

I just finished my first real homework assignment for the semester. Guess which class? English. I wrote a two page paper that’s the start of my autobiography. When I get assigned an essay or even a fictional piece of writing, I always groan. Two pages, four pages, eight pages. It’s not just the length I’m afraid of, it’s the topic. I do like to write, but I don’t like to be told how to write or what to write about. Since this is going to be an autobiography, it’s all about me. Well, that’s pretty easy to write about. To make things better, my teacher told us to, in essence, throw up on the paper. Just write. Now that, I can do.

But what happens when you don’t just get to barf your essay and there’s a topic you have to write about. Inspiration is what you need. A mind block can come at any time, whether you’re trying to write a paper, a song or even design a website. To overcome it, you can do many things. Listen to music, take a break, take a walk. All great things to do to get you relaxed.

Purdue’s online writing lab (OWL) has some great tips to overcome writer’s block. World of Inspiration has quotes, some meaningful, some famous, some stupid, that can help. Writer’s Block is a great resource with a lot of articles, essays and letters.

My strategy is to go play a few addicting games and then try again.

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