Study Strategies from Augustana Faculty

Two Augustana professors, Dr. Swanson and Dr. Mullin

We asked Augustana faculty from each academic division for their best study tips. Here's what they shared. If you need more ideas of how to put these study strategies into action, make an appointment with your CAP Specialist in the Student Success Center

  • from Dr. David O'Hara, Religion/Philosophy/Classics
    1. Get intentional rest every day, and don't feel guilty about it.  This is like sharpening your tools. If you keep working without resting, your tools get duller and it takes more effort to do less work. Get eight hours of sleep each night, drink water, eat good food, and set aside time for R&R that nothing else can crowd out.
    2. Visit your professors in their office hours, and do so ASAP. Bring friends from your class if you can, because if you have questions, your friends probably do, too.
    3. Look back over your notes and textbooks quickly every day. Seriously, take just a minute or two to glance at things like the table of contents and the headings of chapters. Aim to see not just the fine details but the big picture. If you don't see the big picture of the semester, ask your classmates and your professors to help you to see it. Again: don't wait until the end of the semester for this.
    4. Take notes 2-3 hours after each class. This will give your mind time to filter out the information it received. go to class, take a break, and then write down in brief form (taking maybe 2 minutes per class) an answer to this question: What was the one big takeaway from today's class?
    5. Get intentional rest every day, and don't feel guilty about it. Yes, I already said that. It bears repeating.
    Every day I, one of your professors, remember you in my prayers each morning before classes begin. Your professors care about you and want to see you thrive. Let us know how we can help you to thrive academically.

  • from Dr. Jennifer Gubbels, Biology:
    1.  Write to remember. Don't rely on just reading over your notes to remember something. Close your notes and see how much you can write down from memory. Write it in your own words. Try not to just memorize information, but know and understand it. Writing from memory can help with this, and can help you understand what you don't know.
    2.  Draw pictures. Recreate figures from the notes or the book with a picture. This correlates with number 1--the more active you are in your studying (writing, drawing, etc.) the better off you will be.
    3.  I'm serious about the writing. Don't just try to review in your head, or talk it out with people. This isn't what you do on exams. On exams you take something from your head and you write it down.  Talking about it or just thinking about it isn't good enough--you can convince yourself that you know things that you actually don't. Write, write, write--and do it from memory!

  • from Dr. Lisa Babcock, Psychology:
    1. Make retrieval easier. Retrieval cues that you've generated are more effective than retrieval cues that others have generated. That means writing your own study guide is better than relying on one from your professor. Similarly, taking your own notes is better than borrowing notes from another student, and writing your own flashcards is better than using pre-made study materials online.
    2. Use effective encoding techniques. Create connections - Link the to-be-learned information to other things you already know, to other classes, to yourself, to real-world situations. Use imagery where possible--this represents the information in a different form and often boosts memory. Organize and re-organize the information - Give yourself a general cue (e.g. one chapter, or one day's lecture) and write down everything you can remember. Create tree diagrams / outlines to re-organize the information you recall and to figure out what you are leaving out. Generate examples of theories and concepts to provide a meaningful framework.
    3. Avoid cognitively passive study strategies. Coming to class, doing the reading, highlighting the text, re-reading notes. These are "easy" approaches to studying that make students feel as though they are being productive, but are ineffective ways of storing the information in long term memory.  Cognitively active learning behaviors take more effort and are therefore less popular (but more effective) study strategies: Writing your own study questions / exam items, trying to figure out the answer before looking it up, closing the book & notes and writing down everything that you remember, working through complex processes step-by-step to generate examples and understand the mechanics of the process. 
  • from Dr. Julie Loveland Swanstrom, Philosophy/Religion:
    Studying starts in the classroom with your note-taking practices!
    1. Think about your future self: Be sure to take notes in a way that you can understand the content covered and the purpose of that content in several weeks. Be as complete as possible, mark gaps to be filled in later, and make clear how the content relates.
    2. Pose a daily question to yourself about the content: after preparing for class—doing the reading, looking at the available slides or notes, or working on the appropriate activity—come up with a question about it. Big-picture questions, such as “what is the point of ___” can be useful, as can smaller questions, like “what contribution did ______ make and why.” Then, once you have your question, take it with you to class. Use class time as a chance to get the answer to the question. If the instructor asks if anyone has any questions, you do! You can also use the notes as a way to catalog answers to your questions.
    3. Make summary statements in your notes: Putting your notes into your own words, especially when an instructor provides access to notes or slides, can help you study. One great way to paraphrase notes is to make summary statements. Either in class (during a lull in the activity) or while studying, pause at a point in your notes and ask “So far, the major topic is what?” Now, answer your question. You’re working on information recall and on connecting key ideas.
    4. Mark the connections between ideas: using arrows, lines, underlines, colored pens, highlighters, circles, or other graphic methods, show how the ideas relate to one another. Show which ideas provide support to which other ideas. Show which ideas are contrary to each other or negate each other. Making clear how the ideas connect will help future you make sense of the pile of knowledge on the page or in your document.
    5. Re-write your notes in a different manner: Sometimes, the format of notes can get in the way of studying the notes. Take the content of your notes and present it differently. Try idea mapping, making a timeline, developing a graph, putting information into a table—just change the look of the information. Changing how the information appears can allow you to more clearly express what matters. Numerous websites exist with templates for making mind maps; re-visualizing the content on your notes helps you focus not only on the content but also on the relationships among the content.