My Study Process

I’ll be going back to class next Tuesday. I’m pretty excited, but I still have some apprehension. Mostly about me. You see, I’m pretty smart, but I’m lazy. Teachers and educators are told that students like me are “bored.” A label of a sort. Students with high test scores, but low grades are pegged “bored” and need to be taught, or helped to get more engaged. That’s not my problem. I haven’t felt bored in classes as much as apathy. I get into a bad habit of stopping to care, not going, then failing.

Now, I’m breaking that habit. But replacing it with better habits. The most important for me is doing homework. Educators say that engaging in class is a priority, and I’m not disagreeing, but they assume the homework is getting done.

In college, very little “work” is done in class. It’s mostly lecture. In some small classes, the prof’s assign in class work, where you have to get into a group to discuss then present about the material you just learned. But you still get homework. I never did homework. All through high school. I did the bare minimum to pass. It was easy, though, because of I usually passed the exams. I learned the hard way that this doesn’t fly in college. My GPA suffered.

So preemptively, I have devised a plan, to study. I am forcing myself to do this, because it will help me. I’m sharing it with you, because you might benefit. It’s a little complicated, but I’m sure you could cut out what you want. Smartly, of course.

Taking Notes

It starts with taking notes in class. Now, the best way to do that is with the Cornell method. Some of you might groan, but they WORK. I was never told this when I first learned them, but the POINT OF CORNELL NOTES IS TO CREATE YOUR STUDY GUIDE AS YOU GO. Remember that. You’ll see what I mean as I go on.

When taking my notes, I use just a simple spiral notebook. Not the cheapest one. It cost about $2.50 at Wal-Mart. Make sure it has perforated pages and holes punched. Again, you’ll see why later. Of course, you can use a binder, but a backpack full of binders AND books AND a laptop gets to be too much for me.

Here is a really nice guide to setting up your page and using them. Read it.

Below is an excerpt and pic from the article.

• Notes column (right) Record the lecture here during class using short sentences and fragments that transcribe the facts you’ll need. Eliminate all unnecessary words. Use bulleted lists for easy skimming, and as much shorthand as possible (without sacrificing readability.) Develop a vocabulary of abbreviations you always use, like “ex” for “for example,” “v.” for “very,” “tho” for “though,” “1st” and “2nd” for “first and second.” Finally, leave lots of whitespace between points and paragraphs so you can go back and fill in sections later.
• Cues column (left) After class, review your notes and jot questions and memory joggers in this narrow column that help connect ideas listed in the notes section. When you’re studying, you will look at these cues to help you recall the salient facts in your notes, so keep that in mind when you create your cues.
• Summary area (bottom) After class while you create your cues, sum up the notes on each page in one or two sentences that encapsulate the main ideas in the bottom area. You’ll use the summary section to skim through your notes and find information later.

Make sure you can read your own handwriting. There’s no point in reviewing if that’s the case.

Obviously, you can’t catch everything presented. That’s why you have to learn to abbreviate, as said above. You don’t need perfect long paragraphs. If there are overhead/PowerPoint notes and the teacher is talking, professors have told me that the overhead should get priority UNLESS you know you can get a hard copy of ’em.


It goes on to say how to study.
…review [your notes] and fill in the cues and summary area. When the time comes to study for an exam, read through your notes. To quiz yourself, cover up the right side and use the cues on the left to jog your memory and help you rebuild the factual narrative in your mind.
There will be more on review later.

Back Up

Ok, so you have all your notes in your notebook. They are pristine, organized, and perfect (because of my help). Then, oh no, your notebook falls out your car window and gets picked up by stray dog. You think “OMG! I lost my notes. Now all of Ravel’s help is useless and I’ll fail. Guess I’ll go back to bed.” And the dog thinks “Wow, these notes are incredibly organized and legible.”

Well, if you back up your notes. You can never use that excuse again. This is simple. When your done reviewing, take your notes out of you binder or notebook, and scan them. Save them as PDF’s. Name by date and class and save them by class in a different folders, like Spanish 2, 9-22-10-spanish.pdf . Save them on your computer, flash drive AND an online service like Dropbox (2 GB free space). If you want to be really anal, scan and save your handouts, too.

Here’s what I’m going to do, which might be too much for you but it wll help. After the notes and handouts are scanned, I will type out a long summary of all the material, each day. That reiteration helps me remember as much as I can. All the notes, handouts, and summaries are saved together in folders by day.

Then, I put the hand written notes, handouts, hole punched, and typed summary, printed and hole punched, into a 3 ring binder. I can take that binder to class, read and review from it and never worry about losing it. I’ll always have a digital copy.

If you don’t have a printer/scanner at home, you can usually find both at your college’s computer lab.

(A note, save the scans as PDF’s at 120 dpi or higher because pictures, especially JPGs, can lose details when shrunk.)

I have to follow this. Other wise, I’ll never study. The digital copies come in handy for, because my laptop goes almost everywhere with me, but my notebooks don’t. So if an impromptu study session spontaneously occurs (as they often do), I’m prepared.


Here are some print outs and sites to help you better utilize Cornell Notes and make going back to school easier.

HackCollege article on Cornell Notes)

Preformatted PDFs

Lifehacker Back To School Articles

And here’s a nicely formatted PDF of this article for easy printing and sharing.


I admit, this isn’t for everyone. My fiancée can’t study this way. She will scan the notes, but otherwise she has to have all paper, all handwritten notes.

I hope you use this to good effect. If you have anything else you do, different approaches, anything, leave a comment.

(Reading through this myself, I realized how freaking long it is.)

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