Helping Students Make the Most of Study TimeApproximately 60% of today’s first-year students and seniors report spending fifteen or fewer hours per week preparing for class (NSSE, 2015). Many students simply don’t know how they should spend their study time when they are not working on specific assignments. Here are some tips for helping students make the most of the time they devote to your course outside of class.
Introduce Appropriate Study Strategies
- Provide students with guidelines on how to prepare for class and assessments in your course, both on the syllabus and as reminders throughout the semester. Provide links to the study strategies that seem most appropriate for your course. If appropriate, ask successful former students (particularly those who struggled) what they did to prepare for your course and relay that to your current students.
- State learning outcomes for each class period so that students know what they are expected to do with the day’s material. Ideally, students will be able to collate these learning outcomes to create review sheets for quizzes and exams. See Tips for Writing Student Learning Outcomes for further information.
- Emphasize the importance of regular and active review of course materials to enhance memory formation. Active reviewing means self-testing while reviewing notes and/or readings. The bare minimum is the same number of times the class meets per week, but the most effective is every day (10-20 minutes per day per class).
- Provide students with guidelines on how to take notes for your course.
For notes written in notebooks, suggestions include: leaving space in the margins for summaries or questions that come up during or after class; using two different colors of ink for lecture notes and reading notes to keep track of the source of information; adding lecture notes to text notes (or vice versa) rather than taking two separate sets of notes that are unlikely to be incorporated; creating note cards during class using terms or concepts covered in lecture (either to be completed during class or after as part of study).
For notes written onto printed PowerPoint slides, suggestions include: interleaving double-sided PowerPoint handouts with blank sheets of paper to write corresponding notes that do not fit onto the handout (as opposed to using a bound notebook); printing slides two to four to a page (without frames) to provide more white space in which to write. Keying notes into the PowerPoint notes section is not recommended because many will transcribe lecture rather than engage in the critical thinking skills required for effective note-taking. In addition, students tend to repeatedly read transcribed notes rather than actively study them.
- Introduce students to one or more study systems that would work for your course. Below are some, but not all, of the study systems utilized by post-secondary students. [* emphasize reading].
Incorporate In-Class Activities that Reflect Appropriate Study Behavior
- Many students believe that more is better when it comes to studying. While this is true for those who are not putting in adequate time, some students spend a lot of time engaged in ineffective strategies, such as blindly rereading the text or notes. Create in-class activities that showcase effective methods of preparation, for example comparing and contrasting concepts, solving problems, explaining charts or diagrams, and summarizing reading.
- Many students have an unrealistic idea of how much effort and perseverance to put into a study task. So that students have a more realistic idea of how they should behave, model how to wrestle with the material, for example by demonstrating step-by-step methods for approaching a problem, verbalizing lists of questions to ask while working through a concept, or verbalizing the thought process in which you expect them to engage. Then have the students try the same on their own or in pairs or groups.
- Use class time as study time. Start homework activities in class so that students have an opportunity to ask questions and clarify the assignment. Doing this will help with student “buy-in” for class or small group activities or discussions, as well as help you convey the relevance of the assignment.
Create Assignments that Convey Your Expectations
- Give students guidance on reading assignments, either by providing them with reading questions or giving them tasks to accomplish as they read. For specific examples, see Tips for Getting Students to Prepare.
- Design assignments so that students are accomplishing tasks in service of a lesson objective. For example, if you expect students to compare two concepts or theories on an exam, have them write out that comparison as part of an assignment. Similarly, if you expect students to predict the outcome given a series of parameters, have them write out that outcome as part of an assignment. Whether you have students turn these in, discuss them with their peers in class, or both, you are showing students how to approach the material in a meaningful way.
Encourage (and Help Organize) Group Study
- Using your beginning of semester information cards or sheets, find out if students are interested in group study. Then, create a group on your Oncourse site for interested students so that they can easily contact each other without sending mass e-mails to the entire class.
- Encourage students to use the chat function in Oncourse to ask questions and discuss content. One way to model this is to hold online office hours in Oncourse and facilitate students answering each others’ questions (rather than you answer all of them). You can also do the same using the forum function, particularly if asynchronous communication will be easier for students.
Refer Students to the Resources available at the Bepko Learning Center
Davis, B. D. (2009). Collaborative learning: Group work and study teams. Tools for teaching. (2nd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Authored by Sarah Lang (September, 2011)
Revised by Anusha S. Rao (November, 2015)