Let's face it. Studying is hard work. It's even harder if no one ever taught you how to do it right. That's where Shmoop comes in. Our goal in this course is to give you the tools you need to make school just a tiny bit easier, or at least keep you from having a panic attack in any of the following scenarios: your teacher starts throwing out historical events at you like candy at a parade, you realize you have ten assignments due in the next week, one of which is a big paper, or you have to design and perform a psych experiment with a group.
In this course, we'll stock up on a few of the most important study skills. Among them?
- How to manage and plan your academic schedule
- Taking notes that will actually help you prepare for that paper/test/project
- How to read and think about an assigned text before walking into the classroom
- Designing study aids that work for your learning style
- Memorizing facts and dates like a walking encyclopedia
So break out those highlighters and join us as we study how to study.
Unit 1. Study Skills
You don't just naturally absorb how to "do" school. You've got to be taught. And since Shmoop speaks student, we've combed the depths of the web to come up with the best of the best to help you be a productive and effective student.
Sample Lesson - Introduction
Lesson 3: Listening and Note-Taking
If you've ever sat in a classroom, or had a tutor, or been to school, or been a human who can read and write and hear, then you've probably got some experience taking notes. It's one of the things you just sort of learn as you go along, almost accidentally. In high school, note taking becomes a kind of mindless habit, and you just automatically write stuff down when a teacher starts talking. Ideally stuff that the teacher actually says, and not "+ b 2 = c I wonder if Janie will go out hey I should order pepperoni tonight."
But note-taking is a skill. And like any skill, it has to be studied, practiced, and improved. This lesson is going to help you do that. We're going to talk about fancy tools—like mind maps and iPads—and not-so-fancy tools like listening well and rereading stuff. By the time we're through with you, you'll be elected King of Note-takers, and crowds of adoring fans will follow you around begging you to autograph their notes.
Sample Lesson - Reading
Reading 1.3: How to Hear Stuff and Write it Down
Listening to Lectures
You might think you were born with the ability to listen to teachers give lectures, but as every kindergarten teacher knows far too well, you actually had to learn to listen. And now you're going to learn to listen better. Because it turns out that if you just sit and listen to a lecture, without writing anything down or doing some kind of activity, you'll only remember about 20% of what you're hearing. That's not an awesome percentage.
Before we get to the part about writing stuff down, let's go over a few quick strategies that will help you hear the lecture better in the first place:
- Prepare for class. Your brain doesn't do so great with a ton of totally new information, so a lecture on a subject you know nothing about is difficult to listen to properly. So, if you know the topic of the lecture coming up, take five minutes to Google it before class. Heck, even 30 seconds. Wikipedia to the rescue, man. And if there's reading assigned, for the love of Cthulhu, do it. It'll make the lecture go so much better. You're going to have to learn it all eventually anyway. And you've got to sit through that lecture whether you're hearing it or not. So actually hearing the lecture will cut down on that dreaded library studying time you've got logged for later.
- Engage with the subject. Remember how engaging with the subject can motivate you? It can also make lectures stick a little better. Even if you don't care about the French Revolution, try to think about how it could be important to you (it gives the context for your fourth fave musical Les Miserables), ask questions in class, and think about how insanely creep guillotines are.
- Don't get distracted. Look, even classrooms are full of distractions: people rustling their paper, girls texting beneath their desks, and that artistic kid next to you drawing really cool dragons. It might feel impossible, but try really, really hard to ignore them all. Focus on that French Revolution.
Taking Good Notes
But by far the most effective way to maximize your listening powers is to take awesome notes. What, exactly, does awesome note-taking look like? It doesn't look like writing everything down verbatim as fast as you can and getting a hand cramp. It also doesn't look like writing five keywords in the margin of the textbook with little stars next to them, maybe a smiley face or two. Good note taking is a fine art, which will give you a legible record of the information and tell you what the most important pieces are.
There are a ton of different strategies for taking notes. We'll start with some of the most basic, traditional note-taking styles, and then we'll move to some flashier stuff:
- Outlining. This is probably the most basic and straightforward note-taking method out there. As you listen to a lecture, you try to outline it as though it were a paper you were writing. Major subjects are begun on the far left of the page, and then lesser topics are indented beneath them. You don't generally write in full sentences, but you might stick in a few. Here's a good example of what it might look like.
- The Cornell method. The Cornell method is pretty widespread; it's not fancy, but it's pretty tried-and-true. Watch this short video which explains it. Pay attention, because you'll be trying this in a sec.
- Mind maps. Mind maps are ways of recording and representing information visually. You start with the main topic of the lecture in the center, and then move to lesser branches for the major subtopics. Here's a pretty example of a mind map that was made during a lecture on gambling. Click the image to make it bigger. Here's another example, about Pablo Picasso. During class, your mind maps probably wouldn't end up being so pretty (unless you are that artistic kid drawing cool pictures of dragons we mentioned earlier). If you've got the chops though, go for it (and then maybe auction your mind map off to the highest bidder...don't tell your teacher we said that).
- Using technology to take notes. Okay, this one is not so tried-and-true. Things like iPads and smartphones are just not your best bet for recording a lot of information quickly, unless you're recording the lecture (which is a good idea, but if you're recording it make triple-sure that you've asked the teacher for permission first—they can get a little squeamish about that). A laptop can work well if you're a fast typist, but it's harder to represent information more creatively. If you are using a keyboard, your best bet is the straightforward outlining method of taking notes.
Notes: The Saga Continues
Sadly, you can't just abandon your notes after the lecture like the tootsie rolls from your Halloween haul that you conveniently forgot to pick up from your desk at school. That is, if you actually want to remember all that stuff you just wrote down. There are two basic things you've got to do with your notes after class that are going to help you out:
First, you have to organize the notes themselves. That doesn't have to be complicated, but basically you need to make sure that all your notes for one class are together, in order, and easy to find. If you're one of those guys that writes their notes on spare napkins, post-it notes, and the backs of class handouts, at least gather all these scraps into folders, and write dates on them.
Second, you've got to review your notes. There are lots of ways of doing that, so you'll want to pick the way that helps you learn/remember them best (more on that later). Some people just reread their notes and try to fill in any bits they might have missed or skipped. (Shmoop editor sheepishly raises hand.) Others prefer to go through their notes with a series of highlighters or markers and mark the most important key words. Others type out their notes and learn them that way. Or, you can read your notes and try to summarize them into 2-3 sentences at the end of the page. Basically, if the first time you read back over your notes is two hours before the test…it's gonna be rough.
Sample Lesson - Activity
Activity 1.3: Sharpen your Pencils, Folks
Now, of course, it's time to test out your new note-taking strategies. We're not going to take it easy on you. Instead, we're going to give you a sweet but zany lecture to listen to from Radiolab. The episode is called "Talking to Machines," and it's about the relationship between computers and people.
So, before you listen to it, take a minute to pick two of the note-taking strategies that appealed most to you from the lesson. During the first half of the program, you're going to take notes using one of those strategies. Halfway through, switch to the second strategy. Ready? Go.
When you're done with the episode, take a picture of your notes, scan in your handwritten notes, or do whatever you need to get them into digital form. Then upload your notes below. On a third document, write a short response describing which note-taking system you liked best and why. Upload that one too.
- Course Length: 3 weeks
- Grade Levels: 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, College
- Course Type: Short Course
- College Prep
- Life Skills
- Middle School
- High School
Just what the heck is a Shmoop Online Course?
Common Core Standards
The following Common Core Standards are covered in this course:CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.1