You can think of studying/learning as a type of cognitive ability. As such, you may have already learned a great deal about how to study effectively in an introductory psychology course or in a cognitive psychology course. For instance:
What I present in class (i.e., lectures, discussions, videos, and demonstrations) is what I think is most important and what I want you to focus on and use as a reference point for your studying.
You should be aware at the outset that, in general, my exams (and assignments) require you to think at a more conceptual level. In other words, the questions force you to apply your knowledge, rather than just regurgitating back facts and terms. Just because this course is called "Introduction to Neuroscience " DOES NOT mean that you don't have to think!
Step 1: Carefully Read the Following
Step 2: Before Class
Read the assigned reading before it is discussed in class. It is good practice to jot thoughts, notes, etc., in the margins of the text as different ideas occur to you while you are reading (e.g., "I don't understand this point," "This reminds me of that other concept I read about. .," "Another interpretation of this study is. . ."). Don't feel that you need to memorize every term and concept at this point. Just make sure that you understand what you are reading and that it makes sense. You should spend extra time on concepts that are not clear to you once you encounter them. After you have read the section, close your book and summarize for yourself what the main "take-home" messages are from that section. If you can't do this, then you have not read the text carefully enough to grasp the main ideas. Go back, and do it again. If there is anything from the readings that you do not understand, you should ask your question during class and/or come to see me during office hours.
I have very mixed feelings about taking notes and/or putting definitions and concepts on note cards while you are reading through the assigned reading for the first time. In general, my own personal opinion (and that is all it is) is that this is not a good use of your time for a few reasons: (a) you end up taking notes on everything in the assigned reading, rather than focusing on what I emphasize as being most important, (b) you spend time memorizing peripheral details that have a very low priority of being covered by an exam, (c) you may overwhelm yourself with the amount of the material, and (d) you may spend a lot of time writing, and very little time processing the information. On the other hand, taking notes while you read may help you to focus better on the material if you tend to be easily distracted. Obviously, you need to choose a strategy that works best for you.
Step 3: During Class
Actively listen and participate in class, and take good notes. Don't feel that you need to write down everything that I say or put on the board or an overhead. Since you have already read the material ahead of time, you will be able to discriminate between information that you know is presented in your text and new information that is being presented in class. Therefore, you can focus your energy on getting down the new information. I tend to go through the material that is in your text more quickly than the new information anyway because I know that you have already read that information and can refer back to your text. Also, don't feel that you need to write down what I say word-for-word; just write down key concepts and words that will later remind you what I said. Also, don't wait until the mid-term evaluations to tell me that you feel that the material is being presented either too quickly or too slowly during the lectures. It is your responsibility, and ultimately to your benefit, to let me know because I can't read your minds. Communicate with me, ask questions, and be an active learner!
Step 4: As Soon After Class As Possible (meaning immediately to within a day or two)
After the class period in which that material is discussed, you should first read over your class notes, fill in any missing information with what you remember from the lecture, and make sure that the notes are clear and organized well. Next, re-read those sections of the assigned reading that pertain directly to the material covered in the lectures. You can now enhance your notes with any additional supplementary information presented in the text on that topic (e.g., additional examples, more formal definitions of terms or concepts, other supporting research findings). Make note of any concepts that are still not clear to you and come and ask me about them during office hours. Don't wait until the day before the exam--I may not be available at that time to answer your questions. After you have done this, review the summary and quiz yourself on the key terms at the end of the chapter.
Step 5: Studying For Exams (do I need to explicitly mention that cramming a few days before an exam doesn't work--I didn't think so!)
Prioritize Material: The material covered in the lectures (i.e., your class notes), as well as those sections of the text and supplementary readings that deal directly with that material, should receive first priority. Then you can focus on material in the readings that is closely related to the lecture material but was not talked about in much detail (if at all). Lastly, you should focus on the material in the readings that was not talked about at all during lectures.
Study Questions: After you have solidified your understanding of the lecture and reading material in this way, you should answer the study guide questions that I will distribute prior to each exam. These questions are to serve as a guide for important topics and concepts and to give you practice in conceptual and critical thinking. The best strategy is to use these questions to test and apply your knowledge after you have extensively studied, rather than use them as a springboard to begin studying. If you have studied carefully and can answer these questions completely, you should be relatively well prepared for the exams. In answering these questions, you should always try to generate examples other than those discussed in class or in your text. This forces you to apply your knowledge to novel examples.
Prove It: Before each exam it is always a good idea to prove to yourself that you know and understand the material. You can do this by making up a list of questions for yourself and then writing out the answers without using the book or any notes. After you have written an answer, go back and check whether you have answered the question completely and accurately. Another strategy is to find a buddy and quiz each other. Your buddy can help you to assess your level of understanding. The key here is to not mislead yourself into thinking that you truly understand and can apply the material when you can't.
The moral of the story is to be a consistent active learner throughout the semester.
CREATIVE THOUGHT MATTERS
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