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January 2014
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Study Skills: Getting A Return On Your Investment

January 8, 2014

Well, welcome to 2014. I hope you had wonderful, safe and restful holiday season. This is the first post of the year, and it will be a little shorter than I’d like (still in recovery mode, following doctor’s orders about minimal typing, etc).

Some of you are heading back to school or university even as I write this. Others may be taking professional development courses, part-time credit and non-credit courses, or in-house training programs offered by your employer. All this is great — I’m a firm believer in lifelong learning, both as a means of advancing one’s career and as a personal philosophy. It’s worth keeping one’s mind active, for a host of reasons we needn’t belabor here.

The educational activities I mentioned involve some common threads. In every case, you’ll have to address stated learning outcomes and program objectives in your studies, and you’ll be tested on your grasp of those outcomes and objectives at program completion. This means that unless you have prior knowledge of course content and operative principles, you’ll have to read, listen, recall, analyze, apply, synthesize, evaluate. If you remember my earlier post about that critical question you’re always supposed to ask (“What am I being tested on?”), you’ll know that you’re going to have to demonstrate more than simple recall when you face a testing situation, especially at program completion.

When you take a course and engage in the process it presents, you’re making an expenditure of time and energy. When you’re studying for an exam in that course, you’re spending even more time and energy. The time expenditure is critical because time is the only resource you can’t recapture once you’ve spent it. Now, I don’t know about you, but I’m an old guy — time is precious to me. If I’m going to spend my time studying for a course or preparing for an exam, I want to maximize the return I get for that expenditure. I want the time I spend to yield immediate, measurable rewards in terms of my knowledge of the material, my grasp of key principles and my ability to demonstrate that I can use effectively the things I’ve learned. On a final exam, I want my prep time to yield as great a return as possible in terms of my measured learning. I also want a good grade, as it sometimes happens that lessons well learned don’t necessarily equate to high marks.

These things may seem obvious, yet most students have had the experience of spending lots of study and prep time, only to get thrashed on an assignment or in an exam. This is because even the most experienced of students frequently miss an obvious and critical aspect of strong study skills. It’s the point of today’s post, and it’s simply this: if your study methods don’t accurately mirror the testing method to be used or allow you to practice the skills you must exercise in a given exam, it doesn’t matter how much time you spend studying or how hard you work. Your results will depend more on luck than on anything you’ve actually done, and your investment of energy and non-recoverable time will have been mostly wasted.

This point is neither as obvious nor as simple as it seems, so we’ll return to it in my next post. For the moment, I think it’s time to sit back and spend some quality time with an ice-pack. Later…:)

by Steve. Find out more about Steve here.