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Academic Support & Access Center

Questions?

  • Academic Support & Access Center
    202-885-3360
    Fax: 202-885-1042
    asac@american.edu
    Mary Graydon Center, Room 243

    Monday-Thursday 9:00a.m. - 7:00p.m. Friday 9:00a.m. - 5:00p.m.

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Study tips from AU students

I'm definitely a list person, so I like to write down little lists on Post-It notes and stick them on my desk. The lists might contain tasks I need to complete or terms I need to learn or remember. When I finish each item, I cross it off the list; when I cross off all the items on the list, I get to throw the Post-It away—a very cathartic experience! Being able to see all in one place what I need to accomplish gives me motivation to finish it all and ensures that I don't forget anything.
Mike Wittman, 2012, CAS

The most important concepts to take note of when studying a science are terms and words that you didn't know before. Many times, just by knowing the terminology, you can weave a more comprehensive understanding of the chapter or even the subject that you are learning. Science is its own language, and by understanding the most effective words you can use, you can get a more complete understanding of the subject.
Steven Moss, 2012, CAS

One tip for success is to read the syllabus carefully. This is particularly important if you feel you have no background in the field. Beyond the sternly worded nature of some syllabi, their contents tell you what the professor expects from you both for the class sessions and for your assignments. Often you can figure out based on the subject headings for class sessions what the professor wants you to focus on in your readings.
When you read, read to understand as much as you can, try to piece together what you don't, and bring your questions up in class. (Chances are, if you have questions about it, other people do too.) Look for and note connections between the readings you are doing and past readings. This will help when tests and papers come around. Pair this with short summaries that you write in your notebook on each day's lecture (preferably immediately after the lecture, but also before an exam, which is more helpful than just rereading your notes before the test) and you have a great base of work for studying an exam.
Jeremy Cohen, 2012, SIS and CAS

It may sound trite, but practice really does make perfect. The best way to study for a calculation-heavy exam is to do as many practice problems as possible. This is the best way to commit the concepts to memory.
Laura Lee, 2012, CAS

Find a method to stay organized that works for you and then keep it. Over the years I have found that the best method for me is to have a list of my immediate goals and long-term goals. Each night I make a schedule for the next day, consulting the list. I make sure that I give myself enough time to accomplish the immediate goals and some time to work on the long-term goals. Then, it is a matter of sticking to the schedule. Whenever new assignments or goals come up, I just add them to the list and schedule them in when I can. This method has worked for me, but may not work for everybody, so try new organizational techniques and find the best one for you.
Omar Eltorai, 2012, Kogod and CAS

Make a reference sheet of formulas to use for assignments and practice problems. This helps organize the ideas from the chapter, and then when test time rolls around, you can easily decide which formulas you'll need to remember for the exam.
Emma Morgan, 2012, CAS

Make study guides before important exams. Just the act of looking back through your notes and re-writing important terms and key concepts can refresh your memory and be a great start to studying for a big test. Making one can also help you understand what you don't know or what concepts you might need to study more. Plus, they're super helpful when reviewing for a cumulative final. If it helps, put key concepts or those you're having trouble with in bold (or italicize or underline them) for emphasis. Study guides are also more portable than textbooks—great for studying at the gym or when you have a few extra minutes between classes.
For basic economics classes (macro and micro), there are often two different components to the class: the more conceptual topics and the graphs. For both of these components, flashcards can be effective study tools. One study technique is to put the graph on one side of the flashcard and the corresponding concept on the other side; that way you can practice associating the concept with the specific graph. This is especially helpful for different cost concepts and curves in microeconomics, and if you go on to take Intermediate Macro or Micro, those flashcards will come in handy—I promise!
Emily Hoerner, 2012, SIS

In order to manage my time effectively, I often make myself a schedule--what activities I have going on, what classes I have when, and also when I am going to get my assignments done.  It helps me to see when I have time available to do my work and then get it done.  If I don't end up doing it, then I change the schedule.
Lawren Allen, 2011, Kogod

I learn best when I physically use a pen and paper.  I have never been a person who likes to bring a computer to class.  Number one, it distracts you and takes away from learning.  Second, mapping out concepts on paper in your own way can be a great way to understand the material.  Oftentimes physically drawing out ideas on paper helps me piece together what is necessary to make something work.  It is more effective for me than typing, even when just note-taking, because there is more thought going into the work.  I can build my own style of taking notes on paper because I am not confined to the formats of a word processing program.  I will still make final review sheets with ink and paper because I absorb the material better, much better than copy-and-pasting a Word document.
Mark Kruzel, 2012, Kogod

I use numbering to remember the points I need to remember about different topics.  For example, I can remember that I have seven points for topic one and quiz myself or others out loud on the seven points.  When there are many readings for a class, I highly recommend making a chart of authors in one column and a short (2-4 sentences) summary of the author's view in the other column.  The summary should cover the topic, the conclusion, the methods if it is research, and a point or two to support the conclusion.  You can skim the reading if you run short on time, or work with a friend in the class, but do not skip the summaries.  This will help you write exceptional essays for midterms and finals—the professors love when you can name the authors!  Finally, I keep myself organized by using Microsoft OneNote.  I can take notes, make charts or outlines, and record classes.
Colleen McCracken, 2011, CAS and SIS

The secret to successful group work is awareness of both yourself and others.  Know your strengths and weaknesses, using your strengths to help the group while self-monitoring your weaknesses.  You also have to be aware of others to maintain a balanced group dynamic.  Know when to adjust your style for a particular group.  You can use the strengths of your group members to offset your weaknesses and your strengths to offset theirs.  For example, if you find you tend to be a more dominant personality, you might want to make sure you're stepping back to let other group members contribute.  In terms of group awareness, if you notice particular members rarely speak up, you can encourage them by asking their opinion of the group discussions so that they feel more comfortable speaking up.  I did that for an individual in a group once, and they started to voice opinions without encouragement.
Corin Reade, 2010, Kogod

Every time you are given a new assignment, immediately figure out when you will commit time to complete it.  I am constantly budgeting and re-budgeting my time to handle my workload for the coming weeks.  This helps me to determine how much time I have for the stuff I need to do and the stuff I want to do.
David McGarry, 2012, CAS and Kogod

My suggestion is quite simple: Take a "what type of learner are you?" quiz and embrace your learning style! I am someone who learns by writing. I need to take notes during lectures even when a power point is being used or I won't internalize anything. When reading, I need to take extensive notes and underline. When I have to write a paper, I have to write out key quotations from my sources on post-it notes. I stick the notes all around a table, placing them in groups according to different sections of my paper-to-be. My learning style means studying, reading and writing take a lot of time! I resisted this at first, but putting the time in to learning the way I do best is worth it as I am really learning, internalizing, and engaging with knowledge. I hope this helps!
Erin Scanlon, 2009, SIS