The Art of Studying

(Prepared by the Founding School Principal Dr R A Squire, B.A., B.Ed. (Hons), Ph.D., AIDA, FACE)


There is no short cut to sound knowledge, for this is gained only by study, and study is hard work for all students.  Don’t believe the saying that “Study comes easy to so and so”; it is a most unusual student who looks forward eagerly to a night of study.  Students who are unwilling to undertake the hard work which is demanded cannot hope to succeed.  However, there are others who just don’t know how to study systematically and therefore successfully.  They make half-hearted and misguided attempts, and, not meeting with success, they become discouraged and unwilling to apply themselves further.   These are the ones I hope to help most.

Rarely are students taught how to study, yet without guidance, few succeed in achieving their full learning ability.  Much time and energy is wasted daily by students, because they have not learnt how to study economically.   Sufficient is known about the best conditions for learning to be able to guide students to efficient study habits.

At the outset let me assure you that you cannot study effectively if you are worried.  So if you have any problem – personal, domestic, financial or social, or if you need advice on any matter in which you need help, then do not hesitate to see the Principal, for students with problems must be aided before the problem swamps them.

You, the Student

To commence with, do not underrate yourself.  Students have said to me, “I can’t do this subject – I’m dumb”.  Those who have gone right through the education system to year 12 are not dumb.  The dumb ones dropped out along the way.   Saying you are dumb indicates a negative approach, and a negative approach will lead to failure.  You are quitting before you start.  Just remember that ‘Winners are never quitters, and quitters are never winners’.

A Goal or Target

You must have a goal. Research has shown that without a goal, in study or in any other aspect in life, an individual has little hope of success.  You must have a target at which to aim, and this target must be a sensible and achievable one.  It must not be too easy or you will be under-achieving.  Likewise, it must not be too difficult or all effort will be wasted.

Motivation, Determination, Concentration

This now brings us to Motivation.  It is purposeless to set a goal if you are not prepared to work towards it.   Something else besides the goal is needed and that is motivation.  If you can see no purpose in being at Hubbards, if you don’t want to study hard, if you are not all fired-up to achieve your goal, then you are not motivated.  However, if you are motivated, then this will lead to determination, the determination to reach the goal you set yourself, a goal which must be your number one priority.  If you spend less time on study than you do on sport or with your car or your girlfriend (or boyfriend) then you are not really motivated and therefore not really determined to succeed, and you probably will not succeed.

Motivation and determination will lead to concentration, in your case, concentration on your studies.  To be successful, athletes must train, tennis players must practice, singers must rehearse and students must studyEndless time is wasted if you do not concentrate.  How many minutes in each study hour are wasted through lack of concentration?  You mustforce yourself to concentrate.  This now brings us to the techniques of good study, for there are good study methods and poor study methods.  However, always bear in mind those three signposts on the road to success – motivation, determination, concentration.

Getting ready to study

  1. Always study in a quiet place, and, if possible, the same place.  There should not be any competing activity going on in the room.  This applies particularly to students whose powers of concentration are poor, even under ideal conditions.  Some students may study quite effectively even with a radio on, but this is the exception rather than the rule.  Any noises, eg whispering, which interferes with the attention of the student should be eliminated; minor distractions are sufficient to upset the concentration of poor students.  See that you have really good lighting; poor lighting will soon tire your eyes, and your efficiency then rapidly deteriorates.
  2. Before you begin to study, clear your desk of everything not connected with the work you are to do; then get all the materials you are likely to need.   Poor preparation in both these aspects will waste time and interfere with your performance.
  3. Have a clear view of your goal for the study period, ie, set out to accomplish a definite amount of work.  Too many people study in terms of time only.  It is not the time spent on study that counts, but the amount of work completed in the time available.  The more specific the goal set, the more likelihood there is of achieving that goal.
  4. Set forth with determination.  Make up your mind that you are going to achieve something and that you are not going to allow your concentration to slacken; in other words, work hard while you are studying.  Procrastination is the greatest waster of study time; some students will continually put off the time of starting by fiddling around doing all kinds of unnecessary odd jobs, while others will convince themselves that they are tired and need a night of relaxation.  Never assume you are too tired to study – this is a negative approach.
  5. Whether you study at night or in the early morning is a matter of individual choice.  Those who study at night are generally tired after the day’s work and their ability to absorb work and retain it are both impaired.  On the other hand, early morning work, while beneficial from the study point of view, makes one less capable at work towards the end of the day.  However, try to develop a regular fixed time for study.
  6. How comfortable should you be?  Certainly not so comfortable that you are aware you are comfortable.  It has been proved beyond doubt that studying while lying down is a poor way to learn.  Give yourself a relaxation period of 5 or 10 minutes every hour or hour-and-a–half and go outside in the fresh air.

Some general hints

  1. Space your study during the week, eg, it is better to spend four hours on a subject over four different nights, than it is to spend the whole four hours on one night.
  2. Study the most difficult subject or the subject you like least at the beginning of a study session, for this is when you are least tired and your concentration is at its best.
  3. Do your learning subjects first and leave exercises, problems, essays and the other ‘active’ subjects till later when you are more tired.
  4. Compare what is being studied with material gathered from other sources.  This is where reference books are a great asset.  This is to associate facts together, especially new facts with facts already known.  Remember that the more spokes there are in a wheel, the stronger is the wheel.
  5. See that you understand what you are learning; else your learning becomes more rote-learning, like learning the words of a song, which has little lasting quality.  It is our problem to see that you understand the work.  The reputation of this institution has been gained largely because classes are small and the staff is friendly and efficient.  Small classes mean that the shy student will receive attention and the dodger will quickly be detected:  friendly and efficient teachers can use many and varied approaches to make you understand the subject matter; that is the challenge we accept.  You quickly will be in trouble here if you do not work, but you never will be in trouble if you do not understand.

The method of learning from a textbook or notes

  1. Obtain the facts.  Don’t just read the material.  Reading is not learning.  You must separate essential facts from illustrative material and subsidiary detail.  You study with pencil in hand and make a summary, or underline the main points or number off the important points.  A textbook or notes should be read only once.  From then on, you should have your summary or marked off facts.  Some students merely write out the information from textbooks.  What a waste of time!  Exercising the hand does not store the brain!
  2. Learning the facts.  Learning must be active.  Memorise the important items you need to know from your summary by pointing to them, or point to your underlined ornumbered facts.
  3. Test yourself immediately.  Scribble down the facts, or tick them off on your fingers.  Re-learn any material you missed until you have it stored away.  Mnemonics may help you, as will grouping together similar items.
  4. Revision must be done regularly because we all have ‘leaky’ heads.  Frequent revision will consolidate knowledge.  You will remember more at each revision, and retention will be more lasting.

Research has shown that learning by recall is the most effective learning method of all.  By this method, you have to present the material to yourself, and you discover those sections you have not yet learnt thoroughly.  Some students become discouraged when they find how little they remember a few days after what they feel was an efficient leaning session.   However, this is perfectly natural, but it is here that students with no fight will give in, whilst those with motivation and determination will not despair.  The work must be learnt again.

Some poor study types

  1. Readers.  These students read their book or notes over and over again.  They never make a summary or undertake active learning.  They are inherently lazy.
  2. Writers.  These students write down all that is in their textbooks or notes over and over again.  They use up reams of paper.  This is not learning – it is utter inefficiency and waste of time.  I feel they are also inherently lazy.
  3. Rote Learners.  These students learn all their notes off by heart as they would a poem.  The time involved must be enormous.  I feel sorry for them.  They are not lazy – they just haven’t a clue how to learn, which can be stated in three words –summarise, memorise, revise.

Suggestions for students at examination time

  1. It is important that you enter the examination room with a fresh and alert mind.  It may seem important to collect a few more facts just before the examination, but remember that during the examination you have to arrange the facts, and you need a clear mind to do that.  You should therefore not overdo the study during the examination period.  Adequate sleep is more important during the examination week than in the week before.  Do not use pep pills; their effect is too short-lived and by the end of the examination period you will be completely jaded, confused, and worn out.
  2. The morning and midday meals should be light during the examination period.  You are all aware of the drowsiness that follows a heavy meal.
  3. Ensure that you arrive in adequate time for the examination.  The panic and nervous tension built up if you think you are going to be late will take a long time to dispel.
  4. On entering the examination room, settle yourself comfortably and relax completelyuntil the papers are given out.
  5. Make full use of the perusal time but do not panic when you see the examination paper, as most papers appear fearsome at first glance.
  6. Be wise in your choice of the first question you do.  Make it one that will give you confidence – it is often difficult to repair the damage caused by a bad start.
  7. Pay careful attention to the wording of the questions.  Do not rush for pen and ink.  Read carefully and obtain a clear understanding of the questions asked.  Read carefully the instructions at the head of the paper.
  8. In essay questions, plan the approach to be made.  It is advisable to make a scheme that your answer is to follow:  this may be altered slightly as the essay proceeds.
  9. Keep to the question asked – do not wander on to sidetracks, irrelevancy is one of the greatest faults in answers to examination papers.
  10. Watch your time carefully.  You may wish to allot more time to some questions, but where the questions are of equal value, the differences in time allotment should not be too great.

R A Squire