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Study Wise Blog

Note Taking: What’s Important and What’s Not

April 22, 2013

laptopWe’ve all had one, or two, or three. The professor who doesn’t give you material to guide you for the class or lecture (Power Points or handouts); causing you to not know what to study for the test, or the professor who gives you the materials but then the test is unrelated to them; leading you to be frustrated and confused. So what should you take notes on?

It took me until about my sophomore year to differentiate between professors who give exams by their knowledge, and the professors who give exams by the textbook. Whichever professor you find yourself studying under, I guarantee there is a way to ACE the class no matter their preference.

Let’s start with the professor who doesn’t give material out. Freshman year, first semester, I was already nervous to begin my college career. My first class was Western Civilization in the Lecture Hall. Lecture Hall = already intimidated. As I’m sitting waiting to get the usual syllabus lecture, the professor immediately begins to scribble words on the board at an immense rate. What do I do? I begin to copy every word, realizing when the class ended that I had no idea what had even happened or what I even scribbled down. Problem #1.

Staying awake in class and processing every word out of their mouths is half the battle of school. It made me ponder. Why not record the class? In an article I found by Faculty Focus, which is a website for higher education teaching strategies, a study showed that students who studied using multimedia notes scored better on quizzes and exams. You could use almost anything to record the lecture. Your computer, phone, iPod, or even a digital recorder. While you’re taking the notes and “attempting” to listen, your technology is listening for you. After class, go back and listen to the lecture. Highlight, circle, or square what the professor focused the most on. Half of the time professors will write words that never come out of their mouths. Then go back and read the textbook on the notes you took, so now not only do you have the notes, but you have the professor’s words AND the textbook material. This also allows you to go back and make notes of ideas that you may not have understood the first time around, opening a bigger door for you to ask questions.

In situations such as these, it is a wise idea to use your laptop to take notes ESPECIALLY if you can type without looking. Typing is a lot faster than hand writing, and allows you to make changes more efficiently. Also, when going back and looking at your textbook and listening to your recording, it is easier to adapt your notes to your studying techniques through a computer as opposed to erasing and rewriting.

Let’s move on to the professor who gives material, but then test you on aspects that are unrelated. Interpersonal Communication. Easy class right? Wrong. First day of class I took every note perfect off of the Power Point slides, and I understood everything my professor was saying about them. First test rolls around, and I’m not dripping a drop of sweat. Look down at #1 and I have no idea what the question is even asking. We didn’t discuss half of the questions on the test in class; they were straight out of the book. How was I supposed to know that was going to happen? I thought I had done everything right. Problem #2.

Now I was beyond frustrated knowing that what we learned in class didn’t matter, it wasn’t going to be on the test. I thought I was wasting my time. There had to be a way I could conquer this class though. So, I tried a new technique that I call the night before. Print off the materials the professor gives you ahead of time, be one step ahead of them. Review them the night before, also reading the related textbook material so you know the material inside and out. As you’re reading note the ideas that aren’t on the materials that you think are important. Ask a question about them in class. A simple questions such as, “Professor, I was reading our textbook and noticed this section which wasn’t on our materials that I am having a hard time understanding, will this be on the test?” It’s a yes or no question. If they respond with yes, ask them to elaborate and explain. THAT’S WHAT THEY’RE THERE FOR.

Also, don’t hesitate to visit your professor during their office hours if you have questions or need help. It will only benefit you! It allows the professor to get to know you on a more personal level, which shows them you care. They will be more willing to help you, and more willing to give you insight on how to conquer their class.

Try these techniques at the beginning of the fall semester, and even now as you endeavor into finals. Read your professor, and find out their teaching styles. Ask people who may have had them before, do your research. Then adapt how you will need to approach the class to become successful.

Good luck Study Wisers!


– Alexis Meeks

Bart, M. (2012). Multimedia Lectures: Tools for Improving Accessibility and Learning. Faculty Focus: Higher ED Teaching Strategies From Magna Publications. Retrieved from:

To highlight or not to highlight…

April 15, 2013

Photo by Manjit TrehanDo you ever sit down to read for a class, with a pack of highlighters, only to step back and realize that you just spent time playing the boring version of coloring inside the lines?

It’s okay. It happens. I’ve done it more times than I would like to admit.

Similar to what many students believe, a recent study indicates that highlighting, amongst other study habits like re-reading and using mnemonics, is actually of no help when it comes to getting those A’s. As with every study, there were limitations, and this is where this article comes in.

Contrary to popular belief, highlighting can be a very useful tool in studying. It just depends on how it is used.

For college students, time is everything, so most try to focus on only one or two studying habits. For the longest time, I believed that the best way to study was to either highlight or take notes. The best way to study, it turns out, is to highlight and take notes.

What’s the point of doing both, you say, exhausted from the three chapters you just read and a little overexcited from the giant cup of coffee you just gulped down?!

The point is that highlighting is a study tactic best used to make concepts and words stand out when you go back to review what you just read. Highlighting should be used as guidance for what to focus on when studying for an exam. It is a way to jog the memory.

Textbooks tend to include details, extraneous information, and sometimes very bad jokes. As a student, it is necessary to eliminate the minutiae and focus on the finer points of the chapter.

Think of highlighting as pre-studying. Choosing to highlight during reading allows one to slow down, to actually process the information, to selectively weed out unnecessary information, and finally highlight what would be of most importance. This way, you’ve already made connections about what the chapter is about, what information is most essential, and how it all connects to each other within the confines of the chapter.

Selective highlighting is a learned skill, which is unfortunately not taught in high school thanks to rented textbooks.

Fear not, though. I have a lot of experience in reading countless textbooks, passages, and novels for courses, and I have tried and true methods and tricks that you can use.

1) If you plan on highlighting, use at least 2-3 different colors: one for new words, one for new concepts, and one for confusing concepts.
2) Read a paragraph (or a few) thoroughly, figure out what the main idea(s) is, and highlight a sentence or two that accurately embodies the main idea(s).
3) If you catch yourself highlighting way too much, switch to underlining with a pencil. If you find yourself underlining too much, go back and erase. It will teach you the art of finding words or sentences that accurately sum up the main ideas of a particular topic.
4) What is selective highlighting, you ask, freaking out after your second cup of coffee?!! Selective highlighting is the art of choosing words and phrases that includes the most information in the smallest package. For example, even if I keep bothering you about the excessive amount of caffeine you keep consuming, the main point that you need to understand is that highlighting is best when you identify the important material, which you can then come back to and review more easily.
5) While reading a paragraph, if you find yourself unable to find a simple sentence that summarizes accurately, summarize the paragraph yourself. Writing it yourself reinforces the ideas in your brain in this pre-studying phase.
6) After reading and highlighting, make sure to come back to review whatever you highlight and to also explore the harder parts in more detail.

So there it is. See, highlighting was never meant to be used as a synonym for studying. It is merely a tool to aid in studying, much like how buying a canvas is not meant to be used as a synonym for becoming an artist.

Now go become successful, highlighting students.

-Jheel Patel

Dunlosky, J., Rawson, K.A., Marsh, E.J., Nathan, M.J., & Willingham, D.T. (2013). Improving Students’ Learning With Effective Learning Techniques: Promising Directions From Cognitive and Educational Psychology. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 14(1), 4-58.

What are Academic Advisors for, anyway? or, Should I drop this course?

April 8, 2013

DSC_3848-SMAcademic advisors receive all sorts of questions. Many relate to a student’s academic plans, major choices, graduate or professional school plans, and the like. Some also help students chart a path to a career, encouraging students to take up internships, part-time positions in their areas of interest, and so forth in order to “try on” the new role of employee in the field of their choice.

It’s clear, too, that students need advice on a number of issues that they do not always share with their advisors. One of these is the choice to withdraw from a course. This decision may seem harmless, but there are implications to withdrawal that make a real difference in terms of a student’s likelihood of completing their degree program, not to mention their ability to pay for school using state or federal financial aid.

A recent study published in the National Academic Advising Association (NACADA) Journal (Wheland, Butler, Qammar, Katz, & Harris, 2012) indicated that academic advisors listed the top 5 situations leading students to withdraw from a class. Students:

1. were at risk of failing the course,
2. experienced work issues that interfered with their ability to attend class or study,
3. experienced personal issues hat interfered with their ability to attend class or study,
4. disliked how the instructor taught the class, and
5. regularly missed class.

Interestingly, these reasons were not universally shared by students. Students cited the following as the most likely reasons, with multiple answers available:

1. Students were at risk of failing (40%)
2. Students disliked how the instructor taught the course (20%)
3. Students did not like the instructor’s interactions with students (21%)
4. Students who found the course very difficult (19%)
5. Students found it difficult to attend or study (24%)

Nearly all of these issues can be addressed by consulting with your academic advisor. Advisors are prepared to help students rationally process their experience in a class. They can help provide resources and suggest other opportunities for you to improve your learning, and thus your grade, in a course. Advisors can also assist you in adjusting your study habits to more effectively use what the instructor is teaching in order to fit your learning style best. Second, talk with your instructor! There are often tutoring centers, study groups, and other academic resources to help you succeed. It could be that you are miscalculating or not considering certain parts of the course in your current grade. Things might not be as bad as they appear, and your instructor can suggest great ways of improving your study skills so that you are prepared for the next quiz, exam, or project.

Wheland, et. al’s study shows that students rely on their parents, siblings, and other students, much more than academic advisors and their instructors when making a decision on when to withdraw from a course. This is unfortunate because the experience of siblings, parents, and other students may not be aware of the consequences of withdrawal. Sure, students can repeat a course, and a W is often a better outcome than a poor grade. However, much research has shown that students who complete at least 20 credit hours in the first academic year of enrollment have a much better chance of successfully earning their degrees. In addition, too many withdrawals can lead to a student losing eligibility for federal and/or state financial aid. This can lead to a negative cycle where students have to take on more work off campus, which reduces their ability to use their time and effort toward academic coursework. This leads to more withdrawals and poor academic performance, which could lead a student to be academically ineligible to continue.

So what can students do? Here’s a handy checklist:

 Contact your instructor and ask for a phone or in-office appointment. Make it for at least 15 minutes and be on time. Come prepared with a list of questions, including: How am I currently doing in this course, and what can I do to improve?
 Contact your academic advisor. Walk in to his or her office, or make an appointment to discuss your class concerns. Make sure the advisor knows about your current and past academic performance, and any outside-of-school obligations you have.
 Compile a list of the consequences of withdrawal. Make sure you know all the positive and negative aspects of the decision, including if this withdrawal will take you out of sequence for future required coursework in your major or specialization. Your academic advisor can help you with this.
 Make an informed decision. Use the resources on your campus and make sure you understand the consequences before withdrawing. If you’ve decided to stay in the course, make sure you are up-to-date on all assignments and use a planner to note down upcoming work due. Make sure the reasons you have are about things you cannot control, not those you can.


– Josh Morrison

Wheland, E.R., Butler, K.A., Qammar, H., Bobkoff Katz, K., & Harris, R. (2012, Fall). What are they thinking?: Students’ affective reasoning and attitudes about course withdrawal. NACADA Journal, 32(2), 17-25.

Welcome to Study Wise Blog

April 4, 2013

Improve your learning, grades, and experience in college.

This blog is about you. Your learning, your academic performance, and your experience in college. Join this community where college students develop stronger study skills in order to excel in and outside the classroom and make lasting connections with their campuses and with other students. Within this site you’ll find a trove of resources written and curated by real college students from a variety of majors and programs that will help you succeed in your pursuit for higher education. We look forward to your thoughts and comments about these resources and what particular methods have worked best for you.

Meet the bloggers



Tagreed Abdulbari

Tagreed Abdulbari is an IUPUI junior majoring in Psychology and Japanese. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, writing, and listening to music. Since she’s been working at a learning center for almost a year now, she often works with students on a one-on-one basis to help with study skills.



Alexis Meeks

Alexis Meeks is a student-athlete who is a member of the IUPUI volleyball team. She is earning a degree in Communication while also pursuing minors in Business and Journalism. Learning how to juggle school, athletics, and life in general was not an easy task for her, but as she sought advice and learned tips on how to be a successful student, her academics have significantly improved. Her goal is to help students gain the knowledge of study habits before the stress is piled up and they find themselves struggling to balance all of their tasks.



Josh Morrison

Josh Morrison is a perpetual student, reader, and dad. He earned his bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Missouri State University in 2001, a Master’s degree in student affairs administration in 2004 from Indiana University-Bloomington, and is currently working on his dissertation in the higher education PhD program at Indiana University. His posts address matters related to academic success in college, including accessing the resources students may not know they need in order to make the most of their classroom and college experiences.


Jheel Patel

Jheel Patel is a Junior pursuing a major in Biochemistry and minor in Biology and Anthropology. She enjoys writing in her spare time. Being a student for three-fourths of her life now, she has learned a few tricks and tips that she hopes to share through StudyWise. If you follow her advice, you might just become as awesome a student as her.