Study tips
April 9, 2006 4:35 PM   Subscribe

Study tips for a mature age distance education student? Most specifically, what do you do when you’ve read the same paragraph 3 times and you still haven’t retained any information from it?

Background: I am a mature age distance education student and the only contact I have with my peers and professors is a couple of very poorly subscribed discussion boards. I’m doing a 50% of full-time load. I’ve changed my working hours so that I work 4 days instead of 5. I am the married mother of two intelligent teenagers (one medium moody) and I have no access to a car.

So I turn to you.(I’ve read all these: )

1. What do you do when you’ve read the same paragraph 3 times and you still haven’t retained any information from it?
2a. What systematic process do you use to collect information and record sources in the process of writing a paper? (eg, I’d read a paper and think, well, that’s no use, discard it and later come to realise that it contained the very reference I required, if only I could remember which article it came from.)
2b. How do you plan a paper? Mind-map > research > write > refine? Some better way?
3. How do you know when your paper is good enough? Do you say, “I’ve spent 47 hours on this blasted thing already, and it’s good enough for a pass” or “I’m going to go without sleep for the next 48 hours tweaking this thing.”
4. anything else that you know from being a student that I should know.
posted by b33j to Education (14 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
to answer your initial question: go out for a walk.
posted by andrew cooke at 4:42 PM on April 9, 2006

1. Take notes on everything you read. Writing stuff down reinforces what you're reading. Then go back and highlight the most salient parts of your notes (e.g. when you're studying later). You can also make notes in your books or in the margins of papers and then go back and highlight. Writing, moving a highlighter and reading are three ways to reinforce what you've learned. You might also try reading the words or your notes out loud.

2. When you begin to take notes on anything, write down the bibliographic information in the proper format. Put the page number and then any notes for that page. Put direct quotes in quotation marks. When you go to write a paper, all the info is right there.

2b. This is a pretty big question. If you master 1 and 2, I think you should come back and ask this. You might want to see if your university's distance program offers a composition class -- that's the best way to ensure your success in university.

3. You should ask your instructor or department for a holistic marking scheme. If you want a B, do what it says you need to get a B. If you want an A, do what it says to get an A.

4. Again, this is a big question. Go back to 1 and 2.

Taking notes and mastering reading are probably two of the most important parts of university, so I encourage you to focus on these before getting into all the other things.
posted by acoutu at 4:42 PM on April 9, 2006 [1 favorite]

What do you do when you’ve read the same paragraph 3 times and you still haven’t retained any information from it?

There are various things that I do. The most important is to move on and come back to the paragraph later. No one retains everything the first time they read something; usually the first pass (or several) is to try to get the larger ideas, structure of the arguments, etc. Not only that, there are sometimes extremely influential papers (e.g. in philosophy) that it isn't clear that anyone understands every detail, or ever will. If you are having this problem with every paragraph, it may be time for a break.

The other main thing to do is to try to summarize (by writing down) the main points of the paragraph or section in your own words. Pretend you were presenting it to someone else.
posted by advil at 4:52 PM on April 9, 2006

What subject are you studying? People might have more specific ideas for specific subjects.
posted by clarahamster at 4:57 PM on April 9, 2006

acoutu is right. I'm a middleaged student myself and what he talks about works. (Advil is correct as well btw.)

My main thing is don't even try to study without writing or marking. One other thing I do is type up notes on the computer-especially when studying for an exam. I type what I need to remember over and over. There is something about the physical action of typing or writing that really helps you get into what you are studying.
posted by konolia at 4:58 PM on April 9, 2006

thank you for your quick responses. I initially started taking notes on everything at the start of semester, but it was clear that the first weeks were painfully easy and the taking of notes actually unnecessary. I must revisit that now.

With reference to knowing if it's good enough, it's not about meeting the criteria. I guess it's about aiming for a grade. Do you aim for top marks or do you aim to pass because the time difference between the two is significant.

The courses I am currently doing are "Introduction to Multimedia Studies" and "Illustration and Visualisation". There are no exams for either. Both have assignment based assessment.

Thanks again.
posted by b33j at 5:03 PM on April 9, 2006

It might help if you said what field you are studying.

I know that when reading a research paper. the author(s) often come up with a viewpoint/framework for organizing their knowledge that after all the work they have done seems perfectly natural and fitting to them. However many readers don't have this perspective.

So, the first part of a report may be particularly incomprehensible. You just have to plow through the report and try to absorb their perspective. Generally the later parts will give some justification on why the perspective is sensible. Then you can go back and read from the beginning.
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 5:08 PM on April 9, 2006

1. Re-write the information/ideas from that paragraph in your own words (sometimes you won't be able to do it with just one paragraph)

2a. ymmv, but I get the idea for the paper in my head first and start writing it. Then I re-search for an appropriate reference. Sometimes I'll find new/peripheral stuff in that second search.

When reading papers, I'll identify one's that are useful. I file them into different categories (if saving PDFs, include author's name, year, and keywords).

Since you'll be writing papers on different topics for different classes/different sections of a class, the following may not be so helpful. The important seminal papers for your area - know them backwards and forewards. Be intimately familiar with what question they were trying to answer, their answer, your answer, and what questions have now been raised.

2b. Define the question. Come up with the/an answer in mind. Come up with a angle (why the question is important and why the answer is something new).

3. Have a peer (esp. one who's writing abilities you respect) read the paper. Go through the paper after taking a break from it - each paragraph (or section) should have an introduction and a conclusion. The follow paragraph should be a logical progression from the previous one.

You'll have to define "good enough" for yourself. What are the standards for the class? Some teachers will provide the grading guidelines. If you're on a deadline or have other projects on your plate, sometimes you'll just have to decide that you've invested as much resource into one particular paper as it's worth.

4. Take breaks. Make the time to do something nice for yourself. Remember that you have friends - and call them.
posted by PurplePorpoise at 5:10 PM on April 9, 2006

I was a mature age distance education student last year, in Information Systems. What is your dominant learning style? Which techniques are most helpful will depend on whether you are an aural, visual, kinesthetic or reader-writer learner, e.g. explaining key parts out loud to a pet, drawing diagrams, or even squeezing a stress ball to engage your hands while you read.

I'd write a paper by finding a paper to start with, labelling it #1, and taking notes from it as I read it, on a large sheet of paper with the bottom 1/4 of the page marked off for references. I'd jot down the key ideas from the paper in a mind map in the top 3/4, annotating each nodule with #1. And the repeat the process with each paper you read.

Also, I didn't read papers and then decide they would be no use. That takes up too much time. Read the title, the abstract, the headings, and the methodology, and make the decision of whether it will be useful or not up front, then read.

Your paper is good enough when you've done the best you can with the resources available to you whilst keeping your sanity. (Your kids should not be judge and jury for this last criteria. ;-))

Enjoy the journey.
posted by Pigpen at 5:40 PM on April 9, 2006

Hey, you are one of my students, aren't you. Please stopping egging my house, the next test will be easier I swear.

Taking notes is vital, but be careful not to write down too much. I always send students to this website with studying advice. I particulary recommend the section "Taking notes from a text book."
posted by LarryC at 7:59 PM on April 9, 2006

I also was a middle-aged distance-learning student last year, also in an information technology course. When retention became difficult, I found it helpful to highlight one paragraph at a time and read it out loud. I tried to study several times a day instead of doing it in one big burst. I did every exercise and lab that I could.
posted by Lynsey at 9:45 AM on April 10, 2006

What systematic process do you use to collect information and record sources in the process of writing a paper?

For online research, definitely use or something similar and tag all that stuff with whatever keywords make sense to you.

For research from hard copy, you could create a bookmark using the title and whatever tags.

Good luck! I was an older online student myself. It's great feeling when you finally finish.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 10:50 AM on April 10, 2006

I agree with taking notes.

You mention that you switched to a 4 day work week. Does that mean that you work less hours total or the same hours split into fewer days? Because if it's the second, then your body will have to adjust to that.

Also, when you study will affect how well you study. I find that doing something like taking a shower, or exercising will help me switch modes after a long day.
posted by moonshine at 11:36 AM on April 10, 2006

Oh, and there's this article which gives suggestions on how to read efficiently and effectively.
Sidenote: I just found it and haven't yet tested it personally.

posted by moonshine at 3:19 PM on April 11, 2006

« Older Driving suggestions from Vancouver, B.C. to...   |   Hickey embarassment reduction? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.