Studying effectively

This particular page contains the basic SQ4R method of studying, with a few other tips tossed in to help.
Check out the About site for other study tips (make sure to click on some of the topics under essentials). Or try the Virginia Tech site or this site that has links to other places.

I. Establish a time schedule for studying and stick to it.
    a. 1-3 rule – What this means is that you should expect to spend approximately 3 hours outside of class for every 1 hour in class. PLEASE NOTE: This is a guideline! Time spent studying is not a 1 to 1 correlation with your grade. The end point is what you learn, not how much time you put into the class.
    b. specific times for specific classes: prepare for rather than reacting to – Read the material before coming to class. It will make class notes easier to understand and you can ask questions on material you are not familiar with.
    c. Research has shown that material is best remembered when the following occurs:

    1. overlearn – Keep practicing and studying even though you think you already know the information! Don’t study until you just know the material – keep reviewing it.
    2. distributed practice – Many students wait until the night before an exam before starting to study. That is called mass practice (or cramming) and is not the most effective way to learn. Spread out the learning. Read the chapters as you go along (who can read and retain information from 150 pages in 1 night?).
    3. active learning – Learning by rote memorization (passive learning – just reading the book and the notes over and over) is less effective than actively organizing the information. Try to link the concepts that you are learning with information that you already know. Create mnemonics for each chapter. Paraphrase the material (write it in YOUR words – don’t just copy from the book). The SQ4R method described below is another example of active learning. Knowledge isn't just knowing how to answer a question - it's also knowing what question to ask and how to ask them.
    4. Highlighting is really not a useful study technique. People typically highlight only the bold items (why? They are in bold), the first line of every paragraph (not too difficult to find without highlighting), or almost everything (making it useless to find the important items).
II. Set long term and short term goals for each class
    a. What grade you want in the class? Do you really "just want a C" or "just want to pass"? Tell me, if you were going in for an operation, would you choose the doctor that worked "just to pass"? When looking for jobs, who do you think they will hire? When you need letters of recommendation for faculty, what kind of letter do you think you will get? And if you do decide in the future to go to graduate school, if you just did the minimum, your poor GPA can hurt you - for a LONG time. I have had students that have literally flunked out, worked for a while, came back to school 5 or 6 years later, completed their degree (making straight A's the rest of the time) and could not get into grad school because of their previous grades. If you will be going to graduate school, check those requirements - you may be suprised what you need to do.
    b. What you have to do to get short and long term goals - here are 3
        If you are not studying your notes and textbook as if you are preparing for a test, you are wasting your time.
        Read The Book - You spent $80 on the text, get some usage out of it. I had someone jump from a "D" to a "B" because they began to read the book. I can't guarantee that kind of increase for you, but it certainly can't hurt.
    To evaluate how well you are learning lecture and textbook material, analyze the questions you missed on the first exam. What types of questions are you missing? Mainly textbook? Applied style questions?
    c. Create check lists to remind yourself when stuff is due. I, for example, take off points for late work, especially since it is on the syllabus and you have known about it since the beginning of the semester. Don't wait until the last minute to do assignments!
    d. Reward yourself for accomplishing each task associated with short and long term goals.

III In Class
    a. Show up regularly. Just because you can get the notes from someone does not mean that they will make any sense to you. You also may miss examples that were given in class that could show up on the test.
    b. Note taking - check the above listed web site for suggestions on how to take notes.
    c. Pay attention - if you are going to be in class, actively listen to what the instructor is saying. Trying to do something else while in class is not only considered rude to the prof, you also would get just as much information if you got the notes from someone else. The first stage of social learning is Attention. That leads to the second stage, Retention.

SQ4R is a study technique for textual materials that is based on work by Robinson (1946). {Robinson, F. P., (1946). Effective study. New York: Harper & Brothers.)} Gilbert and Gilbert (1992) state that if taught properly, students can mastery this study method by the end of the third grade! {Gilbert, T. F., & Gilbert, M. B. (12). Potential contributions of performance science to education. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, Monograph #7, 35-41.}

"Smart" or intelligent people are different from other people in that they ask lots of questions, actively seek answers, and have a larger vocabulary than others.Start with an attitude when reading a text: If you are not reading and studying the text and notes as if you are preparing to take a test, you are wasting your time. A sample of the SQ4R method is shown here.

The SQ4R method stands for: survey, question, read, recite, (w)rite, and review.

I. Survey and Question

A. surveying's goal is to help you id. the important questions answered in the chapter.

B. Steps in surveying
    Look at the beginning and end of the chapter for objectives and a summary. Read these carefully. These tell you up front what the important points in the chapter are.
    Then, skim the chapter from beginning to end; quickly reading headings, bold print, captions for pictures, tables, etc, and the summary at the end. Turn the titles and headings into lead questions. Example: one heading in a PSYC 2500 book was "Brainwashing Techniques Used by Communists." Convert it into a question that you can answer.
    Generating questions as you read (and writing them down) makes you an active learner. After surveying the chapter, you'll have a list of questions. Try to answer these questions before reading the test. Verbally summarized what you've already learned. Examples of good questions include "List two examples of ...", "What is the function of ...", What is the significance of ...", "What is ...".

II. Read the chapter to:

A. find the answers as quickly as you can to your generated questions, and for new answers to questions you didn't generate during your survey (it IS possible you missed something!)--write the new questions down. Do read everything in the chapter. This includes photos, art, graphs, marginal notes, things in seperate boxes, etc.

III. Recite and (W)Rite answers and summaries

A. As you find (in the reading) an answer to a question, verbally recite a paraphrased answer to the question that accurately reflects the content of the source and, if possible, other information you already know (this integrates new with existing knowledge) and write it down; check for accuracy! This is critical--these questions and answers are what you'll be studying when preparing for exams, if they are wrong (or not totally correct) you won't do as well on the exam or in the class as you could.

B. Periodically, before a test, pull out your list and self test yourself on the questions by writing answers to them and checking them for accuracy. SAYING YOU KNOW AN ANSWER IS NOT THE SAME AS ACTUALLY WRITING IT DOWN. Do so without the material in front of you. There is a difference between recognizing and recalling an answer.

IV. Review

Use spaced review to keep this content you've learned "fresh" on your mind. This also produces overlearning.

V. The results of SQ4R
1. surveyed chapter
2. generated questions
3. read selectively to answer questions in detail
4. found questions you hadn't predicted (and their answers)
5. recited and written answers to questions
6. summarized chapter's content verbally
7. reviewed chapter by answering questions and summarizing the chapter.

VI. Advantages of SQ4R:
1. You spend less time memorizing facts.
2. You use less time reading and looking for things you already know.
3. The method is a lot different than ones many students have previously used; research shows its best to use all of it at once--don't fade bits and pieces of it in.

Directions: The following material is from a general psychology chapter (on research). Use the SQ4R method to read/comprehend the content.

As a discipline, psychology defines itself as a science. Most people, when their attention is drawn to the term, think of disciplines such as chemistry, physics and biology rather than fields like anthropology and sociology. Most people have very little direct experiences with science or scientists other than through courses which they may have taken in school. For most of us, our experiences with the sciences are of an indirect nature; what we read about in newspapers and magazines and what we see or hear on tv. or the radio . The media focuses on discoveries that are dramatic (eg., "New Hope for an AIDS Vaccine," or "New Studies Suggest a Link Between Drinking Coffee and Heart Disease") and/or of topical importance to the public ("Starwars Technology Available for SDI," or "Missing Link Bolsters Evolution"). In this context, most of the scientific discoveries we have been exposed to are associated with the natural sciences (physics, chemistry, mathematics, biology) and its subfields (medicine, computers, etc.) rather than the social sciences (psychology, anthropology, sociology, economics, etc.). The media and the sciences themselves often adds to the confusion by using the terms "Hard" sciences for the natural sciences and "Soft" for the social sciences. Whether a science is classed as hard or soft is primarily a factor of the extent to which the discipline is able to express its findings using mathematical equations. The "hard/soft" designations are useful but simultaneously disingenuous since they carry connotations that can lead to biased conclusions such as, "The hard sciences are more rigorous."

In fact, there are several logical reasons that explain why the natural sciences are the "harder" and why the public has more experiences with them. First, the disciplines that form the natural sciences have a longer history than do the social sciences. The importance of the age of a discipline relative to the dramatic discoveries it makes can be illustrated by analogy; a baseball pitcher is usually a better ballplayer when he is 25 and playing in the major leagues compared to when he was a freshman in high school. When the social sciences are also several hundreds of years old, they too will be able to reduce a significant amount of their findings to mathematical expressions. Second, the subject matter of the social sciences is more complex than the subject matter of the natural sciences.

The natural sciences study things (atoms, reactions, physical diseases, etc.) and how they function, while the social sciences study humans and their social interactions and institutions. While molecular structure is complex, it is simple compared to human activity, especially when one considers the number of variables influencing behavior compared to the number that affect inanimate objects. Last, research is generally expensive and society,

primarily through the federal government, funds research in the natural sciences at a much higher level than the social sciences. So, more studies are conducted in the natural sciences, and the more studies a field can run (fund!), the more likely it will produce dramatic discoveries.

Research in psychology is an especially exciting enterprise for a variety of reasons, many of which have already been mentioned. First, while there have been many dramatic and important discoveries during the past 100 years (too many to even begin a listing!), the discipline, as a science, is still young and countless discoveries remain. Also, many of the

research areas of interest to psychologists hold the promise of being vital keys to the continued survival and well-being of our species. Unlocking the secrets of human aggression, mental illness, intelligence and personality (to name just a few) are the tasks of the psychological researcher.


While psychological research studies different subject matter than other sciences, all scientists and all branches of science share common goals, attitudes and methods. The goals of all sciences are prediction, control and understanding of the subject matter being studied. Since the subject matter of psychology is behavior, psychology applies the

goals of prediction, understanding and control as follows. Prediction requires that the researcher be able to accurately describe and specify when and where a behavior is likely to occur; understanding requires that the researcher knows why the behavior is (or is not!) likely to occur; and control means that the researcher is able to change the environment in a way that alters the behavior. For many people, the concept of control, as it applies to human behavior, suggests a researcher manipulating the behavior of another person, while the concept really means that a researcher has a high degree of certainty that she understands what factors produced and maintain the behavior. One demonstrates this certainty by changing the environment which then produces a lawful and consistent change in the behavior. All psychologists, too, are bound by a code of ethics (which will be discussed in a later section) which would limit them to changing behaviors in directions beneficial to both the individual and society.

Successfully achieving each of the goals of science is a product of both the attitudes of science and the scientific method. Each of these factors are shared universally by scientists, and are the foundation upon which the philosophy of science and the accuracy of a study's observations and conclusions are based. The attitudes represent the belief system of scientists while the scientific method is a sequential series of steps a scientist follows in order to obtain objective, valid and reliable information.

Whaley and Surratt (l967) identified four attitudes of science that they felt were the most important (determinism, empiricism, parsimony and scientific manipulation) for those who study behavior. In addition to the four they have listed, two others, skepticism and serendipity, are also relevant.


1. Why does psych. define itself as a science? Because it uses the scientific method to study things.

2. Why do most people think of fields such as chem. etc. as science rather than sociology, etc.? Because they have more exposure to those areas through tv, newspapers, etc. than the disciplines of the social sciences.

3. What are the hard sciences? Physics, chemistry, biology, etc.; fields that are able to reduce much of their knowledge to mathmetical expressions/formula.
Social sciences such as psych. can't reduce as much of its knowledge to formula so the social sciences are called soft sciences.

4. Why are the hard sciences "hard?" They have a longer history than psych.; what they study (things vs. people) are less complex thus easier to understand; and our society funds research in the hard sciences more than it does in the social ones.

5. Why is research in psych. likely to be exciting? It's a young field--there are many discovers yet to be made and many will be real important (help with mental illness, etc.);

6. What are the 3 areas all scientists share? goals (pred., control, and understanding); attitudes (determinism, empiricism, parsimony, scientific manipulation, skepticism, and serendipity); and the use of the scientific method.

7. Define the goals of psych. Knowing when something is likely to occur (pred.); knowing why it occurs (understanding), and how to change it (control).

8. How do many people misinterpret control? They think it means manipulating people; it involves manipulating environmental events to see how it affects other events.