In my last article, I commented that you don’t need to know everything from class to get an “A.” Don’t read too much into that statement.
“A” students work really hard. They put in the hours needed to do well, but they do it the right way.
Studying is like running a marathon. There is a right way and a wrong way to run a marathon. Just pounding the pavement for hours on end is not going to get you to the finish line. You have to run the right direction. You have to build up to the final race. You need good running form so that you use your energy effectively and don’t injure yourself seriously. Sure, every once and a while you’ll get a great runner who runs like a duck. But for the most part, marathoners have good running form.
Study skills are similar, but what great running form is to the marathoner, filtering is to the successful student.
Dictionary.com gives one definition of “to filter” as “to remove by passing through a filter.” That’s not terribly helpful, but you know what we’re talking about when you think about a coffee filter. The water passes through the grounds and into the pot, but the grounds stay right where they are. The flavor from the coffee goes through, but not the ground up coffee itself.
Filtering your class material is the process of paying attention to the most important ideas while allowing some of the less important ideas to receive less attention. The key for students is learning how to filter the right information, so you know what to keep and what gets less attention. Here are several principles to help you on this journey.
1. Always Learn the Big Ideas
Big ideas keep every subject flowing. Without the big ideas, you don’t have a subject. Before you learn anything else, you have to learn how to identify the key big ideas. Fear not, they are easier to notice than you might have expected. They show up as:
- Thesis statements
- Chapter titles
- Definitions of words (often bold in textbooks)
- Overarching themes seen in a chapter
- Repetition of key concepts or words
- Questions asked in the review questions for a chapter
In history, social studies, psychology, and science textbooks these ideas are often easy to recognize. They are highlighted, emphasized, illustrated, graphed, or repeated. In literature, poetry, or other artistic avenues, these ideas are more difficult to discern. Consider the main points the author seems to be trying to make – sometimes even the emotion he or she wants you to feel. Those may point to big ideas.
For chemistry, physics, math, or statistics, these big ideas should usually be understood as relationships.Frequently we express relationships in formulas, but those aren’t just about making the x’s and y’s equal the right z’s. They are communicating the way things relate to one another. If you can understand that relationship, you’ll be set for the class.
2. Always Learn the Key Details for those Big Ideas
Ideas need details. If they aren’t there, you don’t have an idea. You just have an opinion.
Pay attention to the most important dates, times, people, places, events, expressions, emotions, numeric figures, equations that communicate, explain, or prove the big ideas. What you need to know is how to prove that your big ideas are correct. This is a big concept, so we’ll be giving another article to help flesh out how to better understand and identify the key details of an idea. Stay posted.
3. Always Learn the Teacher’s Favorite Issues
If your science teacher or professor loves astronomy, the odds are you’ll have an astronomy question on the exam. If your psychology teacher loves Freud, you should learn to love Freud too (weird as he was). If your anatomy teacher’s favorite subject is feet, you better know your pinky toes like the back of your hands.
If this sounds simple, you would be surprised at how many people miss these simple ways to filter their material. Get these three ideas down, and you’ll be own your way to better grades in less time. If you’ve got an example of this from your life, I’d love to hear it. Why not post it in the comments section?