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How to be a Good Student

How to be a Good Student

Annette Nay, Ph.D.

Copyright © 2000

1. First Things First

Signing up for Classes

Get a listing of the classes offered.
Make sure you get the classes you need that are only offered a specific times of the year. Your counselor can give you this information.
Before signing up for a class ask other students who have had the class what to expect.
Ask which professors are the best and why.
Pick the best classes, professors, in the times you want them.
Check the class schedule to see when finals are for each class you are taking. Make sure that two or more of your heavy class do not have back-to-back finals. Having finals on separate days gives you a chance to study in between each final for the next one coming up. Back-to-back finals blows your mind.
Sign up early to get your selection of classes.

Calendaring & Planning

Find out how long the term or semester is.
Get a calendar showing a whole month for each of the months of the term/semester .
Usually a class syllabus is issued the first day of class. This usually lists the major assignments and their due dates.
Mark on your calendars the dates that each of the assignments are due from each class.
Look to see if there are places where there are two many items due all at the same time. If they exist, then look for empty spots on the calendar before the crowded due date, in which you can arbitrarily move assignments so you and get them done way before they are due.
Move the type of assignments will not involve other people or are tied to knowledge you must have to complete the assignment.
Often research for papers can be done well in advance of the paper’s due date. By taking advantage of small blocks of time as they become available early in the term/semester the work can get done a bit at a time.
To make sure the work gets done, set up a work schedule for each item to be done. Set your own due dates in advance of the professor’s, so if anything happens, the assignment can still get done in time.
As new assignments are given throughout the term/semester write them in immediately on the appropriate calendar sheet and calendar how you will get the work done for the assignment.

Getting Your Books

You can usually save half off the total price of new book fees if you buy used books.
Buy used books that are the least marked in so you can mark them how you would like.
Used books which are in bad condition are hard to read and a terrible distraction when you are trying to study.
Be one of the first buyers to get your book. You will have a better selection and chance at getting a used book.
Find out when the bookstore will have the new terms/semesters books available for sale.
Find out what time they will open that day. Often college/university bookstores will open early on the first day of book sales. Get there a half an hour earlier that the publicized opening. Often a line starts forming then.
Be sure to have a Class Schedule listing the professors name, class, and section.
Keep all book receipts in case the professor states that you will not need the books he had originally listed.
Do not mark in the books or take new books out of their wrappers until you know that the professor will be using them.

Study Periods

Make sure that long study sessions includes breaks to refresh yourself and to let your brain relax for 15 minutes so it will be fresh and ready to study effectively.
Placement in the Class

Studies have proved that the student that get the best grades generally sit in the front row. It is not proven why this phenomena occurs. However, it is known that there are less distractions and higher interaction with the professor. Student in the front row can hear better. Since these student think they will be called on more often, they may prepare for class better.

2. A Good Student Knows His/Her Resources

Know Your Books

A student best resource is his books. Check over each book thoroughly. Especially note the following: table of contents, glossary, appendix, chapter review or synopsis. These sections will allow your to find information quickly.
Table of Contents: This gives you a quick overview of what you will be studding. It also gives you an idea of the material you possess should you need it in the future.
Glossary: A good book will have this section. It’s a quick way to get definitions.
Appendix: This usually has additional materials that will very helpful especially if you know they are there.
Chapter review or synopsis: If you really have a good book it will have a chapter review or synopsis at the back of each chapter. Reading this before you begin each chapter will help you know what is important to the author and what kind of information you will be reading about. This is not a substitute for reading the chapter. This will be a general overview which is not what you will need to talk intelligently in class.
If the book does not posses a chapter review or synopsis, then start your reading of a new chapter by skimming for: titles, pictures and captions, names, dates, italic or bold words, and tables. Then read the whole chapter.
If you cannot complete the reading before class skim the titles, pictures and captions, names, dates, italic or bold words, and tables. Then read the chapter review or synopsis if there is one. Then read as far into the chapter as possible before class.
A good way to know if you got what you should have out of the reading is by answering the chapter review questions at the end of the chapter. If you don’t know the answers find out what they are.
Do not sell your books back to the bookstore at the end of the term/semester unless you have to or you truly do not want that book. You have just spent a lot of time reading and marking up this book. You know where everything is and what material is in there. It is a good resource for you in the future. This is not just for the time you are in school but for all the times you want to say something in documents that you may write and want to know who said it or how they said it. I have sold back books that I thought I would have no use for in the future, only to regretted having done so. I didn’t know where to locate that information anywhere else and I couldn’t locate that book again. Professors often change their books every three or four terms/semesters to keep up with the new material coming out in the area of study.
Never buy a used book from a former student of that class until you know for sure the professor will use that book. You will only know this if you contact the professor or you wait until the first day of class when you hear it from the professor’s own lips.

The Library

Be sure to know what the library has to offer for future papers and research. Know how the library and the card catalogue computers work. There is usually a free tour at the beginning of each new term/semester. You will only be as successful in your research as you know your resources. “When the only tool you have is a hammer – every problem begins to look like a nail. -Abraham Maslow How limiting!

Class Notes

Take good ones. Purchase a small hand-sized recorder and a dozen tapes to record classes. This enables you to get the notes you missed while trying to write as fast as the professor spoke or the notes that you cannot read because you scribbled truing to go so fast.
Until you can afford one, edit your notes within 24 hours of taking them so you can complete thoughts and correct scribbles while you can still remember them. If you cannot decipher your notes be sure to get with a classmate in class to fill in the missing parts.

Keeping Your Notes in Order

Get a large notebook and add dividers. Label a section for each class. Keep your class notes, syllabus, and handouts for each class in the appropriate section so you know where everything is. Purchase notebook pockets and put them in the back of the notebook to keep papers which are to handed in. Keep things in order. Make sure enough paper is included for each section for notes.
Never let your class notes or files out of your sight. Tell the student that you never loan our your materials, but you are not opposed in letting him/her coping them. Offer to meet the student at the copier with the files. This means extra time out of your schedule but you get the material back. This is super important!
Hold on to assignments that you have finished in advance of the due date. Assignments that are handed in early have a tendency to get lost.


File all past notes, tests, and other class materials into a file folder. It would be great to be able to afford a filing cabinet for these files. Cheap filing cabinets can be gotten from second hand office supply places. Big warehouse stores like Costco or Sam’s also have a significant cut in cost. If this is not possible buy the file cabinet, just buy the extra long file folders from Costco or Sam’s and get moving boxes that are slightly larger than the folders. Keep the folders upright in the box by placing an empty smaller box inside the box next to the folders to take up the unused space.

Class Mates

Within the first day or two you will know who the good students are. Select three of them and get their phone numbers. Tell them you would like his/her number it in case you have a question on a class assignment. You will never know when you will desperately needed these numbers. Keep them safe in the section where your class notes are. I write mine on the inside of the class notebook divider.
Sometime during your schooling you will be assigned to do a group project. Often the professor will have you choose who you will work with. When the time comes to choose groups everyone tends to hang back hoping someone will choose them. This is insane.
Never wait to be chosen, instead, during the first week find out those classmates who would do a good job and you put them together. You get to come along for the ride because you are the matchmaker. Be aggressive your grade depends on it.

Study Groups

You already know who the “A” students are by the way they act, the type of questions they ask, and answers they give in class. Use these people. Often professors will give out a study guide 24 hours before the test. Looking up the whole sheet of items is crazy. Memorizing them too is impossible. Look at how many items are on the sheet. Figure out how many people you would need to divide the work into about ten items per person. Pass notes to those responsible smart people you will need. Have them meet you out in the hall for a moment after class to assign out the work into doable parts.
Before the meeting happens, draw lines between the different assignments and be prepared to write each persons name and number down by his assignment.
When you are all out in the hall explain how you have divided up the work. Each person is to type their assigned answers and run off a copy for each member of the group.
Ask them to pick a section and tell you which they will do so you can write their names and phone by that section.
Agree on a time that you all can meet at a central place later to exchange answers.
If a member cannot be at the exchange, then s/he can see that another member of the group or friend picks up his/her assignment and exchanges it for the group’s copies and gets them back to him/her.
Make sure they all have your name and phone so they can call you in case a problems arises.
Study groups are only as good as the students that are in them. If you think you need a study group for an upcoming test, chances are that the material is complicated enough that others will want to join together with you to talk it out.
Often, the professors aid can be talked into holding a group study to go over the material. It is essential to attend these as the Aid knows what is on the tests and is sympathetic to the students and will give big hints as to what should and should not be studies for the test.

Past Tests

Procure past class tests from former students. It is not cheating to do this. It was a college
prep class from the college that taught me to do this. The reason it is not cheating is because every professor knows that s/he must vary tests every term/semester. S/He is able to pick questions from a computer bank of questions to make up the tests. The thing that doesn’t change is what the professor thinks is important. The subjects on which the test covers and the number of questions dealing with a particular subject should give you some idea of where to base your emphasis for the upcoming test. Be sure to know that subject matter not just that answer to that particular question on the old test.
Save your chapter tests to study for the final. These will show you where to focus your attention in the material. Sometimes the final includes extractions from each of the previous tests.

3. Mnemonic Methods to Memorize Material


These are words in which each letter represents a concept or idea.

List the main ideas that are needed to cover a subject.
Circle the key word out of each statement.
Take the first letter from each key word and try to arrange the letters into a word, words, and/or abbreviation. If this is not possible put the letters in alphabetical order.)
Picture the anachronism with the subject it represents. The picture should solidly connect the anachronism with the subject. The crazier or weirder the picture the more likely you will remember it. Example: I had the concepts of Freud represented by the anachronism “BRAIN” I then pictured Freud with his round glasses and goatee. He had a brain with legs jumping up and down on his head. It has been five years since I made up that visualization, but I still remember it clearly. I even drew a picture of it out in the margin by the material.
Having your answers memorized by the use of anachronisms give you already organized information ready to write for essay tests.

Alphabetical Order

Putting letters in alphabetical order and memorizing them as such, give order to the mass letters and helps you bring it back to your remembrance. Sometimes a letter will be repeated more than once. Write the item with the number of repetitions as “B to the power of 3, if it appears three times.

Example: A, B3, D, F, H, L2, R

Visualization with a Poem

Use a familiar poem to help you memorize items. Example: One two buckle my shoe. See the item on your shoe. Three four shut the door. See the next item hanging on the door. Continue the poem and visualize another items at the end of each stanza.


Put the items you need to memorize to music. This is how I learned to spell encyclopedia. To spell Mississippi, I just but it to a chant or beat without music.

Place Visualization

See yourself at your front door. In your mind, put an item you are to remember by the door. Open the door and your in the entry. Visualize the next item to be memorize in the entry. Now your going up the stairs. See the next item on the stairs. At the top of the stairs is the kitchen. Visualize what is in the kitchen. Now go down the hall. What’s in the hall? Now your in the master bedroom, what is there? Look into the master bedroom closet, what is there? Check out the bathroom, what’s in there?

Now, practice seeing yourself go from place to place, in order, visualizing the place and item together as you go. Repeat this as often as needed to recall the items in order.


You have three types of memory: instant recall, short term memory, and long term memory. Instant recall is memory that you recall just after hearing it. Its total extent is normally seven digits long, like the length of a phone number. With some practice the instant memory can be moved into short term memory.

Short term memory is memory that has been rehearsed to the point that you will remember for a few hours or less. Rehearsing it further will move it into long term memory. Since the mind can instantly remember seven items, those seven items can each be expanded to represent massive amounts of material. This is done by making each of the seven items represent a total concept, hence the word chunking. Each concept could be brought to memory by the use of one or more mnemonic. In fact, the elements in the seven digit space could be also represented as an anachronism.

4. Old Fashion Memorization with a Twist

Going over and over the material until it moves from short term to long term memory is very important. After using all the gimmicks that mnemonics has to offer, the material still has to be rehearsed over and over again, over time. It is suggested that the information is rehearsed at least once every day to be ready for test time. This may seem impossible at first because a lot of memorization has to take place.

Memorize the anachronism the key word represent.
Memorize the keywords and the concept each represents.
Memorize the anachronism with the visualization picture of the represented subject.
Place a thumbnail-sized sketch of the picture and the anachronism on the front of a 3×5 card. Place the keywords of the anachronism on the back.
Take the cards with you everywhere and use them. These can be recited while driving, exercising, eating, dressing, waiting for class to start, waiting in check out lines, for doctor appointments, or other odd moments.
After the mnemonics are brought to mind by the pictures, take a 3×5 card and doodle a thumbnail-sized sketch of each of the pictures. The string of pictures alone should help you recall entire chapters. This is done at least every day with the old and new material covered until the final. This stops the all-night cramming before tests or finals. Only a quick daily over view is needed, because the material is now in long term storage.


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