Steps to Successful Learning

Note Taking

Cue Cards

Upon completion of this lesson, you will be able to:

  • Understand how to study
  • Understand how do people learn
  • Understand how to become an active learner
  • Introduced to study tips
To become a great academic student, it is necessary to find time to study. How much study time depends on each individual person. The objective of this lesson is to teach students how to study and become active learners.

Study Less/ Study Smart -

Learning How to Study

The following shows different points that students' need to take into consideration when thinking of studying:

Getting into the Mood - students must prepare themselves for study. Actively "getting into the mood" is one way to prepare for active study.

Procrastination - the famous words, "I can't study now because... - are words that resinate throughout every educational institution. To be a procrastinator really means that a person just doesn't feel like studying! To procrastinate is to put off until tommorrow what should be done today. Procastination does not mean unintelligence. What it really means is I'm lazy right now or I'm not in the mood!

Reasons for Procrastinating

The following are some common reasons why students procrastinate:

  • I avoid studying - I hate it!
  • I'm afraid it will involve too much work!
  • I'm not motivated or dedicated enough to my own success
  • I don't care!
  • I allow my friends to distract me
  • I'm distracted by more fun things
  • I'm intimidated by stronger students
  • finally, most important - I don't know how to study

Do You Know Why You Procrastinate?

Take a moment to think about this question.

If you are a procrastinator, make a list of why you do, then make changes to correct the problem(s). Taking control of the very reasons you procrastinate is the very first step to changing your life in terms of doing well scholastically.

How Will You Change Your Attitude About Studying?

Changing your life is all about changing your attitude. No one really likes to work hard studying, especially children, but working hard to improve your ability to study is a committment that will benifit you for a life time.

Getting Started

The following are specific points to consider when studying:

Being Relaxed - If you're upset or tense, you've already put yourself in a bad mood to begin to study. Learn how to relax and stay relaxed before you begin to study.

The Place - Find a place that makes you feel comfortable and relaxed, but not so relaxed that you don't or won't study.

Music or Not! - Usually most background noise is distracting to most people when studying. But if you need music, make sure it is soft enough not to "distract" you. Music alone is much better than music with lyrics. Lyrics cause a person to sing along, causing distraction immediately.

When to Study? - If you like the quiet in the early morning, study then. If you like the quiet late at night when everyone is in bed, study then. But remember, staying up too late can make you tired, too tired to learn.

Staying Calm - When a person is calm, he or she can think more deeply and clearly.

Dealing with Distraction - If you get upset at everyone around you because you hate studying, then you'll be looking for any person or distraction as an excuse not to study. Don't fool yourself into believing that everyone else is at fault. Blame yourself for allowing yourself to be distracted. If you are really concentrating, you won't hear anyone else, even if they are in the same room. STAY FOCUSED!

How Long to Study? - Choose a length of time that allows you to stay calm and relaxed. Most people can study for 20 minutes at a time without a break. If you have several subjects to study then study one, take a small break then study the next subject.

In Short

Staying calm, being relaxed and remaining focused will allow you the opportunity to create an atmosphere conducive to learning by maintaining a positive attitude toward studying and learning.

How Do We Learn?

Visually?... Audibly? - If you learn better visually, then make picture references like diagrams, charts, tables or any other type of drawing that will clue you into what you need to remember. If you learn audibly, then buy a small hand held tape recorder and record the teacher's lessons. When you get home, playback the lessons and make notes to embed the information into your memory.

Reading - To make the most of reading, write and re-write your notes, linking details under major topic headings.

Writing - To make the most out of writing, list or outline what you want to say. Write a series of questions and categorize the information you're learning.

Images - Information is made up images, pictures and words. During a lecture, take notes and then try to make images or pictures of the lesson concepts. The images will be mental pictures of the lesson concepts of these images will help you remember the information associated with each lesson.

Becoming An Active Learner

When you're an active learner, you feel more in control of your studying.

There are 4 important things to think about becoming an active learner during class lectures. I developed an acronym called LASR as the following picture illustrates:

The following explains the LASR concept to listening to lectures:

1. Listening - listening attentively and focusing on what the teacher is saying, is very important. Staying focused on terminology and concepts is key to listening well to lectures

2. Absorb - analyze and absorb what you are hearing. Ask questions and if you don't understand what is being said, this is the time to ask more questions or ask for another example to clarify the lesson concept for you.

3. Study - Study, Study, Study!!! until you know the material by heart

4. Regurgitate - you need to regurgitate or account for what you have learned. You do this by taking tests or exams.

Remember, if you assume responsibility for your own learning, then learning will become more enjoyable.

Lecture Notes

The following picture demonstrates how to arrange your notes to highlight primary and expanded information of each lesson concept:

The above picture shows you what your notebook page should look like. I've used an explanation of a computer engineering lesson of a brushless fan. I made 3 columns with 3 headers at the top of the page called, Lesson, Primary Concepts and Expanded.

Do not write tons of information. Only document the important information. By filling in your page as in the above manner, you will be documenting and studying only the primary and expanded concepts, at the same time keeping all your notes in a style that will be easy to understand and read.

Points to Becoming An Active Learner

The following are points conducive to becoming an active learner:

Experience What You Are Learning - when you're learning something new, visualize yourself performing these tasks in the real world. For example, you just learned how to partition a hard drive. If you force yourself to remember the actual procedure, you will ultimately be teaching yourself again by refreshing your mind with the same information.

Think Ahead Before You Read - active learners think ahead before they read and then think back about what they've just read. Thinking ahead implants an image in your mind of what you think you will be reading, reinforcing it when you actually read it. When you reach the end of a chapter, go back and quickly skim it again to reinforce the information that you just read and learned.

Repetitive Reading - Reading what you just read over and over again will ensure that you recognize the information more readily. Reread the same information sometime in the near future. For example, if you read a chapter before going to bed, reread it in the morning before school. This will reinforce what you read the night before and your mind will be refreshed again with the same information.

Study Actively Everyday - No one likes to study, but it is necessary when learning lots of information in a short amount of time. Most educational institutions require lots of information to be learned in a short amount of time. Therefore, it is necessary to acquire and build good study habits early in your academic career.


Learning New Information - new information will be absorbed more readily if you study when you're comfortable and your mind is fresh. Try getting up a little earlier in the morning to study. There are fewer distractions at that time. New material stays fresh in your mind for only a few days or so without active study. To make the information more permanent in you mind, do repetitive reading, etc.

Reviewing Old and New Information - before and after sleep are good times for review. It takes a lot of "brain energy." It is easy to tell yourself that, "I don't need to review; I've already studied it once!" Reviewing old material regularly in small bits is more effective and less hectic than trying to review everything the night before a test.


Before you begin to study for tests or exams, ask yourself the following:

How Long Am I Going to Study? - decide on a time limit and stick to it without excuses or distraction.

Where Am I Going to Study? - don't study in a place that is not conducive for study. Don't study when friends are sitting next to you trying to take your attention away from study. Don't sit in front of the television watching your favorite show. You're only fooling yourself and of course, limiting your own potential for success.

How Am I Going to Study? - You can use the computer to rewrite your notes. Taking your messy hand-written notes and turning them into clear, concise, legible study sheets is a very effective way of not only rereading and reviewing your daily notes, but a way to refresh your memory.

How Am I Going to Make Sense of Everything I Study? - To make sense of what you read, you must have clear images in your head and a clear sense of what you are about to read. Stop, when you come to something new or confusing. Connect with what you already know to help your brain file the information that you just learned, and then move on to the new material.

Using a Learning Style As I Study - Rewrite class notes, write as you study, write after studying, are all effective ways to reinforce the information that you've just learned.

Finally - if you have problems studying, you will already help yourself by seeking out someone to help you. If you have problems, find outside help, a family member, another teacher, another student, etc. Knowing when you need and when to get help is the most important part of all!

Common Questions by Students

The following information about questions why students don't do well was taken from an abstract written by Sandra Keith, a professor at St. Cloud State University MN

1. I really know the material, but I don't do well on tests.

This is a common complaint. But there is a distinction between knowing something and having seen it before. Sometimes you may recognize the correct answer, but with real knowledge you can construct solutions and even reconstruct the theory. To get to the root of the problem, you may have to reconsider how you study, and find more ways to make studying active rather than passive. Just as sports or music or theatre performance require lots of practice before you can ``react on demand'', studying for a test takes lots of practice. On a practical level, one can, with experience, learn how to anticipate tests. Rewrite your notes, make up review sheets, join a study group, and really study for tests. Your teacher teaches what is important and tests you on it; but you must come to tests well-prepared. If you have serious anxiety problems, discuss them with your teacher.

2. The tests aren't like the homework assignments.

We do feel a definite security in seeing problems identical to what we have seen before, but to emphasize these problems would be to validate rote learning (memorization by repetition). In most subjects, homework is done for the purpose of learning the material. Use the class period as a guide to what your teacher thinks is important, and be sure you understand what is expected in each lesson. As you work homework or assignment problems, try to see the bigger picture: why am I being given this problem, and how does it reinforce and relate to the theory? If your teacher does not use the precise wording of what's in your textbook, seek clarification before a test.

3. Why didn't I get more partial credit?

Sometimes students see knowledge as something that generates grades, and feel that their partial knowledge should be rewarded accordingly. However, a lot of partial knowledge on many topics does not add up to real knowledge, and to learn for partial knowledge can eventually lead to a shut-down in understanding. A teacher naturally does not want to encourage learning for partial knowledge. What may seem to you as a halfway answer would never be accepted in the real world. A teacher is more likely to assign partial credit if you appear to be in control of your work rather than fumbling (showing lack of skill or aptitude) at it; and the way you present the answers on your test (unorganized or scribbled in nature) may affect this perception more than you realize.

4. I didn't know what you wanted on this test?

Teachers want the correct answer! If a test question is incomplete or ambiguous (open to two or more interpretations), your teacher will not mind clarifying the question. You should make it your responsibility to come forward, but don't ask a question if you only want to know if your solution is correct.

5. Why are there so many class tests?

Grades are a certification of your mastery of a subject, and teachers compare your performance with that of other students in a class. Your individual effort is a definite variable in your learning, and it must be your own responsibility to do well. If you do not do well on a test and the teacher maintains that the test is fair, it would be a good solution to review a test with the teacher or another student to enhance your ability to understand what will be expected on the final exam.

6. I don't use the supplied textbook because I can't understand it.

Text is definitely necessary for understanding a subject, just as a racquet is to a game of tennis or a violin to a violinist. Text is the main tool for a course. But you can't expect simply to read, track, and understand subject text. When you receive a subject textbook, take the time to briefly skim it first to obtain an understanding of what is coming in the course. Too many students just go chapter-to-chapter without seeing the whole picture of the course. See what is needed for complete understanding of the subject material. The decoding process doesn't happen in one pass. You need to reread some sections many times to understand the material. You can learn to make text work for you, especially if you read it before coming to class and then again after class. Rewriting sections of text is important, synopsising (presenting a summary or general view of a whole) will help you understand the subject material.

7. Why do I have to memorize this? Memorization isn't learning.

We memorize in order to facilitate (make easier) learning, so we can regurgitate (repeat after memorization) information on demand during tests or exams. Memorization does not constitute learning. Every field of study requires memorization, and most fields -- biology, history, physics, political science, languages -- require far more. We are only able to solve problems if we are familiar with the necessary information (terms, methods, formulas, etc.). To improve your memory, don't trust your recognition memory when it comes to a test. Practice writing out the definitions and theorems, and make outlines of the major points of the theory. Check back to your text for accuracy. It is easy to think we know something until we attempt to put it on paper. By practicing studying continuously in this way, rather than cramming at the last minute, memorization will feel like a more natural part of the learning process.

8. I've always been good at mathematics until this course.

Mathematics courses are built on previous knowledge, but your performance in one course does not guarantee your success in another. Mathematics is an extremely complex field, and every mathematics course has new challenges and introduces new ways of thinking. Learn what you need to know in each course and master the concepts to take with you to the next one.

9. I can never understand my class notes and I don't read them.

Sometimes students write down material they don't understand, feeling that in writing it down, understanding will come. But in class, teachers may present theory, work with examples, go over homework problems, give insights into the material, respond to questions or ask probing questions. With all this on a teacher's agenda, your notes indeed may not seem too clear! Ask for clarifications during class. Reading the textbook beforehand will also help you focus your questions in class in ways that your teacher will probably appreciate. Bring your textbook to class. Rewrite your notes incorporating material from the book. In this way you will have created an excellent study guide for yourself.

Study Staircase

The study staircase illustrates how many minutes should be used to study for a Friday test if a new lesson is started on Monday and a subsequent lesson is taught on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday:

The following picture illustrates the total amount of time spent on studying a week's worth of lessons for only one hour of study every night:

In Summary

Every student has their own unique style of learning. It is ultimately your responsibility and no one else's to improve your learning and studying techniques. Realizing your strengths and weaknesses and overcoming them will lead you to the rewards that excellent studying will provide. Education has never been and will never be easy, and as you move through higher levels of education, continue to develop a strong desire to learn and discipline yourself to study until you know what you are learning by heart. The results of your efforts will be amazing!

In high school I had a difficult time studying, but friends and educators taught me how to study and learn. I asked questions, listened attentively to lectures, studied hard and developed my own learning techniques, which I have outlined to you in this webpage. After many years of post-secondary education, graduating from two post-secondary schools and earning two top student awards for academic excellence, I can freely admit is was well worth it.

You too can do it if you discipline yourself and learn how to study well. I hope this study guide encourages you to develop a great study plan to help you get more out of your education and ultimately your life's success.

Good Luck!

Mr. Laxton
Technical Teacher
Abbey Park High School