How to Study as You Head Back to School

Schools never teach us how to study, yet it’s the most important skill for succeeding at school. Get-It-Done Guy has 7 expert study skills to help you master your learning.

Stever Robbins
5-minute read
Episode #235

How to Study Tip #1: Skim the Big Picture, Then Dive Deep

When you’re reading something you’ve never read before, the key study skills are memorizing it and organizing it in your brain so you can use the information at a later date.

First, build a framework for the big picture. Don’t try to read the material in depth the first time through. Instead, skim it quickly. Get a broad idea of what it’s about. Gloss over details you don’t understand.

This will give you the “big picture,” a sort of executive summary. The big picture of the American Revolution might be “King George’s abuses of the colonies lead to a declaration of independence. France finances the revolution and fights England in Europe, so England doesn’t do quite enough to keep the colonies. Eventually, America is born and several years later, founding fathers write the Constitution we still have today.”

Now read it again. This time, focus on the details and fit them into the story in your mind. You’ll include details like Thomas Jefferson’s writing of the Declaration, why the Articles of Confederation failed, Benjamin Franklin’s trips to France to build support, and why the Bill of Rights was added to the Constitution.

How to Study Tip #2: Take Notes

Take notes by hand. When you write by hand, you involve multiple brain systems: physical movement, visual input, and auditory input. You’ll also find yourself memorizing the mental image of your notes, as well as the book, lecture, or video where the information came from.

With a computer, you engage only your visual system and up-and-down movements of your fingers. Plus, computers are distracting. If you insist on using a computer—and if you’re under 30, you probably will insist—at least try it both ways. Take notes on paper for a month and then on computer for a month and stick with the system that works best for you.

You can also take notes using mind maps, which helps your brain make new associations. You can find details in the Get-it-Done Guy episode on how to take killer notes.


About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins was the host of the podcast Get-it-Done Guy from 2007 to 2019. He is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT.