“I know what works best for me” is what you probably think when you come across an article about how best to study. You’re an adult with many years of schooling – successful schooling! – behind you. What you’ve been doing works well; why change it? As with any period of learning in your life, while the goal of mastering the material remains the same, the external circumstances that impact your study routine require that you make adjustments to continue to achieve success.
As an adult with a job, family, friends, and interests outside of work, finding balance relies heavily on good use of your time. Add studying to the mix and the time allotted to it must produce fail proof results. It becomes important to master new material as quickly and thoroughly as possible. Your efforts must be focused and streamlined, fine-tuned to your individual situation without cutting corners or compromising your goals.
Take some time now, at the beginning of a new test preparation period, to consider implementing a new way to study. One that combines your proven study habits and adds some new elements to boost your chances for a successful test sitting.
American educationist Edgar Dale’s research produced the following results regarding the outcome of learning methods:
10% of what they read
20% of what they hear
30% of what they see
50% of what they hear and see
70% of what they say and write
90% of what they say and perform as a task
Is there a right or wrong way to study? No. Are there ways to make the process more enjoyable, ensure that you will recall more information when you need to, and achieve the results you want? Yes! Dale’s progression of learning methods begins with the most passive – reading – and progresses to the most active – performance.
The most successful people in life don’t stop with filling their minds with information, the facts and figures needed to pass a course or secure a job. It is their starting point. As the world famous master violinist Itzhak Perlman observed “A sponge has (so) much absorbent capability and after a while you can pour water over it and nothing stays.” He may have started by absorbing as much as he could about playing the violin by passively studying music and listening to it. But he became the superstar virtuoso he is today through actively engaging the learning process, experiencing through hands-on practice, a mindful, disciplined, participatory means to gain skill and mastery in his chosen career.
Research has proven that we learn best by doing. When we are learning actively we take the extra step to make the material our own. By engaging our minds in this way we “stimulate critical and lateral thinking and higher cognitive processes.”
CAS syllabus readings are lengthy, weighty, and detailed. Just reading them through can seem daunting. So how do you take your primary method of study – reading – from mainly passive to mainly active? Here are some practical tips to get you started:
- Read out loud
This helps to build comprehension by allowing you to slow down, reflect on what you are reading, clarify information, and creatively “hear” it. Reading difficult passages out loud often helps a reader to make connections that lead to a better understanding of the material.
- Take Notes
Mark up your text while reading. Get out your pencil and make margin notes, underline concepts, jot questions for further study. This helps to keep you focused and extends your attention span. You will also get practice in identifying what is important and what is not. This is an essential skill to develop for successfully responding to CAS exam questions.
“Researchers found that if important information was contained in notes, it had a 34 percent chance of being remembered (Howe, 1970, in Longman and Atkinson, 1999). Information not found in notes had only a five percent chance of being remembered.”
- Re-state the key concept in your own words
Self-test by explaining what you just read. Close the book, grab a piece of paper, and write down a summary of the concepts you have just reviewed. This method gives you immediate feedback on what you’ve successfully retained and what you still need to work on.
Make the decision to commit to incorporating one of these modifications to your usual study routine. Initially it may be frustrating at best and a daily struggle at worst but keep with it. The skill development and mastery you gain will prove itself on exam day.