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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Top 10 Tips for Efficient Studying

You’re studying from your text books late at night, but keep falling asleep. Or, maybe you’ve been trying to concentrate on CPA exam review, but you find yourself daydreaming or doodling instead. We’ve all been there.


The fact is, almost all studying is BORING, and we naturally tend to shy away from boredom. It’s hard to have the discipline to just put your nose in an accounting textbook and start reading. We crave distraction, especially when we’re faced with tedious or monotonous tasks. It’s really easy to go from taking notes to watching TV.
This is where efficient study techniques come into play. Ok, ok… It’s easier said than done, right? Wrong! Efficient studying can be learned for fun and profit.
Listed conveniently below are the top ten tips to help you study more efficiently.

1. GOOOOAAALLL!
Here’s the deal: Most people don’t study for the fun of it, right? Chances are, if you’re studying, you’ve got a goal. If you’ve got a goal, you’re halfway there! A goal gives you something to commit to. A reason to go on, so to speak. If you’re really committed to your goal, you’ll do whatever it takes to reach it. If you don’t have a goal, you’re just some weird person randomly studying for no reason. You’re not a weird person, are you? No, you’re not.
Alright. We’ve established that you’re a reasonable person with a goal.
Great! You’ve got a goal! You’ve got tons of goals! You’ve got more goals than a professional soccer team!

These men have goals.

But, hold on a minute… too many goals is the same as having no goal at all. You need to narrow your focus to one very important goal. If you’re studying, we can probably assume that your goal is to learn something for some reason. Maybe you need to pass a big test. Perhaps you want to qualify to be on a quiz show. No matter. Just stay focused on your one big goal. Once you’ve decided upon that one goal, you can move on to the planning stage, which is where the fun begins. Actually, that isn’t really where the fun begins; I just wanted you to be excited. Are you excited? Yes, you are.

2. Make a new plan, Stan.
Planning is an important step toward maximizing your efficiency, whether you’re studying, working, or climbing a mountain. Without a plan, it’s much easier to make mistakes and get distracted. Once you have a plan, you can stop thinking about what you’re going to do next, thus saving your precious brainpower for learning and remembering. When making your plan, be aware of your situation. Ask yourself lots of questions. Do you have a job? Do you go to school? How much time do those activities require of you? Are you going to be tired when you’re done with work or school? Do you have kids, a spouse, or a demanding cat? Can their demands wait, or be delegated to someone? These are the kinds of questions you should be asking yourself at the planning stage. Once you’ve figured out what hurdles are in your way, you can plan ways to overcome them.

3. Flexibility will keep you from snapping.
No matter how well you plan, something always happens that you couldn’t anticipate. Perhaps you’re studying one afternoon and your computer crashes. Or maybe you have to work late, and you don’t get to study at your normal time. Don’t worry… stick to your study planner as closely as possible. Don’t beat yourself up if you need to change your plan a little, but don’t give up on your plan if it doesn’t work perfectly, either. Your plan should be flexible enough to allow for unexpected events. If you’ve got every moment of your day previously spoken for, you need to reprioritize some activities.

4. Get your priorities in order!
Maybe you don’t really need to play that video game. Maybe the latest episode of “Lost” is less important than the CPA exam. Your call. The key is to find more time by deciding which activities are less important, and replacing them with activities that will get you closer to achieving your goal. For everything you find yourself doing, ask yourself if it’s helping you reach your goal. If it isn’t, you know what to do.

5. Listen to your body!
There are some activities that really can’t be second priority. You need to eat. You need to drink. You need to sleep. You need to go to the bathroom. These items are fairly important biological functions that might be higher priority than studying. Unless you’re a robot. In that case, you’re smarter than I am, anyway, so why are you reading this? The principle is as follows: Your brain is part of your body. If your body isn’t happy, your brain won’t work as well. If you’re tired, you should sleep instead of studying. If you’re hungry, you should eat instead of studying. Seems pretty basic, right? You’d be surprised how many people study while they’re tired. Just imagine how you feel when you’re sleepy. You can barely remember your name! How can you expect to remember what you need to pass the CPA exam? Give yourself breaks when you need them.

6. Take ugly notes.
Do you know how to take ugly notes? Most people think their notes are just fine. You don’t want notes that are "just fine." You want notes that are ugly. Write them in the same ugly notebook you use in class. Ugly notes are mostly made up of tiny phrases, illustrations, half sentences and memory aids. Your notes should help you remember a concept. They shouldn’t try to teach it to you. The instructor and course materials are supposed to do that. You shouldn’t try to take dictation during class. Chances are good that you can’t write as fast as your instructor can talk. Just follow along, writing down the important points of the lecture. Don’t write down everything you read or hear… just the stuff that will help you remember what you’re supposed to. Write your notes on scraps of paper, or a notepad. Don’t bother trying to be too neat. Just make sure you can read what you’re writing. Ta-dah! Ugly notes!

7. Rewrite, refine, remember!
If you were actively listening to your instructor during the lecture, and taking ugly notes on the important parts of what you heard, you should now have an ugly little pile of notes before you. Time to transfer those notes to a more presentable format. You should have a nice, clean notebook handy. A prettier notebook. This will be the notebook you study from . You won’t actually be studying from your ugly notes. Start by transcribing your ugly notes into the new, pretty notebook. As you transcribe, you should find yourself remembering the lecture or the materials. Feel free to use complete sentences at this point… you’re not in a rush. You can even go into greater detail in your new, pretty notes. The act of rewriting those ugly notes is actually reinforcing them in your brain! It’s like magic! Well, maybe not quite magic. But, it’s really cool.

8. Mnemonics are your friends.
It looks like a scary word. Don’t be afraid. The first “M” is silent. Basically, a mnemonic is just a little phrase, rhyme, song or word that helps you remember a concept.
For example, “I before E except after C” is a famous mnemonic that helps you remember an English spelling rule. Trying to come up with your own mnemonics is a great way to memorize things.

9. Call in the reinforcement!
Cramming is not the best way to learn, but it can be great to reinforce. If you’ve been spending your time studying efficiently, you will most likely end up with plenty of time left to accomplish your goal. You can use that time to max out your memory by cramming. Cramming efficiently will store information in your short-term memory while reinforcing the same information in your long-term memory. Just don’t cram as a substitute for efficient study techniques. Your short-term memory isn’t as reliable as your long-term memory, so you’ll want to use it mainly as backup. A great mnemonic for CRAM: “Can Reinforce Awesome Memories.”

10. Check yourself.
As an adult, you probably won’t get grounded if you don’t study efficiently. This means that you have to have the discipline to stay focused on your goals, be aware of your circumstances, and stick to your plan. Be careful not to punish yourself for your shortcomings. Self-punishment can quickly become discouraging. Also, don’t overdo the rewards until you’ve reached your goal. Too many rewards can lead to over-indulgence and laziness. Trust me: life has a way of punishing and rewarding you on its own. Your goal itself will be a reward, or a punishment if you don’t get there. Stay focused. Review your plan, and always ask the question “Is this activity getting me closer to my goal?”

Studying isn’t supposed to be easy. If it were, it wouldn’t be called “studying.” It would be called having fun, or playing, or reading contentedly for enjoyment. By studying efficiently, you can maximize the speed and effectiveness of your studies. Once you’ve passed the CPA exam, learned Mandarin, mastered chess, or whatever you’re studying for, you can relax and enjoy your success. Or, you can start studying something else. You over-achiever, you.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Good

Anonymous said...

haha =D
thankyouu. this helps a lot=]
its also a good peptalk kinda thing
if that makes sense

Anonymous said...

thank u
the articles made me realize that its time to work on my goals
its been 4mos since i stopped studying & focused on my work
is it too late to start my review and be able to work on passing the Board exam?

Morgan Ives said...

It is never to late to pick up where you left off and start studying again! You can always get back on track and continue working toward your goal of becoming a CPA.

However, if you had already passed an exam or two, you still have to complete all four exams within the 18 month window. And you may have to re-apply for another NTS if yours has expired.

Give our customer service representatives a call at 877.ROG.4CPA and they can help you set up a study plan, order materials, and get on your way again! Good luck!

Gina said...

I'm going to print this and keep it with my study materials. Whenever I feel myself straying (or deciding to clean my junk drawer instead of studying) I will use this as a peptalk to get back on track. Those darn 74s will turn into 75s this year! Thanks Roger and all the staff!!!