Students sometimes ask what they can do in order to better in my courses.
I don't know if this will help, but here are my ideas about improving the
effectiveness of your studying:
When you read, always take notes on the main points made by the
reading. This will give you something to study from later, but more
importantly, the act of writing it down will help to lock it into your
Don't just take your notes on reading directly from the reading
itself. Instead, read a chunk of it without taking notes -- a few pages,
but not too much, a section perhaps. Then write your notes without
looking back at what you've read. Only after you've written what you
remember, then look back to see if you missed anything important, or to
add details that you couldn't quite recall. This too will help to lock it
Take advantage of any questions that are provided, in the text or by
me (including old exams), by answering them. But don't just read the
questions and decide whether you think you know the answers. Write them
down. This will take longer, but it will be much more effective in
telling you whether you really know it, since if you don't, you will find
this difficult. If you have somebody to study with, then read each
other's answers and critque them.
Ask questions! If there is something that you don't understand, in
the readings or in class, that you think might be important, ask for help.
Don't worry that the question may sound stupid. It probably won't, but
even if it does, so what? You are here to learn, and we are here to teach
you. So ask somebody -- your friends, your GSI, or me, and if you don't
understand the answer, ask again.
Once you've exhausted the questions that we have provided to practice
on, make up your own. You know what an exam looks like, or if you don't,
you can look at our old ones. For both readings and lectures, ask
yourself what sorts of questions we might ask about the material, and make
up specific questions along those lines, with made-up numbers if that's
The theme in all of these suggestions is to participate actively in
your own learning. Don't just listen and read and nod when you think you
understand. A "nodding acquaintance" with the material won't be enough
when you have to use it on exams. You need to express the ideas
yourself, in your own words and your own way, before you will know that
you understand it, and in order to remember it later.
Of course, I haven't said the more obvious advice, but don't forget
it: attend lectures, attend section, and take notes on both, do the
assigned readings and homework on time, and show up rested and on time for
exams. It's amazing how many students let their grades suffer because
they just don't bother to do the work. Worse, they are wasting a large
amount of somebody's money on an education that they then deny
All of this seems like good advice to me, but it has been many years since
I've been a student myself, and I really don't know for sure whether you
will find it useful. So do me a favor: if you manage to follow any or
all of this advice in this course, I'd appreciate it if you would let me
know later if it worked. E-mail me towards the end of the course, or
after you get your grade, and let me know how it worked out.