I recently received emails from two different readers who have similar problems. . .
Too much academic work to do and not enough time to do it.
You need a strategy, my friend!
There is one super study-skill that saves me more time than any other.
Have you ever heard of triage?
If you go to the emergency room, triage is when the duty nurse evaluates incoming patients to determine who needs help first and who’s just a whiner.
“Got a Power Ranger action figure stuck up your nose, madam? We’ll be with you some time next week.”
“Aorta on the outside? Why, come right in.”
Triage allows the hospital staff to decide what’s really important and what isn’t.
You need to do academic triage
; it’s one of the most important study tips
you can develop (it’s also one of your key time management
Before you begin ANY study session, decide how important each part of it is to getting a good grade.
For example, say you are making a choice about how to read your class texts. Put each reading
into one of four categories based on how well you need to know it for the test. Decide what topics you should. . .
1) Skim for key concepts
2) Read fully
3) Learn thoroughly
4) SKIP altogether
Skim means I quickly scan it looking for key concepts. I don’t care about deep knowledge or learning. Just making sure I don’t skip something important.
Read fully means I read it and try to fully understand it. In this case, I’m trying to follow the argument, but I’m not really trying to commit anything to memory for a test. On the off chance the prof asks about it, I’ll at least have read it.
LEARN thoroughly means I read it fully and put it in my study system so that I can answer test questions over it. Careful! You may be tempted to put everything in this category. Don’t do it! Save the time for the things you really need to know.
Skip it altogether means you have decided it isn’t worth the time. This category is one of the most useful, since it saves you loads of time. The trick, of course, is making sure it’s skippable. Save this for when the prof says, “this won’t be on the test,” or for when you have a friend that’s already taken the class and can tell you it won’t be tested.
Academic triage ain’t just for entire readings; it will change sometimes from paragraph to paragraph in a given text.
For example, I might fully read the intro and conclusion to a certain chapter (and even commit the main ideas to memory).
Some of the body paragraphs may get the same treatment (especially if my prof emphasized them in class).
Many paragraphs, however, I will just skim to find out the main idea.
Another way to think of it is that you have a series of progressively finer filters for what you are studying. The first filter skims for the beefy main ideas. If that filter catches something important, you go to the “read it” filter. And if that filter catches something important, you go to the “learn it” filter.
Study Tip for More Than Just Readings
Doing academic triage—deciding what is most important—is one of those meta study tips that applies to many areas of getting excellent grades, not just readings.
This approach applies to whole courses. Some courses just may not be as important to you (they don’t contribute as much to your GPA, they are electives, they are already easy for you, they’re outside your major, etc.); devote less time and attention to those courses.
Other courses may be extremely important because they contribute more to your overall GPA, they’re in your major, they’re the first half of a two part course, etc. These courses you really want to give your full attention and learn much more of the material.
Get the idea?
School is a strategy game, like capture the flag or chess or dating.
You have limited resources of time and energy, and the trick is to figure out which actions on your part will use those time and energy resources to give you the most bang for your academic buck. This is one of those time management skills that will pay giant dividends.
So whether you call it prioritizing, triage, filtering, or putting first things first, this is one of those study tips you can’t afford to neglect!
Always keep the bottom line in mind when deciding what is important to skim or read or learn; “What will best help me achieve my academic goal?”
That goal in a particular class might be “What will get me the best grade on the upcoming test,” or “What will most impress this prof and get her to endorse me in the future.”
It might equally be, “What will get me a passing grade in the course overall,” or “What will get me the bare minimum grade I need while saving me the most time and energy for this other, more important class.”
The bottom line goal you choose will have a big effect on how you apply the filters/triage for that activity. These sorts of time management skills are vital for succeeding in school and in life.
Other Study Tips
Here are some other super-helpful study tips, and you can search on my blog and in my Secrets Smart Students Know ebook
for more in-depth coverage of each one of these study tips.
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© Cody Blair, All Rights Reserved.