Ditch the Highlighter

Highlighters are a nice invention aren’t they? You read a bit; you highlight a bit. You read a little more. Hmmm, that might be important; better highlight it. Here’s another important bit. Let’s use the orange highlighter for this one. Read. Read. Highlight. Read. Aren’t you good? You must be studying ; I mean, look at all the pretty colors.

The trouble is, you aren’t actually learning anything. You’re just identifying the possibly important parts. Nothing wrong with that, but you’re just postponing the actual studying. It’s like cleaning your house by putting little flags next to the dirty parts. You still have to go back and clean. Why not just clean it now?

Your goal should be to read it ONCE.  After that, all the important points should be captured in a studyable format, so you’ll never have to wade through that text again.

4-Step Method for Highlighter Learning

  1. Grasp highlighter firmly in hand
  2. Find a trash can
  3. Deposit highlighter in trash can
  4. Pat self on back

5 Study Methods that Are WAY Better than Highlighting

So dispense with the college crayons and try these methods instead…

    • Make keyword notes in the margins. Try to write as little as possible yet still capture the important points, and go for at least one note by every paragraph, even if it’s just your opinion about the author’s IQ. Abbreviate, symbolize, and summarize. To accurately and concisely summarize, you must process the information, and processing the information will automatically help you learn it. Bonus: now you have a nice outline, perfect for review.
    • Make flashcards. Yes, flashcards … they’re not just for phonics and multiplication facts. Summarize, symbolize, and abbreviate as above. Go for one key note per card. Again, you’re working with the information, and this has been proven to be a much more effective way to learn info than by rote repetition. Bonus: You’ve got a portable review aid. Mastered that flashcard? Then remove it from the stack and sock it away in another stack to review again in a few days.
    • Make condensed notes. Try to clearly and concisely summarize the entire chapter on one side of a 3×5 card. This is a great technique for those of us who tend to write too much and go on and on and on and on, not that I would know anything about that. The size of the card forces you to eliminate anything non-essential. I stumbled across this technique when a professor generously allowed us to use the notes on a single 3×5 card for our cumulative final exam. My writing was teenynsy (which is one step below tiny, I think), but it didn’t matter. I found that I almost never had to refer to the card! Just making the card was enough to help me accurately recall the information during the exam. Bonus: You’ll get really good at writing really small. That has to be useful for something. Suggestions are appreciated.
    • Make a mind map. Also called idea webs, mind maps are a good way to organize information visually. They still involve summarizing, abbreviating, and symbolizing, but also integrate organization. Wikipedia has a good article on it with lots of tips and outside links. Mind mapping isn’t for everyone, but it’s worth a try and I often use it myself.
    • Make Cornell Notes. Cornell notes are easy to do, and I use them for taking notes in class or from a reading. To get the low down on how to do it as well as a nice app to print out the blanks, look here.
    • Use a highlighter. So I lied. You can use a highlighter, but you must use it very sparingly. Your goal should be to highlight no more than five to ten words per paragraph; any more than that and you aren’t carefully evaluating the importance of what you’re underlining. Keep in mind, you will have to lug around that big old text in order to study, and if you aren’t really careful you’ll end up having to reread the complete sentence in order to make sense of the five highlighted words. All in all, your better off using one of the aforementioned methods.

To sum up: don’t just identify the info, capture it and process it. The summarizing, symbolizing, and abbreviating allow you to actually recall more information than if you just copied sentences word for word. Use any of these methods in combination with mnemonics and steady study, and you will find yourself with a lot more free time and better grades.

© Cody Blair, All Rights Reserved.
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