Thứ Hai, 26 tháng 4, 2010

How to take Ph.D

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1. In K. Williamson,
Research methods for students and professionals: Information management and systems (2nd
ed.). Wagga Wagga, Australia: Centre for Information Studies, Charles Sturt University.
2. Tony Greenfield (ed), ‘Research Methods for Postgraduates’
3. How to Write a Ph.D. Dissertation

How to Write a Ph.D. Dissertation

E. Robert Schulman and C. Virginia Cox
Charlottesville, Virginia
Abstract
In this paper we demonstrate that writing a Ph.D. dissertation can have
many benefits. Not only do you obtain extensive typesetting experience,
but afterwards you can have your frequent-flyer literature addressed to
"Dr. Your Name."

Chapter I: Introduction

Ph.D. dissertations (e.g., Schulman 1995a; Cox 1995) are commonly believed to be comprehensive compendiums of the original research done by a graduate student in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.² In reality, the Ph.D. thesis is usually a number of disparate chapters whose most important feature is not the thoroughness of the experimental description but rather the width of the margins. In this paper, the second article in a series on scientific writing that began with Schulman (1996a), we will discuss the phenomenon of the Ph.D. thesis.

Chapter II: Preparing to Write

There comes a time in the life of every graduate student when she or he realizes that another two years of graduate school cannot be endured. Even though a year spent writing your thesis will be filled with frustration and angst, it will end up being worth it in order to escape school forever.
Remember the following phrase: "No one will ever read your thesis.'' You'll hear this phrase a number of times as you finish up, and it's vitally important that you believe it to be true. The phrase is important because without it you would be tempted to work on your thesis until everything is perfect, and you would never finish.
Say "It's good enough for the thesis" to yourself several times a day. Tell yourself that you'll correct all the mistakes when you turn the various chapters into independent scientific papers, even though this won't happen (see Schulman 1996a and references therein).

Chapter III: Your Thesis Committee

Your thesis committee should consist of between four and nine researchers in and outside of your field. Each committee member has a specific duty.
Your thesis advisor has the most important job: to reassure you that you don't have to do many of the things you're positive you should do. She or he will likely say, ``It's good enough for the thesis'' fairly often.
You also need one committee member who will insist on more mathematical rigor, one who will demand that the thesis be made more concise by getting rid of all that irrelevant math, and two or three to say that you should do all the things your thesis advisor told you didn't need to be done.
There should also be at least one committee member who will never read the thesis, and who will therefore ask only general questions at your thesis defense. The other graduate students who attend your defense will often bet on which professors read your thesis. Be prepared to determine the winner (note that it is not considered sporting to participate in this game yourself).
Try to set a defense date early so as to give your committee ample time to schedule conferences, vacations, and/or elective surgery for that day.

Chapter IV: Producing the Thesis

Legend has it that doctoral students in ancient times used to produce their dissertations using a device called a "typewriter." While there is some archeological evidence for typewriter use in the past, many researchers doubt the plausibility of such claims (e.g. Schulman 1995a).
These days, dissertations are produced using word processing programs such as Word or Word Perfect, or computer typesetting systems such as TeX or LaTeX. The former will give you practice in drawing by hand all the symbols that aren't supported, while with the latter you have the opportunity to craft new typesetting definitions to satisfy your university's dissertation policies. For example,
\long\def\printfrontnonchapter{\vfil\eject \rightpage\null\vskip 1in \centerline{{\bf \Uppercase{\frontnonchapterheader}}}\vskip 22pt plus 73pt \relax\bigskip\setwidespacing \frontnonchaptertext\par} (Jerius 1992).
Be sure not to choose the wrong method of producing your thesis.

Chapter V: Writing the Thesis

The Ph.D. thesis usually begins with a pithy quote, after which there will sometimes be a dedication to one's parents, life partner, and/or pet tapir.
Following this is probably the most important part of the dissertation: the acknowledgments section. This is the only section that everyone who picks up your thesis will read. They will happen upon your dissertation in the library and flip through the first few pages, looking for a juicy acknowledgments section. This is your chance to make obscure references to secret loves, damn various faculty members with faint praise, or be very mysterious by having no acknowledgments section at all so that everyone wonders what you're hiding.
After the awknowledments should be the various tables of contents, denoting the page numbers on which the reader may find every section, subsection, subsubsection, figure, table, appendix, footnote, and semicolon in the thesis.
Next comes the first thesis chapter, the introduction, which is judged on the basis of how far back in the past you start. Although the introduction is supposed to enable someone with no knowledge of your field to read and understand your thesis, this is an impossible goal. Instead, simply reference sources such as Rontgen (1896), Galileo (1610), Aristotle (-350), or other similarly ancient researchers. The idea to get across is that your work, being based on the work of great scientists of the past, must be truly worthwhile. Even though these works have little to do with your research, your committee isn't going to look up the references.
After the introduction come chapters that describe what you did, where you did it, when you did it, why you did it, and how much more work has to be done before you can obtain definitive results. This last point is usually discussed in the concluding chapter.

Chapter VI: The Thesis Defense

Remember those dreams you used to have about going to class and finding out that there was a big test that day for which you hadn't studied? The thesis defense is worse, because you find out that although you studied very hard, you didn't study the right things.
Your committee members aren't going to waste their time asking you about your research, because you know more about that than anyone else in the world. Instead, they will ask questions that are really about their research or--if they are in a particularly punchy mood--about fundamental mathematics.
The fun part is that at most universities the first part of your defense is open to the public, so that your parents will probably want to come and videotape the event.

Chapter VII: Rewriting

Your thesis defense was tough, but you survived. Your committee members have signed a piece of paper saying that they are satisfied with your dissertation as long as your thesis advisor is happy with the revisions you make. Don't fall into the trap of trying to make everything perfect! Remember the phrase from Chapter II, "No one will ever read your thesis."
Once your advisor is happy with the revisions, take one unbound, unperforated, paginated copy of your dissertation, two copies of your abstract, one extra copy of your title page, the signed evaluation forms from your committee members in a sealed, notarized envelope, the receipt proving your payment of the Thesis Publication Fee, your diploma application, and proof of your doctoral candidacy enrollment to the Bureaucratic Office of Records, Education, and Dissertations (your requirements may vary; void where prohibited).
The folks at BORED will take a ruler to every page in your thesis, making sure that all the margins are correct and insisting that you go back and redo them if even one page is wrong.

Chapter VIII: Distributing Your Thesis

You've passed the format check, and it's time to make a hundred copies of your thesis and distribute them to departmental libraries all over the world so that everyone in your field can read it. Your advisor should pay for the photocopying and postage (see Schulman & Cox 1997 for a detailed justification).
Try not to think of all the errors lurking in your thesis as you address the envelopes to Professor Famous or Doctor Influential. You want to publicize your dissertation as much as possible so that prospective employers will at least have heard your name.
Some journals will publish brief summaries of your dissertation (e.g. Schulman 1995b; Schulman 1996b), but be warned that these journals may want you to format your summary quite specifically. The requirements for the mini-Annals of Improbable Research are particularly restrictive; it can be difficult to summarize five years of work in five lines of text.

Chapter IX: Conclusion

Congratulations, Doctor! You've escaped from graduate school and can now have your frequent-flyer literature addressed to Dr. Your Name, complain when forms only list Mr/Ms/Mrs, and smirk when surgeons whine about all the people with academic doctorates who are making the title meaningless for medical doctors. Go out and make the world a better place.
4.
How to finish a Ph.D.

A few years ago I was asked by several Ph.D. students what advice I could give to finish a Ph.D. While I don't think there is only one answer I do have some principles that worked well for me- if you are a current PhD student hopefully you will find this useful also. If you have any comments or suggestions, I'd love to hear from you.

Over the years I have received many positive comments from Ph.D. students from the U.S., Canada, and as far as China and Korea. Several students have linked this site form their sites. Thank you so much for your feedback. It means a lot to me that some of my thoughts made a difference to you.

"Matt Schonlau's Great Tips - the most detailed, honest and useful advice you can ever find on how to finish your PhD, written by Matt Schonlau; he provides you with a concise but thorough insight into all major aspects of doing and finishing your PhD. What you have to keep in mind doing a PhD: how to focus on your goals for a longer time, how to plan your life in accordance with your research and how not to lose track in order to finish your PhD within a reasonable timeframe. (2003) Start with this one!"

www.phdtips.com (accessed March 6, 2010)

  • Begin with the end in mind
    I found it always helpful to know I what my overall goal was. During my PH.D. I aimed to finish in my Ph.D. in 3 years. I didn't make that in the end - it took 4 years - but that isn't important. The important thing is that I knew in order to make 3 years I had to do a certain course load in the first and second term , I had to take the comprehensive exam the first time it was offered, I had a rough idea of how much time I had to write the dissertation. There are road blocks along the way and things turn out different than you expect. But if you know your overall goal obstacles won't through you off the course, you are just taking a detour.
  • You have no obligation to write an important or even useful thesis
    Sometimes students set out to write this all-encompassing break-through thesis and then fail because they try to accomplish too much at once. Very few researchers achieve fame because of their dissertation work. Try to write a good dissertation, not a great dissertation. Further, don't insist on writing a useful thesis. Your primary goal is to get a Ph.D. , not to change the world. There is enough time for changing the world after your dissertation when you have less constraints about what criteria your work has to meet.
  • Write!
    A psychology student told me once that he spends the entire day doing research and then forces himself at the end of the day to summarize what he found - even if he doesn't think he found anything that day. This is important for several reasons : (a) writing helps your thoughts to crystallize (b) you accomplish your daily task which will make you feel good (c) you can track your progress (d) when you write your thesis you have material to draw on (e) you won't forget what you were thinking two weeks ago. In my opinion most students start too late putting their thoughts into words.
  • Exercise regularly
    I have always found I can work better when I am physically in good shape. During stressful times such as exams, I exercise more often rather than less often. The energy I get from exercise more than compensates for the "time lost".
  • Enjoy your "play time"
    There is a time to work and a time to play. I try to work hard when I work, and not to think at all about work when I don't work. For example, every year I fly home to Germany for Christmas. I never take work to Germany. All that would accomplish is that I would feel bad the whole time about not doing the work. When you have worked hard all week and can afford to take the week-end off, try to get out and do something fun. Try not to think about work at all.
  • Talk to others about your problems
    After finishing his Ph.D. a social scientist at an Ivy League university told me once that at some point during his Ph.D. he had so much dissertation anxiety that he went to see a psychologist at the medical center. To his surprise the waiting room for the psychologist was packed and he recognized several other people. Everyone was there for the same reason. He later emailed one of the students he saw whether he wanted to talk about it . Within 10 minutes he got a reply email : the other student was just as desperate to talk about it. Most Ph.D. students at some point or another have problems - talking to fellow students or professors almost always helps. You are not alone. (The above mentioned student graduated smoothly and now excels working at a very prestigious institution).
  • Record your progress
    Sometime during my second year of my Ph.D. I started writing down every week-end what I had accomplished during the preceeding week. I took great care in this and I often reread what I had done in the past few weeks. This weekly ritual became very important to me and motivated me a great deal. Sometimes in the middle of the week I would realize that I hadn't accomplished anything to be recorded at the end of the week and I would make sure I would get something done.
    In addition, I kept a list of things to do at the white board and marked each item off once I had done it. I wouldn't erase it until a few days later though - because that gave me the satisfaction of seeing what I had accomplished already. I still follow this habit to this day.
    During a Ph.D. you often try something and it doesn't work in the end. That can be frustrating - but I feel that tracking what you have done helps to overcome this frustration. The path to success has unexpected twists and turns in a Ph.D. - and while a failed attempt looks like no progress it really is.
  • Don't find excuses - don't do too many other important things.
    Some of the brightest students sometimes have trouble finishing because they are so successful doing other things that may reasonably also be considered important. A very bright young fellow I know kept taking on temporary consulting jobs working for the UN in Brazil and all kind of other exciting and useful jobs. Working for the UN in Brazil is a great experience and you may not want to pass it up. But at some point finishing your Ph.D. outweighs taking on extra consulting jobs.
  • Choose a dissertation topic you are passionate about
    You will do your best work when you work on a topic that you really care about. This not always possible - but if you have the choice go for it. Also, it is better to come up with your own thesis topic rather than having your supervisor find you a thesis topic. You will find it easier to care deeply about a thesis topic that you came up with yourself.
  • Work on your strengths, not on your weaknesses
    I was once fortunate enough to have a brunch with the famous statistician Erich Lehman - organized by Agnes Herzberg in Kingston, Ontario. Dr. Lehman had an unusual career and had many things to say. I will never forget the following advice he gave : when in England the professors noticed that his background in mathematics was much stronger than in physics. They therefore forced him to take extra classes in physics. On hindsight Dr. Lehman felt that that was a big mistake. He didn't have any passion for physics and he claims he wasn't good at it either - so there was an extraordinary effort going into something that wasn't necessary.
    There may be situations where our passion requires us to work on something we are not good at. For example, my friend Fiona was never interested in any handyman work. However, she was a theatre major and some point she had to know technical theatre operations. And when it was relevant to theatre, she all of the sudden took an interest in handyman work as it related to theatrical set construction.
    Unless necessary though I always thought that it was good advice to work on one's strengths - because otherwise we'll be constantly disillusioned and frustrated.
  • Take charge - it's your life not your supervisor's
    I have always found taking an active role leads to better results than a passive or reactive role. It makes life more exciting. For those of us who like playing computer games - it's like the difference of playing the game and watching the game. Playing is just more fun.
  • Do what is right for you - including the choice of discontinuing your Ph.D.
    A Ph.D. is not for everyone and I think not to continue a Ph.D. ought to be one of your options. I am most impressed with Judy whom I met during my time as a student. She successfully mastered the comprehensive exam, and then decided that she wasn't really all that interested in research. I still hear her say "You know, it's not for everyone" - not disappointed but just matter of fact. She is happier now. However , I do think you should only quit because you have come to the conclusion that you do not enjoy research, not because "it's overwhelming", "it's too much work", or "I don't know whether I can do it" or "I don't like my supervisor". People can do more than they think - they just have to really try.

IELTS for Academic Purposes (link MF)

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IELTS for Academic Purposes:A short intensive course

Description:

IELTS for Academic Purposes is a concise, user-friendly course designed
to be used intensively in the weeks and months prior to the exam. It is
ideal for both classroom-based learning and self-study. The core material
provides approximately 40 hours of instruction, while a number of different
reinforcement and extension options are provided in the other course
components. The Student’s Book consists of 8 topic-based units, focusing
on the development of key exam skills tested in the IELTS Listening, Reading,Writing and Speaking modules. Each unit also contains an exam practice section, which allows students to apply their exam skills in an IELTS-style context. The Student’s Book also offers a complete end-of course practice test covering all four IELTS modules, plus reference sections for grammar, vocabulary,skills, model compositions, and a sample IELTS answer sheet and report card.The Bandscore Booster reviews, consolidates and extends the content of the

Student’s Book. The Interactive CD-ROM functions as a Self-Study Guide where the authors themselves walk the students through the book and the exam. It also includes pronunciation files specifically designed for speakers of different first languages, and practice tests.

Details:

Author: Malcolm Mann and Steve Taylore-Knowles
Public date: 2009
Format: PDF+WMA+NRG

Key Features

• Ideal for both classroom-based instruction and self-study.
• Placement Test helps students identify strengths and weaknesses and how
best to use the course.
• Systematic development of key exam skills and techniques.
• Five complete IELTS practice tests.

Components

• Student’s Book
• Interactive CD-ROM (including Self-Study Guide)
• Bandscore Booster
• Bandscore Booster Audio CD

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Student’s Book
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How to study

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OUTLINE and INDEX:

  1. Introduction
  2. Manage your time
  3. Take notes in class & rewrite them at home
  4. Study hard subjects first & study in a quiet place
  5. Read texts actively & slowly, before & after class
  6. Do your homework
  7. UPDATED Study for exams
  8. Take Exams
  9. Do research & write essays
  10. Do I really have to do all this?
  11. Are there other websites that give study hints?

    Jump Start
    Jump Start

1. Introduction

Everyone has a different "learning style". (A good introduction to the topic of learning styles is Claxton & Murrell 1987. For more on different learning styles, see Keirsey Temperament and Character Web Site, William Perry's Scheme of Intellectual and Ethical Development, Holland 1966, Kolb 1984, Sternberg 1999. For an interesting discussion of some limitations of learning styles from the perspective of teaching styles, see Glenn 2009/2010.)

Consequently, everyone has a different "studying style". But the way that you are studying right now might not be the best for you. How would you know? Easy: If your grades aren't what you'd like them to be, then you probably need to change how you study!

I am going to give you some suggestions on how to study efficiently. They worked for me when I was in high school, college, and graduate school. Not only that, but they worked equally well for me in humanities courses (like philosophy and literature) and in science courses (like math and computer science). But, given that everyone's learning style is different, some of my suggestions may not work for you, at least not without some individual modifications. Nevertheless, I urge you to try them. Most successful students use them (or some slight variation of them).

Please feel free to send me suggestions for studying that worked for you. I will try to include them in further versions of this guide.


2. Manage Your Time


    ©Batom Inc.

School is a full-time job. And managing your time is important.

  • If you have a "real" job after school that you do just for fun (or for some extra spending money), or if you participate in extra-curricular activities (whether school-related or not), keep your priorities in mind:
      Your education should come first!

  • If you must work (in order to make ends meet), you should realize the limitations that this imposes on your study time.



    ©Jorge Cham

How much time should you devote to studying? A recent survey in the Chronicle of Higher Education suggested that students are not studying enough. So, how much is enough? If you assume that your education is a full-time job, then you should spend about 40 hours/week on it. Figure that 1 academic credit equals about 1 hour. So, if you're taking 15 credits, then you're spending about 15 hours in class. Subtracting that from 40 gives you 25 hours that you should be spending studying at home (or in the library).

You should spread that out over the week. Suppose you decide to study Sunday through Thursday evenings, taking Fridays and Saturdays off (from studying, that is). Dividing that 25 hours by those 5 days gives you 5 hours of studying per night. If you think that's too much, then plan on studying in the afternoons, too, or some of Saturday.

The above are just rules of thumb. If you're taking a 3-credit independent-study course, but you meet with your instructor only 1 hour/week, then you should add the extra 2 hours to your at-home study time. If you're working to earn some money, you should subtract your work hours from your free time, not from your study time! (If you don't want to do that, then you should consider quitting your job or reducing your course load.)

If that still seems like a lot, consider the difference between high-school courses and college courses. The typical high-school course meets every day, for about 5 hours/week. But the typical college course meets only about 3 hours/week, yet is supposed to be more intensive than its high-school counterpart. That's because in college you're expected to put more of your own time into studying.


    ©Lynn Johnston Productions Inc.

Set yourself a grade goal. If you don't meet it, cut down on non-school activities. (If you can't, because you're working for a living, then consider dropping down to part-time schooling.)

    Jump Start

For some tips on managing your time during exams, see below.

For some tips on managing your time when doing projects, see below.









For some websites on time management, take a look at:


3. Take Notes in Class & Rewrite Them at Home

Outline and Index:

  1. Take Notes
  2. Take Complete Notes
  3. Use Abbreviations
  4. Neatness Doesn't Count
  5. Ask Questions & Make Comments
  6. Copy Your Notes at Home
  7. Don't Take Notes on a Computer
  8. Don't Rely on the Instructor's Lecture Notes
  9. Further Reading

3.1. Take Notes

Good studying at home begins with good notes taken in class. Just as everyone has a different learning style, different teachers have different teaching styles (and often these clash with the students' learning styles!): Some teachers lecture, some lead discussions, some "facilitate" individual work (as in a lab), etc. Consequently, different classroom settings will require different note-taking techniques. But the suggestions here are general enough to work in most situations.

3.2. Take Complete Notes

The key idea of taking good notes in class is to write down as much as possible. There are several reasons to take notes that are as complete as possible:
  1. It will force you to pay attention to what's going on in class.
  2. It will keep you awake (!)
  3. There will be less that you'll have to remember.

Should you concentrate on taking notes or should you concentrate on understanding what you are learning? Paradoxically, I'd err on the side of taking notes, not understanding! Understanding can come later, when you review your notes. But if you have incomplete notes, it will be hard for you to learn what you didn't take notes on.

3.3. Use Abbreviations

Taking complete notes will require you to write fairly quickly and, as a consequence, to use abbreviations. Here are some that I use (many of which I borrowed from other students and teachers), to give you an idea of how you can abbreviate. If you send text messages on your cell phone, then you know the sort of abbreviations I'm talking about. Use them when you take notes in class!

    ABBREVIATION MEANING
    betw between
    ccpt concept
    cd could
    compn computation
    compnl computational
    comp complete
    dn description
    fn function
    h. human
    ...g
    (e.g., contg)
    ...ing
    (continuing)
    ...l
    (e.g., compnl)
    ...al
    (computational)
    lg language
    mn mean
    mng meaning
    ...n
    (e.g., abbrvn)
    ...tion
    (abbreviation)
    NB: note/note well/nota bene
    pn proposition
    prop property
    re about (from Latin)
    reln relation
    qn question
    ...r
    (e.g., compr)
    ...er
    (computer)
    shd should
    s.t. something/sometimes
    (context should make it clear which you mean)
    stmt statement
    thot thought
    w/ with
    w/o without
    wd would
    wh which
    & and
    or (this is a symbol from logic)
    ¬ not/negation sign
    (this is a symbol from logic)
    possible/possibly
    (this is a symbol from logic)
    must/necessary/necessarily
    (this is a symbol from logic)
    all/for all/every
    (this is a symbol from logic)
    some/there is/there are/there exists
    (this is a symbol from logic)

A related idea is based on a system of shorthand called Speedwriting: There used to be ads in the New York City subway system that read something like this:

    if u cn rd ths, u cn lrn spdwrtg

The key idea in abbreviating is to use abbreviations that will make sense to you. You can put an abbreviation key in the margin of your notebook for any abbreviations that you make up on the spot.

3.4. Neatness Doesn't Count.

Yet another key idea of note-taking is that you don't have to be neat; you only have to be legible enough to be able to read your notes a few hours (or, at most, a few days) later. The reason for this will become clear later.

3.5. Ask Questions & Make Comments

If you have a question or something comes to mind as you're taking notes, you have two choices: You can contribute to the class discussion by asking your question or making your comment. Or you can jot your question or comment down in your notes. I suggest always doing the latter, but also doing the former as often as possible. One reason that you should always put your question or comment in your notes is so that you won't forget it; you can then always bring it up later, either in class or one-on-one with the teacher or a fellow student. Another reason, of course, is that if you do bring it up in class, it should thereby become part of the day's class notes! One technique that I use to be able to distinguish my own questions or comments from the rest of the notes is to put them in the margin and/or to surround them with big, bold square brackets [like this.]

By the way, if you have a question, especially if you need clarification of something that the teacher said or wrote (possibly because it was inaudible or illegible), ask it! Do not be embarrassed about asking it! I can guarantee you that there will be at least one other student in the class (and often many more) who will be extremely grateful to you for having asked the very same question that they were too embarrassed to ask, and they will come to view you as wise and brave for having asked it. (So will the teacher!)

3.6. Copy Your Notes at Home

Notice that this section is titled "Take Notes in Class & Rewrite Them at Home"; the title was not "Take Notes in Class & Study Them at Home". Of course you should study your class notes at home; but just (re-)reading them is too passive. One of the themes of this guide is that studying must be active. It is all too easy when just reading passively to have your mind wander or even to fall asleep:

Moreover, notes are often incomplete or sketchy; just reading such notes won't help. And a few days or months after you take them, they may very well be illegible or incomprehensible. Finally, if you don't do something active with your notes, you run the risks of having unorganized notes or of misplacing them.

What I suggest is that you study your notes by re-writing them. For each class, buy a separate notebook from the one you take your notes in. I recommend a "composition" or spiral notebook, not a looseleaf notebook, for your "permanent" (i.e., re-written) notes. Then, as soon as possible after class (preferably that evening or the next), copy your notes into your permanent notebook.

The main idea behind re-writing your "raw" class notes (besides making them more legible and organized) is that the very act of copying them is one of the best ways of studying them! Further study of your class notes can then be done from these "cooked" ones that are neater, more legible, more organized, and more complete. I will suggest ways to do this later.

Use this opportunity to fill in gaps from your memory while they are still fresh in mind. You may find that you have questions, perhaps something you missed or don't understand, or even a "substantive" question. If so, good! Make a note of your question and ask it in class next time!

Use this opportunity to (re-)organize your notes in a more logical or coherent fashion. You could write your permanent notes in an outline form if that seems suitable: You don't have to follow any "official" or formal outlining style (e.g., using the I.A.1.(a)(i) format or the (sometimes silly) rule that there must always be at least two subsections, never just one)—after all, these are your notes. Personally, I like to number main ideas (and separate them with a line), using an "indented bullet" style for details:

1.  Main idea 1
- detail 1
- detail 2
- further detail 2.1
- detail 3
- further detail 3.1
- further detail 3.2

2.  Main idea 2

3.  Main idea 3

etc.

3.7. Don't Take Notes on a Computer

By the way, I do not recommend taking class notes on a laptop computer. Certainly you should not do this unless you are a very good typist and have "compiled" your word-processing or text-editing program into your fingertips. (In any case, typing can be very noisy and disturbing to your fellow students!) Also, typing class notes into a computer file can be inconsistent with my recommendation to re-write your class notes. Of course, you can edit your computer file later, but editing is not the same as copying, and I am recommending copying as a means to studying (for one thing, it forces you to (re-)read all your notes). Of course, you can copy your raw notes into a neater computer file; this may be a matter of taste, but I find that I have a firmer grasp of what I write if I handwrite it than if I type it. (As Usama Fayyad has said: computers are "great at bookkeeping but not yet great at recording impromptu ideas, thoughts, feelings. For that, paper is still far superior. You can hold it, fold it, put it in your pocket, look at it again later when it's convenient" (as quoted in Swerdlow 1999: 130).)

Worse, you may be tempted to use the computer that you're ostensibly taking notes on to surf the Internet, look at email, or chat with friends. Don't! (For an interesting debate on this topic, see Adams 2006.)

For that matter, turn off your computer in class. And your iPod. And your cell phone. And your pager. And anything else that might distract you. For reasons why, see:

3.8. Don't Rely on the Instructor's Lecture Notes

Some instructors provide their own set of lecture notes, often on the Web or in PowerPoint (or some other format). These can be useful, but you should not rely on them. If all you do with them is print them out, maybe read them once, and save them, they are useless, because you are using them passively. You need to treat them just as you would with your own lecture notes: Re-write them! Better yet: Use them to fill in gaps in your own re-written lecture notes, and to check whether you had any mistakes in your own notes. (You may find new material in the instructor's notes that was not discussed in class, or you may find material in your own notes that was discussed in class but did not find their way into the prepared notes.)

3.9. Further Reading


4. Study Hard Subjects First & Study in a Quiet Place

Study hard subjects first. Each night (or day) when studying or doing your homework, do those subjects first for which you need to be alert and energetic. Leave the easier, or more fun, subjects to later.

Study in a quiet place, with as few distractions as possible. Do not listen to music or TV: It is virtually impossible to do two things at once if one of them is studying.


5. Read Texts Actively & Slowly, before & after Class

Outline & Index:

  1. Read actively, not passively
  2. Read slowly
  3. Highlight the text in the margin
  4. Make notes in the margin
  5. Keep a notebook
  6. Read literature quickly and passively the first time
  7. Read before and after class

5.1. Read Actively, Not Passively

By 'text', I mean whatever you have to read: It might be a text book, a work of fiction, a poem, an essay, an article from a journal or magazine, or even a class handout. With one major exception, you should not read passively. That is, don't just read the text straight through without thinking about what you're reading.

If you read without thinking, I guarantee that your mind will eventually wander off, your eyes will eventually glaze over, and you will fall asleep—it's a form of self-hypnosis. So you must read actively. To use computer jargon, you must turn the inert medium of text on paper to an interactive medium, in which you have a "conversation" with the text, as you might if you could be talking to the author.

5.2. Read Slowly.

The first step in reading actively is to read s-l-o-w-l-y. Here is an algorithm (i.e., a procedure) for how to read any text, in any subject, slowly and actively:

    WHILE there is a next sentence to read, DO:
    BEGIN (* while *)
    Read it, SLOWLY;
    IF you do not understand it, THEN
    BEGIN (* if *)
    re-read the previous material, SLOWLY;
    re-read the incomprehensible sentence, SLOWLY;
    IF you still don't understand it, THEN
    ask a fellow student to explain it;
    IF you still don't understand it, THEN
    ask your Teaching Assistant (TA) to explain it;
    IF you still don't understand it, THEN
    ask me;
    IF you are in an upper-level course & you still don't understand it, THEN
    write a paper about it (!)
    END (* if *)
    END; (* while *)

Since there is no next sentence (because the Boolean test in the WHILE is false), you've understood the text!

This algorithm has three major advantages:

  1. It forces you to actively think about each sentence you read before you go on to read the next one.
  2. It slows you down, so that you don't read past the point at which you don't understand. This is especially important in mathematical and scientific subjects.
  3. It can help you get help from your teacher, because you can show your teacher exactly where you got lost. It is always much better to show your teacher exactly what it is that you don't understand than it is to just say that you don't understand the material.
  4. Note that it also provides you an opportunity to interact with your instructors and fellow students!

How do you know whether you understand what you've read? Easy: After each sentence, ask yourself "Why?" (Pressley & El-Dinary 1992).

For more information on slow reading, see:

  1. Pressley, Michael, & El-Dinary, Pamela Beard (1992), "Memory Strategy Instruction that promotes Good Information Processing", in Douglas J. Herrmann, Herbert Weingartner, Alan Searleman, & Cathy McEvoy (eds.), Memory Improvement: Implications for Memory Theory (New York: Springer-Verlag): 79-100.
  2. Fletcher, Lancelot R. (1994), "Slow Reading Lists (and the Meaning of Slow Reading)"
    • Note: If you scroll down about halfway on the above link, you'll reach the section called "What Do I Mean by "Slow Reading"?".
  3. Hartman, Geoffrey H. (1996), "The Fate of Reading Once More", PMLA (Proceedings of the Modern Language Association) 111(3) (May): 383-389; see especially p. 386.
  4. Daly, Robert (2003), "Slow Reading: Why it Matters, How to Do It, How to Teach It"
  5. Waters, Lindsay (2007), "Time for Reading", Chronicle of Higher Education 53(23) (9 February): B6-B8.
  6. Bauerlein, Mark (2008), "Online Literacy Is a Lesser Kind: Slow Reading Counterbalances Web Skimming", Chronicle of Higher Education 54(31) (19 September): B10-B11.

5.3. Highlight the Text in the Margin

There are some other tricks for active reading. One, of course, is to highlight important or interesting passages. There are several ways to do this. The worst is to use a yellow highlighting marker (or hot pink, or whatever color you like). The main problem with this is that you will tend to find almost every sentence to be important or interesting. As a consequence, every page will become yellow (or hot pink, or whatever). Not only does this defeat the purpose of highlighting—because if everything has been highlighted, then really nothing has been!—but the pages of your text will become damp, curl up, and be generally messy.

This technique can have other problems, too:

A slightly less messy, but equally useless, technique is to use a pen or pencil to underline important or interesting passages. I guarantee that you will wind up underlining every sentence on every page, and you will have gained nothing.

The technique that I suggest is also susceptible to this problem, but has a built-in way to overcome it, so that you can re-read the text, highlighting different passages each time. The trick is to highlight a passage by drawing a vertical line in the margin. I like to use the right margin and to make my line a right square bracket: ]. If you want to make it clear [exactly where the highlighted passage begins or ends,] you can use small square brackets in the text, as I did in this sentence, along with the vertical line in the margin. This way, even if you've slipped into the error of highlighting (i.e., vertical-lining) every sentence on every page, at least you haven't ruined the page. Moreover, when you re-read the text (note that I said 'when', not 'if' :-), you can then use a different highlighting technique (e.g., underlining) to highlight more important passages. Sometimes, I use double brackets in the margin for this second round of highlighting: ]] and underlining for a third round. (If you must, you could use yellow highlighter for a fourth round.)

5.4. Make Notes in the Margin

You should also make notes in the margin of the text (if there's room, and if the text belongs to you). I like to put cross-references in the margin; e.g., if a passage on p. 20 reminds me in some way of a passage on p. 10, I'll write "see p. 10" in the margin on p. 20, and "see p. 20" in the margin on p. 10. Or I'll put some keyword in the margin if a passage reminds me of some major idea.

But now suppose that a few months (or a few years) later, you want to find that interesting passage that related to, say, consciousness; how will you find it? You could, of course, page through the book till you find it, but what I like to do is to make an index of my marginal comments; you can add entries (e.g., Consciousness: 10, 20) to the book's index if it already has one, or use a blank page at the end of the book if it doesn't have an index.

5.5. Keep a Notebook

Highlighting has the disadvantage that it can lead you to highlight everything, and margins have the disadvantage that they are often too small for making comments. The best technique for active reading is to keep a notebook. In addition to (or instead of) highlighting a passage, copy it—verbatim—into your notebook. Be sure to begin your notebook with a full citation to the text for use in a bibliography, and be sure to write down the page numbers of each passage that you copy. Then, write down—at length and in detail—your comments on the passage. (I sometimes like to use a pen for the text and a pencil for my commentary.)

These notes can then be used later if you write a term paper or research paper that discusses the material in the text. For that purpose, it will be useful to number your notes. I find the following scheme useful: Number each notebook page with a Roman numeral (I, II, etc.), number each quoted passage (or stand-alone comment) with an Arabic numeral (1, 2, etc.), and letter (a, b, etc.) each comment associated with a quoted passage (or stand-alone comment). Then you can refer to each passage with an identifier (like XIV-7-b, i.e., comment b about quotation 7, which comment is located on notebook page XIV) that will enable you to find it later. See below.)

5.6. Read Literature Quickly and Passively the First Time.

Earlier, I said that there was an exception to this method of slow and active reading. If the text is a work of literature (a story, novel, play, poem, etc.), it is often best to read it once all the way through without stopping, just as you would read something for fun, so that you get to know what it's about and can appreciate it as a work of literature. (If there's a recording of it, you might find it helpful to listen to the recording while reading the text; I have found this especially useful for Shakespeare.) Then you can use the slow and active reading techniques for a second (or third, or fourth, or ...) reading when you are studying the text.

Actually, even for non-fiction, it can be useful to read the text through once, quickly, to get an overview, perhaps making notes if something strikes you, and then doing the slow and active reading techniques when you are studying the text.

What about film or video versions? They can be helpful but, in general, of course are no substitute for reading. The exception here is for plays, which are intended to be seen, not (just) read. If you do decide to watch in addition to read, which should you do first? I prefer watching first, reading afterwards. I have almost always been disappointed by film adaptations of favorite texts (because they don't match the mental images that I construct when I read), but I have almost never been disappointed by a text after watching a film adaptation. Besides, if you watch first and read later, the adaptation can help you visualize what you're reading.

5.7. Read Before and After Class

Ideally, you should read a text at least twice. Read it (perhaps quickly) before the class in which it will be discussed, so that you are familiar with its contents. Then (re-)read it after class using the slow and active method. If time permits, you can cut corners by only reading it—slowly and actively!—after class.


6. Do Your Homework

    Jump Start

It should go without saying that you should do your homework and do it on time.

    Jump Start

Science and math courses (and some others, such as foreign-language courses) often require you to do homework exercises or problem sets. I strongly recommend that you do not simply do the problems and hand them in. Rather, do them on scrap paper, check them over, and then copy them neatly. Turn in the neat copy (and, of course, be sure that your name is on it!). You may even want to duplicate your work in case the teacher loses it (unlikely) or doesn't give it back in time to use it for studying for an exam (this should only happen in rare circumstances, usually just before an exam (when the teacher has a lot of things to do), but it is not unheard of).

    Jump Start

And don't just write down answers. Write down the problem and the complete solution showing how you arrived at your answer.


7. Study for Exams

Outline:

  1. Manage your time
  2. How not to study
  3. Make a study outline
  4. Write sample essays & do sample problems
  5. UPDATED Make "flash cards"
  6. Stop studying when you feel confident

7.1. Manage Your Time

Earlier, I discussed managing your time. When you have exams, time management becomes even more crucial. Begin studying about 1 week before the exam. Spend at least an hour each night (or day) studying for the exam in the manner described below. Try to spend the entire night (and/or day) before the exam studying for it. Of course, if you have two exams on the same day, you'll have to split the time in half.

For final exams, try to spend as much time as possible studying. Do not be tempted, by any free time that you have during exam week, to do anything other than studying. (If you must take some time to relax, do it after you've done all your studying for the day.) If you have E exams and D days to study for them, spend roughly D/E days studying for each exam. (E.g., if you have 4 exams and 5 days to study for them, spend a little more than 1 day (1.25 days to be exact) studying for each exam.)

If you have some free days, then some exams, then some more free days, then some more exams, etc., plan your studying so that you'll spend approximately the same amount of time studying for each exam, making sure that the night (or day) just before an exam is spent studying for it. E.g., suppose you have 2 free days to study before exam #1, then one more free day before exams #2 and #3. Think of each day as having 3 parts: morning, afternoon, and evening. Let's assume that each exam is in only one of these parts (i.e., it's not so long that it extends through 2 of them). Then you might divide your studying time as shown in the chart. Note that you should not delay studying for exam #3 until after exam #2; start studying for all exams right away.

DAY PART OF DAY WHAT TO DO
Day 1 morning study for exam #1

afternoon study for exam #2

evening study for exam #3
Day 2 morning study for exam #1

afternoon study for exam #2 or #3 (or both)

evening study for exam #1
Day 3 morning study for exam #1

afternoon take exam #1

evening study for exam #2
Day 4 morning study for exam #3

afternoon study for exam #2

evening study for exam #3
Day 5 morning study for exam #2

afternoon take exam #2

evening study for exam #3
Day 6
take exam #3

7.2. How Not to Study

Believe it or not, re-reading your textbook has "little or no benefit" when you are studying for a test. (Callender & McDaniel 2009).

Most students don't realize this, because they have an "illusion of competence" (that is, you think you know the material better than you really do) when they re-read notes and textbooks (Karpicke et al. 2009), especially when re-reading passively instead of actively.

One method of studying that is better than passive re-reading is the "read-recite-review" ("3R") method: "Read the text, set the text aside and recite out loud all that [you can] remember, and then read the text a second time" (McDaniel et al. 2009).

More importantly, you learn better and remember more from repeated testing (from both in-class quizzes and from self-testing at home) than from repeated reading (Karpicke et al. 2009). (So when your instructor gives you lots of quizzes or tells you to memorize basic facts, don't complain! That's the best way to learn and to remember what you learn.)

The next few sections give you some suggestions on how to do this.

7.3. Make a Study Outline

Use your recopied class notes, together with your highlighted text and notebook, to make an outline of the material. Try to put as much as possible onto the front sides of only 1 or 2 sheets of paper (like those plasticized crib sheets that are often sold in college bookstores). Then do all your studying from these. (You could even combine this outline with "flash cards".)

7.4. Write Sample Essays & Do Sample Problems

For subjects in which you will be expected to write essays, either "psych out" the teacher and make up some plausible essay questions, or get copies of old exams that have real essay questions on them. Then write sample essays. Although the essay questions that you find or make up may not be the actual ones on your exam, you will probably find that much of what you wrote in your sample essays by way of preparation for the exam can be recycled for the actual exam. You will then be in the advantageous position during the exam of not having to create an essay answer from scratch but being able to merely recall the main ideas from a sample that you have already written as part of your studying.

For subjects in which you will have to solve problems or write proofs, solve lots of sample problems from your text or from other texts ( Schaum's Outline Series (McGraw-Hill) books are usually quite good in this regard). How will you know if your answers are correct? The best way is to form a study group of 2 or more fellow students: Solve the same problems and compare answers. If your answers agree, they're probably correct; if not, go to your Teaching Assistant (TA) or teacher. As with slow reading, it's always better when asking for help from a teacher to have a specific problem or question to ask.

7.5. Make "Flash Cards"

For any subject, you can make a set of "flash cards". But I suggest using regular 8 1/2" x 11" paper, not index cards. Divide each page in half, vertically. On the left, write a "question" that requires an "answer", e.g., the name of a theorem, a term to be defined, the statement of a theorem, etc. On the right, write the answer, e.g., the statement of the theorem named on the left, the definition of the term on the left, the proof of the theorem stated on the left, etc. (This could even be your study outline.)

Then memorize the questions and answers—but do not simply recite them by heart. Instead, write down the answers: Cover the right-hand side (the answers) with a blank sheet of paper, and write down the answers. When you finish a page, check your work and repeat writing the answers to the questions you missed until you get them all correct.

NEW
Recent psychological evidence suggests that people learn better by making mistakes than by getting everything correct. So don't worry about getting some answers wrong! (See Roediger III, Henry L.; & Finn, Bridgid (2010), "The Pluses of Getting It Wrong", Scientific American Mind 21(1) (March/April): 39–41.

Why write, and not merely recite? Because you will have to write the answers on the actual test; get used to writing them now. (Of course, if it's going to be an oral exam, reciting may be better than writing. Still, one tends to skip details when reciting, especially if you recite silently to yourself, but if you write the answers and have a good memory, then, during an oral exam, you can "read" the answers with your mind's eye.)

7.6. Stop Studying When You Feel Confident

How do you know when you've studied enough? It's not when you're tired of studying! And it's not when you've gone through the material one time! You should stop only when you get to the point that you feel confident and ready for whatever will be on the exam—when you're actually eager to see the exam to find out if you guessed its contents correctly.


8. Take Exams

First, read the entire exam all the way through.

    Peanuts
For an essay question, do a "mind dump": Write down, on scrap paper, brief reminders (keywords) of everything that you remember about the topic of the question. Then develop an outline of your answer. Then write the essay. (With luck, much of the essay can be "copied from memory" from the sample essays you wrote when studying.)

For an exam with problems to solve or proofs to write, do the easy ones first.

When you are all done, review your answers carefully.

And, when all of your exams are over, take heed...:-)


    ©KingFeaturesSyndicateInc.


9. Do Research & Write Essays.

Outline:

  1. Choose topic carefully
  2. Do research
  3. Make an outline
  4. Write, using your outline
  5. Edit
  6. Manage your time
  7. Some Interesting Online Articles on Writing

From For Better or For Worse:







9.1. Choose Topic Carefully

Choose your topic wisely. Avoid the two extremes of a topic that is so broad or well-known that there are too many sources of information and a topic that is so narrow or little-known that there is a paucity of information. If you are having trouble choosing a topic, talk to your teacher.

9.2. Do Research

Once you have a topic and have found appropriate resource materials, read them slowly and actively, and be sure to keep a notebook. I won't repeat the details of those suggestions here, with one exception: Be sure to carefully record your sources and the page numbers of any quotations, so that you can include them in your final report.

9.3. Make an Outline

This stage may require several iterations. You should make an outline and sort your notes into categories that correspond to the main sections of your outline. But which of these should you do first? It doesn't matter. You may have a clear outline in mind, in which case, sorting your notes will be relatively straightforward (though you may find that some notes don't quite fit or that some suggest a section that you hadn't initially thought of). Or you may need to sort your notes first, to see which ones go together, and then create an outline based on the categories you discover during the sorting process.

How do you make an outline? The suggestions that follow work for almost anything you have to write. First, write down a handful of main themes that you want to discuss (these will be the categories that you sorted your notes into); describe each using only a few keywords. Decide in what order you want to write about them, and then—on a blank piece of paper—put each at the head of a column, something like this:

These will be the main sections of your paper. In addition, you should always have an introductory section and a conclusion or summary section.

Next, in each column, write down the main ideas that you want to include, again ordering them and using just a few keywords. These will be your subsections. Under each of these, put the identifying numbers of the items in your notes that you want to include in each subsection. (You may find that you will need to repeat this process recursively for subsubsections, etc. If so, do this when you're ready to write that subsection, not at the beginning. This kind of process is called "top-down design and stepwise refinement".)

9.4. Write, Using Your Outline

Once you've got your outline, start writing, using your outline and notes as a guide. Don't spend too much time editing what you write at this stage. Just write. (I should note that some people prefer "free writing" , in which you don't spend any time preparing an outline before you write. If that works for you, go for it.)

By the way, it's always helpful for keeping track of where you are in your outline, both to you as writer and to your reader, to give each section and subsection a name, as I have done in this document.

9.5. Edit

After you've written your first draft, re-read what you wrote, using the method of slow and active reading, and revise (or "edit") what you wrote. Then ask a friend to read it and give you feedback. Then revise again, and prepare the final version.

9.6. Manage Your Time


    ©KingFeaturesSyndicateInc.

And don't procrastinate!



    ©Jorge Cham

For some tips on how to procrastinate about procrastinating, see:

On the other hand, for an argument in favor of procrastinationg, see:

9.7. Some Interesting Online Articles on Writing:

  1. Vonnegut, Kurt (1982), "How to Write with Style"

    Abstract:

    • Find a subject you care about.
    • Do not ramble.
    • Keep it simple.
    • Have the guts to cut.
    • Sound like yourself.
    • Say what you mean to say.
    • Pity the readers.
  2. Gray, Tara (2005), "Publish and Flourish: Become a Prolific Scholar", Tomorrow's Professor Mailing List #661
  3. Andrews, Mark, "Some Elements of an Essay"

10. Do I Really Have to Do All This?

Right about now, you're probably asking yourself whether you really have to do all of this. It seems like an awful lot of work.

Well, of course, you don't have to do all of it at once. Try various of these suggestions to see what works for you. Try some variations that may better fit your learning style or personal circumstances. But, in the long run, there's no quick and easy road to studying. It is hard work and should take a lot of time.

So, do you really have to do all of this? Yes (or things very much like them)—if you want to really learn the material (and get good grades).



Finally, for what it's worth, here are some comments from students and others who have tried some of these methods:

  • "... this is the way you taught me to study years ago and it finally paid off last year!" (a college sophomore who went from high-school grades in the 70s to a 3.00 average in college)
  • "Thank you for the guide. It has some great tips! I'm surprised that I use some of the techniques myself. (E.g., I abbrev. and cndnse my notes.) I have one suggestion, though: when reviewing for a test/exam, only study what you aren't familiar with. It reduces studying time and is helpful if you're a last minute person like me. :) Well, that may not work for you, but who knows?"
  • "... encourage some study groups! Not 5 in a group, 'cause that will be a crowd, but study environment is as important as studying itself; change of environments is sometimes good to make you study better. Thank you for your helpful hints, and it does help me to notice some of my weaknesses in studying."
  • "I'd like to pass along a bit of technique that worked well for me in just about all my courses. Thinking about the subject matter—often catalyzed by discussion with others—before delving into it was my key to success. After giving it some thought, I wrote out a series of logical, fundamental questions which I sought to answer that would clarify the subject matter. You know, make it perspicuous. I read/listened/watched with those questions in mind, noting as well other points an author/instructor was attempting to make. If my questions (which were fundamental to a clear understanding) went unanswered, I would seek the answers through other written, visual, or aural materials. Visiting an instructor during office hours or asking the question in class was often most helpful. Once I had the basics well in mind, building on them was easy and fun. Studying and learning in this way also helped me to prepare for exams. Clearly, if I could think of a question, there was a good chance one writing an exam might think of it too. The technique is not a panacea for all study-related problems; however, it does set forth a system to build upon in an individualized way. I also suggest a visit to the children's section of the library when revisiting or attempting to master the basics of certain things. Books written at that level, though often oversimplified, present ideas and concepts in a clear and easily understandable form usually lacking in primers written for adults. There's no substitute for laying a good foundation on which to build additional knowledge." — Marc L. Ames
  • "I would like to thank you for the effort made doing this guide.... But there is one thing I would like to suggest for ... future "upgrades" of this text: I think you have to mention that it is important to be in good physical condition as well, I mean: sleep 8 hours a day, eat well, .... What I would like to point is that, in my opinion, it would be good to tell students that they have to be in their best condition to study/take an exam/work." —Diego Fernández Fernández, E.U.I.T.I.O student (Computer Engineering), Oviedo (SPAIN).
  • "I would like to thank you very much for the "How to Study" document I discovered on the net. It is very informative, and it will help me with my day to day activities. I only wish I had it while I was in high school!" —Joseph Di Lillo, Team Lead—SAP Service Desk.
  • "Thanks so much for the great study guide. I am a high school counselor, and we have been teaching a freshmen study skills class for two years.... Your ideas have really inspired me, and there are many of the same theories that we have been presenting, but in a new way! Thanks for the great tips!" —Trinity Walsh, Guidance Counselor, Elder High School, Cincinnati, OH.

Goldbaum, Ellen (2009, December 17), "UB Professor's Online Study Guide Makes a Great Gift That Keeps On Giving", University at Buffalo NewsCenter.


11. Are There Other Websites that Give Study Hints?

Yes; here are some that looked good to me; many of them have further links for you to follow:
 

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