A Simple How To Study Fix

A study habit so simple, why doesn’t everyone do it?

I talked to a student who was struggling in school.  He goes to an Ivy League college and was getting a poor grade in economics.  I asked him to let me see his textbook.

What did I find? Not a single indication that the book had been opened.  Not a single word was highlighted on the pages.  No notes, no question marks – nothing.  The book could have been sold back as new.

The student told me he was reading his assignments and I believe that he was.  He just wasn’t doing it the right way.  It was the beginning of a new semester, so it was a good time to start fresh.

I went through the following exercise with him.

  1. Counted the number of pages in the book that he needed to read in the upcoming semester – about 400.
  2. Counted the number of days the class ran – about 100.
  3. Divided Line 1 by Line 2, which equaled 4 pages per day.

OK, let’s take a break.  Four pages per day!  Yeah, I realize he would have some other stuff to do in the class – some extra assignments, a paper or two, etc.  But…FOUR PAGES A DAY. Even he had to shake his head.

As I’ve said in the site, it’s best to break things down into simple units.

Out With The Stopwatch

OK, so how hard is it do get this done?  I pulled out my iPhone, set the stopwatch to zero and took out my highlighter.  My goal was to slowly and carefully read 4 pages of the book and highlight the key points to the best of my ability.  Again, no speed test here.  The goal is to understand each and every sentence, identify what is likely to be on an exam, and highlight it for easier review.  RESULT:  Average per page 03:25.  Total time for 4 pages: about 14 minutes.

Write The Test Questions

So now I’ve read it, highlighted it.  Now I need to ready it for the exam.  Time to write test questions.  I looked at each highlighted area and asked myself: “If this were the answer to a test question, how would that question be phrased?”  Kind of like Jeopardy.  “What are the 3 things that…; What is the definition of…;  Compare and contrast each of…

So I didn’t actually write the questions, but he got the idea.  Whatever those are, write them in the margins next to the highlighted areas.

Study For The Exam


  • I culled out all of the filler words.
  • I highlighted the core content that will likely appear on the exam.
  • Highlighting forced me to focus and really read and understand the content.
  • By writing the test questions I again focused on the content and how it might actually appear on the exam.

Study ONLY What You DON’T Know

When it’s time to actually study for the exam, he’ll simply read the questions and answer them by heart!  DON’T read any of the highlighted text unless you have to as a review.  Just read the question and see if you can answer it.

Once you are CERTAIN that you KNOW the answer, cross a line through the question with a pencil.

Now when you review, simply look for questions without lines through them.  Study only the material you don’t know.

Rinse, Repeat, Get an ‘A’

You aren’t wasting time re-reading the text in the book blindly trying to find the things that might be on the exam.

You’re studying only those things that you don’t already know and aren’t wasting time reading things you already know.

So, if you start a week in advance, do you think for a second that you could not get an ‘A’ on that exam?

Remember too, that this same material will likely be covered in class.  If you’re taking your class notes the way I explain and writing test questions the same way, you’ll get double the retention and double the benefit.

We’re talking 20 minutes of work each day.  JUST GET IT DONE!

Don’t wait until tomorrow. Do it after your next class.  Do it NOW.

Now you know – 20 MINUTES EACH DAY.  That’s it.  20 MINUTES EACH DAY.

Look at it that way, and it’s an easy A.