Although you are expected to study and ultimately learn a wide range of material, you are rarely taught any systematic strategies allowing you to study more effectively. However, psychologists have devised several excellent (and proven) techniques for improving study skills, two of which are described below. By employing one of these procedures—known by the initials “SQ3R” and “MURDER”—you can increase your ability to learn and retain information and to think critically, not just in psychology classes but in all academic subjects.
The SQ3R method includes a series of five steps, designated by the initials S-Q-R-R-R. The first step is to survey the material by reading the parts of the chapter that give you an overview of the topics covered. Some textbooks contain, for example, chapter outlines, chapter summaries, lists of learning objectives, prologues and epilogues, or some combination of these features and others. The next step—the “Q” in SQ3R—is to question. Formulate questions—either aloud or in writing—before actually reading a section of the material. Some textbooks contain critical thinking questions that are a good source of questions. However, do not rely on them entirely. Making up your own questions is crucial. You may want to write them in the margins of your book. This process helps you to focus on the key points of the chapter, while at the same time putting you in an inquisitive frame of mind.
It is now time for the next, and most important, step: to read the material. Read carefully and, even more importantly, read actively and critically. For instance, while you are reading, answer the questions you have asked yourself. You may find yourself coming up with new questions as you read along; that’s fine, since it shows you are reading inquisitively and paying attention to the material. Critically evaluate material by considering the implications of what you are reading, thinking about possible exceptions and contradictions, and examining the assumptions that lie behind the assertions made by the author.
The next step—the second “R” is the most unusual. This “R” stands for recite, meaning that you look up from the book and describe and explain to yourself, or a study partner, the material you have just read and answer the questions you posed earlier. Do it aloud; this is one time when talking to yourself is nothing to be embarrassed about. The recitation process helps you to clearly identify your degree of understanding of the material you have just read. Moreover, psychological research has shown that communicating material to others, or reciting it aloud to yourself, assists you in learning it in a different—and a deeper—way than material that you do not intend to communicate. Hence, your recitation of the material is a crucial link in the studying process.
The final “R” refers to review. As the chapter in your textbook on memory points out, reviewing is a prerequisite to fully learning and remembering material you have studied. Look over the information, reread the features in your textbook that provide you with an overview of the chapter, be sure again that you can answer any critical thinking questions, review questions, and questions you posed for yourself. Reviewing should be an active process, in which you consider how different pieces of information fit together and develop a sense of the overall picture.
The MURDER system, although not altogether dissimilar to SQ3R, provides an alternative approach to studying (Dansereau, 1978).
In MURDER, the first step is to establish an appropriate mood for studying by setting goals for a study session and choosing a time and place so that you will not be distracted. As mentioned previously, it is best if you schedule regular blocks of study time and select one place that you reserve specifically for studying. Next comes reading for understanding, paying careful attention to the meaning of the material being studied. Recall is an immediate attempt to recall the material from memory, without referring to the text. Digesting the material comes next; you should correct any recall errors, and attempt to organize and store newly learned material in memory.
You should work next on expanding (analyzing and evaluating) new material, trying to apply it to situations that go beyond the applications discussed in the text. By incorporating what you have learned into a larger information network in memory, you will be able to recall it more easily in the future. Finally, the last step is to review. Just as with the SQ3R system, MURDER suggests that systematic review of material is a necessary condition for successful studying.
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