A Few Tips on How to Study Efficiently

Karen J. Rooney, Ph.D.
President, Educational Enterprises, Inc.
1899-B Billingsgate Circle
Richmond, VA 23238
(804) 747-1883

At this time of year, even those subjects that were going so well can seem somewhat overwhelming when sandwiched in between first semester examinations and the end-of-the-winter blues. Well, don't give up; there are many simple strategies that can make learning easier and more organized to get better results from studying. The use of flashcard systems and advance visual organizers can help you process information more efficiently, develop review systems and support long term retention of information.


A strategy called "Wheels for Reading" uses an oval as the base of organization for tracking main ideas and details in a visual format. The approach is very simple. Before starting to read, make an oval (wheel) near the top of a sheet of paper and place the title above the wheel. While reading the material, put the first main idea inside the wheel and attach the details in a spoke-like fashion around the wheel. The details that have to be attached are names of people and places, important numbers and terms. Any other important material can be attached as well. When you move to the next idea, simply make another wheel under the one you were working on previously. The wheels will always be placed one under the other to produce a linear pattern so that no organizational decisions are required.

The wheels can be used in literature reading by writing the title and author on a sheet of paper and making at least three wheels. Put characters (who) in the first, setting (where, when) in the second and plot (what happened) in the third. You can also make a wheel for anything your teacher wants you to track in the story such as examples of man versus nature or good versus evil. As you read, attach the details around the appropriate wheel so you end up with a visual display of the details and summary of the plot for fast review.

Textbook Reading

When you read in your textbook, go to the beginning or end of the chapter before starting to read to see if the text has vocabulary (terms) to remember or main idea questions. If the book has either or both, put the vocabulary and questions on separate index cards before you begin to read. Place the cards right next to your book. The cards will identify the important information for you so all you need to do is put the answer on the back of the card when you reach the answer in the text. The resulting set of cards will produce a cumulative review system that will grow into an excellent examination review system.

If you would rather use wheels, put the title of your chapter at the top of a page of paper in a notebook. Make a wheel and put the first subtitle in the wheel. As your read, attach important details around the wheel. Do this for each subtitles section so you will have all the subtitles (main ideas) inside the wheels and the related details around each wheel. The wheels should be in a straight line and display your main ideas and details for later review.

Mathematics, Foreign Language and English Grammar

These subjects all require application of learned information. It is not enough to know the rules; you must be able to apply the rules. In order to do this, make study cards for the rules that will build a review system. It is often necessary to review this type of material very often to build skills to an automatic level. On an index card, put the topic at the top of the card with the page number of your textbook. Rephrase the rule or process (or copy if you can't rephrase) and then make up your own original example of what you have learned. Have a parent, teacher or friend correct your example and highlight any "careless errors" on the card. The resulting card will have your topic, the rule, an example you understand and will focus your attention on little errors you might make on a test.


When taking notes, fold your paper lengthwise so you have two columns. Take notes in one column and predict test questions in the second column as soon as possible after class so you will review your notes daily. The questions will help you process the information, support memory retention and produce a set of study questions for review.

Another way you can take notes is by putting a wheel on a sheet of paper and placing the first main idea the teacher talks about in the wheel and related information around the outside of the wheel. When the teacher changes the topic, make another wheel so your notes will end of being a set of wheels in a straight line that track the main ideas and related details that were presented in class.

Studying using organizational strategies makes the study process simpler and has been proven to improve school performance. Give these suggestions a try so that tests and exams will not be so difficult when we have all the sunshine, high spirits and excitement that will come with spring!

Karen J. Rooney holds a Ph.D. from the University of Virginia and is President of Educational Enterprises, Inc. which is a private practice specializing in assessment and interventions for individuals with learning disabilities and attention disorders.

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