Study Smart

Originally published April 2013, online student newsletter.

Over the last few months, we have covered the basic steps you need to succeed in your studies. By now, you hopefully have a study plan, have learned to study the material effectively, and are setting (and achieving!) your study and/or life goals.

Now that you are on the right track, you want to keep moving in the right direction and maximize your ability to lean. Here are few of my favorite tips for studying smart.

Expand Your Horizons

As we all know, you get out of something what you put into it. And whether using REA as a sole resource works for you or not, we can all benefit by using additional resources.  Reading relevant Great Books, listening to audios from experts, or even reading through a good textbook will certainly prepare you to do better on your test.  However, more importantly, it will set you up for long-term success by broadening your base of knowledge and setting a foundation for whatever may come next.  Not only will you know more, your critical thinking abilities will develop as you make connections and pull things together. This is your education. Make the most of it.

Reward Yourself

Whether you have some form of daily affirmation as you achieve your goals or find ways to celebrate bigger achievements, it is important to take the time to reward yourself. On a daily basis, allow yourself breaks as you study. As most of you know, studying 20-30 minutes a day, then taking a 5 minutes break not only feels rewarding, it is also one of the most effective ways to study!

When you pass a CLEP test, treat yourself to ice cream or coffee out, have a movie night with your family, or take the next day off from your studies (or all of the above)!  And be sure to celebrate your biggest milestones (such as passing a particularly hard exam or reaching sophomore, junior, or senior status) with something equally exciting.  Go to dinner with friends or family, have a party, or do something to reward all that effort!

Give yourself something to look forward to and you are bound to study better along the way.

Know When to Quit

While it may seem counter-intuitive, some of the most successful students I know are quick to recognize when they are beating their head against a brick wall.  Knowing when to quit can take many forms.

  • Know when to stop studying at the end of the day and put school out of your mind.
  • Know when you are ready to wrap up your studying and just take that test!
  • Know when something just isn’t working for you and have the strength of mind to move on.

For example, if math is not your thing and you’re on your third math course in a row, maybe it’s time to quit for awhile.  If you are taking multiple courses and realize they are all in subjects that are not your strength, know that it is okay to put one or two on hold and pick up something more enjoyable.  Whether you need to quit something for good and make a replacement or just come back to it later, knowing when to quit takes a special kind of wisdom and strength.

Allowing yourself the freedom to quit in certain situations just might be one of the best things you can do for your long-term success.

As you pursue one or all of these goals, remember to start slow. Pick one, make it into a SMART goal that works for you, and be intentional until it becomes a habit. And know that as you continue to develop a range of study skills, you are also learning life skills.

You can do it!  Study smart. Live smart. Accomplish much!  I believe in you.  🙂

Image, Wikipedia, CC

How to Set Goals

Originally published March 2013, online student newsletter.

As we go through life, we are constantly surrounded by situations that require us to set goals. We may need to make it to a meeting on time or finish our schoolwork so we can go to that party. Sometimes our goals are small, while other times they are much bigger, like getting a job or completing our degree. Whether you are still working on setting regular study goals, looking to plan your life beyond graduation, or just want to be more productive on an everyday basis, setting goals will help you get there.

Here are three steps to setting — and achieving! — your goals.

1. Start small

The key to succeeding in your goals is developing habits that allow you to get there, one step at a time.  They say it takes 21 days to build a habit, and habits work best when developed one at a time. By doing one thing consistently for a few weeks, you will develop lasting habits that stick with you far longer than trying to revolutionize 13 areas of your life all at once.

So start by taking one goal–or one part of a goal if it’s a big one–and start practicing it now.  I have been working on this method of developing habits for awhile and have been amazed at how much easier it is to reach my goals when I’m only doing one new thing at a time. I started with a goal of making a healthy breakfast every morning. No matter what else happened that day (or the night before!), I knew I had to wake up early enough to get that done. After a few weeks, it wasn’t a big deal.  My next goal was consistent Bible reading. So I made a goal to read four pages in my Bible every morning and now that gets done (almost!) every day.

The key to this kind of goal setting is that it suddenly becomes attainable.  I could have started by saying “I need to establish a morning routine where I wake up early, read my Bible, write an article, make a healthy breakfast, and be ready to start work on time.”  However, I have tried that before–and it never worked!  By choosing one small goal and working at it consistently, I am developing a real morning routine that works and that actually happens!

2. Think SMART

As you are setting goals and trying to decide what habits to develop, SMART goals can help you to break down those goals or habits to the smallest actionable step and give you a way to measure your progress. So what does a SMART goal look like?  Jump over to the Study Tips section to read all about it.

Okay, did you take a look?  🙂  Any goal you set can and should follow this pattern.  It’s amazing how effective it is to make a goal ‘SMART.’ Instead of setting a goal that says “I want to read more good books,” a SMART goal could say “My goal is to read one classic a month (starting with Jane Eyre and Tale of Two Cities) by reading for 30 minutes every morning and during lunch when possible.”

Let’s analyze this goal. Is it specific? “One classic a month,” “Jane Eyre and Tale of Two Cities,” “reading 30 minutes every morning.”  Seems pretty specific to me!  Is it measurable? Well, if the goal-setter has finished Jane Eyre the first month and Tale of Two Cities the next month, they will know that the goal has been reached!  If they are wanting to keep reading good books, they will probably want to choose specific works to read for the following months as well.

Is it attainable?  Since the goal-setter is the one who will be doing the reading, it should be something they have control over. They might also want to consider whether they have control over their morning and lunch schedules to ensure it is something they can attain.  Is it realistic? This will depend on the individual goal-setter, but by outlining it so specifically, this goal has become much more realistic than the original one of ‘reading good books.’  Finally, is it time-sensitive?  Since the goal is to read a book within one month, we know when the deadline is and can work towards that!

It seems to be a workable SMART goal!  If you compared this one with the original goal, which do you think is more likely to happen?

3. Don’t be afraid to fail

As you set goals and work to accomplish them, you will have times when you don’t succeed the way you would like. But if you allow fear of that failure to hold you back from even trying, you only hurt yourself.

And believe it or not, failure can actually be a good thing!  One of my favorite [animated] movie quotes is from Meet the Robinson’s: “From failing, you learn!  From success, not so much.”  When you fail (which will inevitably happen), don’t get discouraged. Instead, see it as an opportunity to evaluate what worked, what didn’t, and revise your goals to become even more successful the next time around.

Okay, are you ready to put this into practice?  Get some paper right now and write out three things you want to accomplish.  Make sure you word it in SMART goal formatting. Now, pick one of those goals and identify the one to three habits you will need to develop to get there. Start practicing one habit today… and before you know it, you will be on your way to achieving your goals!

Image: kasia-lis, CC

How Do I Learn the Important Stuff?

Originally published February 2013, online student newsletter.

Whether you are learning material for a test, trying to master a well-loved classic, or reading technical documents in your workplace, identifying and learning the important and relevant material is key to your success.

But how do you KNOW what’s important?  Out of an entire textbook of material, they are only going to ask you 90 or 100 questions.  How do you find out and prepare for the relevant material in each test?

While no one can tell you exactly what you need to know, there are ways for you to recognize and learn the most important information on your own.  As I started thinking and researching about the best way to do that, I stumbled across the study technique SQ4R.  That probably doesn’t make a bit of sense, so I will explain.  🙂 SQ4R stands for Survey, Question, Read, Write, Recite, and Review (the “4 R’s”).  Every tip I could think of falls into one of these categories, so we’ll use this approach as we learn to study well and truly learn the relevant information.


Surveying is a crucial first step. Before diving into all the details of a thick textbook or manual, give yourself time to understand what you’re getting into. If you’re studying for a CLEP or DSST exam, always, always read the CLEP outline or the DSST factsheet first.  If you’re in a course, read the syllabus, paying special attention to the course objectives.  Also glance at the table of contents for all your resources.

Once you have the big picture in mind and are ready to start on a particular book, use the 5 Reads through a Book to skim your resource. As you go, highlight information that corresponds to the course objectives/outline/factsheet as well as any information that is completely foreign to you. This shouldn’t take long, but by reviewing ahead of time, you will have a solid understanding of what is most important, an overview of the entire subject, and know exactly where your weak areas are–before you even start to study!


As you study, you do not have the luxury of reading passively. Unfortunately, breezing through a textbook the way you would your favorite novel will not work.  Think about what you are reading and ask yourself questions as you go. There are some general questions you can ask yourself about every book you read that will help you focus on the important points rather than get caught up in the details:

  • “Why are they telling me this? What is important about it?”
  • “How does this relate to something I already know?”
  • “What part of the outline/course objectives is being addressed in this chapter/section?”
  • “If I were a professor writing a test question, what would I want to make sure my students knew about this subject?”


Now it is time to dive in and actively read your resources.  Skimming is behind you; now is the time to really dig in.  As you go, there are three ways to easily identify important material.  Look for things that are:

1. Repeated often.  [If it is mentioned 20 times throughout a book or chapter, you can feel pretty confident it will show up on the test].
2. Covered disproportionately. [A subject that takes up pages upon pages instead of just one or two paragraphs should get extra attention from you].
3. Shocking or outlandish.  [Sometimes, you’ll be studying things that are just plain weird.  People tend to focus on things that are strange or abnormal. Your test will probably highlight at least of a few of them].


Take notes!  This skill is simply not optional for success in college. Highlight or underline key concepts as you go, then at the end of each chapter, take some time to write about what you learned.  You might choose to summarize what you learned in a short paragraph, make flash cards, or create a mini-study guide. I recommend doing all of the above!  The key to doing any of these is writing everything in your own words.

Once you are done with your initial studies, I highly recommend putting together a comprehensive study guide that takes each point from the CLEP/DSST outline or the course objectives and puts all the information you learned into one place for easy review.


Talk to yourself as you study.  Once you finish a section or chapter, tell yourself the main ideas.  Answer chapter questions.  After you have read all the material and taken good notes, go talk things out with your parents or friends. Talking out loud and having to explain concepts to another person will cement the material in your mind.  Your family and friends may also be able to help you identify the most important material, in case you’re not sure.


Okay, now is the time to make it all come together!  Putting together that comprehensive study guide is a great way to review. Writing or talking things out in your own words is one of the best ways to ensure you have mastered material. Go back through your notes and look for highlights in the textbook to make sure you have sufficiently learned concepts that are repeated frequently or covered in depth.  Also review the areas you initially identified as being foreign concepts at the beginning of your study to ensure you learned them well!

As a final step, walk through the exam outline or course objectives. Either mentally or on paper, run through all the information you learned about point one.  If something doesn’t come to mind right away, go study it some more until you can get all the important details about that point out without having to think too hard.  Only when you can do that with the majority of the outline/course objectives are you ready to take a test.

Final Thoughts

If you are not used to this process for studying, it may take some time to adjust. However, as you practice these steps, they will become second nature until you are easily picking out the important information without a second thought.  If you have trouble in any of these areas, let me know on our next coaching call and I would be glad to help as best I can!

Happy studies!

Image: Wikipedia, CC

Developing A Study Plan

Originally published January 2013, online student newsletter.

The start of a New Year is a great time to make plans to succeed in your studies as never before. One of the first steps you should take for successful study is developing a workable study plan. During my time as a CollegePlus student, I not only focused on finishing my degree in a very short time, I also advised a political campaign, managed a small business, participated in church ministry and activities, and still tried to find time to run my brother to basketball games or swing by the store for my mom.  As you might imagine, it was a crazy schedule!  In hindsight, there were two things that made this possible: the first was having a set study plan (knowing what needed to happen in advance) and the second required making the most of every moment.

One of the most important ways to have a consistent study plan is to be consistent in the times and places that you study.  Your first step to developing a study plan should be choosing a study location. See this month’s Study Tip section for ways to do that. Keep in mind that your study location should get you in gear and get you excited (or at least focused) about studying. Having a consistent place to study doesn’t mean you can never mix up your study location–in fact, I recommend it if you’re feeling stuck or need a change of scenery!  What this does mean is that when you sit down to study, it is in a place that gets you in the mindset for studying.

The next thing to do is set up your study schedule.  The timing will look different for every person.  You may be able to have a set daily time and plan to study 8am-12pm every week day.  If you work or have other commitments, it might vary each day; 8am-12pm on Monday, 1-3pm on Tuesday, 10am-4pm on Wednesday, etc.  The goal is to find consistent times to study that work for you.

If you have an extremely busy schedule, your study schedule may need to be goal based rather than time based. For example, you may set a study goal of reading 10 pages on Monday, 30 pages on Tuesday, etc. Now this doesn’t mean you throw timing out the window!  You might need to plan to use your lunch break to get started, then finish up when you get home from work in the evening.  In other words, you still need to plan your study time. However, it will be easier to come home from work, etc, knowing you can stop as soon as you ready 30 pages rather than trying to stay awake to get in three hours of study time.

While consistency is key, studying with a busy schedule can also require creativity.  Driving to work and cooking dinner can be a great time to listen to relevant audios.  If you’re running errands or dropping off a sibling at an event, hand them your book and ask them to quiz you on terms. Think creatively and you may be surprised at how much study time you can carve out of your busy schedule.  If you are no longer a student, remember that learning never ends! Think about ways to make the most of the small moments to continue learning and growing in areas that are important to you.

If you need help setting up consistent study times and/or study goals, let me know so we can discuss it on our next coaching call!

Okay, now that we have evaluated the steps to setting up a workable study schedule, there are just a few reminders I have for you!

  • Above all, remember to be REALISTIC.  Don’t set goals that you just can’t achieve.
  • Along those lines, you will also need to be FLEXIBLE. You may set what you think are realistic goals, then discover you were actually being super ambitious.  Don’t feel bad about resetting your goals or reworking your schedule if needed.  Trial and error is a key part of this process.
  • Finally, take advantage of the benefits that consistency provides. Take breaks throughout your study time and once you have met your daily goals, STOP STUDYING.  As we all know, studying for exams can feel never ending–there is always something else you can do. But if you have set up a good schedule and reached your goal for the day, you don’t have to feel bad about stopping for the day.  And don’t forget to reward yourself for accomplishing your goals.

By taking time to set and try out a study plan, you will be better equipped to work longer and more efficiently while also allowing yourself more breaks and down time. Take the start of this New Year to set one resolution that you can stick with and develop your personal study plan!

Image: Vassar_Library_Study_Area, CC

Making the Most of Small Moments

College is hard.

Doing it on your own can be harder still.

Trying to find time to study on your own (without deadlines) after work, before making dinner or doing laundry and without siblings knocking on your door at least 10 times within one hour… ??

Nearly impossible.

This article is inspired after talking to many of you in the last few weeks who are attempting the impossible. First, know that you are doing a great job! Just by attempting this, you are lightyears ahead of so many people.

But often, this journey seems rather thankless. We peel ourselves away from our family, feeling guilty we are even thinking of trying to carve out “alone” time. We sit in our rooms and try to block out the noise we hear outside. The laughter… the drama… whatever it is, we want to be a part of it! Instead, we turn our music up louder and try to focus. Until the 3-year old knocks. After shuffling them out the door and trying to remember where you were, mom pokes her head in to ask about chores. Okay, okay… you run to switch out that load of laundry. Then you try to sit down and study once more–only to realize it’s dinner time and your stomach is demanding to be fed. So you head out the door and hope for some study time before bed.

Can you relate? I know this was often life for me while in college. And while those quiet, focused hours are important for studying, they can be hard to come by. What if your studying became a part of your life, rather than separate from it? What if you took advantage of the small moments and studied whenever you could? What if you involved your family in the process, so they felt included rather than ignored?

Believe it or not, that CAN happen. You will still need to set aside some focused study hours at some point. However, if you can incorporate studying into your daily life, you and your family can feel more connected and less begrudging when it comes time to hole yourself up in your room.

So, are you ready to make that happen in your life? It is really quite simple, actually.

Make the most of the small moments.

Instead of segregating your “school life” from your “real life,” take advantage of the many little moments throughout the day. These are the moments when you are really doing much of anything or could easily multi-task to tuck away just a few more facts for that next subject

Consider some of the following ways you could make studying a part of everyday life:

  • Read a chapter in your REA guide over your lunch break at work.
  • Download lectures to your smartphone and listen during your commute.
  • Sit beside a sibling who is also doing school as you make flashcards.
  • Turn on Trailmarker videos while making dinner or folding laundry.
  • Ask your sibling to quiz you from the glossary while driving them to activities.
  • Use your smartphone to answer some questions in Trailmarker while standing in line at the store.
  • Listen to audios while vacuuming, cleaning the bathroom, or exercising.
  • Schedule a movie night with the family… pop some popcorn, make a dessert, then watch a documentary on your latest subject before sticking in the new Redbox.
  • Trade flashcards with a brother or sister… you answer a question, they answer a question, you answer a question…
  • Keep a book handy at all times–you never know when you might have a few spare minutes!

These are just a few ways to start incorporating study into every aspect of your life. Don’t forget to schedule the intense study sessions as well. But also take a chance on the small moments for a few weeks and see how far you can go!

What are some other “small moments” you have turned into an opportunity to study? Let me know on our next coaching call!


Featured Image, Time Piece, CC