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It should be pretty obvious that we can't remember what we don't retain in the first place, and we can't retain what we have not paid attention to. So, if you are asleep in class, your notes may not be very useful for studying. It is necessary to find ways to keep your attention focused on the material being presented -- a real challenge in some classes! One way is to poke yourself every few minutes, but we don't recommend that. Perhaps a better way is to review your notes from the previous meeting of the class you are attending, before you get to that class. This "refresher" makes the material being presented easier to understand in many cases, and it allows you to make connections of new concepts with ones presented the previous day. If you do not understand an idea, problem, etc., ASK for clarification as soon as possible, in class, after class, or during the instructor's office hours. It is usually helpful to review your notes immediately after class also. If you have another class that meets after the first one, review notes for each (or every) class in reverse order of your attendance in those classes (last class notes first, for example).
Many students do not read textbook material well, if at all. Successful students, however, usually read text material more than once. Think of reading a chapter on the first day of class as preparation for the first exam; it may help you to take the reading more seriously and get more out of it. Frequently students tell themselves, "Hey, the first test isn't for four weeks, so I don't really need to know this stuff now!" These students often get MAC degrees--Master of the Art of Cramming--if they graduate at all. Read the introduction and summary first, and if you don't take any other text notes, at least outline the main points covered in the summary. Remarkably enough, that information is often the most important material covered in the chapter (imagine that!). Skim the chapter then to look at the main headings and subheadings (and be sure to note the chapter title before starting to look further). At this point you should have an idea of the general content of the chapter, and if you have taken notes, you may be seeing connections and flow among the ideas presented. At this point you are ready to actually read. Once again, be sure to note the heading of each new idea being covered (it helps to have a map in new surroundings). And lastly -- try to think like a professor as you read, coming up with possible test questions and jotting those down, and asking yourself, "What would I want students to know here?"
In doing problems, a couple of principles suffice: Do problem sets as soon as possible after they are assigned, and clarify questions as soon as possible with a friend, TA, professor, etc. Then set aside time to review difficult problems or do extra ones to ensure that you've got it.
Finally, it is important to review all your notes each week, maybe on the weekend. The review should cover all information from the last test forward--then nothing will be cold as you study for the exam.
If you need more in depth assistance with this topic, please set up an appointment at the Counseling Center and one of our counselors will gladly work with you.