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Requirements for Effective Learning

Three major factors which define the effective student:


Commitment of time

Knowing how to study

Each of these factors will be discussed in some detail. Let's begin with motivation.


How Motivated Are You?

"Most people who advise students and who know what their problems are believe that lack of motivation is responsible for more failures than inadequate background or lack of ability. Not being motivated is about the worst academic problem a college student can face" (Deese & Deese 1994, 11).

What you can do to increase your motivation:

Be clear about why you are going to college.

You are on your own in college. You will have to learn to be your own boss. Treat yourself like an employee. Create a schedule and work assignments and keep your nose to the grindstone.

You must have short-term goals. If you haven’t chosen a career yet, creating goals is more difficult. Anxiety and discomfort over not having chosen a career, however, must not stop you. College is one of the best ways to find the career for you. Use the career counseling services at your college. In the meantime, get a good liberal arts education, develop your reading, writing and thinking skills. Get some good grades posted to your record and you will be ready when you discover what you want to do.


Grades do not measure your value as a person. They do not even measure very well your academic accomplishments or your value as a student. BUT, grades—because they are concrete and because they go on your permanent record—will be used by many people in your future to judge you.

The best professional organizations—law firms, teaching hospitals, universities, and top corporations—take only the graduates with the best grades. There are stories of students with poor grades becoming successful, wealthy people. This happens much less often than you think.

If you want to go to graduate school, grades are even more critical. "Experienced admissions officers know that grades predict success in advanced work better than do test scores" (Deese & Deese 1994, 13).

If you have high ambitions, it is up to YOU to start proving you are the best by earning top grades, starting right now.

Try out this motivation quiz from Deese & Deese (1994, 12) to see if your head is in the right place:

graphic copy of quiz

"One of the things we have learned over the years is this: The biggest difference between those who barely get by in college [--or don't make it at all] and those who get top grades is motivation (Deese & Deese 1994, 3).

Are You Prepared for the Competition?

"Some students who were top notch in high school don't do well in college.

"Some high school goof-offs do very well in college.

"The rules are different, and the deciding factor is almost always work.

"College professors have different expectations than high school teachers. While they can be friendly and helpful, they are often not, as one student put it, "student-friendly." They expect that you are going to do a lot on your own" (Deese & Deese 1994, 3).

A driving motive--This is THE requirement for success—it is fundamental and indispensable (Kornhauser, 12).

How do you attain this drive?

"Build up definite ambitions and ideals toward which your studies can lead" (Kornhauser, 12).

Be honest with yourself about the rewards of success and the disappointments of failure

Use visualization.

"..the simplest and most direct stimulus.. involve[s].. the deliberate planning of your life" (Kornhauser, 12).

**An interest in the subject being studied**

[Developing an interest in a subject will make it much easier to learn and attain high grades.]

How do you develop such interest?

(Kornhauser, 13)

"Acquire information about the subject from a variety of sources. The more you know about a subject the easier it is to develop an interest in it" (Kornhauser, 13).

Tie the new information to what you already know. "Discover relations of new facts to old matters of interest. Historic events [for instance] take on new interest when they are seen in relation to present issues. Physics and chemistry become more interesting… when [you] can see the application of these subjects in everyday life" (Kornhauser, 13).

Make new information personal. "Relate it to matters of real concern to YOU" (Kornhauser, 13).

Actively use your new knowledge. "Raise questions about the points made by the book or the instructor. [Warning about some instructors not understanding what your are doing]. Anticipate what the next steps and the conclusions will be, and then check on these. Think and talk and write about the ideas; make them play a part in your actions. [Cf. To Army’s immersion method of teaching languages]. Take the relevant material from one class into other classes. [Discuss metanoia]. Discuss difficult and questionable points with your friends and classmates. Consider what the implications and consequences of new ideas obtained in your studies might be" (Kornhauser, 13-14).

Stick with it. "Even if you begin studying a subject with little interest, oftentimes simply "staying with it" and trying to make it an active part of your thinking [ex.: talking to yourself in a foreign language] will help you develop an interest in that subject" (Kornhauser, 14).

Hints on how to "stick with it":

Make your task definite (Kornhauser, 14). Make a plan—timeline, deadlines, list of chores.

Feel intensely the urge to do the task before you (Kornhauser, 14).

Review the necessity of the task to achieving your goals

Imagine the end of your task and the rewards coming to you

Get started (Kornhauser, 15). Push yourself. Make a commitment <my approach>. Do it!

Discard distracting ideas. Push away imagined difficulties and "thoughts of other duties and of disturbing problems and queries. These can usually be shunted off by jotting them down in a notebook or on a pad of paper; most people find that writing these interfering thoughts down forces their minds from annoying tensions and real or imagined difficulties" (Kornhauser, 15).

Prepare your physical world for study (Kornhauser, 15). Go through the motions until it gets easier.

Focus your attention. "Mind-wandering is a great enemy to effective study. One hour of concentrated study is worth ten with frequent lapses. Work intensely while you work. Guard vigilantly against mind-wandering, and pull yourself back sharply on every occasion" (Kornhauser, 15). [a major key to studying "smarter, not longer"].

Face personal problems and worries directly (Kornhauser, 15). These can become a huge distraction and ruin you study time. Suggestions:

Determine the real problem

Get help

Find someone to talk to

Don’t lie to yourself and dodge the problem

Don’t pretend you have solved the problem when you haven’t

Being Involved

Research on the 50,000 undergraduate students who come to the University of Texas at Austin each year has shown that the number one factor helping students to avoid dropping out is their involvement in some club or group or activity (Glass 1994).

Every campus has many clubs and organizations: the debating society, the student newspaper, band, sports, chess club, folk dancing, student government, religious groups, fraternities, sororities. The message here is to GET INVOLVED. It will help you persevere. Involvement may also "give you experience at something you might want to do later in life or something related to your choice of profession" (Deese & Deese 1994, 9).

A word of caution: Don't over-commit your time. Remember that the most critical factor in passing your course is the amount of time you spend studying.

Commitment of Time

"Management of time is the most important aspect of effective studying (Deese & Deese 1994, 9).

Academic Demands

"High school is not college. You have probably heard that a thousand times. Even so, listen. If you went to a high school that falls in the statistically average range, a lot of your fellow students probably weren't headed for college. You could easily shine. And if you went to a below average high school, you could almost count on being in the upper half or even near the top of your class. In either case, you're likely to be in for a bad surprise.

"In most colleges, particularly four-year colleges, you are going to find yourself in the fast lane. Most college students were in the upper half of their high school class, and if they were lucky enough to go to a really good school, they've got a real advantage. A lot of your fellow college students are going to be people who were also student leaders - class officers, student body presidents, newspaper editors - in short, doers and achievers, some of them from the most prestigious high schools in the country.

"What is even more important, college professors are not likely to gear the work to the average student. A well-known professor used to say (he's now retired) that if more than two students understood what he was talking about he wasn't doing his job. Professors like to aim their courses at the superior students, and they expect everyone to meet higher standards. The kind of work that got you A's and B's in high school could easily get you C's, D's, and even F's in college" (Deese & Deese 1994, 6).

Often, the first semester in college is very hard on new students. Many decide it's too hard and drop out. Before you drop out, however, remember that "many students who drop out are just as able as those who finish" (Deese & Deese 1994, 6).

The bottom line here is that you are going to have to put in some serious work to succeed in college. You may well have to study two or three hours for every hour you spend in class. So, for one three-hour class, you may have to put in eight to ten hours of study every week.

The Importance of a Schedule..

"The most important thing you can do by way of organizing your life for studying is to make a schedule (Deese & Deese 1994, 14). Below is a sample schedule which Deese & and Deese use (1994, 15):

Knowing How to Study

Concentration—focused attention—is essential for effective studying.

Concentration means being oblivious to everything except what you are studying.

"The ability to concentrate is largely governed by your surroundings and your physical condition" (Kornhauser, 18).

"Learning to concentrate and study involves learning to overcome distractions" (Kornhauser, 18).

Typical distractions:
  • Your surroundings (noise, visible movement, lighting glare)

  • Your body (fatigue, headache, hot, cold)

  • Irrelevant ideas—mind-wandering

How to eliminate distractions:

Study in a quiet room.

Your study location should be properly lighted (over the left should is best—the more light the better).

Your study location should be well heated and ventillated. Lack of oxygen can make you sleepy and less sharp.

Your chair/seat should foster fatigue-free but alert posture. Don’t get too comfortable. Shift often to avoid fatigue.

Keep yourself in good physical condition (Kornhauser, 19). Eat and exercise at regular times. Don’t study while eating or exercising; these should constitute a mental and physical break from studying. Avoid heavy meals. Both exercise and food are healthier if taken regularly and in small quantities. An occasional spree of activity or eating does more damage than good.

Get enough sleep. [recent (2014) research has shown that sleep is when your brain develops new connections based on what you studied that day. So, enough sleep is critical to memory.]


However, the reality is that all distractions cannot be eliminated. You will have to learn to concentrate.

"Mind-wandering is after all a symptom of insufficient interest and poor study procedures, not the disorder itself" (Kornhauser, 19).

Other Considerations

What to Expect

"There are more than 2600 colleges and universities in the United States, and no two are exactly alike" (Deese & Deese 1994, 4). Some have less than 500 students, others more than 50,000. Some are public, some are private.

The advantages of starting in a community college:

Personal attention

Local focus

Drive-in format

No destructive subculture

Inexpensive to attend

Better qualified instructors

Disadvantages of community colleges:

Culture and involvement are less easy to obtain

No strong alumni organization

No strong sports machine

Less status

Take Orientation and Use Advising

Every college has orientation and advising. Don't miss any of these assistance programs if you can help it. They are critical for several reasons:

They may supply critical information—like drop dates—which you might have missed or not noticed elsewhere.

You get to meet a broad range of your classmates.

You get to know some faculty and staff—their names and how to contact them—from whom you may need help later.

You will be told about numerous college resources and offices which can help you with almost any academic or personal problem you are apt to encounter—childcare, financial aid, tutoring, counseling, and much, much more.

You will receive a lot of printed material. Read it and save it. You will need it later.

You’ll be given a tour of the campus. Knowing the layout will help you later when you’re trying to find classes.

Locate the student union on campus. This is the center of student activities.

Locate the library and get to know its services. Librarians can be extremely helpful and often offer free courses on both library reseach and how to succeed in various courses on campus.

Wander through the classroom buildings and get an idea of where everything is.

Get an copy of the student newspaper. It will contain a lot of useful information.

"Placement tests in such subjects as mathematics, foreign languages, and English are usually given during the orientation period. Find out what tests you are required to take and which ones might be advantageous to take even if not required" (Deese & Deese 1994, 6).

Talk to a Counselor

A counselor can be one of the most important and helpful resources you will have at college. Find one you like, and stay in touch. Find out what services they offer and what they suggest you do.

Also, if you have chosen a major, get to know the chair of that department. They can help you plan your courses and give you many tips on succeeding.

Parental Pressures

Your parents will be very conscious of the financial pressures they are experiencing because you are going to college. In addition, they probably will not understand the pressures that you are experiencing at college. They are not you and cannot feel the demands being placed on you.

Resolving conflicts with your parents and creating a cooperative relationship is going to be a challenge. You are going to have to develop a lot of tact.

Financial Pressures

"You'll save yourself a lot of headaches if you learn how to manage your money effectively… If you’ve never learned how to balance a checkbook, get someone to show you how" (Deese & Deese 1994, 8). There are some excellent books in the library which can help you in this area.

If your parents are unable to give you enough money, you will need to get a part-time job. These are often easy to find, but will cut into your study time. Management of time will become even more critical for you.

If money is tight, you should also look for a scholarship. Talk to the financial aid office at your college. In addition, you should explore the many reference books and Web sites which list money sources. Less than half the scholarships available are awarded each year (Glass 1994). Often this is because no one applies. The financial aid office will only tell you about the few major scholarships with which they regularly work. It's up to you to find all the others. Go see the librarians. They can help a lot.


Most private for-profit colleges, just like private high schools, are scams. The for-profit colleges are only interested in getting you enrolled and a loan so they can get your money and any state and federal money for students. Most students drop out in the first few weeks because the teachers are either terrible or absent. No one is interested in you, the student. It's only about the money. Some of these colleges do graduate students, but their degrees are useless for getting a job or getting credit for the work you have done.

Make sure, before you register, that the college is accredited (approved by an oversight organization) and is registered with the state. Otherwise, be very wary.

NEXT: Motivation: The Goal System


Caverly, David C., and Vincent P. Orlando. "Textbook Study Strategies." In Rona F. Flippo & David C. Caverly (eds.), Teaching Reading and Study Strategies At the College Level. Newark, Delaware: International Reading Association, 1991.

Center for Critical Thinking, Sonoma State University. Critical Thinking Resources and Events Catalog, Fall/Winter 1996. URL

Deese, James, & Deese, Ellin K. (eds.). (1994). How to Study and Other Skills for Success in College. 4th ed. NY: McGraw-Hill.

Ehrlich, Eugene H. How to Study Better and Get Higher Marks. NY: Ty Crowell Co., 1976. ISBN 0690011814.

Farber, Barry. How to Learn Any Language, Quickly, Easily, Inexpensively, Enjoyably, and On Your Own. NY: Citadel Press, 1995.

Glass, C.O. (1994). Unpublished discussions with Dr. William Lasher, Professor of Higher Education Finance at UT Austin and past head of Institutional Research for the UT system.

Kornhauser, Arthur W. How to Study: Suggestions for High School and College Students. 3rd ed. Revised by Diane M. Enerson. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993. ISBN 0-226-45118-6.

Simpson, Michele L, and Edward J. Dwyer. "Vocabulary Acquisition and the College Student." In Rona F. Flippo & David C. Caverly (eds.), Teaching Reading and Study Strategies At the College Level. Newark, Delaware: International Reading Association, 1991.

Soccio, Douglas J. (1992). Get the Most Out of Philosophy. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

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