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6 Study Tips for the Working Professional

March 6th, 2018 -- Glen L Stansberry
Whether you're studying for a test or working on a large project, these tips will help you be more productive.
Story by Joel Mathis

Having trouble making the most of your study time? Alex Terwilliger has a few tips for you: Slow down. Break your big tasks into smaller chunks. And be prepared to make some hard choices.

Oh yeah: Don’t get too comfortable.

That’s the advice Terwilliger, the Student Program Manager at the KU Edwards Campus, has for students worried they’re going to drown under a flood of textbooks, notebooks, and lectures.

"What happens with most students is they get overwhelmed,” Terwilliger says. “They'll sit down and study. They've got their textbooks. They have Blackboard open. There are 15 different things going on, they're trying to piece it all together and they don't really know how to do it."

How to cut through the clutter and get down to business? Terwilliger has a few ideas:

1. Make a schedule. “I like to say, ‘If you write it, it shall be done,’” he says. “So if you write in your planner, ‘time to study,’ do it!”

He adds: "We experience downfalls when we start making study time optional time. If we say, ‘I’m going to find the time to study,’ we may never find time.” 

2. Be willing to make tradeoffs. Maturity means recognizing that time studying means time not doing something else that’s also important — or maybe just more fun.

"We have to say yes and no to things that are important,” Terwilliger says. “So anytime we say ‘yes’ to something, we’re saying no to something else. If we say yes to studying, we may have to say no to time with family. And we have to reconcile that and be OK."

3. Break it up. It’s OK to get up and stretch your legs now and again — but you’ll probably have to figure out what’s the best routine for you.

"There’s a lot of different research that's conflicting on that,” Terwilliger says. “Some people say that you can go for up to two hours, some people say it's two times your age — If I'm 34, I can go for 68 minutes."

His advice: Study 50 minutes, then take a 10-minute beak. But a warning comes with that advice: “Realize that every time you take a break, your mind psychologically will not re-engage in what you're working on for 10 to 15 minutes after that.”

4. Communicate. And don’t. Be willing to stick your cell phone in a drawer, Terwilliger says. But be willing to communicate with loved ones that you’re going incommunicado. And be firm in your needs.

"If you communicate to people in your life, 'I'll be offline for two hours studying,' most people would be like, "Great. I'll leave you the heck alone,'” he says.

5. When taking notes, focus on the big picture. “The research says you can't actually write as fast as anyone talks,” Terwilliger says. “It's impossible. You're getting anywhere between 10 and 20 percent of the words coming out.”

His advice: When listening to lectures, write down the big ideas. And leave plenty of whitespace in your notebook for later on — that’s when you can augment the big ideas in your notes with supporting details from your textbook reading, blackboard lectures, and other online sources.

Work to make sure you have explored the content 10 different times in multiple different ways.

“The research says that it takes between seven and 10 different times for information to convert from short-term to long-term memory,” he says.

6. Finally: don’t get too comfy. “When I get home, I'm comfortable,” he says. “The TV, the refrigerators, the dogs, the kids. All these things create an atmosphere of comfort. When I am comfortable, I’m less likely to perform the tasks I need to get done.”

Terwilliger says: “Find one place on campus you can study. Find one place — a coffee shop, anywhere you need to create a learning space. That is your place to do that activity. And then when you go home, you do whatever you want.”

KU Edwards students needing help can go to the Welcome Center on campus, or visit the Student Services web page for additional resources. Students seeking additional assistance can visit the Academic Achievement and Access Center on KU’s Lawrence campus.