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A female student lounges while reading a marketing textbook.

A study on the Morris campus found that A, B, C, D, and F students in a particular class all studied for an average of six hours for the weekly test, but they had different study techniques.


study habits and success

By Pauline Oo

From M, winter 2006

You've already gone through a six-pack of Mountain Dew, two packages of ramen, and splashed cold water on your face. It's 3 a.m., your French final is in four hours, you have 150 vocabulary words to memorize, and you still don't get the subjunctive, the pluperfect, and when to use qui vs. que. Maybe you should have kept up with your homework just a teensy bit better...

When it comes to studying, college students come in all sizes: brilliant slackers and not-so-brilliant slackers, industrious types, incorrigible procrastinators, and those maddeningly perfect ones who study hard and play hard.

"People do what works, usually," says Kathryn Gonier Klopfleisch, a University of Minnesota, Morris, study skills instructor. "But some find out really quickly that the approach they took in high school doesn't work in college."

Gender gap

According to a recent study by Student Monitor, a college-focused market research firm, female college students study more, read their textbooks more carefully, get more As, and graduate sooner than their male counterparts. Male students spend one-third less time studying, party more, get more Cs, Ds, and Fs, and take longer to graduate than female students.

According to a University of Minnesota statistics, between 1997 and 2003, the percentage of University students who reported spending 15 hours or more a week studying dropped. On the Crookston campus, the number went from 38.5 to 30.6 percent; Duluth, 51 to 37.1 percent; Morris, 70.7 to 51 percent; and Twin Cities, 58.7 to 50.1 percent.

The University offers a slew of academic services and resources on all its campuses to help students become more efficient and effective learners. These include study skills workshops; individualized assistance in time management, reading and writing, note-taking, and test preparation; learning skills self-help material; and counseling on issues like procrastination and test-taking anxiety that may hamper a student's academic success.

"We're looking at academic success from a holistic perspective--social, emotional, personal, and psychological," says Scott Slattery, program director of the Student Academic Success Services on the Twin Cities campus. "Students may be very bright intellectually, but if they can't effectively manage stress or balance their social life with study time, then they're not going to do well."

A few years ago, Gonier Klopfleisch and Jeff Ratliff-Craim interviewed students in Ratliff-Craim's psychology class at Morris to see if there was a correlation between a student's grade and the number of hours he or she studied.

"Every group of A, B, C, D, and F students all studied for an average of six hours for the weekly test, but they had different study techniques," says Gonier Klopfleisch. "The A students, without exception, sat down right away when they got a new reading assignment and worked out how many pages they had to read every day in order to be finished with plenty of time to study for the test." She also found that the A students don't just memorize material, but try to get a larger picture by seeing how things relate to each other. The D students, on the other hand, tended to read the day before the test and memorize terms, believing that if they knew the terms and definitions, they'd understand the information.

The academic edge Besides a student's homework habits, factors like learning style, prior experience, and motivation play a big part in retaining information, says Slattery. "If a student is disinterested or not motivated toward the subject they may not be able to retain the info very well," he says. "Whereas if they're very interested in it, they'll be motivated to talk to the professor and try different strategies that take time but that would help them to learn."

One of these strategies is the "five and five." Slattery encourages students to spend five minutes before a class writing as much as they can in their own words about the previous lecture and five minutes after the new lecture to note what they learned or how it related to the previous lecture.

"The students can even rate the lecture on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being 'I really understand this info well' and a 1 being 'I'm totally clueless,'" says Slattery. "When they go back to their notes for an exam, the scores can help them pinpoint which information they need to work on and what they probably [don't have to study]. Without that rating their tendency is to start at lecture number one, and students often don't have enough time to do it all."

Which can lead to late nights or early mornings with a bad caffeine buzz. And that's not the pluperfect way to go.