Study Like a Harvard Student

Studying can be really hard and a pain in the ass. You have to find the motivation to do it and of course finding the right way to study. No two students are same by any means, but here are some basic pointers to really get it going.

Preliminary Steps

1. Choose classes that interest you. That way studying doesn’t feel like slave labor. If you don’t want to learn, then I can’t help you.
2. Make some friends. See steps 12, 13, 23, 24.

General Principles

3. Study less, but study better.
4. Avoid Autopilot Brain at all costs.
5. Vague is bad. Vague is a waste of your time.
6. Write it down.
7. Suck it up, buckle down, get it done.

Plan of Attack Phase I: Class

8. Show up. Everything will make a lot more sense that way, and you will save yourself a lot of time in the long run.
9. Take notes by hand. I don’t know the science behind it, but doing anything by hand is a way of carving it into your memory. Also, if you get bored you will doodle, which is still a thousand times better than ending up on stumbleupon or something.

Phase II: Study Time

10. Get out of the library. The sheer fact of being in a library doesn’t fill you with knowledge. Eight hours of Facebooking in the library is still eight hours of Facebooking. Also, people who bring food and blankets to the library and just stay there during finals week start to smell weird. Go home and bathe. You can quiz yourself while you wash your hair.
11. Do a little every day, but don’t let it be your whole day. “This afternoon, I will read a chapter of something and do half a problem set. Then, I will watch an episode of South Park and go to the gym” ALWAYS BEATS “Starting right now, I am going to read as much as I possibly can…oh wow, now it’s midnight, I’m on page five, and my room reeks of ramen and dysfunction.”
12. Give yourself incentive. There’s nothing worse than a gaping abyss of study time. If you know you’re going out in six hours, you’re more likely to get something done.
13. Allow friends to confiscate your phone when they catch you playing Angry Birds. Oh and if you think you need a break, you probably don’t.

Phase III: Assignments

14. Stop highlighting. Underlining is supposed to keep you focused, but it’s actually a one-way ticket to Autopilot Brain. You zone out, look down, and suddenly you have five pages of neon green that you don’t remember reading. Write notes in the margins instead.
15. Do all your own work. You get nothing out of copying a problem set. It’s also shady.
16. Read as much as you can. No way around it. Stop trying to cheat with Sparknotes.
17. Be a smart reader, not a robot (lol). Ask yourself: What is the author trying to prove? What is the logical progression of the argument? You can usually answer these questions by reading the introduction and conclusion of every chapter. Then, pick any two examples/anecdotes and commit them to memory (write them down). They will help you reconstruct the author’s argument later on.
18. Don’t read everything, but understand everything that you read. Better to have a deep understanding of a limited amount of material, than to have a vague understanding of an entire course. Once again: Vague is bad. Vague is a waste of your time.
19. Bullet points. For essays, summarizing, everything.

Phase IV: Reading Period (Review Week)

20. Once again: do not move into the library. Eat, sleep, and bathe.
21. If you don’t understand it, it will definitely be on the exam. Solution: textbooks; the internet.
22. Do all the practice problems. This one is totally tiger mom.
23. People are often contemptuous of rote learning. Newsflash: even at great intellectual bastions like Harvard, you will be required to memorize formulas, names and dates. To memorize effectively: stop reading your list over and over again. It doesn’t work. Say it out loud, write it down. Remember how you made friends? Have them quiz you, then return the favor.
24. Again with the friends: ask them to listen while you explain a difficult concept to them. This forces you to articulate your understanding. Remember, vague is bad.
25. Go for the big picture. Try to figure out where a specific concept fits into the course as a whole. This will help you tap into Big Themes – every class has Big Themes – which will streamline what you need to know. You can learn a million facts, but until you understand how they fit together, you’re missing the point.

Phase V: Exam Day
26. Crush exam. Get A.

Taken from Sophia Chua-Rubenfeld, daughter of the Tiger Mother (x)

Best of luck

-tina von s

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  1. Truly wonderful tips! I personally learn a lot by thinking about similar topics and their connection to what I am reading. (Point 17 in your writing) Thank you for sharing those advices!

  2. Great steps! I never liked studying in the library. I always found most people go to give the illusion that they’re studying. Sure they’ll get one or two things done, but most of the time is spent talking about other topics. I love explaining concepts to my friends, to make sure I understand well enough. I love how this is all laid out.

  3. Great tips. That’s how I was in college and it really paid off. I graduated near the top of my class with honors!

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