Mapping Out Your Academic Flight Plan

The fastest, most efficient reading or studying begins with a specific purpose. Conversely, trying to read or study without a goal in mind will make learning more difficult.

If you try to take in information at random, without any objectives to guide you, several things will happen: You'll become disorganized; you'll probably become confused; and you'll most likely retain little or any of the material— or you'll spend inordinate amounts of time memorizing disconnected bits and pieces of information that you barely understand.

Yet when a purpose is present, this bleak picture changes dramatically for the better. Suddenly, the door swings open to the possibility of supersonic reading and learning.

Why are goals and objectives so important for fast and efficient learning?

Establishing a goal at the very beginning of a learning session will enhance your ability to recall key points and concepts. Also, if you make the goals personal and interesting for yourself, you'll tend to become more emotionally involved in the subject matter—and your ability to remember what you study will increase dramatically.

How does this work?

Memory experts have found that having a definite set of goals or questions about study materials gives the student a hook on which to hang new information. This beginning reference point helps launch the all-important, memory-promoting process of developing associations and links between different facts and concepts. It's much easier to remember a series of related things than a list of unrelated items.

Furthermore, adding an emotional element (such as humor or deep concern) can enhance the student's ability to recall material later.

Suppose you've been assigned some materials on ozone-related threats to the environment. If you've been reading the newspapers, you may know that there are at least two different kinds of problems with ozone: one from ozone-polluted air at ground level, and another from damage to the ozone layer in the upper atmosphere.

Now, instead of just starting to read your materials on ozone-related problems without any particular viewpoint, pose a few specific questions: "What are the sources of air pollution by ozone? What, if anything, can we do about this problem? Does it pose any major danger to humanity in the short term, or do we have some time to solve it? Am I in any danger?"

Then, as you move into the other challenge presented by ozone—i.e., the "rip" in the upper atmosphere—you might ask another series of detailed and personal questions: "How long has the problem existed? What's caused it? Am I doing anything to aggravate this threat? What function does the ozone layer serve? What's the danger to animal and plant

Second, the notes they take are clear, comprehensive and well-organized enough to be used weeks or months later as an aid to recalling information essential for a test.

What promotes insightful questions and accurate note-taking? It all begins with the kind of study space you establish.

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