Studying techniques for academic success

A few academic seasons ago, I encountered the problems of students who had just joined a management program and loaded with numerous courses.
Teaching a business communication course, I posed the following questions to the batch of students.

  • Do you concentrate on meaning or words?
  • Do you read the preface, contents and introduction?
  • Do you see the relation between sentences, sub-headings, headings and topics?
  • Do you read the summary at the end of a chapter before beginning to read?

The answers indicated a lack of understanding and practice of studying and memory techniques. In the absence of a systematic approach to studying, it was just impossible for them to comprehend all that was being taught. So what’s the right studying and memory technique and how does one adopt it?

Training your eyes

We see the text in front of us through our eyes and then the mind absorbs the meaning. Reading technique therefore, revolves around training the eyes first which revolves around:

  • Increasing the eye span or number of words you can grasp in one glance.
  • Reducing the number of times your eyes regress, flick-back or re-read.
  • Getting a more rhythmical and regular way of moving the eyes.

Training the mind

There’s more to reading than merely increasing the eye-span; what’s more important is ‘mind training’.

Familiarity and passion with the subject increases the speed of comprehension. For example, if you were familiar with a subject like chemistry or a game like football, you would have no trouble understanding a chapter or an article about it. The inherent intelligence in you has nothing to do with the reading technique, which could still be faulty. Therefore, you need a strategy to become an efficient reader.

A universally accepted method of efficient reading technique is called SQ3R or Survey; Questioning, Reading, Restating and Reviewing.

Surveying Technique

Surveying is like getting an aerial view of a hill before you start trekking. Surveying in reading means understanding the gist of the reading material or a chapter, before actually getting down to in-depth reading.

  • Survey the chapter by reading the first paragraph and then the last.
  • Read the first sentence of paragraphs in between the first and last paragraph.
  • Notice long paragraphs/sub-headings, words in italics; look at diagrams and tables.
  • Notice ‘signpost’ words like firstly, secondly, in summary,
  • Notice words telling you to speed up, i.e., more of the same thought like also, likewise, further, in addition etc.
  • Notice words asking you to slow down: but, on the other hand, although, despite, however etc.
  • Notice words highlighting the main point like thus, therefore, consequently, accordingly.

The total time spent on surveying can be 10% of total time.


Sir Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin and Albert Einstein, three of our greatest thinkers had one commonality; questions of purpose, relevance and interpretation, powered their critical thinking and intellect. The ability to ask questions is a critical component of effective reading and gaining insight. Some key questions to ask can be as below:

  • What does the chapter indicate about the contents?
  • What do I think will be in it?
  • What do I think will not be there?

By raising questions in our mind continually from the title and headings, we get proper mental position for reading. “A prudent question is one-half of wisdom”, which you can attain by simply asking thought stimulating questions. We read and remember best, when we read to answer our questions.

The total time to be spent on questioning can be 10% of total time.


Reading can be akin to trekking like slowly uphill, quickly downhill and cautiously where there’s danger. Read difficult matter slowly, light matter quickly and tendentious, provocative, argumentative, conceptual matter cautiously.

Look for the main thoughts and important details. There could be just a single idea under a mountain words in a long para or a page.

The total time to be spent on reading can be 50% of total time.


After reading a main heading or a chapter, keep your book down at intervals and tell yourself what you have read, the main points and important details, which is the key to solid learning.

As per research, a reader who restates can remember three times more than the one who doesn’t and hence improving memory.

The total time to be spent on restating can be 20% of total time.


Reviewing is to repeat the first four steps of your reading strategy. To review, skim back over the material, surveying the headings again, answering your questions, rereading items you are hazy or can’t remember and restating the central message with its parts and their relations. Reviewing increases your understanding and confidence.

By skimming back over the matter, you can assess whether you deserve a distinction or discover weaknesses. Reviewing is therefore, like marking your examination paper and discovering the gap as compared to your examination goals.

The total time on reviewing can be 10% of the total time. In case, you still find gaps in understanding, simply repeat the process.

The science behind Memory

Have you ever thought about what’s memory? And how do some students recall information instantly while some struggle?

When you first learn, information is processed into the brain to form a neural trace. This trace first enters your sensory memory, and then, if you’re paying attention, to your Short Term Memory, or STM. This means if you are paying attention to a lecture, the information can get straight into your STM. Further, if you review the chapter or subject later at home, it then moves to your Long Term Memory, or LTM. The information processed into your LTM is more or less permanent; with occasional reviewing you will not forget it.

The trick is to adopt the information into your LTM as quickly as possible. Your STM has a small capacity and a short duration; you may learn something very quickly, but in 24 hours you will lose 80% of that information. The STM is fast and easily accessed; the LTM is slower with larger capacity.

India is a knowledge economy, and knowledge is synonymous with human power, growth and advancement. It was Swami Vivekananda who said, “All power is within you. You can do anything and everything”. Remembering or retrieving information depends on the strength of your studying and learning technique. Enhance your learning style by adopting the SQ3R studying technique and explore a completely new world of opportunities unleashing your potential.

Tips for enhanced learning
  1. Stick to a routine, efficient study schedule.
  2. Study in a quiet environment.
  3. Take short breaks periodically.
  4. Keep asking questions about the material as you study it.
  5. Before lectures, look over the notes of the previous lecture and read the course material/books pertaining to the lecture.
  6. Show outward interest during lectures (attentive expression and posture) to self-motivate internal interest.
  7. Resist distractions from other classmates and daydreaming.
  8. Focus on the instructor through listening, and taking notes.
  9. Tougher subjects and those with lower interest must be studied when you are freshest.
  10. Practice Bhramari Pranayama 2-3 times a day-which helps to increase concentration and memory, relieving you of tension and anxiety.

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V Pradeep Kumar

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