October. 1932


How to Study

By 0. J. ferguson

THERE are two excellent little reference books upon this subject, one by Swain, (65 pp., published by McGraw-Hill Book Company), and one by Cornhusker, (42 pp., published by the University of Chicago Press). Both of these booklets are very practical in their suggestions and directions, and are well worth securing and studying.

The principles to be used in establishing effective study habits are the same in all cases. However, some persons are peculiarly deficient in one way, while others lack another characteristic. It is desirable therefore to set out the general principles in such a manner that a student may discover for himself his own shortcomings. Then the correction of his methods is a matter of practice, if they are to lie relieved.

The process of studying involves any and all of the steps by which knowledge, either stored as in books, or developed anew is absorbed and made a part of the student's own mental and physical equipment. In this process the mind is the important central operator, tho it is greatly influenced by many surrounding conditions. Briefly, therefore, the mind must be alert, receptive, analytical, critical, and constructive.

Alert, because that is the attitude of attention. It signifies a lively state of being, prompt and definite responses.

Receptive, because only a receptive mind can be affected by outside influences. A closed mind is cut off from these sources of stimulation.

Analytical, because only a small percentage of the stimuli which come to the open mind are productive of good results. It may be that many are even destructive, rather than constructive, to the particular development which is being sought. Recognition of these advantages and disadvantages is the first step in progress.

Critical, because there must be an ability to judge, and a responsibility for selection or rejection.

Constructive, because only a constructive, orderly mind can build up conclusions of any value.

The mental attitude of the student is, therefore, of prime importance, for learning is not passive, it is active. It is not irresponsible—it is willing to assume responsibility. It is not wandering and casual—it is directed, thoughtful, and objective.

How, then. may the student achieve these conditions? What self-helps are possible? To what extent are these factors under his control?

Swain says, "It is assumed that children know how to study because they have brains."

What an error! Certainly we should not make the same mistake with reference to a child's hands —that, because he has hands, he must know how to train them to be facile and expert. We would not give him a chisel, and fail to instruct him in its use. Yet, we do give him a book, and say, "Here is a text. Go to. Use it. Study!"

Ability to read rapidly and understandingly is not a universal accomplishment. In fact, few people have it. But your own ability in reading can be improved, in spite of any bad habits you may have, of looking at every word, or even pronouncing each one, as you proceed along the page.

Take a page of material which is new to you. Read it by your normal method, timing yourself as you do it. Repeat several times, seeing how much you speed up. still using your regular process.

Then choose another similar page. When you read it, skip all of the non-significant words such as "the", and", "of", etc. Do not even look at all of the words as you go along, but pounce down upon phrases, as such, and read them rather than words.

For example, take the third paragraph above, beginning; "Ability to read." For all practical purposes, you might have acquired the information contained therein if you had looked at only the words; "Ability to read . . . not . . . universal . . . few . . . have it ... your . . . ability . . . be improved ... in spite of bad habits . . . .". Seventeen words, instead of fifty-one, convey the meaning.

Practice the art of rapid reading.

Not all people will agree with me, but I feel that a person can develop an interest in any subject which is necessary to his chosen work; that it is a confession of a weakness to say, "I failed, but I don't like that subject." It is a part of your duty to yourself to create an interest in important subjects, if you do not already have it. You can do this by learning more about them and their significance in other fields; their history; their peculiarities; their unanswered questions; their niceties.

Do you like the study of English? You should! Develop the habit of word-study. Use your dictionary to learn of derivations, and word relations. Take the word "Engineer." Is an engineer an engine-driver? Are you satisfied to go no farther? Or, is your curiosity roused by the thought that there is a similarity between this word and others, such as—ingenious, and engender? Does this similarity imply anything?

What is the background of the word "architect?" Did the architect derive his name from the arch; was the arch named for the architect; or were both named from something else?

How many words are there supposed to be in the English language? How many in German, French, etc.? WHY THE DIFFERENCE?

Why, English is one of the most interesting studies in the world!

Similar methods of approach will develop a pleasure in the study of other subjects in which you find a lagging interest.

At your study table, get rid of all disturbing influences. Do not subject yourself to unnecessary distractions. Have your needed materials at hand. Have a good light, which does not glare into your eyes. Close your door to persistent noises, and your mind to wandering thoughts.

But, do not let factors over which you have no control divert you. Learn to concentrate your attention and focus all of your activities, mental and physical, upon the particular job before you. This is a difficult thing to do, but a continued practice of completely ignoring surrounding events will finally win results. 1 have seen Steinmetz so trapped in thought that he did not even see people at whom his eyes were directed. Study systematically. Have a study program. You have a recitation program, and hold to it. Study to understand. Memory is a faulty servant or things we do not understand. It is not until we do understand a fact that it is really our own. Use your dictionary freely, and restate in your own words the important parts of your lesson.

In approaching a new assignment, recall the significant points of the subject already developed. I then scan rather rapidly, the current assignment. Try to pick out the most prominent and important parts and to recognize their relations to preceding facts. After this correlation is developed, read thoroughly and study fully.

I think things through. Make your journey begin at a point with which you are familiar, with the route you travel, and learn to recognize signatures of the point at which you arrive. Then retravel, time and again, until you do it with ease.

Correlate your knowledge. Facts must be coordinated with other facts, in order to be useful.

Use your newly acquired knowledge. The mind is a workshop—not a store room, or tool room. One fact, cut and polished, is worth more than a dozen uncut stones of truth.

Don't study all of the time.

This may appear to be a queer bit of advice for me to give, but it is not strange at all. It is a fundamental fact that more can be accomplished by a systematic, intensive attack upon a subject than by an everlasting, wearisome, slavish attempt to master it.

There is value to be gained by persistence—by continued contact—by pressure. Nothing else will take its place. But the extreme measure of endless study defeats its own purpose. For the mind loses its power of quick perception, its active reception, its retentiveness. It is dulled and disappointingly irresponsive.

See that you are physically fit to do the things you undertake. Hard study is a great drain upon the physical energy of the body. Only a limited amount of this energy is created, though this may be made a maximum by careful attention to food, exercise, and rest. But, do not presume that you can spend this energy—once at the study table, and once in the workshop or on the football field. Remember, each must take its share, and it is for you to determine what this share is to be.

Finally, (not because I have completed my discussion, but because my space is filled) the most important consideration in the process of studying is that you take time to think.

A whole library could be written on this admonition, but what more need I say here than to remark that you cannot learn without thinking, nor think without learning.