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How you study is more important than how much you study

How you study is more important than how much you study - Paul Penn

Posted on: February 10, 2020

“The only person who is educated is the one who has learned how to learn and change." - Carl Rogers.

I vividly remember the confidence I carried into my Psychology degree from my good performance on the A level in the subject. I believed I had a real aptitude for studying and that I could, therefore, safely ignore the study skills-based provisions of my degree programme and instead focus my efforts on the subject specific material. I took this approach right up until the point that I received grades for my first assignments. Let’s just say that if assignments were film awards, mine were less deserving of an Oscar than a Golden Raspberry! 

There was a lesson in my less than brilliant grades but, in the short term, my ego was too bruised to let me see it. After the bruises had faded, the best lesson I learned from my studies materialised. The first year of a degree is as much about learning how to learn effectively as it is about acquiring subject specific knowledge. The approaches to studying that had got me successfully through my A-levels were suddenly found wanting when applied to undergraduate level study. I realised that persevering with my existing study skills toolkit of endless re-reading, verbatim note taking, highlighting material and cramming was akin to trying to fell a tree with brute force and an axe. I needed to upgrade my studying toolkit; I needed the studying equivalent of a chainsaw. This realisation got me to shift my focus from how much I was studying to how I was approaching studying.

Here’s the bad news: it’s very likely you’re currently not going about studying as effectively as you could. The danger is that you’ll quickly become too preoccupied with the subject matter of your degree to realise this and act upon it. This will make studying unnecessarily hard, tedious and unrewarding. It will drain you of your enthusiasm for your degree subject and turn the process of getting a degree into a chore that must be endured. Here’s the good news: if you invest a little time and effort in learning how to study effectively at the start of your course, you will obtain better grades and enjoy your degree much more. To help you accomplish this you might like to check out my book, The Psychology Of Effective Studying: How To Succeed In Your Degree. It will show you how you can exploit basic psychological knowledge and research to study more effectively. Do yourself a big favour at the start of your degree: pay as much attention to how you study as what you’re studying.