Study Tips: Making Things Meaningful

Now you’re likely aware that when you’re in college, studying for exams is a way of life. This doesn’t have to be as much of a bummer as it seems, because you can make your studying easier and more efficient with some powerful lab-tested techniques.


One of these techniques is to make things meaningful when you study. It’ll make information much easier to remember. I’ve discussed this before, in an earlier post about the difference between maintenance and elaborative rehearsal. Here are some mnemonics, or memory aids, to help you do this.

1) Put the information you need to remember into categories. This is called “chunking.” Let’s say I told you to remember the following letters: FBICIANYCNFL. You could try to remember each letter by itself, but it would be more efficient to group the letters into units that already have meaning: FBI, CIA, NYC, and NFL. This means that you only have to remember 4 things rather than 12.

2) Take material you already know and associate it with information you want to remember. For example, in order to remember the difference between a stalactite and a stalagmite, you could remember that a “stalactite,” which grows from the ceiling, has the letter “c” in it, which stands for “ceiling”. A “stalagmite,” which grows from the ground, contains the letter “g.”

3) Use rhymes. We’ve all heard the alphabet song, rhyming grammar rules (“i before e except after c”), and rhyming history facts (“in fourteen hundred and ninety two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue”). Make up some rhymes of your own. There are even websites that use rhymes to help medical students remember anatomical vocabulary.

4) Make an acronym by spelling a new word from the first letter of each one of the words you’re trying to remember. You may have used an acronym to learn the colors of the visible spectrum (ROY G. BIV) or the names of the five Great Lakes (HOMES). It’s easier to remember one word or a short expression than a lot of words.

Don’t stop here, though. If you need to, come up with other ways to make information meaningful. Good luck with your studying!

Special Guest Writer–Dr. Diane Snow: Combine and Conquer – Using Peer Groups to Achieve

This past Spring, I had the great fortune of traveling to China with numerous UK faculty colleagues. There were so many interesting, yet unfamiliar and daunting experiences.

I was awed and amazed by the Great Wall, and imagined what life must have been like when people roamed the endless steps and towers through their normal daily lives. There were places where the slope of the steps was negligible and climbing was easy. I barely had to pay attention to where or how I was walking, and discourse with others was relaxed. However, there were places where the steps were not adequately deep, forcing me to climb with only my toes to progress. In some cases, the rise of step after step was enormous, and I had to use of all four limbs and a lot of attention to the task to make the trek—truly demanding work.


It occurs to me now these steps could be seen as a metaphor for the transition from high school to college—an unpredictable and variable journey. Having been a “big fish in a small pond” in my high school, I found the workload unremarkable, and my effort was commensurate. Getting an A in each class did not make me winded. But all of a sudden, there appeared in college a much steeper climb. Courses no longer required just the reading of a chapter by the end of the week, but the reading of a book and a reflective paper in that same span. There was no longer an emphasis on introduction, but a focus on depth, breadth and integration.

While I found this challenge exhilarating, and stepped up my game, this new world view was daunting and presented a paradigm shift. Although early college days are long in my rearview mirror, I still remember the way I coped with this trial of increased volume and demand—networking and team-building. I intentionally reached out and met new people, studied with them, and learned with them. We tested the new waters as a team. We divided up the work, talked about each of our contributions, learned from one another, and solved problems together. We helped each other during triumphs and “face plants” as well, and somehow, we all made it—together. The task felt more manageable when others were facing the same challenges, had the same vision, and agreed to work through it step by step in a unified effort. Likewise, the accomplishments, when they came, were a shared victory and an award that made us stronger and more capable for the next challenge.

So as you’re climbing your Great Wall, don’t feel you need to be a weathered and independent traveler just yet. After all, in a tourist spot like that, there are thousands of friendships just waiting to be made, and so many worthy journeys to take!