Archive for January, 2011

My current college study plan

TL,DR: So, basically, it boils down to ReadItLater for reading, Evernote for storing, iSRS for recalling, and a pencil for taking notes.

I’ve been in college for two semesters now and am finally (read: barely) coming around to the workload. Even so, this semester is more difficult than the last (especially with regard to reading), so I’ve had to create a bit of a “flow” in order to study better.

My classes this semester:

Western Civilizations
Knighthood and Citizenship (a literature class)
Italian Renaissance

The best thing to happen to studying for me was getting an iPod Touch for Christmas last year. It has proven immensely useful. I use it more for study (and gaming…) than for music. I don’t think I would’ve been coerced into changing study habits without it, even with the heavier workload.

For philosophy, we have assigned readings. He doesn’t mention them in class but they’re on the syllabus. They’re all online, old, public domain primary texts. I save them to ReadItLater and read them, usually using the article view instead of the full page view.

For Spanish, we have a lot of vocabulary and grammar. I’ve started putting them in an iOS app called iSRS (free version available too). It’s a spaced repetition system–in other words, digital flashcards. It keeps track of how well you know an answer by how high you mark your confidence of it. It syncs with the PC and creates standard Mnemosyne (another SRS) deck files, so you can study on a normal computer, as well.

Now, Western Civ. I have an Evernote account and after I take notes in class I come home and type them up (I don’t take a computer to school). I do this because we get review sheets before tests, and this way I can look over all the items by searching through my notes instead of trying to skim through all the paper. I’ve also started recording lectures with the iPod. It works great, except I need to remember not to wear a noisy jacket next time. In some ways, I wish I had an iPad or a bigger device to record with. With an iTouch, everyone is going to think it’s a phone if I leave it in the open, so having to stuff it in a pocket makes the sound worse. But then again, that almost defeats the purpose of portable studying that I wanted the iTouch for.

For the knighthood class, I just take a pencil and mark up the books like crazy. Our assignments are online so I answer the questions after I read. Sometimes, nothing beats the classic method of marking up books. I was hesitant to do so at first, because the bookstore has a policy of not buying back books that are marked in; but for a class like this, it’s pretty much necessary. Besides, I bought used books this semester in worse condition than what a pencil mark would do to them. One of them was stabbed through the cover with a pencil and it made a hole about 20 pages deep.

Seminar is a yearlong “introduction to college” kind of class. We’ve had to read a book each semester. I didn’t do anything special before, but I think I’m going to be more careful when reading (like underlining) this time. It’s a relatively short book, and in an interest area of mine (Japanese history–The Hagakure), so maybe I’ll be able to approach it a bit less apprehensively.

Now, the Renaissance class is probably the heaviest workload. Last week, we had a map test on Italy. I took the study map the professor gave us, scanned it as an image, erased the names in an image editor, and printed blank maps to study from. I saved both as PDFs and put them on Evernote. I also used Foxit Reader to practice by annotating the blank map with the names of what we were supposed to know.

I still have to force myself to read, though. I thought about audiobooks, but for two reasons I doubt it would help much: for one, these are probably not going to be produced as audiobooks, and two: it feels like cheating. What I have been doing is trying to learn how to “speed read”. It’s not so much that I don’t like to read the books, but sometimes they’re dry, and a lot of the time I have other time constraints.

The App Store has some good free dictionaries too. I like the Merriam-Webster dictionary and WordWeb. They’ve been really handy for every class so far. I also use Lingoes, but it’s a desktop app.

And I tie all this together with the new site 750words.com.

There is a book, The Artist’s Way, that encourages a daily writing exercises of three pages, called the “morning pages”, about anything that comes to mind. It urges to use “longhand” (i.e., paper and pencil), but this site does it differently. The owner of the site has calculated that 750 words is the approximate equivalent of three handwritten pages. Instead of writing them, you type them. The site has some really neat stat-tracking about your word usage and emotional state, and even correlates your mood with the weather. There are badges to encourage you to keep writing. Sometime in the future, when I’m more motivated, I want to use this to write up synopses of class notes.

I’ve tried using “to-do” list apps, but I find they generally don’t help me. My favorite has been wunderlist, free and simple, but it seems they’re eventually moving toward forced registration.

This is by far the best-organized I’ve ever been. I love it. I have yet to see how well it will help when midterms and finals roll around, but I have a good feeling.


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