3 years, 7 months, and 17 days. How to study.



I find that the harder I work, the more luck I seem to have. ~Thomas Jefferson

People rarely succeed unless they have fun in what they are doing. ~Dale Carnegie


My dearest Shosh and Jaialai:

I’ve missed you.  How are you boys?  How is your summer?  Are you doing anything fun?  How are you occupying your time?  Are you reading?  Are you getting outside and getting exercise?  Remember how we used to explore and try to go places we’ve “never been before”?  I hope you still have your sense of adventure.  I’ve missed you.

It’s raining hard outside as I write this.  I love the sound of the rain, the bubbles that form in the puddles, the crack of thunder.  It is all so natural, wholesome, organic, powerful…  What I love best comes next: the clean and fresh air that follows a rain storm.  I relish those moments, and hope you do too.

Last night, I dreamt we were camping … like those Dads and Sons camping trips we used to take.  Remember them?  I do.  Jaialai, recall how one time you followed the big boys and got left behind when they crossed the log over the creek?  Instead of freaking out and screaming for help, you scooted yourself across that log, then made your way back to camp, using the whistle as you went.  You rocked it!  That’s how you test yourself and grow.  I loved those camping trips — rain and all.

But the days of summer are waning.  Our thoughts must now turn to fall and school.  I want you to prepare yourself for a successful academic year.  To do that, you must change your study habits and actively engage in the learning process, OK?

What do I mean by that?  Almost four years have passed; thus, I cannot pretend to know your study habits.  However, I suspect that, like most students, your usual process is to plow through your assigned readings, from the first page to the last, without pause to take note or stock of what you’ve read and how it fits in with the materials covered in class.  Likewise, during class, you act as a human recorder and try to write down as notes as much of what the teachers said as possible.  Once done with the class reading or lecture notes, you leave them untouched until a test or a quiz is announced.  Am I right?  While those practices are the norm, they are neither efficient nor productive.  Memories of the ideas contained in your readings or captured in your notes will have long faded by the time you review them.

What’s a better way to study?  Engage.  Think of class as conversations between you and the author of the readings, and between you and the teacher.

(Jaialai, this letter is more appropriate for Shosh at the moment, but the lessons apply equally to you as you schooling progresses.  Shosh and Jaialai, follow these steps and I promise you that your grades will improve, and the world will open itself to you as you get into top colleges in the nation.)

On the first day of class, the teacher usually gives you a syllabus that lays out what will be covered in class and in what order.  This is the road map for the class.  It tells you where the teacher is going to go, and what you are expected to know to succeed.  Pay attention.  Write it down, and keep it at the top of your class notes.  Go back to this every day to make sure you are on track and focusing on what the teacher thinks is important.  If, for example, there is confusion or ambiguity between the direction of the reading and the lecture notes, talk to the teacher to clarify.

Upon opening the text book for the first time, read the outline.  See where the author is going with his book and why.  Look at the progression of ideas, and how the author presented them.  Now, compare the outline of the text book to the syllabus.  What is different?  Where are they aligned and where do they depart?  The teacher may choose to concentrate more on one area and gloss over another.  That is the teacher’s prerogative.  Bear it in mind as you do the reading so that you don’t waste time focusing on matters the teacher think unimportant.  (That said, you are both a student of life and of the teacher.  If something interests you, by all means, pursue it.  Nurture your curiosity; don’t ever repress it..)

When you start a reading assignment, first scan the chapter outline, executive summary, headings, subheadings, material in bold or highlighted by the author, and the conclusion.  Use this process to get a sense of the journey on which the author is about to take you.  Create a road map for yourself so you won’t get lost.  More importantly, this road map is the foundation on which you build the knowledge gained from that reading.  For example, if were visiting Newport Beach for the first time, you want to know the major streets, the section of town nearest the beach, the section where the shops lie, the section where restaurants are, etc.  This will, for example, help us remember where Stanford’s Restaurant is located so we can go get their Bacon Mac & Cheese for dinner, and the location of the movie theater if we wanted to catch a movie before turning in.

Then, as you read, annotate.  Highlight key words and ideas, then summarize the paragraph in the margin.  Note the development of the ideas in each paragraph, and of the main idea of each paragraph with respect to the whole chapter or reading passage.  What are the basic assumptions?  Is the progression of idea logical, sensible, balanced?  (Just because it’s in a text book doesn’t mean it’s right.  A lot of educational politics go into what’s published, which text books to buy, which books to ban from school, etc.)  Ask questions about the author’s intention, his theme, his tone, his use of metaphors and other literary tools, etc.  The point is to read critically and actively.  You are not just scanning words and mumbling them in your mind.  Read to understand.  Since you will be tested on the reading later, you might as well make the best use of your time by understanding what they author is presenting and making notes for later review.

Remember, the goal of critical reading is three-fold: (1) to understand the author’s thesis and the purpose of his presentation; (2) to understand the elements of his arguments (i.e., how he argues — by using statistics, imagery, diction, appeal to emotion, appeal to reason, etc.) and whether he successfully used those elements to persuade the reader; and, (3) to recognize the author’s biases.  Make sure your annotations and reading notes capture these data.

When you take notes, use the Cornell Notes method.  The following are brief explanations of this note taking method:

The chief benefit of this method is that it makes you think about and summarize what you wrote in your notes.  In other words, it forces you to engage in the note taking process, and not just mindlessly jot down words that escape the teachers’ mouths or the authors’ fingertips.  Under this system, you touch the ideas captured in your notes not just once, but three times at least: (1) you write the notes in the main section; (2) you annotate those notes or ask questions in the margin; and, (3) you summarize those notes at the bottom of the page.  Memory works by repetition and active engagement.  The Cornell Notes method utilized both.

Integrate your reading and lecture notes for each class.  Use one three-ring binder or a spiral notebook for each class.  I prefer the former because it allows you to integrate hand outs from class as well as your notes.

Study hard today, so you’ll have a brighter future tomorrow.  Life is long.  It is best to position yourself to make the most of it.  If you have to work to earn a living anyway, why not enable yourself to do something that you would enjoy doing and that would pay you well?  Is it not better to spend 40 hours in an air conditioned office doing work that requires the use of your brain and is highly compensated than to spend 40 hours in the hot and oily kitchen of a Panda Express or other eateries?

Be well, my sons.

All my love, always,



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s