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Thursday, 17 February 2011

Effective Study Methods - UNISA (University of South Africa)

Learn effective study methods - UNISA

What is meant by a study method?
A method is a way of doing something. A study method will have specific steps that you should follow. This will make the whole process of studying more manageable and effective.

What can a study method do for me?
All study methods share the same characteristics of which the most important are: planning; deepened understanding and repetition. It will help you to save time and cut out unnecessary time-consuming activities. It will help you to study with understanding, improve your memory and force you to concentrate.

Which study method should I use?
Although there are many different study methods (any good bookstore or the internet will bear this out), the publication Effective study introduces students to the EFT study method which is based on three steps that are repeated in all study tasks. The first step is called “exploration”. You familiarise yourself with the learning material and content. The second step is called “fixation”. You study the learning content systematically by “fixing” it in your memory. The third step is “testing”. You test yourself and do revision.

This systematic method is not new. You follow this method daily, without even knowing it. When you plan your activities, you first explore your situation and all that you have to do. Then you plan your day and complete all your activities (fixation). After that you look back over the day to see whether you have done everything that you planned to do (testing).

This is also the basic method you are going to use when doing assignments. For example, the first thing you are going to do is to explore. This you will do by asking questions and making sure that you understand the topic of the assignment. Then you will read about it. After that you will summarise all your information and write your assignment (fixation). Finally, you will finish the assignment and evaluate (test) its quality.

You can find more information on various study methods in the following suggested books and websites:


  • Eric Jensen. 1998. Super teaching. San Diego: The Brain Store.
  • Carolyn Hopper. 2003. Practising college learning strategies. Houghton: Mifflin.
  • Tony Buzan. 2006. The Buzan study skills handbook: the shortcut to success in your studies with mind mapping, speed reading and winning memory techniques. BBC Active.
  • Colin Rose & Malcolm Nicholl. Accelerated learning for the 21st century.


EFT study method
The exploration phase comprises roughly 60% of the time spent on the task. For long-term planning it happens at the beginning of the year/semester. Your main objective is to gain as much background knowledge as possible about the subjects before beginning to study intensively (fixation).

During this phase you should:

  • scan your curriculum
  • complete your assignments
  • do additional reading
  • discuss the field of study with lecturers
  • contact fellow students to discuss the learning material
  • make schematic summaries or a mindmap for intensive study later on
  • use your study guide to identify possible questions
  • identify and clarify difficult concepts

Important: Draw up a long-term timetable for the whole year/semester and a short-term weekly schedule. Divide your subjects and the number of chapters into chunks and plan when you are going to do what.

The fixation phase comprises 30% of the time.
By the time you get to this phase you should be fairly familiar with the content of the course and you start to fix the content in your memory by bringing together all your background knowledge. This is the phase in which you study your summaries your additional notes and the study guide intensively.
Here you follow these systematic steps:

  • Start by getting an overview of the study material again.
  • Page through the chapter again, read the subheadings and add them to the mindmap. You could even go further and again look at the beginning and the end of paragraphs because that is where authors often introduce or summarise the main ideas. You could also read the key words in bold letters. You now have a fresh idea what the chapter is all about. Ask yourself: “What is this chapter all about?” See if you can answer this question.
  • Next you start going over the the content by checking your summaries Ask yourself simple questions beginning with “how”, “where”, “when”, “who” and “which”. Ask yourself what the main idea is of what you have read, and make sure that you understand all the words and concepts. Note the relationship between main ideas and subheadings and also the logical connection between headings and subheadings. Studying like this will deepen your insight into the study material, and insight is what is required at university level.
  • After you have read the learning content with understanding, you can refine your summaries into core summaries which contain only the most important key words. This will give you a schematic summary and a core summary for each chapter. While you are making your summaries, you should use the different memory techniques, for example acronyms, classification and visualisation to fix the content in your memory.

After studying each unit of work, you should test yourself to ensure that you know it. Close your book and answer all the possible questions you have formulated as you worked through the material.

Revise your work within 24 hours of studying it. You will have forgotten up to 25% of the facts, and this is normal. At the beginning of each study period it is important that you revise your previous material to see how the old and the new link with each other.

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