How to study English

How To Study English


1.      Introduction

2.      Motivation

2.1 General

2.2 Staying motivated

3.      Studying English

3.1 Why study English

3.2  English is easy

4.      Objectives

5.      Body and mind

6.      Studying

6.1 Study activities

6.2 Study environment

6.3 Study routine

6.4 Study material

6.5 Input method

6.6 Reading VS.writing

6.7 Pronunciation

7.      Classroom

7.1 General

7.2 English classes

8.      Memorizing

9.      Assignments

10.  Examinations

10.1              Preparing for exams

10.2              Writing exams

11.  More information

12.  Consultant service




1.    Introduction

Today there are an infinite number of situations in which people are studying. Full time, and part time; residential, and long distance; technical, and academic; to name but a few. During my many years as a teacher and trainer, sincere and hardworking students often pleadingly want to know: “How should I study?” This booklet is a humble effort to put some ideas on paper, hoping that somewhere, someone will find some benefit from it.


Studying has been part of my life for many years. I am not particularly intelligent, and have therefore never been an exceptionally good student. I always had to work a bit harder than my peers to achieve success. But in the process I have been awarded a Bachelors Degree, majoring in Psychology and Philosophy, a National Diploma in Forest Management, and also mastered an African and an Ancient language. In this time I received advice from many lecturers and fellow students, which I found useful and worthwhile sharing. So the following is not a scientific paper from a far away academic, but from an ordinary guy, who knows the situation you are finding yourself in very well. I have opted to write in the first person, so as to make it a bit more personal, and tried to keep each point as concise as possible. The last thing you need now is another thick book that you have to read.


Always keep in mind that you, and every other student, are unique individuals, differing in many ways from the next. Therefore, there are guidelines/suggestions from my own experiences only, and should never be followed indiscriminately, or quoted as gospel.


2.    Motivation


Motivation means that you badly want to achieve something, and that you are prepared to go to great lengths, and make many sacrifices to achieve your goal. If you are not motivated to succeed in your studies, you obviously have no need to read this booklet any further.


2.1 General


Here are a few suggestions (some of them well-known), about studying and life in general:


1.    Be positive about your studies. Think and talk positive about yourself, your teachers or lecturers, and the place where you are studying.

2.    Be loyal to your school, college, technicon or university, and the lecturing and other staff.

3.    See your studies as an opportunity that will change your life forever, and not as a punishment.

4.    Engage in positive ‘self-talk’. Imagine what it will be like when you have achieved success.

5.    Read inspirational books on a regular basis. If you are that type of person, find yourself an idol.

6.    Choose your friends carefully. Mix with the ‘winners’ in life. Stay away from the ‘losers’. They would like you to become one too.

7.    Do not bluff yourself or at your desk, or getting involved in unproductive activities, and thinking you will be successful. Studying is hard work. See yourself as a sponge that has to gain as much new knowledge as possible every day.

8.    I hope you are not studying to please someone else. Except for a few very exceptional cases. I believe you are going to be a very unhappy person, and eventually largely a selfish activity. You are doing it to improve yourself only. You are expecting many other people in your life to make many, and often great sacrifices so that you can study. Only later will you be able to use your qualification for the benefit of others like your future family, you community, and possibly the world.

9.    Enjoy your student life. Plan your time so that you are able to partake in at least some of the student activities at your school or on your campus. In other words, live a balanced life. It’s a proven recipe for success.


2.2 Staying motivated


1.    When you have a passion for something, it is much easier to study. You will spend more time with it and enjoy it. For example: My friend Missy has a passion for stamps. She studies stamps at every opportunity that she gets and enjoys every moments. She always talks with enthusiasm about stamps, and knows more about stamps that other people like me could. Only dream of.

2.    sometimes we do not even want to do the things that like. What if you do not like studying English? Here are some useful thoughts on how to stay motivated:


a)    Imagine what it would be like when you have mastered English successfully. After many years, I can still vividly recall how good I felt when I realized I could speak to some local Zulu people in their own language. The respect that I gained from amongst them was a great bonus. Watch an English TV program, or listen to English radio, and know that in the not too distant future, you will be able to communicate as well as those in the program.

b)   Always remember that the mere fact that you have decided to master English is making you a very special person. It requires a lot of courage, determination, and perseverance to complete such a daunting task. Be assured that many within your local community and further a field will respect you for that.

c)    Keep in mind that what you have learnt is yours forever. As a child my mother would constantly encourage me to study and read by saying: “Remember my child, nobody can ever rob you of your education”.

d)   Keep in mind that at any time you could improve even more. After some time you will fine that English has become part of your life. One of the most exciting things is that you are able to keep on studying possibility that you might learn a new word, phrase, or idiom. It is advisable to set yourself a target on how many books you want to read per month or year. Watch out, and go to lectures, talks, or English Corners where you know a mother tongue speaker will appearing.

e)    One of the strongest motivators in studying English, or any other language for that matter, is the practical use of the language. Students often shy away from using English (like speaking to other students that are studying English), as they are afraid of being ridiculed. I believe that anyone who laughs at your mistakes has no confidence in the use of the language himself. You can solve this problem in the short term by reciting as much as possible. For example, read an English magazine, book, or web page on a subject that you are particularly interested in.

f)     If at all possible, talk to somebody about English. Be positive, and tell them about something that you have learned recently, or an experience that had while using English.

g)   Find and English friend. If possible it should be someone who is on about the same level as you. You will be able to share information and experiences with each other, and in the process build one another.

h)   Spend some money$$$ on English. When you have done that, it will become more important to you. For example, by a better dictionary, or another book.


3 Studying English


Many of the information mentioned and techniques explained in this booklet can be applied to the studying of any subject. However, being employed by a n umber of English Training Centers in China at the moment, the focus will often be on learning English as a second language in the context of the Chinese society.


To acquire new knowledge or master a second language does not come easy. If that were so, many more people would study a second (and even third) language. There are very few things in life that are worthwhile that are for free. To be successful you have to read this booklet and then go and do something about it.


3.1 Why study English ????


“Knowledge is power”. This is undoubtedly the case when mastering a second language. You are simply empowering yourself far beyond those who know only their mother tongue. Studying English might well be the most important step that you will take to improve your life. There are several reasons for saying this:


1.    When you are able to read, write, speak, hear, and understand English, you are able to study a wide range of subjects at virtually any of the universities in almost all the developed countries of the world.

2.    Through the modern media you are able to get virtually unlimited access to whole new worlds of knowledge in the fields that you are interested in. however, in most cases English is the language that is used to present the knowledge. Here are some examples:


a)    The world wide web(www): 87% of all the pages on the web are in English. One

    estimation is that there are in the order of one thousand billion pages of information available. Google dot com searches over three billion websites at a time.

b)   Books: For the past 400 years books have been printed in English. Publishers realize that an English book can be sold on a worldwide scale, and so more books are published in English.

c)    The printed media: Even in China with its 1,3 billion Chinese speaking people, I have been able to buy an English newspaper on a street corner nearby. English magazines like Time and Newsweek are sold all over the world.

d)   Science: In 1997 for example,95% of the articles in the Science Citation Index were written in English. Only 50% of them were from so-called ‘English speaking’ countries.

e)    News reports: The largest news networks in the world, like Sky News, CNN International, and Reuters, cover world news on a 24 hour basis, and because of satellite and other technology, can be seen in even the most remote places on earth.


3.    Many people would like it not to be the case, but the fact is that most of the people in the world have decided to communicate with each other in English. The numbers are not important. The most important thing is that if are able to use English you could communicate with people from all over the world.

4.    It should be obvious that learning to use English will advance your career tremendously. The moment you are able to state on your CV that you are able to read, write, and speak English, a whole new world will open up to you. In business, science, computers, tourism, management, and many other fields, the advantage of you being able to use two languages will place you in a very special category. Refer to antimoon. Com for some interesting examples.

5.    You will enjoy life so much more. More entertainment like movies, plays, and music will be available for you to choose from. You will be able to travel to many more countries without fearing the language barrier.

6.    To communicate with someone in his mother tongue will not only earn you a lot of respect, but will make you feel increase, and you will become a more happy person. Studying English is a process in which you are continuously rewarded. Many people would tell you how great they felt when they first realized that they could use English. However, long before that you will fell good about every new word or sentence that you have mastered.


3.2 English is easy!?!?!


When I tell students that English is relatively easy, they usually reply with: “That’s easy for you to say, English is your mother tongue.” Here are a few fats as listed by the authors of the website to prove the point:


# English has a simple alphabet. You just have to compare it to Chinese to appreciate this.

# English has simple plurals. You simply add an-s.

# English word are often short and have simple meanings. Dog, cat, run, work, big, etc.

# English words are not inflected. Separate words are used to form the tenses.

# English is available everywhere. Television, radio, magazines, music, Internet.


4 Obejectives


Management by Objectives (MBO)became popular in the business world in the late twentieth century. Anyone who has handled a firearm before will tell you that if you have a target, you have something to aim at. Only when you shoot at a target is it possible to know how good (or bad) you can shoot. It was realized that letting people know how well (or bad) they were doing, made them more successful, especially if they were allowed to set their won objectives (targets). These principles are used in many other fields today. We can apply them to our studies with great success.


I will not look at long term goals like” becoming a doctor” or “ getting a degree” here, but rather at how MBO can help us becoming better students. The business people found that objectives should be realistic, specific, time related, and outcome based. We will look at what that means to you when studying.


1.    There is no use in setting yourself targets that are impossible to reach, doing this will only make you fell a failure and disappointed. The principle used by athletes in the high jump is useful here. In the beginning they set the bar at a height that they know they can reach. After successfully jumping over that height, they move the bar up a little. After each successful attempt, the bar is lifted until they reach their maximum height. When you sit down for a study session set yourself an easy target. After you have reached it, set yourself a little bit tougher target for your next session, and so on. Very soon you will know exactly how much you the maximum is that you can accomplish in one sitting or session.

2.    By setting up a studying schedule you are placing your objectives within a time frame, as I will show you later, this has to be done for short times like a few hours, and for longer times like a semester or year.

3.    Another important principle found by MBO, was that of rewards. It was found that most people like to receive recognition for what they have achieved. Most of us keep our old certificates and graduation photos in shoebox somewhere. When passing an exam, they rewards are great, but this happens only once or twice a year. In the mean time, studying can be very lonely. Award yourself more regularly. This will help you to stay positive and motivated. These rewards should be as immediate as possible, and should not cost a lot of time and money. I knew a student who loved a late night TV show, she set herself evening targets, and when she had reached them, she would treat herself by watching the show with some friends form the room next door. Again, she had the self-discipline to stay away from the show when she honestly felt that she did not do her best that evening.

4.    Self-testing should form an important part of your study strategy. In this way you are providing yourself with feedback on how you are progressing. In addition you are regularly placing yourself in the exam situation. This helps you to overcome exam anxiety. Needless to say, you should be strict in your evaluation of the test. If not, you are bluffing yourself and defeating the objective of the test. Refer to the section on Memorizing.


5 Body and mind


The Greek philosophers in about 500 B.C. were the first to realize that “a healthy body is home to a healthy mind”. Here are a few well-known facts, and some pointers:

1.    It is impossible to study well if you are not physically well. You do not have to be super fit, or a champion athlete to be a good student. What you do will depend on your age, interests, medical history, and so on. The important principle is that you should exercise regularly. A bit of exercise (even walking at a brisk pace) on a daily basis is better than strenuous exercise on an irregular basis. Anything that will make your heart beat faster than normal for at least 20 minutes at a time is good. You don’t need to spend any money. For example, use a bicycle to get to campus and back, get off the bus two stops before your home, or use the stairs instead of the elevator to your dormitory.

2.    Watch what you eat. Students tend to live on junk food because they find it convenient. For example, replace that hamburger with an apple.

3.    Avoid having to study after a large meal. Rather have smaller meals more times a day. I know a good breakfast is important, but being a ‘night person’, I am forever oversleeping and don’t have time for breakfast. I then rather have a sandwich or some fruit later in the morning between classes.

4.    Avoid, or at least limit, unhealthy habit like smoking cigarettes and taking alcohol. Definitely stay completely away from drugs. Many a young person has gone to university to ruin there lives and sadden their parents because they could not withstand the peer pressure, or abandonee the principles that they were taught at home.

5.    Listen to your body. It will soon enough let you know if it is unhappy.

6.    Make sure that you get enough sleep. It is foolish to study or play so much that you cannot concentrate properly the next day.

7.    Scientists have found that students, who date, generally do better than those that don’t. I would tend to go along with that, as long as the relationship does not become too serious. Having a mate with who you can share your feelings can only help. Generally girls mature at an earlier age than boys and male girlfriends think of their grades. Falling in love can however lead to too many complications that would be detrimental to your studies.

8.    Sex on campus is something that you have to think about before you arrive there. Senior mail students are often notorious in wanting to ‘scour’ with the junior females. Deciding to abstain, might cost you some popularity at first, but will definitely earn you a lot of respect in the end.

9.    One cannot study well if there is a serious worrying matter in your life. The best advice is to tackle such problems and solve them as soon and as well as possible.


6 Studying


Studying is defined as ‘the devotion of time and thought to acquire information or investigate a subject, usually from an independent source, by means of earnest contemplation’. Let us have a look at what this means.


6.1 Study activities


I have found it useful to compare my studies to a conventional war situation. In this type of war there are many necessary activities like administration, intelligence, logistic, etc. let us call them the ‘nice to do’ activities. But ultimately, the war is won or lost in the trenches at the front line. It is here were the enemies are killed (shot) and their equipment eliminated (blown up). We will call this the ‘must do’ activities. The trenches are the most unpleasant place to be. To win the war, the generals must ensure that all the ‘nice to do’ activities are focused on the soldiers who area facing the enemy in the trenches.


Similarly, when studying there are many activities that have to be done. Attending classes, reading prescribed work, rewriting class notes, making summaries, etc. the ‘studying war’ is won or lost there at your desk where you are making knowledge become part of you. It is human nature to avoid the unpleasant. I have often become so ‘busy’ with these other activities in order not to sit down and concentrate. If you can keep the above in mind, your changes of success will improve dramatically.


I have found that the following are some ‘nice to do’ activities that students like to get involved in:


1.    Spending hours investigating the meaning of seldom-used words. This might be interesting, but is not helping them to become proficient in English. It might even damage their motivation to focus on such words.

2.    Engaging in so-called ‘free talk’. This means that students will talk to one another using familiar words. This activity dies not require much concentration as little or no attention is given to correctness, no new words are attempted, and little or no care is taken in pronunciation. This might lead to bad habits, that later will be very difficult to rectify.


6.2 Study environment


Let us now look at what your ‘study trench’ should look like, and what you can do to improve the conditions there with the aim of getting better results.


Many students study under the most appaling conditions. In Africa I have seen many people study in crowded circumstances, without basic amenities like electricity and running water. I hope you do not have to endure such hardship in getting your qualification. The following are some suggestions that should be considered by you and be applied to your specific circumstances.


1.    Your first ‘enemy’ is interruptions. Get yourself, your stationery, books, and the material you will need organized before you sit down. Make sure your mobile and landline phones are off, or ask someone to take messages from any telephone calls you might receive.

2.    Choose a place to study where there is effective light, or do something to improve the light. Your eyes are very precious, and until eye transplants become common, they are the only ones you will ever have.

3.    Choose a relatively comfortable chair, with a straight back, and coasters. If you feel its necessary, ask advice from somebody who knows ergonomics. Do not lie down while studying, especially not on your bed. Many have tried it before you and failed.

4.    Have sufficient space on your desk in front and next to you for the books, etc. that you will need. For example: when studying a new language, you do not want to have to get up to fetch a dictionary every now and then.

5.    Limit any distractions or annoyances to the absolute minimum. Avoid pictures of loved ones or idols within your immediate sight. Avoid music while you are studying, you want as many of your senses as possible focused on your work. Get someone else to keep your pet busy while you are studying.

6.    When sharing a study area with others, ask them to respect your needs, or move to more suitable place.

7.    If possible, use your study area with others that purpose only. This will set up an association in your mind between that place and the activity of concentration. This will make starting progressively easier, each time you go there. In other words, relaxing should be somewhere that is in no way connected to studying.


6.3 Study routines


Studying is all about self-discipline. It’s about forming habits. That is why young people usually become more mature after a few years of studying. They soon realize that nobody is concerned about checking on their progress. It’s all up to you and your self-discipline.

1.    Another strong enemy is procrastination. After settling into your new environment, your first task should be to plan your studying schedule. You should not be too hard on yourself. Be realistic. You know what you are capable of. This will of course largely be determined by the number, times, and location of your classes and other responsibilities. Find a suitable location on campus where you can spend times between classes productively.

2.    On returning to your home or your dormitory, you should establish a routine and stick to it. Withstand peer pressure to break your routine. Be aware of those things that have kept you from studying in the past and then make an effort to control yourself.

3.    You might want to relax after a hard day of classes, before starting with your self-study. Refer to the paragraph ‘Body and mind’ for some suggestions.

4.    I believe one should listen to your ‘body clock’ when planning your routine. For example, it is counter productive for a ‘morning person’ to try and work in the evenings till late. Get to bed as early morning when your metabolism is at its peak. Advice versa for the ‘night person’.

5.    Determine for how long you can concentrate at a time. Scientists have found that one should take a short break (about5-10minutes) after a ‘sitting’ of about 40 minutes. This is not the time it takes for you to feel ‘tired’. If you fell ‘tired’ you have allowed fatigue to set in, and been at it too long. About three or four of these ‘sittings’ form a study ‘session’. If time permits you to have more than one session at a time, you should take a longer break (about 30 minutes) between sessions. Stick to one subject during a session.


Example 1: By 20h00, Maggie has finished her daily exercises, had supper, and relaxed for a while. She prefers 40-minute sittings with 10-minutes breaks, and completes one session before going to bed. On Monday evenings she studies Biology. She has set objectives for every sitting. Her schedule will look like this:


Sitting 1: 20h00-20h40: Rewrite class notes

Sitting 2: 20h50-20h30: Add reference material

Sitting 3: 21h40-20h20: Summarize notes

Sitting 4: 22h30-20h10: Memorize summary


Example 2: Mike studies in the morning before class. He likes to sit down for 25 minutes, and has 5-minute breaks: His first session looks like this:


Sitting 1: 05h00-05h25: Rewrite class notes

Sitting 2: 05h30-05h55: Add reference material

Sitting 3: 06h00-06h25: Summarize notes

Sitting 4: 06h30-06h55: Memorize summary

Sitting 5: 07h00-07h25: Self-test



a)    It is important not to get involved in any other activity during the short breaks in a session. It is important to get up from your desk, but you should stay focused. Do not start reading a magazine, phone a friend, or chat to someone in the passage. Just take a walk-about, go to the bathroom, do a few stretching exercises, or have a frink of water, and then get back to your desk.

b)   The length of the sittings and breaks are not important. Choose those that you are comfortable with. The starting and total time is more important. Paste a copy of your schedule on a prominent place in your room for all to see. You friends will be interested, and learn not to disturb you during these times.

c)    Keep a scrapbook handy, and make a not of something that makes your mind wander. Then put it out of your mind, and deal with it after completing a session.

d)   Always move from the most difficult or unpleasant task, to the ones you like and enjoy most. You could even use the pleasant ones as a reward for completing unpleasant ones.


6.    Use this concept to plan your work on the medium (weekly) and longer (monthly, or semester) term. The best way to explain this is by means of an example. We have seen that Maggie spends thress hours per session. She has classes from 08h00-16h00 on weekdays. Her weekly planning might then look as follows:


           08-12h00       13-16h00         20-23h00    

Mondays    Classes         Classes         Session

Tuesdays    Classes         Classes         Session

Wednesdays Classes         Classes         Session

Thursdays  Classes         Classes         Session

Fridays     Classes         Classes         Relax/Movies

Saturdays   Shopping        Session         Session

Sundays    Relax/Beach      Session         Session

7.    Many students have to engage in part-time jobs to make ends meet while they study. It places a heavy burden on the time available to study. I have done this, and had to reduce the amount of courses that I was able to handle per semester. This is not a shame. It takes guts to admit that you cannot handle a certain workload. The important thing is to keep on studying.


6.4 Study material

One of the greatest dangers when studying is that one is overcome by the size of the task ahead and focus too much on the forest and then loose sight of the trees. The best way to complete a long journey is to take it one step at a time.


1.    Students often fall behind, and are then faced with tremendous amounts of work and not sufficient time. If this is the result of you not doing your duty everyday, you have only yourself to blame. If however, it seems tat you simply cannot handle the amount of work at hand, you should not just carry on in the hope that the problem will go away. It won’t. In fact, it is just going to become worse. See your lecturers or a student councilor immediately. For example, you might have to drop one or more of your subjects. It is better to attempt less and more of your subjects. It is better to attempt less and pass them all, than trying to do all and falling in even more. In war, generals at times have to retreat in an attempt to win the war.

2.    To counter this ‘enemy’, it is important to break large amounts of material into smaller parts that are more easily handled on a daily basis. Get the overall picture, and then break the material up into parts that would fit into one sitting or session. Later in the semester or year, when all these bits have been dealt with, one can put them together again and get back to the overall picture.

3.    Practical application: Determine how many new words you are able to learn per day. Stick to your target diligently. Remember to review the words you have mastered. It is no use learning five new words when you have not mastered the previous five.


6.5 Then Input method


I like this method of studying English as advocated by the authors of the web page It is a method described by professor Stephen Krashen from the University of Southern California. In simple terms the method works as follows:


1.    According to him, input is the amount of information (in this case English) that you observe through two of your senses, namely your eyes and ears. Everything that we observe and understand is stored in the language part of our brain. The stored information can later be retrieved as it is, or it can be transformed into new combinations of the information. Both these are unconscious processes, but like any other computer, only information received and stored can be used. This is basically the way in which you have learned your mother tongue.

2.    So the important conclusion is that: the more input the brain receives, the more information it has to work with. In other words, it is a simple fact that you cannot say something that you have not seen or heard.

3.    The above is the most natural way to learn a language. The brain is using information that it is familiar with. That is why after some time of regular input, one gets a ‘feel’ for a language.


6.6Reading versus Writing

For someone studying English, especially when you are only a beginner, understanding spoken English is not easy. Mother tongue speakers often speak very fast, and often we are not able to distinguish between separate words. Let us briefly look at some advantages of reading:


1.    You have time: When reading you can of course pause and check the meaning and use of a word or phrase in your dictionary. You are also able to reread a sentence several times. These are all forms of input.

2.    Spelling: To check a spoken word in a dictionary is often difficult as you are not always sure of the correct spelling. When reading however, you have the correct spelling in front of you.

3.    Reading aloud: As we have stated in the previous paragraph, we are trying to get as much input into our minds as possible, so that we can use the information later when we want to speak or write. When you read aloud you are sending a double message (visual and audio) to your mind. When reading aloud you are placing thousands of correct sentences into your mind, and they become part of the English ‘dictionary and library’ that you are building in your mind. This becomes even truer when you read things that are interesting to you , because your mind ‘wants’ to receive the information.

4.    Your level: When listening, you have no control over the level of the language that is coming to you. When reading however, you can decide what you want to read. By choosing the text you are ensuring that you do not attempt something that is too easy or too difficult for you. Select a text that will give you the opportunity to learn new words, phrases, and idioms, but is not so difficult that it frustrates you.


6.7 Pronunciation

It is well known that ‘first images are the most lasting’. When speaking, it is your pronunciation that creates this ‘first impression’, and not your knowledge of grammar or the level of your vocabulary. If your pronunciation if poor, you will be referred to as ‘the person who speaks bad English’.


You can improve your vocabulary and grammar as you go along, but your pronunciation is either ‘good’ or ‘bad’ right from the start. To put it more positively: You do not need an extensive vocabulary or well developed grammar skills to speak good English. You could make use of your limited vocabulary and some simple grammar and still speak well. However, each word that you speak has to be pronounced correctly.


Bad pronunciation will result in people not being able to understand you, even though you may have an advanced vocabulary and grammar skills. You will know that this is happening when a mother tongue speaker asks you several times to repeat yourself, and the finally says: “O, you mean….”, and then repeats your exact words.


Many students are under the impression that if their fellow students or teachers can understand them, they can communicate effectively in English. When speaking to a mother tongue speaker, they are then disappointed to find that they communicate with difficulty. This is because your teachers and friends have the same mother tongue as you, make the same mistakes as you, and have become accustomed to these incorrect ways. You can know that you are able to communicate in English when ordinary mother tongue speakers like a taxi driver, housewife, waiter, etc. understands exactly what you mean the first time around.


7 Classrooms


Except for students who are studying by means of some form of distant education, albeit on line or by means of the postal services, we all have to attend classes. There we receive the bulk of the input that we need to complete the course or learn the language. Let us look at some aspects of this activity:

7.1  General

1.    This is one of the most important times of your day. If at all possible, don’t ever miss a single class. It is an opportunity lost forever. Losers will tell you otherwise. Don’t give in to pressure from them. Because of the relatively short academic year at most universities, I have always found the pace hectic. To try and catch up on a missed class is always very difficult, if not impossible.

2.    Concentrate at all times in class. Your objective here is to get as much from the teacher or lecturer as possible. Remember you are paying him/her for their services. Get your mother’s worth. If given the opportunity in the class, ask questions to solve any problems, or go and see them afterwards. I have never found a lecturer unwilling to help, but have also never found one who has made it his/her job to find out if I have problems.

3.    If not provided, take as many notes as possible. Note taking is an art that one acquires by experience. Do not even attempt to write down every word that is said. I believe the best way is to try and get and main idea of what is being said, note that down, and if needed, expand your notes soon after the class. Then the notes will be useful when you have to study that part of the work. Keep separate notebooks for each subject. Note assignments and deadlines carefully.

4.    When taking notes, innovative thinking can be useful. The term ‘advanced organizers’ refer to the technique where prior knowledge is used to ‘file’ new information in your mind. For example: The grammar of your mother tongue language is often used as reference points for the grammar of the second language you are mastering.

5.    Carefully note any references to other sources that the teacher/lecturer might make, as these sources can be studied later at your own convenience.

6.    Be well on time for a class. It is hard to concentrate if you have just rushed into class from somewhere else, and take your seat panting and sweating.


7.2  English classes

The greatest misconception about learning English is that you can learn it in a classroom. You can learn a subject like history by attending classes only. Learning to communicate in a language however is a skill that you have to practice out of the classroom. Let us examine some of the disadvantages of an English class, and suggest some alternatives.


1.    Listening to bad English. You will be reasonably sure that you hear the correct pronunciation, only when you have a mother tongue teacher. Listening to the bad English of teacher speaking in a second language will often harm your efforts.

Alternative: Listen to good English by speaking to a mother tongue speaker, watching English movies and TV, or by listening to English radio and audiotapes.

2.    Little practice. The size of the class will determine how much practice you get. Because the number of students in a class determine the cost per student, it follows that individual tutoring is the most expensive.

Alternative: Find someone who would like to learn your mother tongue, and make a win-win deal with that person.

3.    Different levels. The students in a class are usually on different levels. The result is that teacher is trying to satisfy the average student, with the result that the better students are bored and the poorer students are left behind.

Alternative: There is no solution to this problem, other than individual tutoring, which is very expensive.

4.    Textbooks. To sell as many of their books as possible, the authors of textbooks attempt to make their books acceptable to as many students as possible. The result is that only a part of the book will be useful to you. In addition, teachers like to use textbooks because then they do not have to prepare too much for the lessons. They simply follow the textbook from one lesson to the next.

Alternative: Read magazines, books, newspapers or the Internet that are interesting to you.

5.    Grammar rules. When speaking you don’t have the time to think about grammar rules. You want to use the language naturally. To do this you need to receive as much input of natural English as possible.

Alternative: Read good English aloud.



8 Memorizing

Forgetting is one of a student’s greatest enemies. Here are a few well-known facts, and how awe can apply them practically:

1.    It seems that the human brain can hold about seven bits of information in its immediate memory at one given time.

Practical application: When learning new vocabulary for example, tackle only seven new words at a time, or revise only seven that you have forgotten.

2.    The greatest losses of information from the human mind, about 50%, occur within the first 24 hours of acquiring this information. 80% is lost after about two weeks. Reinforcement of the information can reduce these losses dramatically.

Practical application: The sooner one can review newly acquired information the better. For example: when you organize notes taken in class that same day or evening you are reinforcing the information before it is lost.

3.    Recite as much, wherever, and whenever as possible. Some scientists believe that reciting should take up as much as 60-80% of our study time. There are three reasons for this;

a)    The more senses one can employ when studying the better. It creates a stronger neural (nerve) trace of memory (the path your mind has to follow to find the information again, in other words: to remember). Seeing when reading, and feeling when writhing come naturally when studying. It does however take much more effort to utilize the hearing sense by reciting in the study process.

Practical application: Write and day words or short sentences that you know are absolutely correct when studying English.

b)    Writing and reciting simultaneously makes you more active and increases the level of your attention to the extent that daydreaming is virtually impossible.

Practical application: Recite at those times when you know it is difficult to concentrate.

c)    Reciting without consulting your notes provides you with immediate feedback, which in turn increases your motivation.

Practical application: When feeling negative about your studies, recite some work, and know that you made progress.

4.    Repetition:

a)    When studying English, vocabulary cards are useful. Vocabulary cards are cards of about 7cm X 3cm that have the mother tongue word or phrase on the one side, and the equivalent meaning in the second language on the other side. These cards can be carried on your person and be used to utilize those times when other study methods are not convenient. For example when traveling on the bus or waiting in a queue. You can quiz yourself by looking at the one side, deciding what the equivalent in the other language is, and finding the correct answer by looking at the other side. Next time around, leave the cards that you know at home. If not, you will instinctively tend to concentrate on the familiar ones.

b)    When at your desk, the ‘dividing page’ method is useful. Draw a dividing line down the center of a sheet of paper or notebook page. Write questions covering the material that you want to memorize on the left, and the corresponding answers on the right. By using a cover in the form of paper or a card, cover the answers and test yourself by using the so-called ‘self-restricting’ study method. While covering the answers, attempt the first question. Look at the answer, and if you had it wrong, recite it several times. Now try to recite it while covering the answer again. Repeat the process for each question and mark those that you have correct. Repeat only the ones that you have correct. Repeat only the ones that you have wrong. Repeat this until you are able to recite all the answers correctly. Remember to only take on about seven bits of information at a time.

c)    I have used a combination of the above two methods to study new vocabulary. I would list words from my mother tongue on the left of the divided page, and their meaning in the second language on the right. I would use the self-restricting method to memorize seven words at a time. After completing a page (about 30 words), I would test myself finally on then all. Those words that I then still had wrong, I would place on vocabulary cards for reviewing and reciting between classes the next day.

d)    By making a summary in your own words of a given text, you are forcing yourself to think of the material in your own terms, and repeating the facts. Every time the summary is summarized one is repeating the facts. This can be to the point where the facts are reduced to very concise notes, which can be used to revise before the exam. Focus on the basic ideas or important points, and use them in your summaries. Refer to the section on ‘Writing exams’ to see how the most concise summary can be used in the examination room.

5.    Association:

a)    When studying a language for example, I have memorized vocabulary by associating the new word with something that is well known to me. For example: The Chinese word ‘cha’ means ‘tea’ which in my culture is associated with China.

b)    Word mnemonics is the process by which the individual letters of a well-known work is used to remind you of a larger amount of information. Let me give you a fictitious example: You have to remember how an alloy is formed. If you know that CHINA produces many alloys, you could use it to remind you of the following process: Carbon and Hydrogen is used Instead of Nitrogen in Alloys.

6.    Visualization:

a)    It is said that Mark Twain had mastered the art of visualization (seeing abstract things in the form of pictures) excellently. The right lobe of the human brain deals more with pictures, while the left lobe deals with facts and figures. To utilize both lobes we need to transform facts and figures into pictures so that they are visual. For example: Imagine a picture with a statue of a famous person. On the pedestal of the statue, the birth date of the person is inscribed. This should help you to remember the date. Picture a map of a country to remember the names of the important cities in that country.

9 Assignments

The purpose of assignments is to guide you on how to work through a particular part of the study material. In addition, assignments often give the students an indication of what can be expected in exams. The following points should be kept in mind:

1.    Make sure that you stick to the format required. Verbs like ‘describe, explain, state, mention, compare, draw, etc.’ will indicate what is required.

2.    Essays should consist of three parts:

a)    Introduction: A brief outline to show the reader what you are going to deal with in the essay.

b)   The body: It consists of number of paragraphs. Each paragraph should contain the following two elements:

i)A Topic Statement, that indicates the fact or aspect that the paragraph is going to deal with.

ii) Supporting statements, that explain the topic statement or gives the reasons for the topic statement.

c)    Conclusion: It consists of a summary of what was dealt with in the body, and then formulates the results of that which the body had advocated.

3.    Do not exceed the prescribed length. Remember the teacher has to mark many assignments, and does not want to read assignments that are too long.

4.    Give an Index at the beginning of the assignment, showing what has been dealt with in the different parts.

5.    Give full credit to the references that you have used in your research.



10 Examinations

Any qualification suggests that the holder of that qualification has mastered a certain skill or acquired a certain amount of knowledge on a particular subject. The only way to determine the level of the person’s skill or knowledge is to place the person in the test situation and then evaluate his or her level of competence. Then testing process can be in one or more of many formats. For example, testing the skills of a surgeon will be different from testing the knowledge of a philosopher.

10.1 Preparing for examinations

1. The purpose of an examination (‘exam’ for short), is to determine how much you know, and not how much you do not know.

2. Trying to memorize a whole terms work in a few days before the exams (a popular method amongst lazy and unconscientious students, called ‘cramming’), is the most common cause of an unhealthy amount of exam anxiety.

3. Your study schedule ensures that you have planned your workload according to set objectives on the short term (days and weeks) and the longer term (months, terms, and semesters).

4. As soon as you know what work has to be covered in a period of time, you should do some long term planning, to ensure that you are spreading the work evenly over the time available and still have some time left directly before the exams to review.

5. It has been proven over and over again that it is fatal to look at new and unfamiliar work shortly before the exam.

6. As a matter of fact, one should not become engaged in heavy memorizing activities for at least 24 hours before the exam. A good nights rest is far more valuable than trying to memorize a few new facts.

7. Looking at previous exam pagers is useful to get ideas about the format of the paper, but should not be used indiscriminately.

8. Do not listen to the scary stories of some other students. They have not worked hard during the term, and would now like you to become afraid like them. It is in their interest that as many students as possible do badly, because this would sooth their guilt. Be confident in your efforts and yourself.

10.2 Writing exams

Examinations come in many formats. For example, oral and practical exams are completely different from written exams. Here I will only deal with the latter. Here are a few general suggestions:

1.    Only students who have not been working diligently throughout the term or semester are afraid of the exams. However , a small amount of stress before and during the exam is good, as this will make your mind sharper.

2.    When receiving their papers, many students feel so anxious that they immediately start with the first question, battle with it as long as it takes , and then move to the next question. It is a good investment to spend about 5% of the total time of the paper (10 minutes of a three hour paper, for example), to plan on what you are going to do, and how much of the available time you are going to spend on each question. Have a good look at all the questions, and make the following decisions:

a)    Identify those questions that you know you are able to answer well.

b)   Decide on how much time you are going to spend on each of these questions, and leave the rest of the time for the questions that you do not feel good about.

3.    Now do the question that you like in the time you have to allotted to them.

4.    In the time that is left, you should now attempt the remaining questions. Write as much as you can, even if you are not sure about the correctness of what you are writing. The examiner can only give you credit for something that you have written, and will not penalize you for an incorrect answer.

5.    When you have to write an essay, use the mentioned 5% of the time to make some short notes on what you want to write. These notes will correspond with the final summary that you have made during your preparation. Change these notes as you go along only when you are absolutely sure that you have made a mistake. Scientists have found that the first set of Information that we receive from our brains is usually the most reliable.

11 More information

1. Student Affairs

All universities have a Student Affairs department where you can ask for help with virtually any problem you have. Many of these departments offer short courses in studying methods, often free of charge. If all possible, it is worth attending one of these. The few hours you spend there will save you many hours (and maybe years) later. I spent 5 hours on such a course in 1974, and have been making use of the information I gained there ever since.

2.The Internet

As with any other subject, the Internet has opened the whole world of studying techniques to anyone who is has the opportunity to surf. It is worth spending a few hours downloading, priting, and studying the most useful articles. You need only one page to start, like for example:, from where you are able to find articles on all the above subjects, and how much more.

4.    Books

Any inspirational books are worth reading. For example: the book by Steven, R.Covey, Seven habits of highly effective people, show us how habits work and how they affect our lives. Autobiographies of successful people are able to inspire us to new heights. There are many of these available, but you have to be willing to search for them, and pay some money.

12 Consultancy service

As stated in the beginning, this booklet is not the “know all and be all” of how to study. I believe that serious students will read it and then refer to it often until they have applied all that they are able to.