How to Learn for Life, Not Exams: Return to School VIII: Study Skills 3

Returning to School VIII

by Owen Fourie

Study Skills: Part Three

Do the Work; Receive; Assimilate

Now that you know

  • how your brain is wired,
  • and what your particular learning method is,

and now that you have

  • organized yourself
  • and made sure that your physical needs will not be neglected,

you are ready to do the work of studying.

Let’s consider this point and also how to receive and assimilate what you are given to study.

Do the work

  • Don’t learn subjects to pass exams; learn for life.
  • Treat exams as steps along the way to meet the requirements of the system, but go beyond the system to learn for a life without its shackles.
  • Work daily and consistently on your studies.
  • Get down to the basic facts—the nuts and bolts—of each subject. (Think of the parts of a motor car.)
  • Think about these separate facts and analyze them. Find the right relationships between them. Ask, “Who?” “What?” “Where?” “When?” “Which?” “Whose?” (Think of a disassembled motor car and learning to understand the relationships of the parts to each other and their individual and combined functions.)
  • Uncover faulty connections and any misunderstanding of the relationships between the various parts. Think for yourself. Challenge the presuppositions and the assertions of each subject. Ask, “Why?” (Think of bad workmanship that could cause a car to malfunction.)
  • Synthesize these separate facts that you have analyzed. Bring them together in a well-reasoned understanding of the whole subject—your perspective of the entire theme and how it functions and interacts in the world. Ask, “How?” (Think of the motor car that you have assembled, know thoroughly, and display proudly as you drive it on the highway.)
  • Be creative and explore new ways of considering each subject without discarding what you need to know to satisfy requirements.
  • Discover the connections between the various subjects and see the interconnectedness of all things.


  • As you attend classes or listen to lectures, be fully there.
  • Focus.
  • Dismiss everything that would distract you and listen closely.
  • Take notes. Be alert to keywords and note them. If you develop your cursive handwriting it will serve you well in notetaking. It is a tried and tested tool that continues to benefit the few who use it.
  • Graphic organizers are extremely useful in notetaking.
  • Be sure to fill out your notes as soon as possible after each lecture while the points are still fresh in your mind. Make corrections. Read the required parts of prescribed texts. This is essential to assimilating the subject.


  • A crucial step in comprehending a subject is to go through the process of assimilation. You have to give yourself the opportunity to take in and absorb the substance of lectures and texts. You do this by
  • reworking your notes, as mentioned in the last point of the previous section;
  • using graphic organizers: tabulations, charts, diagrams, maps, webs, different colors;
  • outlining;
  • summarizing;
  • asking questions;
  • reading other works relevant to your subject and researching;
  • finding answers;
  • increasing your comprehension of the subject by
  • using a dictionary;
  • building vocabulary;
  • familiarizing yourself with the subject’s terminology;
  • using the glossaries in the text books.
  • The remaining stage of assimilation should be to memorize the major points of the subject, making every effort to make them a part of your long-term memory as you learn for life and not merely to pass exams. Do this by using
  • flash cards;
  • index cards;
  • mnemonics (acronyms, rhymes, acrostics);
  • testing your ability to recall what you have learned and memorized.

Reviewing and taking tests are the remaining points that we’ll consider in the next post as we conclude this mini series on study skills, the final part of the larger series on returning to school.


If you have other practical points for doing the work of studying and for receiving and assimilating what you are given to study, please mention them here. Your comments, observations, and questions are welcome.

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