Changing your Study Habits: Advice from Saundra Yancy McGuire

I can pretty confidently say that nearly every college student has had the experience of coming to college, putting in the same amount of effort that they did in high school, and getting a less than optimal grade than what they expected.  Dr. Saundra Yancy McGuire suggests that in high school we have to operate at a much lower level of thinking in regards to Bloom’s Taxonomy, which categorizes the levels at which we operate when learning.  She mentions that while we can easily get by with that level of learning in high school when we get to college, that level of thinking is no longer sufficient, and we need to supplement our learning with other methods.  She suggests that by using metacognitive techniques, students can increase the level at which they think, understand the material more thoroughly, and overall perform better in the class.  

Dr. Saundra Yancy McGuire states that in her opinion, the most impactful strategy for a student looking to improve their performance in class is to begin by getting the most out of their homework problems.  Her first bit of advice?  Start early.  She suggests students start their homework the day it was assigned.  Not only does this allow students to move information learned in class from short term to long term memory, but it prevents the panic of trying to complete the homework the night before it’s due, which often causes students to do it just to get it done rather than to understand it. 

She also suggests that students work through their problems without the aid of textbook practice problems.  “Use this as a method of preparing yourself for the test”, she states, mentioning that there are no practice problems to flip back to on an exam.  It’s important to spend time on these problems, don’t give up too early; give yourself at least 15 minutes to work through a problem, however, if the problem is too difficult and you’re beginning to push 30 minutes on one problem, that may be a sign you should go back to the text and review the material you’re getting stuck on.  

In terms of review and studying, Dr. Saundra Yancy McGuire suggests that students should study to fully understand the material rather than just memorize what’s necessary to pass the exam.  One method she proposes to do this is to study as if you are going to be teaching the material to the class.  When you are preparing to teach the material, you are anticipating questions that students may ask.  Even just attempting to explain the material to a friend or pet can allow you to realize that you may not fully understand one of the concepts you are attempting to explain.  In that case, you can go back to the text and fill in the gaps of what you’ve missed. 

Another recommended method is the “study cycle”, in which you begin by reviewing the material before class.  This doesn’t necessarily mean reading and studying the text before class, but having a guideline of what material you should be learning will allow you to compartmentalize the material and retain what is then taught in class.  You should then, obviously, attend class so you can absorb the material and ask any questions.  Then, as soon as possible after class, review the material.  This allows you to move the material from short-term to long-term memory.  After you’ve reviewed the material, you should periodically study the material.  Repetition is key in this case, and it allows you more chances for the information to be retained.  Finally, assess your learning, and ask yourself “Am I using study methods that are effective?” or “Do I understand the material enough to teach it to others?”.  This method can be supplemented with intermittent “intense study sessions” in which you set a goal to accomplish, study with a focus for 30 minutes to an hour while interacting with the material, reward yourself with a prize or break, and then review what you just studied.  

While this seems like a lot for just one class, Yancy McGuire suggests that students start with just one or two study strategies to improve their performance in class.  Look at the list below and choose one that you will incorporate into your studying before your next quiz or exam.  

  • Solve problems without looking at an example or solution
  • Test understanding by giving “mini-lectures” on concepts
  • Spend time on your class every day, using review and studying strategies
  • Use the study cycle and intense study sessions
  • Start your homework the day it is assigned
  • Study for understanding rather than just for the exam


Hear Dr. Saundra Yancy McGuire’s advice for yourself, here.