How to Flourish as a Student: Practical Study Suggestions

The following suggestions are based on my seven-year experience as a seminary student. They are written particularly for seminary students, but may be more broadly application for students enrolled in other programs of higher education.

Getting Organized

1.   Organize your class and study schedule.  Mark all due dates on your calendar. Adjust some dates if you have two papers due at the same time.

2.   Make a list of all assignments and post them above your desk.  These are the priority items for the quarter.  Check them off as you complete the projects.

3.   Schedule your reading.  Don’t save it for the last week.  Ask your professor if the reading is for familiarity or precision.  Will you be examined on the material you have read?

4.   If you are taking a language, plan to devote about 50% of your study time to that subject.

5.   Since you have enrolled in an intensive academic program, make your studies a priority. Many students find it best to limit  themselves to one extra-curricular activity opportunity and limited outside work.

6.   Study hard during the week.  Rise early and study late.  But take Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning off to Spend time with friends and family.  Be balanced.  Include a program of physical exercise.  This will help with tension and keep your mind alert.

7.   Get to know your advisor or major professor.  Look for informal opportunities to get to know your teachers better (lunch, school picnics, campus activities).

Hitting the Books

1.   Plan your schedule to allow blocks of time for papers.

2.   Establish study priorities.  Complete assigned work first!  If your Greek assignment is due tomorrow, complete it before beginning other projects or reading.

3.   Don’t separate your studies from your devotional and spiritual life.  Do your studies devotionally — with God’s help, by the power of the Holy Spirit.

4.   Read and study with an open mind.  Don’t be afraid to consider new ideas.  Be open, not resistant, to a new concept or truth.  Be teachable.

5.   When you are reading, know what you are looking for.  Study with purpose.  Have your objectives clearly in mind.

6.   Take study breaks.  After an hour of study, get up and clear your mind.  Talk to your friend or spouse.  Make some tea. Then hit the books again!

7.   Use a highlighter when you read.  This will save you much time when you read the material again in review for an exam.

8.   Take notes when doing research.  Use 4×6 cards.  After your research is completed, you can shuffle the cards and arrange the material logically.

9.   Use the library.  Consult the journals, reserve materials, on-line resources, etc…  Be a researcher.  And be sure to document your research carefully with footnotes or endnotes.

10.  Don’t wait until finals week to begin preparing for exams.  Spend an hour each week reviewing your class notes and material.  Prepare summaries which can be used to study during finals week.

Attending Class

1.   Be on time!  Develop the habit of being punctual.  It demonstrates to your professor and others that you are dependable and that you value their time.

2.   Ask questions!  Clarification questions are appropriate anytime. Ask for additional information when the professor pauses at a natural breaking point in the lecture.

3.   Professors really appreciate questions that will benefit the majority of the students in the class.  If it is a matter of personal concern or special interest, see the professor after class.

4.   Some people ask questions in such a way that they pass judgment on the point that the prof has just made.  Instead, Ask for a clarification or elaboration on the point.  Maintain a teachable spirit as you interact with controversial  issues.  Don’t claim Psalm 119:99a as your life verse!

5.   Students sometimes expect the professor to be a walking commentary on the Bible.  There are probably some issues the prof is not prepared to address and even a few things the professor doesn’t know (cf. Psalm 35:11b).

6.   Help the professor to get to know your name and a little bit about you.  Initiate a personal relationship by speaking with him before or after class.  Don’t let the class conclude without giving the professor ample opportunity to get to know you.

7.   Some profs invite their students to address them on a first name basis. Others are not as comfortable with this informality. Be sensitive to the different preferences.  What one professor prefers may not apply in another class.

Writing Papers

1.   Prepare a title page with your name and email address on it.  Professors would rather not have to search for your email in order to contact you or return your paper.

2.   If the paper is more than a few pages, a table of contents is in order.  This will help the professor overview your paper before reading it.

3.   Know what is required before you begin your paper.  Read the directions in the course syllabus.  Ask questions if it is not clear.  Follow the directions.

4.   Introductions are always appropriate.  State you topic, explain your approach, tell why it will be worthwhile reading your paper.

5.   Most papers of any significant length are improved by including an outline in the text of your paper.  Include major points and sub points.  This will enable the prof to see your organization and development. This simple addition to your paper will usually improve your grade!

6.   Include footnotes (or endnotes) if your paper requires research.  Biblical references should always be in the text, not in footnotes.  A research paper should always include a bibliography.

7.   “How Long, O Lord (Psa. 13:1)?”  Write a paper that is sufficient to cover the subject without going beyond the generally expected requirements of the course. Don’t turn a term paper into a thesis!  On the other hand, don’t plan on doing a major paper in an evening.  Do work that reflects sincere interest in the subject matter, not in just passing the course.

8.   Most profs want class assignments submitted on time.  Being punctual with your homework reflects your faithfulness in all areas of life.  If you are late in turning in an assignment, attach a note of explanation, but don’t ask for  favors.  It is unfair to your classmates to expect the professor to give you a special dispensation.

9.  Before asking the professor, “How should I write this paper?,” read the syllabus carefully.  If you don’t understand the directions ask for clarification on specific points.  Generally, if you follow the directions given in the syllabus, you will do well.

Taking Exams

1.   The key to passing any exam is to know what you will be asked.  If your professor does not offer to tell you what you are responsible for and will be tested on, ask for specifics.  “What are his instructional objectives?”  “Are the exams on lectures, reading, or both?”

2.   Recognize that your exams are designed to be a learning experience.  Don’t fuss and fume over the answers you miss.  Study out the question and learn the correct answer.  If an incorrect answer gives you a chance to learn the correct answer, then the exam is accomplishing one of its purposes.

3.   Appreciate the fact that every exam is a subjective evaluation — both in the preparation of it and in the grading process.  It is simply one person’s fallible measure of how well you have accomplished a particular course objective.  Another professor’s evaluation might be different. Recognize that God is the One who will ultimately evaluate your efforts.  His judgment will be perfect.

4.   If you find that your points have not been calculated correctly, resubmit your exam with a written explanation of your concern.  This will give the prof and opportunity to check your answer and make a correction if necessary.

Receiving Grades

1.   The best way to be happy with your grades is to always strive for excellence. Always do your best in light of your time and present limitations.  If you have done your best, that’s all you can do.

2.   Don’t compare yourself with others.  Just compare yourself with your past.  Are you maintaining?  Are you improving?

3.   Recognize that all evaluation this side of heaven is to some degree subjective.  Grades are necessary in an academic institution, but ultimately it is the Lord who will reward you.  If you have done your best, then the Lord will say, “Well done,” even if the professor only gave you a “C”.

4. Remember, you are not taking classes to earn grades. You are taking classes to learn. Let learning be your ultimate goal. No search committee will ever ask what grade you received in Theology 101. They will just be happy to know that you graduated and completed the courses for your ministry degree.

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