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How to Study Part 4

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Then again, many questions are indefinite, and {52} can only be answered indefinitely; but to all questions a correct answer can be given, and the student must give the most definite answer the case admits of, and must gain the ability to qualify his answer or cla.s.sify possible cases in such manner as may be necessary.

(_e_) IF YOU CANNOT SEE HOW THE AUTHOR REACHES A STATED CONCLUSION, BECAUSE HE DOES NOT INDICATE THE PROCESS WHICH HE FOLLOWS, DO NOT SPEND TOO MUCH TIME TRYING TO FIND OUT HOW HE DID IT, BUT RATHER SEE IF YOU CAN COME TO A CONCLUSION IN YOUR OWN WAY, THUS CULTIVATING YOUR OWN POWER AND INITIATIVE RATHER THAN FOLLOWING THE AUTHOR.--A good textbook should not make things too clear, or relieve the student of the necessity of exerting himself.

(_f_) LEARN TO GENERALIZE.--Draw the most general conclusion possible from the premises. Try to see if a general principle can be laid down.

This is a most important faculty to acquire. At the same time, avoid the prevalent fault of hasty generalization, based on insufficient data.

(_g_) GO BEYOND THE BOOK.--Regard the book as suggestive and not final, as the a.s.sistant to your own powers that you are for the moment employing. Pursue the subject as much farther {53} as you have time for. In this way you may develop a faculty for independent thinking.

(_h_) VISUALIZE YOUR RESULTS SO FAR AS POSSIBLE.--Train the imagination by perceiving results in your mind, in concrete form, and in imagining applications of facts and principles. Remember that use is the object of study, and try to see the use that may be made of what you have acquired.

We have seen that there are four main requisites for proper study, viz.: (1) Mental courage; (2) Understanding; (3) System; (4) Initiative. In addition to these may be mentioned (5) Proper habits and methods of work, under which head a number of minor but important suggestions may be made.

[1] "The greatest piece of good fortune is that which corrects our deficiencies and redeems our mistakes."--_Goethe_.

{54}

V

PROPER HABITS AND METHODS OF WORK

(_a_) SELECT THE BEST BOOK FOR YOUR PURPOSES AND STUDY IT THOROUGHLY.--The best book for your purposes will depend upon circ.u.mstances. If you are beginning a subject, do not start with the most complete book, but take a more elementary one. Remember that elementary knowledge is not the same thing as superficial knowledge, but may be quite the reverse. A knowledge of fundamental elementary principles is essential for the understanding of any subject. These should be obtained first from some elementary book, and made to form a skeleton or framework, upon which the more elaborate portions of the subject may be hung in their proper places. In large books there will be found too great detail for the beginner, and he will be discouraged by having too many things thrust upon his attention at once.

Elementary knowledge, thoroughly a.s.similated, is essential. Begin, therefore, with the best elementary book there is, one which will make you {55} think, weigh, understand, test and discriminate; and get from it the kernel of the subject; and gain, if possible, a stimulation to go beyond to a more elaborate treatise.

(_b_) DO NOT STUDY TOO MANY SUBJECTS AT ONCE.--You need not concentrate on one thing to the exclusion of everything else, although when studying any one subject you should, for the time being, concentrate your entire attention upon it, as already explained; but the mind is rested by _change of occupation_ which comes by pa.s.sing from one study to another of a different kind. The point is, that you should not dissipate your powers by taking up too many subjects, looking into them cursorily, then dropping them and pa.s.sing on to something else. This habit of beginning many things and completing nothing, is most demoralizing and will result in your doing nothing well. Do not attempt more than you can do properly. Select first the subjects that will be directly useful to you, and study them thoroughly. Gain the power of concentrating your attention on one subject with intentness for several hours at a time. In the end your mind will become tired, and you can then change to an entirely different subject, or even to recreation, such as the study of good fiction. {56} The mind does not need idleness, but it does need change of occupation. Probably from three to five studies are as many as the student can profitably pursue at once, but students differ greatly in this respect, as in others.

(_c_) DO NOT BE IN A HURRY.--Take time to think, so that you will not take the statements in the book for granted, but will study them with a sense of mastership. Remember that here, as elsewhere, "the more haste the less speed." You may think that you have not time to think about your studies. The fact is, that you have not time _not_ to think about them, and that in the end you can do more in less time if you will insist upon taking pains.

(_d_) DO NOT TAKE UP A STUDY LIGHTLY, BUT WHEN TAKEN UP DO NOT ABANDON IT WITHOUT GOOD CAUSE.--At the beginning of your study try to get a definite idea before your mind what you want to get out of your study, and keep this point before your mind as you progress in the subject.

(_e_) CULTIVATE THE POWER OF JUDICIOUS SKIPPING.--You can do this if you study with a sense of mastery and a clear idea of what you want to get. It is not necessary to read every word in the book. Sometimes paragraphs, pages {57} and perhaps chapters may be skipped. This, however, should not lead you into the habit of careless or superficial reading.

(_f_) BE SYSTEMATIC.--Have set times for your study of each subject, a regular program of work. Gain the habit of being able to start at once on your work without frittering away your time and thinking about beginning. Apply yourself steadily and persistently and do not let your work consist of a series of spasmodic efforts. By systematically doing one thing at a time and pa.s.sing from study to study, you can finally, after a period of continuous application, dependent upon your powers, alternate with a period of relaxation or amus.e.m.e.nt. Your period of continuous study should not be so short as to prevent continuous effort, nor so long as to over-fatigue your mind. Some students are restless, spasmodic, and while they seem to be continually employed, they achieve nothing. Others by a steady, continuous pull, achieve much.

(_g_) CULTIVATE THE POWER, BY HABITUAL PRACTICE, OF FIXING YOUR MIND INTENSELY UPON ONE THING FOR A CONSIDERABLE TIME.--If you can acquire this, it will be most valuable to you. It has been said that the difference between clever and ordinary men is often mainly {58} a difference in the power of directing and controlling the mind through the attention. Some minds go wool gathering or day dreaming, and flit from one thing to another in a desultory manner. Others go straight toward the object in view.

(_h_) REMEMBER TO APPLY WHAT YOU ARE STUDYING.--Study from things, by experiment, in the field, rather than entirely by books. In this way, what you learn will be real to you. Book knowledge is of very little value in itself.

(_i_) BE INTERESTED THOROUGHLY IN WHAT YOU ARE DOING.--Indifference is a fatal enemy to good work. Every subject has its difficulties and you must not be discouraged by them. If you can learn how to overcome difficulties, you will find that doing so affords the keenest intellectual pleasure, and that each difficulty overcome by your own unaided efforts will make you much stronger in attacking the next one.

(_j_) READ THE IMPORTANT THINGS AGAIN AND AGAIN UNTIL YOU KNOW YOUR BOOK THOROUGHLY.--As Herbert Spencer says, it is much better to know a few books thoroughly than to know many superficially. The same philosopher once said that if he had read as many books as certain other persons had read he would know {59} as little as they did.

Remember the old Latin proverb, "Multum legere non multa." [Read much but not many books.] If you learn your small book thoroughly and then take a larger one, you will be surprised to find how much of the latter you already know. You can then direct your attention to the new material and to relating it with the old.

(_k_) MAKE A LIST OF REFERENCES AS YOU PROCEED.--Summarize what you learn and construct an index. Learn where to go to find what you do not know. You cannot learn everything even about one subject, and the next best thing to knowing it is to know where to find it or how to work it out yourself.

(_l_) REVIEW YOUR WORK FREQUENTLY.--Review is not re-studying, but is going quickly over the main points, looking at them all in their proper perspective. This will be a.s.sisted if you make summaries; writing out a statement of a thing helps you to understand it clearly and to fix it in the memory. As Landon says: "The practice of reviewing keeps the mind in touch with the main lines of the subject; secures freshness and exactness of knowledge; shows what has been imperfectly learned, and gives an opportunity for remedying the trouble; strengthens {60} the recollection and accustoms the mind to recover and give up its stores; saves waste of energy and the formation of bad mental habits; and thus leads to complete a.s.similation of the subject."

(_m_) SET SPECIAL TIMES FOR YOUR RECREATIVE STUDY.--Cultivate some hobby as a relief from your concentrated study of books. Music, some games of cards, chess, billiards, or other relaxations, are admirable means of recuperation. When you indulge in recreation or recreative reading, do not let the mind worry about problems of your previous studies. Make your recreative reading in itself have some aim. Do not allow yourself to develop in a one-sided manner, but have interests outside of your main study.

(_n_) IN CONNECTION WITH YOUR STUDIES DO NOT NEGLECT PROPER PHYSICAL EXERCISE.--Remember that the preservation of your health should be your princ.i.p.al aim rather than to cram your head with book learning. Study should not be allowed to interfere with a sufficient amount of physical exercise in the open air, but this should not be carried to the extent of severe bodily fatigue. A healthy body is necessary for the fullest cultivation of the mental powers, but {61} on the other hand, the mind will not work when the body is exhausted. Moreover, see that your studies are done under proper conditions of air, light, sun; that you have a comfortable chair, but not one which leads to somnolence.

The suggestions contained in this paper should be of use not only to students but to the teacher who believes, as the writer does, that the main object which he should have in mind is not by lectures to pump his students full of information, but to train them, so far as possible, to think and study properly. With a good text book a lesson should be a.s.signed and the student should be expected to master it. The lesson should not be so long that the average student cannot, in the time allowed, properly a.s.similate it. Then in the cla.s.s-room the teacher should call up a student, question him on the lesson, or give him a problem to work out on the blackboard. He should question the student at all points of his work to ascertain whether he really understands the subject. Oftentimes the student will reply to a question with entire correctness, perhaps using the very words in the book, from which a superficial teacher might infer that he understood what he was saying; but if the teacher will probe more deeply, for instance by asking the student {62} in a plausible way why some other and conflicting method or statement is not used, he will in many cases find the student quite as ready to accept the conflicting plausible method, showing that he had learned by rote and did not really understand. If the student correctly states a certain thing to be true, the teacher should make him explain why a conflicting statement is not true and should utilize the various suggestions in this paper, particularly those under the second and third essentials. He should also endeavor to cultivate in a student the proper att.i.tude of mind, above discussed as the first essential, and while correcting unsparingly the faults of the student, should endeavor to make him perceive that, if he will think, he really has the capacity to understand what he is studying.

If the teacher convinces himself that the student has not this capacity, he should not be allowed to go on with the cla.s.s or perhaps should be required to withdraw from the school. It is an injury rather than a help to a man to endeavor to give him an education for which he is not fitted and which he cannot a.s.similate, and it often results in putting a man into a position in life for which he is entirely unadapted. The student should be made to realize that all labor is honorable, and that it is far better {63} to be a successful mechanic, laborer, or clerk than an unsuccessful or incompetent lawyer, physician, or engineer. For every man there is some work which he is better fitted to do than anything else, and which he can do with reasonable success. His happiness in life will largely depend upon his finding this work. Much time and effort are wasted in our schools in the endeavor to fit men for spheres for which they are not adapted.

Finally, the student should be again urged to realize the importance of not becoming discouraged. Many an earnest student, after repeated failures, a.s.sumes a sort of hopeless, discouraged att.i.tude of mind, which naturally leads him into the habit of trying to learn his lessons by memorizing in the hope of being able to pa.s.s, if only by sc.r.a.ping through, and into other bad habits which have been referred to in the foregoing pages. Such an att.i.tude of mind should be resolutely opposed, and the teacher, even when severely correcting a student, should encourage him to see the possibilities that are within his reach if he will exercise his will and put forth his utmost powers in a proper manner. Success in the work of the world depends much more upon will than upon brains; but all faculties, {64} whether mental or moral, can be cultivated and developed to an almost unlimited extent. A study of the biographies of men who have succeeded should be urged upon the student, and such a study will show how often success has been attained only after repeated failures. It is scarcely too much to say to a student that he can attain anything he desires, if he desires it with sufficient intensity; that is to say, if he possesses sufficient will power, and if he will train himself to direct his efforts properly.

Experience with students, however, will often show that a student is on the wrong track, or trying to do work for which he is not well adapted.

If this can be demonstrated with reasonable certainty, the student should be the person most eager to take advantage of it, and should alter his course of study or his aim in life, in such a manner that he may train himself to do that work which he is best qualified to do. To put the right man in the right place should be one of the chief aims of education; but for a student to find that he is on the wrong track and that he had better change to another, is very different from becoming discouraged. The opportunities in the world are without number, and it is within the power of every man to be a successful, useful, and {65} respected member of society. If a student finds himself constantly unsuccessful in his work, he should scrutinize himself carefully with the endeavor to ascertain the cause. He should not be too quick to conclude that he is on the wrong track, but should consult friends and teachers with frankness and sincerity. In no case, however, should he allow himself to become discouraged or disheartened, or to lose confidence in his own ability to attain ultimate success in some direction.

There are three books known to the present writer on the subject of "How to Study," but they do not appear to have been much used even by teachers. The ordinary student knows nothing of them. They are earnestly recommended to all who wish to learn how to study.

First in order may be mentioned "The Principles and Practice of Teaching and Cla.s.s Management" by Joseph Landon, 1894, New York, Macmillan & Company. This is a general book on the conduct of cla.s.ses, but on pages 12 to 24 is found the best summary of this subject known to the writer. He has made much use of it in the present paper, and here makes acknowledgment of his indebtedness.

Second, "How to Study and Teaching How to Study" by Frank M. McMurry, 1909, Houghton, Mifflin Company. This is a very suggestive little book and will be valuable to any thoughtful student.

Third, "Teaching Children to Study" by Lida B. Earhart, 1909, Riverside Educational Monograph, Houghton, Mifflin Company.

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How to Study Part 4 summary

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