Study Advice

Recommended study plan

  • Read the recommended (specified in the lecture slides) textbook readings before lectures. The text is available online. If you prefer to look at a printed copy, it is generally on reserve in the science library along with several other textbooks you may find useful. If it is not on reserve when you check – let your professor know.
  • Print and/or download lecture slides, come to lectures, and take notes on the lecture slides during lecture. You can use tools like MS OneNote (allows you to import the slides and annotate them) if you prefer not to print off the slides.
  • look through and test yourself using the learning outcomes and questions in the workbook and lecture slides.
  • Work through the vocab and study problems in the textbook and workbook.
  • Try the review questions at the end of each chapter in the textbook.
  • Join (or start) a study group.
  • For students in Dr McBeth’s class:
    • Review the lecture capture (video of lectures up on BBLearn) for lectures you have missed as soon as possible if you are ill or unable to attend lecture.
    • Write down a list of words or concepts you do not understand during the lectures (or the closest approximation of those words you can pronounce), and let me know your problem words/concepts in the Top Hat “Weekly Check-In”. You can also try to find the words in the workbook vocab lists and textbook.
    • Review Top Hat questions: I post the Top Hat questions for review, and often include some questions based on the Top Hat questions on the exams.

If these basic study and preparation approaches aren’t working for you and you need or want more help:

  • Come to your professors office hours (Refer to syllabus for times) and ask questions.
  • Would you like to hire a tutor to help you? Contact the instructor for more info. There are geology students and graduates who will tutor by the hour.

Mid-term and other exam preparation: advice on picking your battles

  • Start studying now.
  • Attend lectures.
  • Use the time that is set aside for the course lectures to prepare by listening and/or reviewing course content, whether you are here in person or not (e.g., if you have to stay home due to illness or weather, use the time to prepare if you are well enough).
  • One hour seems like it will be easy to make up until you have missed 3, or 6, or more classes. Missed classes add up, this time has value for your studies, you have a choice to throw it away or make best use of it.
  • Review your lecture notes.
  • Read the assigned textbook readings.
  • Read the review questions and vocab in the workbook.
  • USask students: check out the rock and mineral displays in GEOL 261. Look at each mineral, igneous rock, and igneous texture and review your notes on these topics.
  • Join a study group or find a study buddy if you are struggling, or if you find it helpful and motivating.
  • After mid-terms – come to office hours and review the exam if your professor allows it. We can go through the questions you got wrong. Many students find this very helpful to figure out what they need to learn for future exams.
  • For students in Dr McBeth’s class:
    • watch the lectures you missed on BBLearn as soon as possible after you missed them.
    • some students find it useful to rewatch or listen lectures while they are studying, to help pick up on vocab words they have missed or just to reinforce their learning.
    • Fun fact: of my top 10 GEOL 108 students (based on their midterm #1 scores) in the 2019 Winter term, nearly every single one reviewed the lecture capture regularly. Most of these students also attended class in person on a regular basis.

Note-taking approaches

  • Some people think hand-writing your notes is better for your learning:
  • A recent study suggests that this may not be the case:
  • I am unconvinced that hand written notes are the answer for most students. In geology classes, we use a lot of images. It is hard to concentrate on processing and understanding the content if you are scrambling to write everything down. The number of illustrations and that also complicates note-taking.
  • It is true though that it can help to take notes in class  – students have told me printing off the slides and taking extra notes on the printouts during lectures is a good compromise for them. Some students take notes in word docs, or convert the lecture slides to MS Powerpoint presentations they can take notes in. Some students focus on the lecture in class, then re-watch the lecture on Panopto and write notes.
  • Another strategy would be to prepare notes collectively with friends (e.g., on Google Docs).
  • Having said all of this – I take notes by hand. Primarily because it keeps me awake and focused! If I type notes I try to write too much, handwritten forces me to be brief.

– Dr McBeth

Problematic study approaches

  • Reviewing old multiple choice exams
    • Reason 1: Practicing multiple-choice questions can be useful, particularly if you aren’t experienced with these kinds of exams. However! Profs each make up our own questions and they are different, and I make up new questions every year. So if you are reviewing multiple-choice questions from other profs’ courses, keep in mind that they may have taught the material slightly differently, may have covered other topics that I do not cover, or may focus on different things on their exams than I focus on. The multiple-choice Top Hat review questions provide examples of the kinds of questions I may ask on exams.
    • Reason 2: Learning specific facts and the answers to specific multiple-choice questions is not nearly as effective for learning as digging into the content and knowing your way around it.
    • Every year I get bizarre feedback after midterms asking why the exam didn’t have a question on topic “x” – a topic I didn’t cover in the course, and have never covered in this course, and isn’t in the textbook. This happens because, presumably, these students studied multiple choice questions from a different course (usually Geol 109/122, a different first year geology course offered in our department).

Forming a study group

Students may want to self- organize to form study group(s), here are suggestions to get started:

  • Let your professor know if you are looking to connect for a study group, and they can probably make an announcement in class to help connect you with other students who would like to study together (useful for finding other good times to meet up).
  • Meet under the dinosaur skeleton in the natural science museum (outside the science library) at an agreed upon time.
  • Hunt down a room to study as a group. I suggest the introductory laboratory, Geology room 261. It should be available after around 6 pm each evening. Geology rooms 269, 255, and 155 are also convenient.
  • Things to do:
    • Test each other on vocabulary from the workbook.
    • Work through review questions in the workbook and textbook together, researching answers in the textbook if you don’t know them already. Then use the responses you’ve prepared to test each other.
    • Ask each other questions about things you do not understand. Research answers together and come up with the best answer you can for the question.
    • Make flash cards and use them to test each other. e.g., cards with a vocab word on one side and a definition on the other side.


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Physical Geology Workbook Copyright © 2019 by Joyce M. McBeth is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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