Studying tips

Aug. 26, 2005
The Web moderator of provides some suggestions for developing strong study habits.

By Amy Nieves, RDH

Congratulations! You did it! You have become part of an elite group that gets selected into a dental hygiene program. This can be an intense program. It is important to start off being prepared. You need to stay on top of all of your subjects and study like you have never studied before. Don't worry; you will be successful! Here are some suggestions on some ways to focus on studying.

The first thing to do is to prioritize! If you have to let the house work go for a few days, then let it go! You can always clean and do dishes at another time — buy paper plates, give your kids or roommates a couple of bucks to do the chores. Allow your kids or husband to do most of the work while you are in the midst of studying for an important exam. Do things to make your life easier since your time in school will be busy. But, remember, your time in school will not last forever!

If you have children, I recommend getting together with fellow students and forming study groups together. If there is a student who has a teenager, ask the teenager to babysit the younger kids. Take turns going over to one another's house and studying together.

If you have an important exam coming up, study alone at home and write down questions that you have to present to the group. Discussing things you don't understand with other students can help you when someone else does understand it. When you are preparing for your national boards, get together one to two times a week. Make a calendar up and organize what subject you will study each week. Study as much as you can alone, then get together to discuss things. You'll be amazed at how much you will remember once you start discussing things out loud with others. Share resources with one another. Be disciplined, though, and schedule time to socially chat during a break in the middle of your study session.

One of the best things I ever did was tape classes. You will need to ask permission since not all professors will allow this. Listening to the tapes will reinforce your brain to remember the lecture. I would come home with the tape from microbiology and sit down and listen to it. I would write down additional notes from the tape, stopping and rewinding the tape if I missed something. To this day because of listening to the tapes, I still remember the difference between Gram positive and Gram negative food poisoning. If you have a tape player in your car, listen to the tapes on your drive to school.

An efficient way of taking notes is the Cornell System. Do a google search on Cornell note-taking to learn this approach. There are free sites where you can download the paper needed to take notes in this style. Or you can just use your loose-leaf paper and draw a vertical line 2.5 inches from the left side of the paper. The left hand column is the recall column, while you use the right hand side to take your notes. Take your notes in paragraph form using general ideas, not illustrative ideas. Skip lines to end a thought or idea. Write legibly and use abbreviations as much as possible. Go back and use the left-hand column to write questions or definitions of key words. To review and recite ideas and thoughts, cover over the right hand column.

Make up flash cards for all subjects. Save these flash cards once you are done with each individual class to study for boards. You can either make up flash cards with index cards, or use a software program that can be found on the Internet to print them out. Use them to test your friends in your study groups. I would take my flash cards with me when I had a doctor's appointment for myself or my kids and study as I was waiting. Take them to school with you and use them to review as you have free time.

I am a visual learner. I would copy any handouts I would get and then highlight things in different colors to recall them easier. For example, for my head and neck class, I would highlight the origin of a muscle in one color and then the insertion in a different color. I used the A.D.A.M. software program to review all of the muscles, bones and blood systems. This is an incredible software program. You can print out pictures of the different areas. Make up quizzes to remember the locations. Use the pictures to make informative study guides.

Everyone learns at a different pace with different systems. Use what works for you. I have two student sites on the Internet to help you with resources. They are located at: and I asked the "Listers" group ( their suggestions as well for studying more efficiently. Here are their ideas:

Angie Stone in Wisconsin: Get yourself some paper with a huge left margin on it. Take notes on the right side. Then after the lecture, go back and write questions on the left side. You then can cover the right side and quiz yourself on the left. Then use these notes to make flash cards with the questions on one side and answers on the other side. You can also modify this technique by taping your lectures, taking notes from the tapes and then making up note cards to quiz yourself. Listen to the tape, stopping to write down questions. This will really help to retain the information as well since you are listening to the lecture twice.

Cappy Snider from Texas: It always helped me to re-write my classroom notes. I would make them into an outline form if possible, or just organize them into more similar groups. The repetition of doing this made the information sink in a little better.

Jane Weiner from Florida: I would suggest that they keep a loose-leaf notebook of pertinent information by subject area. I would suggest that they tape classes if possible and then listen to the tapes as they transcribe their notes. Then the students can make a tape of "rat facts" as I call them and listen to them while traveling to and from school.

Jodie Heimbach from New Jersey: We formed study groups of four to five students for our national boards; it worked great — suddenly it all fit together.

Good luck to you!