Daniel Starch.

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who had graduated with honors were listed in Who's Who, and
only 10% of the men who had graduated without honors were in
Who's Who. Among the living graduates for the period of 1890
to 1899, 60% of the men graduated with highest honors were listed
in Who's Who, 30% of the men elected to Phi Beta Kappa were
listed in Who's Who, while only 11% of the graduates without
superior scholarship were found in Who's Who. (Nicholson '15).

E. G. Dexter investigated the records of the living graduates of
twenty- two colleges and found that 5.9% of the honor scholars
and only 2% of all graduates were listed in Who's Who. Further-
more, 56% of the Yale valedictorians were found in Who's Who.
Their chances were, therefore, more than twenty-five times as
great as those of other graduates. The records of 13,705 living
graduates of two New England colleges revealed the fact that
5.4% of those who constituted the highest tenth were listed in
Who's Who while but i.S% of those in the fourth tenth were there
listed. Who's Who is, of course, not an absolute criterion of suc-
cess; it is, however, a rough measure of success.

A tabulation of the Oxford University men who entered the law
or the ministry showed the following percentages of men who
attained distinction in their respective professions:

Men with varjdng honors Percentages attaining distinction

In the law In the ministry

Men with ist class honors 46% 68%

" " 2nd " " S3 37

" " 3rd " " , 22 32

" 4th " " 20 29

" " pass degrees 16 21

" " no degrees 15 9


As a matter of correct interpretation of these extensive statistics,
it must not be assumed tliat success or failure is solely attributable
to the amount of devotion to school studies. The uniform manner
with which the early scholastic records agree with the later records
of the same persons, or the pronounced tendency with which scho-
lastic attainment correlates with business or professional attain-
ment is probably due to a common cause, namely, original ability
or make-up of the individual. At their face value, these figures
mean that the person who does well in his school work also tends
rather strongly to be a person who will do well in his business or
professional work. However, this array of facts is impressive and
ought to be brought emphatically to the attention of high school
and college students. They ought to have a tonic effect upon their
efforts. While our native make-up determines to a large extent
what we shall become, yet rarely does any one utilize or develop
to the fullest extent even the limited measure of ability that he
possesses. The laggard can find little consolation in the hope of
somehow redeeming himself later on.

Types of Studying. For the sake of convenience, we may divide
studying into three types:

1. The Reading Type of Studying. In the elementary school
probably eight-tenths and in the high school and the university
probably two-thirds of all studying consists essentially in reading.

2. The Laboratory Type of Studying. This type obviously
consists of the manipulation of apparatus, the observation of
material, the recording of observations and experimental data, and
the interpretation of these data.

3. The Analytical or Reasoning Type of Studying. This type
is involved in those subjects in which the amount of reading is
relatively little, but in which the task consists in a thorough mas-
tery of a relatively small amount of text. Such studying is ob-
viously involved in mathematics and in a few other types of
difficult reading, as for example, certain branches of philosophy
and the speculative and theoretical aspects of the sciences.

Problems. Every type of studying is different and, in a sense,
every lesson has its own special material and presents its own
problems on how to study effectively. It may seem futile to at-
tempt to give general advice on how to study. Yet upon further
analysis, it appears that there are several elements common to
all types of learning. These elements are (i) the control of atten-
tion in securing the most favorable attitude of work, which would


be involved in all 1)^^65 of mental work, (2) common principles in
the assimilation and retention of the material, and (3) proficiency
in reading. Problems involved in all of these elements would be:
First, what are the specific processes common to all types of study-
ing here referred to, and second, how may these various processes
be faciUtated?

Control of Attention. One of the chief, if not the chief, source
of waste in studying and in fact in all mental work, is the reluctance
in beginning an intellectual task. There seems to be in many in-
dividuals an almost insuperable inertia to overcome before work
is, or can actually be, begun and continued without constant self-
pushing. The common feeling is a dislike to begin work. "I
don't like to study my history," or "I just hate to write this theme,"
"I don't see why he makes us do this," represent states of mind
frequently found among the average pupils and to some extent
even among the better pupils who often have severe struggles with
such a tendency.

In papers on "Difficulties and Hindrances in Studying and
How to Overcome Them" collected by the author from about
one hundred university juniors and seniors, 56 mentioned lack of
concentration, 26, dislike for or lack of interest in the subject,
23, getting started, 9, mind-wandering, 5, failure to organize mate-
rial, and 4, day dreaming. These may all be classed as internal
psychological difficulties centering around the problem of getting
the mind to work at the task. Practically every student mentioned
one or another or several of these four difficulties.

Besides attributing this situation to indolence or to stupidity,
is there anything in the way of concrete suggestions and help that
can be given to overcome this mountain of difficulty? I believe
there are two general procedures which may be followed. One is to
grit one's teeth and to "go to it"; that is, simply to force oneself
by sheer voluntary effort to begin the task. The other is to put
oneself into physical surroundings and into a frame of mind in
which it will require a minimiun, or at least a smaller amount, of
voluntary effort. Strictly voluntary effort consumes a large
amount of mental energy and, if it must be continued for a long
time, is very wasteful of one's strength. The second is distinctly
the more advisable plan to adopt. With the help of such a control
of external conditions as is possible, the following means of di-
recting one's energy may, therefore, be suggested:

(i) Put yourself into the proper physical or bodily attitude of


work. Sit up to your desk or table at which you customarily work.
This in itself will help to start the mental machinery agoing and
make it easier for the mental processes to operate.

(2) Work in surroundings in which there are absolutely no dis-
tractions as far as possible. Some persons can work under very
distracting conditions, but these are exceptions, and if one has
difficulty in beginning work, he should go alone into a separate
room, shut the door, and sit facing away from the windows, and
have nothing to look at or to attract his attention. A certain life
insurance agent of one of the largest companies in America adopted
the plan of selling to no one except by special appointment in his
own office from which all possible distractions had been removed.
There was nothing on the walls and nothing in the room but a desk,
a telephone, and a couple of chairs. There was nothing on the
desk except a life insurance policy, which was placed there at a
certain time of the interview. The purpose was to secure condi-
tions under which there were absolutely no distractions what-
ever, and the only thing to think about was the purchase of a life
insurance policy. For a time there was a calendar of the com-
pany hanging above the desk. He found that many clients would
remark, upon leaving the office, about the interesting dates des-
ignated on the calendar. There was nothing else to distract their
attention and consequently these stood out in the minds of the
clients, and, therefore, appeared interesting. He then removed
the calendar to a rear wall so that even the dates might not dis-
tract. All these features were a part of his carefully prepared
sales plan. This man was one of the most successful life insurance
salesmen among all the agents of that company. In a certain
month he had the record of selling the largest number of policies
of all the salesmen of this large company вАФ a record that was
achieved after only eighteen months of experience in selling life
insurance policies, immediately after graduation from college. It
would, of course, be absurd to attribute his remarkable success
to this one element, but it was nevertheless a very important part
in a carefully prepared plan of salesmanship.

The removal of distractions, or what amounts to the same thing,
the selection of a place for study where there are no distractions,
is one of the most useful suggestions that anyone can adopt for
developing concentration in work without a constant and exhaust-
ing tax upon the worker's voluntary efforts. In the course of time,
it may be possible to work under even distracting circumstances,


but probably no one, except the rare, absent-minded genius,
can work as well among distractions of sights and sounds, and
in the presence of other people, as imder the complete absence of
such stimuli. No one is in a position to appreciate the great ef-
fectiveness in intellectual work, under complete absence of dis-
tractions until he has tried it. v^he average pupil wastes an in-
estimable amount of time by having to study in the presence of
other members of the family who may be conversing or moving
about, and every word or action or stimulus of any sort is bound
to enter the mind and to divert the association processes to some-
thing else.) Even though they are very minor, they require a few
seconds, if not longer, to cause the thought process to return again
to the subject-matter to be studied. Only those persons who have
compared their own working efficiency under distracting condi-
tions with their efficiency under ideal conditions can appreciate
the enonnous difference in the amount that can be accom-

(3) Begin work. Don't continue to think, "Oh, I just hate to
do this," but instead go to your desk in your secluded room, sit
down, take hold of book, paper, pencil, or whatever may be needed,
and begin to write, or read, or figure. In short, if you have diffi-
culty in overcoming inertia, just begin to go through the motions
of work. This will automatically start the mental processes going
relative to the work to be done, and before you realize it, you will
be in the midst of the task, reading, thinking, and writing in an
interested manner concerning the problems at hand. The external
mechanical movements will act as stimuU for the inauguration of
associative processes, and are likely to start mental activities
without a great deal of voluntary effort.

A prominent story writer relates that he had difficulty in be-
ginning his writing and in working out his plan necessary to finish
up the details after the plot of the story had been conceived. This
aspect of story writing is work and probably not a matter of in-
spiration; it involves close application and sometimes drudgery.
He found that he was able to get into his writing by simply sitting
down, taking a pencil and paper, and beginning to write whatever
came to his mind, whether it was very pertinent to his story or
not. Going through the motions started his thought processes
agoing, and very shortly his associative and imaginative proc-
esses were almost automatically producing pertinent and excel-
lent ideas.


In like manner, begin to study a lesson by taking the book, turn-
ing to the page, and simply looking at the print. Some voluntary
effort, of course, must be exercised, if only to take hold of the book,
but it is more economical to do so than continuously be thinking
"How I hate to do it." This thought will automatically be driven
out by the processes started by simply going through the motions
of beginning work. The more voluntary effort and force one may
be able to exercise in not thinking about dislike for the task and
in beginning the motions of the work, probably the better and
the sooner one is able to start, but this voluntary attention should
normally pass very quickly into automatic attention and interest.

In the papers previously mentioned, the students stated that
they overcame their difficulties of going at their tasks and keeping
at them, besides "exercising will-power" which was mentioned
most frequently, by "setting a certain hour to begin," by "doing
work in a limited time," by "doing the work under pressure," by
"dividing number of pages so that they could tell how many would
have to be read every fifteen minutes," by "copying a sentence
which helps to get the mind on the subject," by "starting directly
for if I wait at all a million things would come up which were more
interesting," by "having a definite schedule of study," by "plan-
ning the day," by "repeating with lips what is read," by "read-
ing aloud," and by "studying in one place."

Common Elements in the Assimilation and Retention of the
Material. At least five or six specific suggestions applicable to
any kind of studying may be given.

(i) Take a problem solving attitude. Know definitely what
you want to find. Ask questions and then look for the answers.

(2) Understand what you want to assimilate and retain perma-
nently. To go through reading matter in a perfunctory manner
will not cause retention of it except after long, wasteful, and fre-
quent re-readings. A certain psychologist, in conducting experi-
ments in memory with words and syllables, had dictated over and
over a great many times certain series of materials, so that they
had been completely memorized by several subjects, but he himself
was unable to repeat the material from memory. The reason was
that he himself had never paid strict attention to the memorizing,
and had read them- over and over again purely in a passive, in-
attentive manner.

Do not try to memorize ideas blindly; memorize understandingly.
Some material in school must be memorized mechanically, but


much more of it can be learned with a thorough conception of its

(3) Organize ideas with reference to certain larger ideas and prin-
ciples. Organize your ideas and think out their relation to general
principles. Grasp in as large units as possible and note the rela-
tion of details.

In the writer's Experiments ('17); page 190, is given an ex-
periment in which two series of facts of apparently equal kind
and difficulty are presented for memorizing. Each list is com-
posed of five dates of history, five Greek words with their
English meanings, and five numbers with their sums. In one
list these ideas are arranged in miscellaneous order; in the
other list they are grouped by subjects, the five historical dates
are in one group, the five Greek words in the second group, and
the five sums in the third group. The time required by ten sub-
jects for memorizing the first set was an average of 14 minutes
and 3 seconds; the time required for memorizing the second series,
which was arranged in order, was on the average g minutes and 1 1
seconds. The comparison shows a very decided advantage in
favor of learning the material in organized form.

(4) Recall at brief intervals the essential ideas of what you have
read. Stop at the end of each paragraph or two, shut your book
or your eyes, and recall the essential ideas you have read. Say to
yourself "What did I read about?" Then try to answer the ques-
tion. Note here what was said about forgetting in the last chapter.
The chief value of examinations is the occasion and stimulus which
they afford for recalhng and organizing the material covered. In
some respects the most valuable studying done by pupils is done
in preparation for examinations. The value of the principle of
recall in learning or memorizing has been thoroughly demonstrated
by laboratory experiments.

Then each day or two, relate the recent material in a given
subject to the earlier material in that subject. That is, review in
your mind at short intervals, the larger essentials of all the ma-
terial covered up to date. The principle of recall in this form is
used far too little in studying. These suggestions would be applica-
ble to every t5rpe of reading which has to be done rather carefully.
It would, of course, not be advisable to do so in materials such as a
novel in which the ideas in detail need not be retained.

(5) At the earliest possible moment and as frequently as possi-
ble, use the ideas that have been acquired, either by telling them



to some one else, or by thinking them over in your mind in con-
nection with other related materials or situations. This will give
them meaning in new ways and from new angles, and will help
to fix them permanently by virtue of the principle of recall.

(6) In committing material to memory, learn by wholes rather
than by parts. Poetry or prose can, as a rule, be memorized more
quickly if the material is read through as a whole from beginning
to end than if it is memorized in small sections of two or three lines;
and what is more important, when this method is employed, the
retention is more permanent. With many persons who are ac-
customed to memorizing by the part method, there is frequently
no saving of time in the first learning partly because the whole
method is new to them and partly because the learner often doubts
the advisability of using the whole method.

There are three reasons why the whole method proves in the
long run to be more economical: (i) Learning by parts establishes
many useless and interfering connections. Thus in committing
the first two lines of a poem the association is established between
the last word of the second line and the first word of the first line.
But this is not the order in which the lines are to be recalled.
Rather the connection should be established between the last
word of the second line and the first word of the third line as is
done in the whole method. Consequently every portion memorized
by itself forms at least one detrimental connection and in a long
selection a very considerable number of such associations are
formed. These derailing paths probably account for the fact that
pupils in reciting a poem become stalled usually between the
portions learned piecemeal. (2) Reading the material over as a
whole gives a view of the entire selection and will serve to give
meaning and correlation of the parts in the whole. It will help
to organize the ideas as a whole. (3) Learning by parts is apt to
produce great unevenness among the various portions of the ma-
terial in the degree of perfection of the memorizing. Some parts,
especially the earlier ones, will be repeated needlessly a great many
times and result in much greater over-learning of those parts than
of other parts. One point of caution in using the whole method
should, however, be noted. When the learner reads over the entire
selection to be memorized he does not make much visible progress
until, after a sufficient number of repetitions, he is able to repro-
duce most of the material. This situation is likely to be discourag-
ing, particularly to children. Perhaps the most effective manner


of employing the whole method is to learn the material in relatively
large sections instead of as a complete whole, particularly if the
selection is very long.

Improvement in Reading Ability. The average child, as well
as the average adult, reads far too slowly, and in fact, far more
slowly than he is capable of reading. About one-fourth of univer-
sity students read less rapidly than the average 8th grade pupil
does, and about one-fourth of 8th grade pupils read less rapidly
than the average 5 th grade pupil. Experiments indicate that by a
moderate amount of definite practice, with conscious effort to
improve, the speed of reading may be increased from 50% to
100% without loss in the comprehension of the ideas read. The
moral would be: Force yourself to read more rapidly, which will
be accompanied by greater concentration of attention and in the
course of time this more rapid reading will become habitual, so
that the comprehension will be just as complete as at the slower
rate of reading. Consult the latter part of the chapter on "Read-
ing" for a more detailed discussion of these points.

Concrete Rules for Studying. Whipple has presented a series
of thirty-eight rules which ought to prove valuable for increasing
effectiveness in studying. Some of these rules involve points that
have been previously presented in this chapter. Their specific
character makes them commendable for the student's considera-
tion and observance. They are as follows:

SUMMARY OF RULES. After Whipple ('16)

1. Keep yourself in good physical condition.

2. Attend to, remove or treat physical defects that often handicap
mental activity, such as defective eyesight, defective hearing, defective
teeth, adenoids, obstructed nasal breathing.

3. See that external conditions of work (light, temperature, humidity,
clothing, chair, desk, etc.) are favorable to study.

4. Form a place-study habit.

5. Form a time-study habit.

6. When possible, prepare the advance assignment in a given subject
directly after the day's recitation in it.

7. Begin work promptly.

8. Take on the attitude of attention.

9. Work intensely while you work: Concentrate.

10. But don't let intense application become fluster or worry.

11. Do your work with the intent to learn and to remember.

12. Seek a motive or, better, several motives.


13. Get rid of the idea that you arc working for the teacher.

14. Don't apply for help until you have to.

15. Have a clear notion of the aim.

16. Before beginning the advance work, review rapidly the previous

17. Make a rapid preliminary survey of the assigned material.

18. Find out by trial whether you succeed better by beginning with the
hardest or with the easiest task when you are confronted with several
tasks of unequal difficulty.

19. In general, use in your studying the form of activity that will
later be demanded when the material is used.

20. Give most time and attention to the weak points in your knowledge
or technique.

2 1 . Carry the learning of all important items beyond the point neces-
sary for immediate recall.

22. You must daily pass judgment as to the degree of importance of
items that are brought before you, and lay special stress on the per-
manent fixing of those items that are vital and fundamental.

23. When a given bit of information is clearly of subordinate im-
portance and useful only for the time being, you are warranted in giving
to it only sufficient attention to hold it over the time in question.

24. INIake the duration of your periods of study long enough to utilize
"warming-up" but not so long as to suffer weariness or fatigue.

25. When drill or repetition is necessary, distribute over more than
one period the time given to a specified learning.

26. When you interrupt work, not only stop at a natural break, but
also leave a cue for its quick resumption.

27. After intensive application, especially to new material, pause for a
time and let your mind be fallow before taking up anything else.

28. Use various devices to compel yourself to think over your work.

29. Form the habit of working out your own concrete examples of all
general rules and principles.

30. Form the habit of mentally reviewing every paragraph as soon as
you have read it.

31. Don't hesitate to mark up your own books to make the essential
ideas stand out visibly.

32. Whenever your desire is to master material that is at all extensive
and complex, make an outline of it. If you also wish to retain this
material, commit your outline to memory.

:i^. In all your work apply your knowledge as much as possible and as
soon as possible.

34. Do not hesitate to commit to memory verbatim such materials as
definitions of technical terms, formulas, dates and outlines, always pro-
vided, of course, that you also understand them.

35. When the material to be learned by heart presents no obvious

Online LibraryDaniel StarchEducational psychology → online text (page 15 of 41)