Skills in organizing and integrating information
are an important component of thinking critically and of
applying the abstract material that you learn at university,
and are a prerequisite to independent thinking and problem
solving in your discipline. Your education will take on a new
dimension when you begin to organize what you learn in your
own way, and connect what you learn in your discipline with
how you interpret your world.
Guidelines and Tips
You can begin to think independently simply by working from
memory. Reorganize the material you have learned from your
lectures and readings in ways that make sense to you; then asking
challenging questions about the concepts, and trying to answer
them. Try to figure out what kinds of questions are appropriate
to ask, and what sorts of answers are required.
Another advantage of organizing information is that organized
information is much easier to remember than unorganized
information, particularly if you organize it yourself. When
individual items can be "chunked" into meaningful named groups,
learning is facilitated, even though it may appear that
you will have more to learn since you will have to learn
the names of the categories as well as the items in each
category. Keep the number of items in a category small -- try for
less than six (if you have more, make up new sub-categories).
The following procedures incorporate active learning strategies,
and will help you make sense of, and remember, the key concepts
and detailed information in your courses.
- Work toward developing a rigorous and coherent organization
of the information in your course. Start with a concept map, to
get a picture of the information, as it stands -- this format
will allow you to include all relevant information, but will not
commit you to a rigid scheme. Then see if you can fit this
information into a standard format, such as a grid, list or
linear sequence, Venn diagram, flowchart, logical argument,
hierarchical "tree," standard outline, or whatever seems to work
- Form a study group to discuss the abstract concepts in your
course. The university is a community of open-minded but
skeptical learners. An effective way to integrate concepts is to
see them in a variety of ways or perspectives, and to allow your
own interpretations to be challenged. Other people can often do
this more effectively than you can, since you may have "blind
spots" with regards to weaknesses in your own ideas.
Learning Skills Program Resources
- The Learning Skills Program has a number of handouts with
material that you can use to practice a variety of organizational
- We can help you organize a study group, by meeting with your
group and discussing effective strategies. We can also arrange
for a room on campus in which your group can meet once a week.
If you would like to work individually on any of these
strategies, be sure to make an appointment
with David Palmer-Stone. We can
help you figure out an organizational strategy appropriate for
your needs, and work with you until you can apply it effectively.
The Modular Learning Skills
Course contains information related to organizing the content
of your courses, so that you will be able to use it to prepare
efficiently and effectively for exams and assignments. For
example, you can build organizational strategies directly into
your notetaking and reading activities.
The following handouts on organizing information are available at
the Drop-In Center .