Study Strategies

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Study Ideas for International Students

A Preliminary Word:

Be patient with yourself as you work to improve your English language skills.  At first you will have trouble understanding and speaking English, but the situation will improve the longer you are here.  People in Chicago are familiar with a variety of accents and most are quite tolerant of variations in pronunciation.  They may ask you to repeat something, but they are willing to try again to understand you.


  • Do not translate each word or you will lose track of the general idea and you will never finish your readings.
  • Instead, read in chunks, trying to get the general idea of each paragraph. Do not stop if you are confused by a word or even a sentence. Many times, the meaning will become clearer as you read on. If you are still confused at the end of a paragraph, stop at that point and use your dictionary for an important word or two.
  • Before reading a chapter, take a few minutes to look at the chapter outline (if there is one) and flip through the pages, trying to see the organization and most important ideas of the chapter.
  • As you read, stop at the end of each section. (In other words, read from one heading to the next or one paragraph to the next). Ask yourself the main idea of that section and then write a brief note in the margin or underline a few words of the text.
  • Pay attention to charts and diagrams and make sure you understand them.
  • Review the main ideas of the chapter after you finish reading.
  • Write vocabulary cards for only the most important new English words (write the English on one side and your native language on the other side).

Lectures & Listening

  • If you miss something, skip a line or two. After class, get the information from a classmate.
  • Go over your notes as soon as possible after class, making sure everything is clear and trying to understand the most important ideas.
  • If you have trouble with the professor’s accent, tape a short section of the lecture and listen to it several times. You will get used to the accent and will eventually learn to understand it better
  • Watch the 6:00 news with closed captioning (preferably WTTW). Record a segment and watch it a second time.

Speaking English

  • Strive to overcome fears that others are judging you or laughing at you. Accept that, for the present, you will communicate in English in a less sophisticated way than you do in your native language.
  • Agree on at least a half an hour each day in which you will speak English with your friends�maybe over lunch or after watching the news together.
  • Force yourself to chat with Americans. Find a person who isn’t very busy and talk–maybe with a librarian, another person waiting for a bus (ask directions), the owner of a small shop (talk about the weather or an item in the shop), etc. Listen in on the “small talk” of Americans and try to imitate that style of conversation.
  • Make a list of words you have said that native speakers of English have not understood. Ask a native speaker to pronounce the words for you (maybe into a tape recorder) and then practice saying these words. Ask the native speaker to correct you if necessary.

Studying for Exams

  • Do not simply memorize the information. American education focuses more on understanding ideas than memorizing lists of facts.
  • Stay after class to ask the professor questions and listen in on the questions that other students ask.
  • Study with a small group of other students. You should explain ideas to each other and discuss what you think are the most important ideas that might be on the exam.
  • If you will be taking an essay test, ask the professor for a sample question, perhaps one that was used on a past exam. You can also write your own practice questions. Then practice answering the questions. Before writing, outline your answer into 3 to 6 points.
  • If you are feeling overwhelmed by the quantity of material to learn, you may be tempted to do nothing but study. Resist that temptation. Remember that your efficiency will drop if you do not take regular study breaks, get enough sleep, and enjoy some recreation.

For other ideas about how to study effectively, look at the ACE website.