Effective Use of Study Time Brings Joy
FINDING joy and getting results in personal study are not always a matter of spending more time at it. There is another consideration, an even more important one. It is how you use the time you do take.
Those whose study is fruitful and enjoyable do not necessarily put more time in study than poor students. But they do make more effective use of the time they spend. They are skilled at study.
Some have difficulty with study because of problems such as a slow reading rate, poor grammar, or poor study habits. If these are remedied, the student could make far better use of the time spent and enjoy it much more.
There are remedies for such problems, but the remedies require effort. But then, anything new usually does. When you were a child, did you learn to walk confidently overnight? It took months of repeated falls. Now you enjoy walking with little effort. If you are a housewife, your first attempts at cooking were likely frustrating and not very successful. But what a calamity for your family if you had given up trying to learn! If you play a musical instrument, your first tries and the constant practice were likely not very enjoyable. But by persisting you became proficient enough to enjoy it.
So, too, with study habits. You cannot expect to improve them without hard effort, particularly at first. But in time, good study procedures will become easier, even habitual. They will then make your personal study far more effective and enjoyable.
Do you want the best help anyone can give you toward improving your study? Who could help better than the One who created your mind? Since study related to the Bible involves Jehovah, and the material is provided by means of his spirit and organization, begin by asking Jehovah’s assistance. Jesus said: “Keep on asking, and it will be given you; keep on seeking, and you will find; keep on knocking, and it will be opened to you. . . . the Father in heaven [will] give holy spirit to those asking him.”—Luke 11:9-13.
One of the main reasons some find study difficult is that they are poor readers. The cure is PRACTICE. Do you want to cook well? PRACTICE! Do you want to play a musical instrument well? PRACTICE! Do you want to be a good reader? PRACTICE!
But the practice must be based on proper reading principles. One habit poor readers have is that their eyes stop at every word, even each syllable in words. That is very slow and makes for poor comprehension. A good reader will average several words for each stop. He will let his eyes come to rest just a few times for a line of the length you are now reading. A poor reader will stop many more times.
Are you a slow reader? Practice reading more rapidly than you do now. Force yourself to take in at least two of the smaller words at a time, then more if you can. At first you will lose some of the meaning. But soon you will develop the habit of reading faster with the same understanding as before. In time your understanding will improve, as you will come closer to reading thoughts instead of just words or syllables.
As you learn to take in several words with one stop of the eye, keep going. Do not let your eyes backtrack because you have missed a word. For lighter reading you eventually will want to avoid any backtracking, as that slows reading down greatly.
Also, with lighter material, avoid pronouncing each word out loud, or even moving your lips. If you come across words you do not know, wait until you are finished with the article, or at least the paragraph, then look them up in a dictionary.
However, what if the subject matter is weighty? Would you want to read it the same way, rapidly? No. For instance, if you are preparing for the weekly Watchtower study held at the Kingdom Hall, your reading method will be different. You may have read the material more rapidly when you first received your magazine, but now for the actual lesson preparation you will want to slow down and digest one paragraph at a time, meditating on what you read. With this kind of reading, as with Bible reading, reading out loud “in an undertone” can be very profitable. This makes use of your ears and your mouth as well as your eyes. It helps you to keep your attention focused on the lesson.—Josh. 1:8.
So there is a difference between reading for general interest, which is much faster, and doing deeper study for a lesson, which is much slower. A good reader may be able to move along at the rate of 1,000 words or more a minute with light material, but may slow down to 100 words or less a minute in deep study. Hence, do not expect to treat lighter material the same way you would deeper material.
As you prepare to study, establish the right study conditions.
There are many things in a home that can be of interest. If you do not shut these off as much as possible, they can divert your attention before long. It would be well, as much as you can, to eliminate all interesting sounds and activity from your study area. This includes conversations, television programs, and even a radio playing pleasant music.
Although pleasant music playing in the background may seem to be desirable, it is often interesting enough to divert some of your mental energy. The efforts to pull your mind back to the lesson will be tiring. And pleasant music may tend to lull you to sleep. There is a time and a place for pleasant music, as well as television programs and interesting conversations. But the private study period is not that time.
Since soft beds and pillows are associated with sleep, for serious study it usually is not good to lie on a bed or sit in a chair that is too comfortable. You should be comfortable, but not overly so, as that might suggest relaxing, sleep. And if you are already too tired or sleepy, then a brief nap or rest, or an invigorating shower, or both, may be beneficial before beginning your study.
For serious study it is good to sit at a plain table in an attitude of work, since study requires work. Keep the table free from clutter, which is distracting. Have the necessary tools for study and as little else as possible on it. The lighting should be good, but avoid glare. If you can, keep room temperature comfortable, but not so warm as to encourage drowsiness.
HOW MUCH MATERIAL?
Some who are skilled in study spend whatever time they need to study an entire Watchtower lesson well in just one study period. But if you are one who can study seriously for only a short time to begin with, then concentrate on just a portion of the study.
You may choose the part that affects you more directly, or perhaps the beginning part. Cover that material well. The rest you will get to an extent by paying close attention to comments from others at the congregation study itself. By covering a portion using good study habits, you will learn how to study correctly. In time, you will be able to expand this so you can cover the entire lesson.
Should you try to speed along and cover as much material as possible? No. Why not? Because coverage of material is not the main consideration. How much serious study material would sink down into your heart, where it really counts, if you were to speed through it? What is better—merely to skim over a lesson and learn and remember little or nothing? or to concentrate on a part of it, having those thoughts sink down deep into your heart? How much good would excellent food do you if all you ever did was to smell it, but never ate any?
How can you improve effectiveness in serious study, such as for a Watchtower lesson? Consider the following five steps.
(1) Survey the Material. First, correctly determine the lesson for that week. Then look at the title of the article, which will tell you what the subject is. Next, read the Scripture text under the title, which reinforces the theme. Lastly, go through the pages of the lesson and read just the subheadings. These steps will give you an overall picture of what is to be discussed, the general plan of the material. This survey should take no longer than thirty to sixty seconds.
(2) Read the Question on the Paragraph. Before reading each paragraph, go down to the bottom of the page and read the question, or questions, for that particular paragraph. This will call your attention to the main points in that paragraph.
(3) Read the Paragraph. You may do this silently, but reading out loud, in an undertone, is even more effective, since you are not trying to hurry anyway. And as you read, read actively, not passively. Search for the answer to the question. Meditate on the material. “The heart of the righteous one meditates so as to answer.” (Prov. 15:28) Ask yourself: How does that information fit what I already know? How should I revise my attitudes or actions to harmonize with what I read? Such searching and meditation creates interest as well as sounding down the material into your heart. After reading the paragraph in this way, you can look up scriptures that are cited but not quoted, as well as looking up in a dictionary words you do not know.
(4) Give the Answer. Having done this, now look down at the question again. Can you answer it in your own words as though you were explaining it to someone else? If you can, then you know what the main point is. If you cannot, then go over the paragraph again to search for that answer. It is helpful too, to underline the answer, marking only key words or phrases. You can underline an additional point or two of interest, but avoid underlining too many things in one paragraph as this makes it difficult to locate the main ideas.
(5) Review. When you have finished the entire lesson, or as much of it as your time allows, review it to get the overall picture. Check the points you have underlined and see how they fit the subheading under which the paragraphs fall. This final review will help to fix points in your mind, since repetition is a key to learning. And if there are additional points you want to check, or you have questions, then after the lesson you can consult such helps as the Watch Tower Publications Index or Aid to Bible Understanding. Also, if you have the opportunity to talk to someone else about the material, this will reinforce what you know about the subject.—Heb. 5:14.
Now you are prepared for the Watchtower study that week. And you will find the study hour far more enjoyable. You can be an active participant and not just a passive listener. Also, when the paragraph is read by the reader, you will not be looking ahead to the next paragraph, trying to find an answer, as some have the bad habit of doing. This poor practice deprives you of following the reading and having the paragraph’s thoughts further impressed on your mind.
Following the reading also enables you to confirm the pronunciation of difficult words. It will help you to learn how words go together when spoken correctly, all of which helps to improve your speaking ability. So follow the reading instead of looking ahead to the next paragraph.
But what of other material used at congregation meetings that you may not be able to study beforehand? For example, what if you have not studied all the material presented in the Theocratic Ministry School? Well, since you are present at the school for one hour, why not pay careful attention to what is said? In that way, in a sense, you could be studying the material, benefiting from what the others say. Since you are there already, what better use of the time could you make?
By using good study methods, you will find that your reading ability will improve, as well as your choice and use of words, and grammar. You will learn more, and remember more, as Jehovah’s Word gets past your mind and down into your heart.
You will be better equipped to make judgments when faced with important decisions or issues of right and wrong. You will enlarge and make stronger the shield of faith to protect you from this world’s wicked influences. You will give better talks, more upbuilding comments at meetings and home Bible studies. Yes, the more you learn, the better equipped you will be to give others the reasons for the Kingdom hope within you.—1 Pet. 3:15.
Thus, by improving your study habits, you can grow spiritually strong instead of remaining a spiritual babe. You will plant your feet more firmly on the road that leads to eternal life in Jehovah’s new order. So be diligent about your study. “Do your utmost to present yourself approved to God, a workman with nothing to be ashamed of, handling the word of the truth aright.”—2 Tim. 2:15.
Then you can be like one of those happy persons about whom the psalmist said: “His delight is in the law of Jehovah, and in his law he reads in an undertone day and night.”—Ps. 1:2.