Skip to main content
Login to CatLink
Future Students

Apply online or check the status of your Admissions application:

Admission Portal

Study Guide: Teach Yourself How to Learn


Catawba College selected Teach Yourself How to Learn as the 2019 Common Reading because we desire all students at the College succeed and gain a greater affinity for life-long learning. Some of you have already experienced less success than expected in a class or assignment. Others reading this text may not face difficulties in a class until this semester or well after. Everyone will, at some point, face a situation where they perform below their own expectations. These experiences are challenging personally as they lead us to question our beliefs about ourselves, our abilities, and our suitability for the places we find ourselves occupying. At these times, some students choose to reevaluate their efforts and identify possible strategies to grow. Others, unfortunately, stop at this first major struggle and abandon the academic path they were on for another, or abandon the college path altogether. We believe this text helps students face these challenging periods more effectively, allowing students who follow McGuire’s advice to persist at Catawba and continue their intellectual development and pursuit of academic, career, and life goals.


Getting the Most Out of the Common Reading Experience[1]

Other than a physical copy of the text, you will need two important tools to effectively read this book:

  1. A pen or pencil to take notes on the reading in your book. Some of you may have heard this described as text annotation. Effective text annotation includes: marking interesting portions of the reading you would like to think about further, underlining or circling words you need to look up to understand a passage, circle names or dates, or mark passages you feel are important to the author’s point.
  2. A separate piece of paper. Treat reading course materials as you would written correspondence. Approach this reading (in our case the text of a speech) as letter, text message, or email to which you must respond. Write down questions designed to clarify parts of the authors’ arguments and to begin a conversation with the authors about areas of the book where you disagree with, or desire to understand more fully, their perspectives.


As this is a lengthy book, we provide the following guidance[2] on what you should focus on and take notes on before, during, and after you read sections of this book. You should read the entire text. The initial chapters and introductory pages provide useful background and context to prepare for McGuire’s introduction of key ideas beginning in Chapter Three.


Before You Get to Chapter Three

Effectively reading or listening requires a understanding the context in which it was created. Additionally, we must be aware of the context and purpose we bring with us when encountering a document. We can summarize these two elements as:

  1. Why was this created and who created it? To help you focus on this aspect, consider and respond to the following questions:
    • Who is Saundra Yancy McGuire, and who is Stephanie McGuire (Google search is fine, as well as referring to the back cover of the book)?
    • How does McGuire describe herself in Chapter One?
    • In Chapter Two, what does McGuire say about why this book is helpful for today’s student?
    • In the Foreword, how does Mark McDaniel describe the educational context in which Teach Yourself to Learn was written?
    • What do the first pages, the section ‘Praise for Teach Yourself How to Learn,’ tell you about what this book is about and why it is worth reading?


  1. Who am I and why am I reading this? The obvious answer to the second part of this question is that we have asked you to read this book. However, we want you to consider the position or perspective you occupy as you approach this text by considering the following questions:
    • Did you find academics easy or difficult before arriving at Catawba?
    • Did you earn grades that were higher than you expected or lower than you expected before enrolling at Catawba?
    • What grades do you expect to earn in your first semester at Catawba?
    • Do you think the grades you entered before coming to Catawba were reflective more of your ability as a student or of your effort as a student? In other words, do you consider yourself as earning grades based on natural intelligence or on hard work?
    • Do you feel that you already know how to study effectively? Is this reflected in your grades before entering Catawba?
    • Do you feel like you learned anything in school before coming to Catawba? Why or why not?
    • What are your educational goals at Catawba?
    • Why are you in college?
    • Why are you at Catawba?


While You Read Chapters Three through Ten

Use these questions, some of which are drawn from McGuire’s lists of questions concluding each chapter, to focus your reading and notetaking as you work through the remaining chapters of the book:


Chapter Three

  1. How would you define metacognition?
  2. Why do you think setting goals for learning helps you learn?
    • Do you set goals in other contexts? (Ex. athletics, finances, life?)
      • Why do you set goals in these contexts? Are these reasons similar to why one should set goals for education?


Chapter Four

  1. What is the difference between studying and learning?
  2. What is the difference between learning something to pass a test and learning something to teach a class?
  3. What is Bloom’s taxonomy?
    • How would you define each of the terms in the ‘revised version’ in Fig. 4.2. On p. 30?
    • Do your definitions match those in Fig. 4.3 on p. 31 (and those explained in the text on pp. 30-31?
  4. What are the steps of the study cycle (seen in Fig. 4.6 on p. 35), and why is each important?
  5. The ‘study’ portion of the study cycle has four parts, listed on p. 37.
    • What do each of these parts of the ‘intense study session’ involve?
    • Why is each important?


Chapter Five

  1. What is the ten item list on pp. 40-41?
    • How does McGuire describe each, and why is each important?
    • What are the relationships among the items in this list?
  2. Why is reading (actively) difficult?
    • How do previewing, coming up with questions the reading should answer, and paraphrasing help one overcome the difficult part of reading according to McGuire?
      • How does this common reading guide reflect some of these active learning strategies?
  3. Why is purchasing the textbook important?
    • What alternatives to purchasing a textbook at full price does McGuire offer?
  4. What is the purpose of class meetings?
    • How should you prepare to get the most out of class meetings?
    • How do you remain actively engaged in class meetings?
    • How do you extend learning from the classroom to your review and preparation between class meetings?
      • What does McGuire consider the typical approach to homework taken by students, and why is this problematic?
      • How does attempting to organize class meeting notes and class reading notes into an outline or mind-map that you could ‘teach’ to a class help you succeed in a course?
      • How does working in groups support your learning in a course?
        • Can group learning be detrimental? How?
        • Do you know about ‘SI’ at Catawba?
      • How does creating a mock exam mirror the strategy of preparing for the material as if you were teaching it as a method of deeping learning (through active engagement with reading material and in class sessions)?


Chapter Six

  1. When reading about a ‘fixed’ mindset vs. a ‘growth’ mindset (see Fig 6.1, p. 61), which perspective seems to most closely match your own perspective on why some people achieve at a high level academically?
  2. How does your ‘mindset’ or approach to learning impact (negatively or positively) the degree to which students learn and how students approach learning?
  3. How does overly-focusing on grades contribute to one’s perceptions of a fixed mindset?
  4. How does McGuire argue students can change their mindset from ‘fixed’ to ‘growth’?


Chapter Seven

  1. Consider the questions listed in Fig. 7.2 on p. 75, which describe the sources of motivation. Answer each of these questions, with a specific educational goal (exs. Graduating, earning an A in particular course) in mind.
  2. How can you use the course syllabus and a professor’s office hours to gain a clear understanding of what a faculty member expects of you in a course at the start of the semester?
    • How is this similar to the active reading strategies McGuire introduced in Chapter Five?


Chapter Eight

  1. How does using the ten learning strategies in Chapter 5 (or the 35 listed in Appendix A) help improve your motivation in college courses?
  2. How do sleep, diet, and exercise (practices we commonly associate with better physical health) relate to:
    • Improved motivation academically?
    • Time management study/life skills?
  3. What challenges does college life pose to sleep, diet, and exercise?


Chapter Nine

  1. What activities frequently serve as a ‘time drain’ for you?
  2. How do you currently try to manage all of your responsibilities? Do you feel that you rarely, sometimes, or frequently are behind?
    • What time management strategies in Chapter Nine can you commit to try?


Chapter Ten

  1. What should you do if you try a learning strategy and it does not work for a specific course, or it does not appear to work for you as a learner more generally?


After You Read Chapters Three through Ten

If you have followed the guidance above, you will still have a pen, the text (now well-annotated), and considerable written notes on separate pieces of paper. What do you do with this new information?

  1. Talk about it.
  2. Don’t just talk, do something.


Discussing This Book with Others

In Chapter Five, McGuire suggests students work together as the ninth of her top ten metacognitive strategies. After you have read the text and taken notes, revisit the above questions in this reading guide with fellow students as part of a discussion. Others likely answered these questions slightly differently than you did. Gaining these different perspectives on the book, and comparing the lessons one another gained from the text will be extremely useful in helping you construct a complete picture of McGuire’s advice to students and also helping you remember these lessons.


We suggest a focus on the questions for Chapters Three through Six to be most essential if the time you have to meet with one another prevents a comprehensive discussion of each chapter.


Exercises to Consider: How you can gain the most out of the Common Reading through focused action

As you prepare to begin your first semester of classes at Catawba College, we ask that you make this common reading experience more meaningful and useful by taking stock of your learning process now, at midterm, and at the conclusion of the semester. To take an inventory, Get out a sheet of paper each time and answer the following:

  1. Look at Appendix A (p. 105-107). How many of these things:
    • Have you considered doing?
    • Do you consider and important part of learning?
    • Do you consider ineffective or pointless in determining whether you learn?
    • Have you actually done?
    • Have you actually done well?
    • Have you actually done regularly?
  2. Look at Appendix C and score yourself following the directions, and honestly stating ‘True’ or ‘False.’
    • If answering at the beginning of the semester:
      • Consider making at least two ‘resolutions’ to dedicate yourself to completing regularly throughout the semester. These resolutions should be commitments to be better about doing one of the things you answered ‘false’ to earlier.
    • If answering at the midpoint or conclusion of the semester:
      • Did completing this inventory help you understand why you have succeeded and why you have struggled in your courses so far?
      • Did completing this inventory help you identify areas for improvement for the future? In other words, were you able to come up with new, concrete ‘resolutions’ for the remainder of this semester or for next semester?
  1. Look at Appendix F. Different people find different types of learning tools useful just as some people can only manage time and appointments with a smartphone, and others must write everything down in a paper calendar. Consider the study tools listed in this Appendix and consider the following questions:
    • Which of these tools have I tried previously?
    • Which were useful for me and natural for me to use?
    • Which were ineffective or difficult for me to consistently use?
    • Of the study tools I have not tried (honestly, consistently, and for a decent amount of time), which seem most ‘like me’ in the sense that they seem to match my personality and style of thinking?
  2. Revisit the time management tips in Chapter Nine, summarized on p. 97 (This could be done as you prepare to discuss time management as part of your First-Year Seminar class as well).
    • Do you feel you always, sometimes, or rarely miss deadlines or forget about tasks?
    • How would the time management strategies in Chapter Nine help you use time more efficiently and manage tasks more effectively?
    • What time management tip will you commit to trying as a first step at improving your approach to managing college and life responsibilities?


In addition to taking stock of the tools you have at your disposal based on your previous learning experience and the lessons you gained by reading in McGuire’s book, you should also take an inventory of the tools Catawba provides to support student learning.

  1. In Chapter Nine, McGuire recommends using campus offices that support student learning. Find Catawba’s Student Academic Success Services on the College’s website.
    • What assistance is available for students through this office?
    • What is supplemental instruction, and how do you determine whether supplemental instruction (SI) is available for a course?
      • How is this different from tutoring?
      • How is this different from academic coaching?
    • What is the purpose of the Writing Center, and how do you make and prepare for an appointment?
    • What is the purpose of the Math Center, and how do you use this service?


[1] This advice is consistent with McGuire’s Chapter 5, esp. Pp. 41-45

[2] This framework is consistent with McGuire’s advice on active reading, with the key difference being that we have come up with the questions for you (this time).