Study Tips for Seminary
August 25, 2023
Westminster’s degree programs are some of the most rigorous theological programs available anywhere in the world. Because of this, our students are stretched by the heavy workload that our degree programs entail. However, our programs are not rigorous merely for the sake of being rigorous, but because the calling of serving the church, whether as a pastor or another type of ministry leader, is a difficult one. This calling necessitates a high degree of preparation, so a high degree of preparation is what we seek to provide. This means that students have a lot on their plate, which can feel overwhelming at times. However, with discipline, care, and planning, the challenge before our students is by no means insurmountable. In this article we will cover tips that will help you complete the mountain of required reading, write quality papers efficiently, and study for the various quizzes, tests, and exams that you will be required to take.
One of the most difficult aspects of seminary is balancing the required reading with your other obligations. It may sometimes feel like the pile of books and articles that you are required to read is unscalable and the time it takes to read them eats into the time you need to write papers or prepare for exams. It doesn’t help that a lot of the reading feels like a slow, difficult trod. 16th century systematic theology doesn’t exactly read like a fiction novel page-turner. So, what can you do to get yourself some breathing room?
The first thing you should do is make a plan. Each class will have different requirements for their reading. Some classes may have the required reading broken up into groups with each section having a different due date. Some will merely require that you have the reading done by the end of the semester. Some classes may have quizzes on the reading while others require written summaries of the reading. With that in mind, you should look at all the reading you have for the semester, find out which readings are due when, and structure your reading plan accordingly.
The next thing you will need to do is to stick to your reading plan. Consistency is vital here. Setting aside time to read daily will prevent you from experiencing a situation where procrastination results in you having hundreds of pages to read in the last couple days of the semester when you should instead be studying for finals.
Another key is to always have your books with you, which will allow you to utilize all the time you can to read. If you have a few minutes between classes, you should be reading. If you’re sitting in the waiting room while getting your oil changed you can knock out some of your reading. If you take this approach, your mountain of reading will start to seem more like a molehill in time.
Writing papers, sermons, and projects is a skill that needs to be honed. Some people may think that they are naturally gifted writers, and that may be true. However, resting on your ability to turn a phrase on paper will only get you so far. Writing papers in seminary is more about processing and communicating information accurately and efficiently than it is about producing beautiful prose. However, if you can communicate that information accurately, efficiently, and beautifully, then that will be an added plus.
As with reading, a good paper will require a good plan. You will need to make sure that you understand the assignment well before you even begin your research. Once you understand the directions of the assignment you should begin your research process.
Reading relevant articles is a good starting point. As you read, make sure that you pay attention to the footnotes. The temptation will be to gloss over them, but you should be making note of the other papers and articles the author cites, finding these resources, and reading them as well. Be sure to annotate the articles as you read them, as this will save you time when you refer back to these sources later for guidance, quotes, and citations.
Once you have completed a solid base of research, you can then begin to outline your paper, which will bring structure to your writing process. A completed outline will then allow you to flesh out the body of the paper using your annotated research.
If you feel like you need additional help in developing your writing, the Center for Theological Writing is a great resource available to WTS students.
The key to doing well on exams is–you guessed it– studying. The famous quote, “The more I practice, the luckier I get,” can be modified to apply to exams as well. The harder you study the more prepared you’ll be on exam day. However, just telling someone to study isn’t exactly a study tip. So what can you do to improve the quality of your studying for exams?
Well, quality study begins in the classroom. If you take extensive notes during lectures, you will have a larger pool of study materials from which to pull. Recent research has shown that taking notes by hand, rather than by computer, improves information retention drastically. This also applies to taking notes while reading. If you have notes on the reading, you can use those as study aids as well.
Another way to help retain information and recall it on exam day is to transcribe your own notes over again, as the repetition and the action of writing what you are reading helps you to retain that information. Reformatting your notes and transcribing them on a whiteboard or a vertical surface can also be of benefit, as the change in orientation helps your brain to focus on that information and retain it better.
If you are nervous about how you might manage the extensive workload of a seminary program at Westminster, we hope these tips have allayed some of those anxieties. If you are diligent in your study, preparation, planning, and reading, you should be able to make it through. Westminster’s programs are not known to be easy, and there is no foolproof way to make them such; even with these tips, the program will be quite taxing. However, the programs at Westminster, though difficult, are very doable. If you feel that you are up to the task and would like to hear more about the degree programs at Westminster we encourage you to reach out to our Admissions team and apply today.
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