Learning Strategies

Learning strategies are the key to success.

MESA Creators must be familiar with the following strategies:

If you're interested in more learning strategies, the City College of San Francisco's Learning Assistance Center has also developed many helpful handouts for College Success, including:


Learning Styles

Every student must be familiar with their learning style.  This tool helps you to determine your preferred learning style (Visual, Auditory or Kinesthetic/Tactile) and provides study tips for each style.  Knowing your learning style can also help you learn from professors with different teaching styles.

What is your learning style and what steps can you take to be a more effective learner? Need help understanding your learning style?

Visit the Tutorial Center for a workshop on Learning Styles.

Handout: Learning Styles (PDF)


Bullet Point Reading

"BPR is like having a song. When you do BPR, you learn the words to the song. Then, when your professor goes over the song in lecture, you get to sing along!" - MESA Creator

Learning must BEGIN before coming to class: every student must come to class prepared to learn.  "Coming prepared" means that you have reviewed the class material before it is covered in lecture.  "NOT coming prepared" is the first big mistake that many students make. Don't let this happen to you!

To prepare for class, Bullet Point Reading (BPR) is the best and most effective note-taking technique! BPR is a key part of the “Guaranteed 4.0 Learning System." There are two main benefits when using the BPR technique:

  1. By using bullets, BPR helps to orgainize your reading notes in a format that is simple and easy to review.
  2. BPR has a simple technique to review your notes often. This repeated review helps to transfer information from short-term memory to long-term memory.
Remember: The purpose of BPR is to BEGIN to become familiar with the terms and concepts. The time it takes to do BPR is different for everyone. However, it should not take too long to do BPR. If BPR is taking you a long time to complete, then you're probably doing something wrong. See a MESA tutor or another MESA Creator for help.

Handout: BPR - bookmarker (PDF)

Idea #1: CSI for BPR! Think of "doing BPR" as solving a crime. A crime has been committed, and, as a MESA Creator, it is your job to investigate and solve the crime! Here are your instructions (CSI: BPR) to help you as a CSI Investigator. Good luck!

IDEA #2: Combination BPR/Lecture Notes - A MESA Creator uses his BPR notes during lecture. His challenge in lecture is that he cannot listen and take notes at the same time. His solution is to leave extra space in his BPR notes.  Then he simply listens to the lecture and follows along in his BPR notes. Each time that he learns something new, he adds a note to his BPR notes where it belongs.

Idea #3: Color Coding - A MESA Creator uses a multi-color pen to color code his BPR notes. The pen has a choice of up to 4 different colors that can be clicked in (Red, Blue, Green, Black). The different colors can be used to highlight concepts, objectives, formulas, etc.

Idea #4: SmartPen - A MESA Creator uses a SmartPen to add audio to notes. The SmartPen is amazing! It is a very powerful tool for learning.  The SmartPen is a digital pen that can record notes and upload them to a computer.  But the pen also records the audio that matches the notes. This allows the MESA Creator to tap on a written note, and the pen plays back the audio that corresponds to the note. This feature is very, very helpful for taking lecture notes and replaying the audio to remember what was said.  Here is a link to see the SmartPen in action! - Sample Class Notes

 Every MESA Creator should have a SmartPen. Learn more, see the SmartPen website.

Got a BPR idea that works? Please send it to us!

What do you do to come prepared for class? Need help to learn the BPR approach?
MESA tutors can help to master the BPR approach to learning.


Big Picture Approach to Problem Solving

This tool will help you do your homework and will be the key for earning an “A” on your tests! Knowing how to solve problems is a very important skill for doing homework and for doing well on tests.  Unfortunately, too many students do not know how to best solve problems, and they usually have this bad experience on tests, "The test was nothing like the homework!"

The Big Picture approach has two parts:

  1. Seeing the Big Picture: Concept, S.A.M., Variation
  2. Solving the Problem: Come up with Plan, Use the Plan, Think about Answer

Handout: Big Picture Approach to Problem Solving - double sided page (PDF)
Handout: Big Picture Approach to Problem Solving - bookmarker (PDF)

Idea #1: Remember the Big Picture! - Recall that there are 3 questions to ask to see the Big Picture (Concept, S.A.M., Variation). This is how "the story ends": you need to be be able to answer these 3 questions to do your homework and do well on tests. What about "when the story begins"? i.e. when you do BPR. Keep these 3 questions in your mind when you do BPR. Look for the Big Picture when you do BPR. What about during lecture? Keep these 3 questions in your mind during lecture. Look for the Big Picture during lecture. Everything in lecture has a purpose: it is either related to the Concept, S.A.M. or Variation. This way it will make it easier to see the Big Picture when you get to homework and test. Always remember to look for the Big Picture!

Idea #2: Big Picture Flash Cards - A MESA Creator makes up his own Big Picture flash cards to help him see & learn the Big Picture. One side of the cards has the Concept and S.A.M. The other side of the cards has the Variation.

Idea #3: Variation Chart - A MESA Creator makes up her own variation chart to help her see the Big Picture. The chart contains possible "variations" in the problems.  For each variation, the chart contains an example and a "how to" procedure for solving the problem.

Idea #4: Big Picture Footnote Challenge - Using the “Big Picture Approach to Problem Solving”, MESA Creators must first “see the Big Picture”, then “solve the problem”. 

: For each homework assignment, first WRITE the corresponding parts of the Big Picture (Concept, SAM and Variation) as a footnote on the first page of your homework (Note: if you have many variations, add them at the bottom of page 2).  This will demonstrate that you understand the material and can see the Big Picture!  It also follows MESA Law #1: If you don’t write it down, it didn’t happen. See the handout below for an example of a "Big Picture Footnote".


  1. This strategy will make the homework easier,
  2. Your professor will know how you are seeing the Big Picture and may suggest other tips,
  3. When you review your homework to prepare for a test, it will help to have the homework and the Big Picture Footnote in one place.

Good luck!

Handout: Big Picture Footnote Challenge (PDF)

Got a Big Picture idea that works? Please send it to us!

Do you look for the Big Picture? Need help seeing the Big Picture?
MESA tutors are trained to work with students using the Big Picture approach.


MESA Story for Learning - The key is to know how the story ends!

The MESA Story for Learning has all the steps that MESA Creators follow to be successful learners. The Story begins with BPR.  BPR is the best strategy for preparing for class. BPR has 2 parts: outlining 1-section-at-a-time using bullets and repetitious review. By doing BPR, MESA Creators transfer information to long term memory. If you have questions while doing BPR, then write them down and bring them to class. The next steps in the Story are Class and Reviewing Lecture Notes immediately (or as soon as possible) after class. The last step in the Story is Homework. To do homework, MESA Creators use the Big Picture Approach to Problem Solving. The Big Picture approach has 2 parts: seeing the Big Picture and solving the problem. To see the Big Picture, MESA Creators must answer 3 questions:

  1. What is the Concept?
  2. What is the S.A.M.?
  3. What is the Variation and how does the Variation affect the S.A.M.?
If you can see the Big Picture, then solving the problem is very easy. This is how the Story ends - you must be able to see the Big Picture!

Now that you know how the Story ends, how can this help you with the other steps in the Story?
  • BPR: The purpose of BPR is to "BEGIN to become familiar with the terms and concepts", but keep the Big Picture questions (Concept, S.A.M., Variation) in your mind when you BPR. This may help you to BEGIN to see the Big Picture.
  • Class: Everything in lecture has a purpose! What you learn in lecture should help you to answer the Big Picture questions (Concept, S.A.M., Variation): your professors introduce and explain Concepts, and example problems help you to identify the S.A.M. and Variation.
  • Review Lecture Notes: This is another opportunity to answer the Big Picture questions (Concept, S.A.M., Variation). If you still have trouble in seeing the Big Picture, then return to the textbook, online lecture videos or see a tutor or another MESA Creator.
Handout: MESA Story for Learning (PDF)


Section Summaries

- Section Summaries are a great way to capture the Big Picture and demonstrate mastery of the material.

Method - MESA Creators work through each section by following the MESA Story for Learning. Therefore, they can see the Big Picture (Concept, S.A.M. and Variation) when they complete each section. With the Big Picture fresh in their mind, MESA Creators can easily write a Section Summary capturing the Big Picture BEFORE moving to the next Section. This method is repeated after each Section.

Benefits - Section Summaries provide many benefits, including making it easier to prepare for tests, creating opportunities to review the Big Picture with other MESA Creators, tutors or professors, and helping to move information to long term memory through repetitious review of Section Summaries.

Handout: Section Summaries (PDF)


Test Taking Strategies

Knowing how to take tests is an important skill.  You need to be prepared mentally, physically and emotionally.  This tool contains key strategies to help you before, during and after tests.

Got test anxiety or need help with test taking?
Visit the Tutorial Center for workshops on test taking and test anxiety.

Handout: Test Taking Strategies bookmarker (PDF)


Time Management Strategies

Knowing how to effectively manage your time is critical for success.  This tool contains key strategies to make the most of your time. 

Need help with time management?
Visit the Tutorial Center for a workshop on time management.

Handout: Time Management bookmarker (PDF)


Lecture Videos and Online Resources

With so many resources available to help students learn, it is unacceptable for students to blame their poor grades on their professors, their textbooks or their classes. Every student has a responsibility to be familiar with any available learning resource.

MESA Creators MUST be familiar with the following resources. Make these part of your toolbox, and use the tool that is right for the job!

Embedded Math
Download a free copy of the Unit Circle with all angles in Radians and degrees. Also available - trig paper, polar paper, grid paper & fun math clothing.

MIT Open Courseware
Choose from Multimedia Content (Videos), Lecture Notes, and Exams and Solutions.

Khan Academy
Math, Biology, Chemistry and Physics

Just Math Tutorials

Free search engine for learning, with rich collections of multimedia resources, digital textbooks, videos, games and quizzes created by educators in the Gooru community

Study anything! Learn it your way! Use 6 different study modes, including flash cards and tests!

Paul Dawkins Online Math Tutorials and Notes:
Note: This is a GREAT site for class notes, handouts, cheat sheets, tables, homework and exams for Calculus I, II & III, and Differential Equations!

Calculus Success Program
Lecture videos for Calculus I & II by City College's Math Professor Guillermo Alvarez 

Math Hands 
Lecture videos for Algebra, Trigonometry, Precalculus and Calculus 1-3 by Mesa College Math Professor Dr. Francisco Javier Marquez 

Aerospace Students  
A great website to help Aerospace Engineering students with their studies. This site includes learning resources for Aero, Math, and Physics courses.

iTunes University
View videos from Stanford, MIT and Harvard.  Also, download videos to iPods and iPhones.
1. Open iTunes – Select “iTunes Store” on left column
2. Click “iTunes U” on the top menu bar
3. Under “iTunes U Quick Links” on the right column click “iTunes U Power Search”
4. Search for videos!  Search options include Title, Description and Institution.


Search for videos by topic
Key – when you select a video, YouTube offers other related videos in the right column

Mathwords: Terms and Formulas

Wolfram Alpha
Amazing “computational engine”.  See Examples for sample computations in many topics.  Just “enter” and click to compute.

Downloadable math freeware:

  • Maxima - a Computer Algebra System
    Maxima is a system for the manipulation of symbolic and numerical expressions, including differentiation, integration, Taylor series, Laplace transforms, ordinary differential equations, systems of linear equations, polynomials, and sets, lists, vectors, matrices, and tensors.
  • Scilabopen source platform for numerical computation
    Scilab is a scientific software package for numerical computations and graphing of functions, including 2-D and 3-D graphics, animation, Linear algebra, sparse matrices, Polynomials and rational functions, Interpolation, approximation, Differentiable and non-differentiable optimization, Signal processing, Statistics, Interface with Fortran, Tcl/Tk, C, C++, Java, LabVIEW and more.

Idea: Lecture-videos-to-go! - A MESA Creator downloads lecture videos to his IPOD or laptop.  This allows him to view the videos "on-the-go" anywhere, anytime - without internet access. To download videos, you must first install the Any Video Converter software. Then input the URL where the video is located and select the video format that you need for viewing the video on-the-go. For example, IPODs use an MP4 video format and laptops use an MPEG video format. Use this strategy for downloading any of the lecture videos found on the websites shown above.

Got an idea that works for lecture videos? Please send it to us!