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Videos on how to study with the techniques W. S. Emara used through high school and refined at Columbia University.

Academic Tradecraft

by W. Sam Emara

Why reading to learn is not always the best approach, and the easiest way to earn classroom participation.

I’m not here to tell you that you should study because it’s what good people do. Spending time studying is, however, a deliberate investment in your grades, numbers that will become part of an intensely thought-out college admissions campaign to hedge your chances of being accepted into the most reputable school you can get into, because going to a top-tier school is just not the same as going to a lesser ranked one.

A sound study tactic is to find out which subjects will be covered during the next few classes, and make an effort to read through the relevant textbook chapter before the lesson.  This will allow you to absorb more of the class by giving you time to actively listen and think about what your teacher is saying, instead of struggling to keep up with note taking.  Reading the relevant text before you cover the material will also enable you to ask more informed questions, bolstering your participation grade.  Even if you don’t understand everything you read the first time around, having class afterwards will help clarify what you didn’t get before.  Hearing the material a second time will help reinforce it in your head, transitioning the information from short to long-term memory.  This makes reviewing for a test the third time you are engaging the same topics, further solidifying them into your memory, and giving you the opportunity to focus on the subtle points to be tested as opposed to the bulk concepts already learned.

Check the syllabus and ask your teacher about the breakdown of an upcoming test.  Will the majority of the questions be derived from class notes?  What percentage of the test will be homework or textbook inspired?  Knowing which sources your teacher will use to draw test questions will help guide your studying.

Oftentimes, students don’t realize that their textbooks are expensive, usually well developed tools, and that using the detailed table of contents, indices, and glossaries to quickly find the exact answer to your questions can prevent you from wasting time going through what you already know.  End of chapter summaries are also useful in identifying what you may not yet understand.

Rarely did I read a schoolbook to learn, unless motivated by a personal interest in the material.  I would read to achieve specific academic goals, whether it was reading to answer homework questions, hunting for a quotable line to reference in an essay, or reading to ground my participation in classroom discussions I always knew exactly what I was looking for.  Clearly defining your purpose before you start reading will keep you on point and prevent you from getting lost in the text.

Don’t underestimate that last point about class participation.  Besides the fact that many teachers factor participation directly into your final grade, they also appreciate it when a student makes their job easier.  New educators are sometimes discouraged if what looked like an engaging lesson plan on paper doesn’t fuel the discussion he or she was expecting, and having a student that’s able to address questions posed to the class as well as ask insightful questions of their own can go far in the way of building goodwill with your teacher.

You can get the full benefits of appearing like a fully prepared student without aimlessly slaving over the entire text; focus on title headings for clues as to what major issues your teacher is guaranteed to address in class, form an opinion or question about it beforehand and then share it with your class early in the discussion for easy participation points.


NYC Lab School
Chosen by his High School teachers to tutor peers.
W. S. Emara tutors New York City students from K–12 in-person, and online via skype video calls for those outside NYC.
New York University Medical Center Microbiology Research Laboratory
Design and perform experiments in infectious disease as a member of the lab group of Department of Medicine Chairman Martin J. Blaser, MD.
Recieved email:
Accepted into Columbia University
Continued to tutor students and conduct research as a premed biology major.
Publishes article on microbiology research
click to read
Emara Academic Solutions™
Returned to NYC to continue his tutoring practice.
Friedrich-Engels Gymnasium Senftenberg, Deutschland
Taught English to students from grades 9 to 12 in German High School.

Revitalized English department, streamlining the ambitions of the students and the requirements of standardized testing into a contemporary curriculum.
Internship in Building Community
Facilitated the livelihood of students enrolled in Columbia University’s High School Summer Program as a Resident Advisor.

Coordinated and supervised extracurricular activities for students throughout NYC.


Larisa F.
(tutored regularly from September ’05 to June ’08 in Math and Chemistry)
"I walk into a session not even knowing how to start a type of problem, and I leave able to solve any version of it."
Dan B.
(a Writing client in January’09)
"He’s just so good at it… he’s like a machine, you give him a writing prompt and out comes an A paper."
Ben T.
(tutored regularly from August ’06 to June ’07 in Math and then College Admissions Essay Writing)
"[W. S. Emara] was involved and interested in my success. While other tutors I’ve had were impersonal time-watchers, my Emara Academic Solutions sessions wouldn’t even start until after some time talking with the family."
Ina R.
(mother of two students tutored in English in ’07)
“Besides the immediate results of higher English grades, the more striking results were long-term. Both of my children became more engaged students that take pride in their work raising scores in more than just English class.”