Monday, May 18, 2009
How to Study
How to Study
When you sit down to study, how do you transfer that massive amount of information from the books and notes in front of you to a reliable spot inside your head? The best way to facilitate that kind of "file transfer" is to develop good study habits, as outlined below. At first, it'll take a good deal of conscious effort to change your studying ways, but after a while, it'll become second nature, and studying will be easier to do.
1. Manage your time. Make a weekly schedule and devote a certain amount of time per day to studying. That amount will vary depending on whether you're in high school or college, and also varies by field of study.
o Study in 20-50 minute chunks. Take 5-10 minute breaks (no more!) and do something physically active to get your blood flowing and make you more alert. Do a few jumping jacks, run around your house, play with the dog, whatever it takes. Do just enough to get yourself pumped, but not worn out.
o Make enough time in your schedule to get enough sleep. Think of it this way: If you sleep only 4-5 hours, you'll probably need to double your study time in order to be as effective as if you'd gotten 8 hours of sleep. Study more and sleep less? That doesn't sound like a very good deal. Get a good night's sleep every night and you'll be making the best of your study time. If you end up a little sleep deprived despite your best efforts, take a short nap (20 minutes) before studying. Then do some physical activity (like you would do during a break) right before you start.
2. Find a good study spot. You should feel comfortable, but not so comfortable that you risk falling asleep--a bed isn't a very good study spot when you're tired! The place where you study should be relatively quiet (traffic outside your window and quiet library conversations are fine, but interrupting siblings and music blasting in the next room are not).
o As far as music is concerned, that's up to you. Some people prefer silence, others prefer music in the background. If you belong to the latter group, stick to instrumental music (music that has no words like classical, soundtrack, or some celtic) and that you're already familiar with (not something that's bound to distract you)--otherwise, your brain will "multi-task" and not be able to retain information as well.
o Having the television on while you study is generally a bad idea.
3. Clear your mind.If you’ve got a lot on your mind take a moment to write yourself some notes about what you're thinking about before you start studying. This will help to clear your mind you focus all your thoughts on your work.
4. Snack smart while you study. Have your snacks prepared when you begin a study session--don't wait till you get hungry and go rummaging for food. Avoid any snacks or drinks that will give you a rush of energy, because with every rush comes a crash in which all the information you studied is lost to an intense desire to sleep. Focus on "slow release" carbohydrates, which not only give you a steady stream of energy, but they also boost serotonin, a brain chemical that makes you feel good:
5. Rewrite your notes at home. When you're in class, emphasize recording over understanding or neatness when you take notes. That doesn't mean you shouldn't try to understand or organize your notes at all; just don't waste time doing something in class that you can figure out or neaten up at home. Consider your in-class notes a "rough draft" of sorts. Rewrite your notes as soon after the class as possible, while the material is fresh in your mind and so you can fill in any gaps from memory. The process of rewriting your notes is a more active approach to studying--it engages your mind in a way that just reading the notes doesn't.
o You may find it easier to keep two notebooks--one for your "rough draft" notes, and another for your rewritten notes.
o Some people type their notes, but others find that handwriting enhances their ability to remember the notes.
o The more paraphrasing you do, the better. Same goes for drawing. If you're studying anatomy, for example, "re-draw" the system you're studying from memory.
6. Summarize as you read. Always read material twice. The first time, read it casually from beginning to end, then go back and read piece by piece. Stop frequently to summarize what you just read in your own words. Write it down and incorporate it into your notes, if there's a connection. If you're having trouble summarizing the material so that it "sticks" in your head, try teaching it to someone else. Pretend you're teaching it to someone who doesn't know anything about the topic, or create a wikiHow page about it! For example, Memorize the Canadian Territories & Provinces was made as a study guide for an 8th grade student.
7. Make flash cards. Traditionally, this is done with index cards, but you can also download computer programs that cut down on space and the cost of index cards. You can also just use a regular piece of paper folded (vertically) in half. Put the questions on the side you can see when the paper is folded; unfold it to see the answers inside. Keep quizzing yourself until you get all the answers right reliably. Remember: "Repetition is the mother of skill."
o You can also turn your notes into flash cards using the Cornell note-taking system, which involves writing grouping your notes around keywords that you can quiz yourself on later by covering the notes and trying to remember what you wrote based on seeing only the keyword.
8. Make associations. The most effective way to retain information is to "tie" it to existing information that's already lodged in your mind.
o Take advantage of your learning style. Think about what you already learn and remember easily--song lyrics? choreography? pictures? Work that into your study habits. If you're having trouble memorizing a concept, write a catchy jingle about it (or write lyrics to the tune of your favorite song); choreograph a representative dance; draw a comic. The sillier and more outrageous, the better--we tend to remember silly things more than we remember boring things!
o Use mnemonics (memory aids). Rearrange the information is a sequence that's meaningful to you. For example, if one wants to remember the notes of the treble clef lines in music, remember the mnemonic Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge = E, G, B, D, F. It's much easier to remember a sentence than a series of random letters. You can also build a memory palace or Roman room to memorize lists like the thirteen original colonies in America, in chronological order. If the list is short, link the items together using an image in your mind.
o Organize the information with a mind map. The end result of mapping should be a web-like structure of words and ideas that are somehow related in the writer's mind.
o Use visualization skills. Construct a movie in your mind that illustrates the concept you're trying to remember, and play it several times over. Imagine every little detail. Use your senses--how does it smell? look? feel? sound? taste?
9. Make it a group effort. Get some friends together--friends who are actually interested in studying, that is--and have everyone bring over their flash cards. Pass them around and quiz each other. If anyone is unclear on a concept, take turns explaining them to each other. Better yet, turn your study session into a game like Trivial Pursuit.
• You should be alert and your mind should be calm before you begin your studies.
• Study the most challenging subjects first. Tackle them when you're most alert.
• Studying with a partner who is as serious about the subject as you can be a good motivator to work harder. Organize the study session into parts, review notes, outline the chapter, and discuss concepts. (Try to teach it to each other so that you are sure you both get it.)
• Your attitude greatly helps the outcome of your studying: if you're mad at the world, you won't really care much about biology, and likewise, if you're so excited you can't breathe, you are not going to want to sit down and read about the Mesopotamian Era. Think about that and try to regulate your moods when it's time to hit the books (e.g. don't sign on to instant messaging to talk with your friends about that cute new guy ten minutes before you have to study the table of elements).
• Begin study no less than 30-90 minutes after a meal and if possible study no more than 30-40 minutes at a stretch.
• Late night studies are usually a waste of time.
• Try to teach whatever you get the idea of to friends or to an imaginary audience. This is the best possible method.
• Try not to just memorize whatever you have learnt. Understand it and say/write the answer in your own words.
• Pay attention in class.
• Just take a deep breath and study. Get over it and do it.
• Try typing. Word process all your notes into multiple summaries. Print out and highlight the important pieces. Word process these pieces, print out and summarize again. This will take the stress off handwriting. This allows you to study for at least 1-2 hours flat out without putting the stress on your brain and hands (when handwriting).