Via Science of Us, from the book Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning. A book I really want to read to make me even better at studying!
I’ve been asking for a lot of study tips all around this past year and I’ve gotten a lot of great answers, thank you! So, to give back to you, and also as a way to apologise for all my whining about school I want to share what I ended up learning.
– Pomodoro. This does not work for me at all. It takes me an incredibly long time to actually finally sit down and get focussed, but when I do, my focus can last for up to three hours. Maybe it’s not healthy, I don’t know, but that’s how I’ve always been so why change? But I think this could be a huge help for lots so here ya go!
– Environment. I need somewhere quiet that I can call my own. But libraries push me towards being more active so I will go there when I need a little boost, however I’m always hungry and a lot of my funds will go to food if I study outside of my home so I can’t really afford this and that’s why I push myself to becoming more active indoors. Which leads me to the next point…
– SelfControl. An app that blocks websites! There’s also Block Site for google chrome which you can activate at certain set times. I haven’t actually tried the latter but it seems like a really good idea to set times where I can’t surf certain sites when I need to study (…maybe I need to set that up right now instead of procrastinating by doing this write-up… oh well). If you google ‘block websites app’ you’ll find lots of other programs as well! I also enjoyed this write-up on getting rid of distractions while working. Weirdly, sometimes I notice that periodically checking tumblr also boosts my productivity especially when I’m working on something that’s pretty difficult and heavy to process, but for that I need to be really focussed and motivated. So usually I need to stick to SelfControl.
– Fixed times and schedule. I am most productive when I set my alarm clock at 8AM. I might not actually start studying at that moment, but the structure it gives me makes me feel at ease and prepares me to work! I try to have lunch and dinner at around set times, too, and I base the structure of my day around that. A fixed sleeping time is a must as well! If you sleep too little your concentration levels lower and you need all you can get at this moment, so calculate how much sleep you need and stick to those sleeping and waking hours. I know I need 9-8 hours of sleep so I try to go to bed at around 11-12PM.
– Studying and anxiety. Are you anxious about school a lot? The only thing that will lessen your anxiety is studying! If your anxiety is really bad, that’s okay! You can do some things that seem pointless but they truly never are, such as creating indexes, revising via Anki… even if you cannot focus at all and you seem to be going through the motions mindlessly, you will still retain some of it and most importantly it will always lessen anxiety because it keeps you busy. You will have the feeling you’ve done something, instead of being disappointed in yourself that you’ve ruined another day, which again lessens your anxiety. Keep this in mind and bite through those difficult times! You can do this, I believe in you!
– The above points in short: get to know yourself, your needs and how, where and when you thrive best!
– Studying itself:
1. Go to classes. Classes give you at least an introduction to the material. I write everything down via Evernote. I should probably note less, but this keeps improving the more notes I take. Though, in general, keeping notes and continually writing just helps me focus. The words of a good professor always stick with me as well! If you end up being bored or incredibly annoyed by certain professors (I am very much guilty of this, very very often), try to stick with it and find something good about the class or prof (I once had a prof so utterly boring I never skipped a class because I was so fascinated by its dullness!), but if you’re just going to end up checking how many split ends your hair currently has while you keep whispering ‘this self-centred dick with his western european bias and pointlessly teleological course i can’t take this i can’t take this‘, maybe you’re better off skipping class. The thing is, when you skip class, you have to actually put those hours you’d be in class towards studying because you’re doing this all on your own! Sometimes you’ll even end up having to put in more hours then you would if you’d go to class (you have no one to guide you through unknown territory). When skipping class, try to revise at the time you’d be in school. I have not yet reached this goal, but one day I will. Or maybe I’ll have less terrible professors? That would be nice.
2. Read the course material. Work on chapter per chapter. Don’t do huge chunks at once! You need to understand the story a chapter is trying to tell you! First read something diagonally. Then write down the index of all the titles (if there is none, try to make one yourself) so you can keep checking where you’re at to understand the whole story. Proceed to actually read. Try to note down some thoughts you have while reading or quickly write a synops of paragraphs, especially those you don’t understand well. Highlight the most important sentences. Remember that a lot of times a writer repeats the idea at the end of a paragraph! If you read that you can easily find what are truly the most important sentences in the text. Use different colours but don’t go wild. If there’s names and terms you need to know by heart underline them in a different colour. Sometimes I try to use different highlighters for theory and examples but it usually just ends up confusing me and making me anxious when I accidentally highlight something in the wrong colour. So, for me, it’s best to stick to one highlighter and one or two differently coloured pens for terms and extra comments.
3. Create a synopsis/cram guide. I don’t know if this is common elsewhere but in Belgium pretty much everyone creates schematised synopsis and uses this as a cram guide. This is always my next step. A successful one is created after following step 2 properly. Use colours and a good layout so you can easily revise it again and again. Structure everything nicely and consistently. Use the same colours for the same subtitles and titles. Colour, bold or underline important terms, names, events or ideas. Don’t go overboard. In your text, don’t use full sentences unless you truly can’t study without full sentences. Here’s a page of one of my best synopsis; not too much colour because I had to process A LOT of material so it would only end up confusing me.
4. Extra lists. Create extra lists of terms you don’t understand, names you need to know by heart, events, etc. Easy to cram. Handy to keep by hand when studying the larger course material. Great to have when you feel anxious and need to do some mindless work. I hardly ever do this and always regret it on my exams!
5. Revise revise revise! I absolutely love Anki for terms, dates, and seeing as I’m studying art history, lots and lots of images. Continually do this throughout the semester, (Anki is especially designed for this) and you’ll kick some serious butt at your exam. I did this consistently with one of my exams and I have never ever gotten a higher grade! Whooo!!
6. Handwrite! A step which proved to be crucial and a step I’ve been ignoring until last semester! It’s been scientifically proven you will more easily remember things you’ve written down. Why? Who cares, it seriously works. I promise. I start by writing down indexes, hanging it up in front of my face so I can easily look up and see where I’m at. And via my schematised synopsis I write down keywords, or literally everything, while thinking of links with previous or later chapters. Again, I use colour-specific titles, bold or capitalise important terms, names etc. Sometimes I write down some keywords or a synopsis on the index that hangs in front of me. Again, do this chapter by chapter. Then, re-read everything you wrote down, underline, highlight, add some remarks. If I have the time I make an even more concise synopsis.
7. Questions. Another step, not so crucial for all courses in my opinion though I know this comes up in every how to study guide, but most times I just don’t have the time and sometimes the course material is so easy or literally just nothing but cramming that no questions should or can be asked. But doing this is extremely good for more difficult exams! Think of possible questions you will be asked and answer them. This is really helpful if you know the exam questions will be somewhat vague. For example, for a modern art history course I knew I’d get asked to write about, among other things, ‘death in art from 1750 to now’; mostly, topics that more often than not, weren’t explicitly mentioned in the course material or classes. I thought and talked about this a lot with classmates via facebook and because of that I totally aced the question ‘landscapes in art from 1750 to now’. The ideas and links I brought up might not be perfect but it showed I thought about the course critically and thoughtfully and that’s usually what matters to professors who ask these kind of vague-ish questions.
8. Revise and re-read. I usually do this with my handwritten synopsis. Sometimes I read the title and look away while trying to remember what the chapter/paragraph was about and saying it out loud. Repeat, repeat, repeat. You know the drill. Cram. Do that thing.
– Talk! Talk to your friends, parents, strangers, your pet, whomever, about your course material and the knowledge you’ve gathered, make up imaginary conversations if they don’t want to listen, whatever! Sometimes I jokingly say to my friends after they ask how my week was, if they want to know all about Gothic architecture and they laugh it off, but often (especially when I am a bit tipsy, or bored) I bring it up myself and I don’t care if they’re not interested, I know they love me no matter how much of a bore I am. This really helps to boost motivation, makes me more interested in my courses, helps rearranging the knowledge and really embeds all the facts you need to learn in your mind. I also often link my course material to my daily life and pop culture. Someone says something about David Beckham for H&M? I’ll retort with a monologue about how he’s posing like classical Greek sculptures and how these poses are embedded in our collective visual memory and are re-used time and time again in advertising. (Sorry, I am such a bore.)
– Have fun studying! WHAT AM I SAYING? But yes. Try to find an angle, just something, and link it to your interests and hobbies! If you have fun, the studying will go faster, you’ll remember things much easier and so on. I am personally studying art history not because I love art with all my heart but because I love analysing visual culture. There’s a lot of parallels between art and pop culture (art history is way more ‘history about visual culture’ to me) so that’s what makes it fun to me. I also try to pick out books or movies that have a link with my course material when relaxing. When I had to learn about the years after the Napoleonic Wars and struggled with it I read Madame Bovary so I could imagine how people must’ve lived during that time, which makes history much more humane (as it should be), easier to understand and connect with!
I hope you have fun and kick butt at your school! Let me know if you have any other tips! And don’t lose hope!! You can do this, we can all do this!! ᕦ(ò_óˇ)ᕤ