I love watching C.S.I. and it's various off-shoots. In our house we can never get to sit down at the allotted time so we set our PVR decoder to record them for us so that Sue and I can sit down and watch at our leisure when the boys are asleep. But I have learned three important lessons about studying from watching these series.
New semester series part threeHow do you get yourself back up and running again in the new semester? Your exams were good, bad, indifferent or a mixture. You're happy, sad, or an unusually complex combination of both. Here are seven keys to help motivate yourself to get back into study mode again.
Start smallStart with baby steps. Don’t expect yourself to be able to dive right back into maximum study mode and volume. Plan a gradual build up of your study program in terms of time and effort. But don’t use this as an excuse to stay walking like a baby.
Work in batches of 15 to 20 minutesTake 5 to 10 minute breaks. Study for 15 to 20 minutes. Learn in batches of between 3 and 9 facts. Take a half hour break every 3 hours.
Keep yourself well hydratedIt doesn’t matter if you need to run to the bathroom fairly regularly. Keep yourself hydrated. Only use coffee if your system is used to coffee (long-winded medical explanation forgone again). Use fruit as part of keeping yourself hydrated. This includes citrus, mangoes, pineapples, and watermelon.
Don’t study on a full stomachMost of your blood will be re-directed to your gastro-intestinal tract in order to digest your food, especially if the meal was rich. Rather eat light meals such as salads with low-fat dressings, and tuna.
Make your study habits consistentDo something every day for thirty days and it will stick for life. Well, almost. There is a truism in this. Be consistent. Discipline in study will serve you well in the real world in any case.
Try deal with emotions before you studyI know this sound may sound a tad unrealistic, but the more emotional baggage you bring to your study desk, the less you effectively you will study. Find your study “Zen”, whatever that might be - go and rake some Japanese garden sand or something.
But use emotions in your studyingNo, I’m not contradicting myself. What I mean is you must try bring emotion into the actual material you are studying to make it memorable. The difference is that the previous point was made to prevent you from letting outside emotion interrupt your studying. Do these help you focus? Please let me know if you have any others.... Some related articles 88 Surefire Tips for Succeeding in College 50 Tips for College Students College Dorm Checklist & More
New Semester Series Part OneThe dorm rooms are still smelling musty, and dusty. Your hayfever has flared up again because of it. The mental cobwebs have grown in all the corners of your mind. Your exams from the end of last semester are in the distant past - especially if your 3 or 4 week vacation was one non-stop party. You may be suffering from the Mother of all hang-overs even. But, the question remains, are you ready for the new semester?
It's time to blast those cobwebs away by asking and answering some important beginning-of-the-semester questions."
a. Am I repeating any subjects?This is extremely important because it will drastically increase your workload. Sometimes courses are only one semester long but if you failed the exam, and your university system is such that they don't have supplementary exams, then you may need to repeat the subject in the second semester. If not, check to see when your supplementary exam is - it might be next week! Panic stations!
b. Has my timetable changed at all?This needs to be sorted out quickly. I will be going into this in a bit more detail in subsequent posts, but it is essential that you find out whether your timetable has changed - and that included the venues! Some universities don't have much change between semesters, whereas others have drastic changes between semesters. Make sure you are on top of either eventuality, and prepare for it!
c. Is my life organized?It's one thing to have your academic timetable sorted out. It's another thing entirely to have your life organized. Michael Hyatt, whilst no longer a student, recognizes the need to create more margin in his life (that's jargon for "the opposite of overload"). Head over to his website there and download his weekly schedule. You may find it useful. I developed my own version of a weekly planner based loosely on Stephen Covey's Weekly Worksheet which you can download here.
d. What do I need to revise for the new work that I am about to begin?This is often neglected. You rush into the new semester forgetting that for most subjects, there is a flow to them from the previous semester into the new one and that there is a logical sequence in the way the whole program has been designed. Thus, it is a really good idea to revise your first semester's work briefly. Read through your notes and if you still have your exams, look at the questions again to get an idea as to what your lecturers considered to be important. This will often give you clues as to what to look out for in the first few weeks of the new semester.
e. Do I have sports lined up?Healthy, and it builds team spirit. Sport is very important in the life of the student. I remember when I studied at the University of Natal whilst doing my Science degree, almost every single Saturday, summer or winter, rain or sun, a bunch of us met to play touch rugby. Even during the height of summer - and believe me, Pietermaritzburg in summer can be hot! It can easily reach 40 to 45 degrees Celsius! But it was so important. Also, when I was in Pietermaritzburg, I didn't have a car, so I cycled everywhere. So I was super-fit. But, having said all that about sport, if you choose to do formal sport, just don't let it interfere with the ultimate goal of being at university, which is to pass! That kicks off a new series on The New Semester. Stay tuned!
1. Strategic ObjectiveOperation Overlord was the largest amphibious operation ever launched in the history of warfare. It was the invasion by the Western Allies of Nazi-occupied France in 1944. Without an overall Strategic Objective, it would have been pointless to even begin trying to defeat the Nazis. Translating that into your studying is simple : if you don't have an end-point, or a goal in mind, then you are already defeated.
2. OffensiveSeize, retain and exploit the initiative. Start the year how you want to finish it. Implement the types of study strategies and lecture strategies that you want to carry on throughout the year. Seize the initiative in terms of your time, your energy, and your resources. And do so right from the start. Don't let the first few weeks take control of you, but rather take controlof those first few weeks, and use them to your best advantage.
3. ManeuverThe flexible application of combat power. We continue our analogy and apply this to studying by saying that you need to learn how to maneuver your social life strategically. You don't want to end up being lonely and isolated, but you also need to be very selective about who you befriend, and what type of social life you are prepared to lead. If you want to do the all-weekend partying with every second week-night pub-crawl, your college life-span will not be very long. By the same token, you can become so involved in so many "worthy" causes (such as Chairman of the Tree-Hugging Society) that your studies suffer equally. You need to find a happy medium where you are not a recluse, but you are still maneuvering to achieve your overall Objective.
4. Unity of CommandYou make your decisions. Whilst you take other people's advice, you need to take responsibility for your own actions now. You aren't a child anymore. You are maturing and you need to realize that your new found freedom comes much greater responsibility, and thus you need to start making decisions yourself. If you are far away from home, lots of decisions that used to be made by your parents are going to have to be made by you now. When you realize that you are responsible for you own actions, you will start being able to identify and defeat those things that are distracting you from your studies.
5. LogisticsSupply lines, and management of resources are essential to the functioning of armies. Like-wise, to cope with distractions, you will need to have the resources to be able to do it. Sometimes you won't be able to do it on your own. Maintain strong links with your family, even if they are far away. Find fellow students with similar goals in mind and with similar morals and ethics, spend time with them and even try get into digs with them. In his world-famous Rich Dad Poor Dad, Robert Kiyosaki says that it is critical to surround yourself with people who excel in their specific field in order to make your business flourish. You can easily apply this in your studies. Surround yourself with friends who are diligent and committed to academic and moral excellence.
6. SimplicityThis military doctrine talks about keeping plans and orders short, clear and simple. You can directly apply this to your studies by simplifying your study environment. Switch off all your devices, unless you are typing or researching. If you have to use a device, be ruthless with yourself and shut down everything that you don't need. Close ALL the tabs in your browser you don't need. Turn off you iPad, iPhone, Blackberry, sound system (unless you want to play some gentle Baroque music, which has been shown to enhance your brain waves during studying). Keep It Simple Stupid. (No offense) Are there any other suggestions that you can think of that you have employed to defeat study distraction? Please share so we can all benefit.
1. Social networkingWe live in an age where checking Facebook, Twitter, and all the others is a deeply ingrained habit. It is so deeply ingrained that people can get withdrawal symptoms from not using them. It is now being called Information Deprivation Disorder. And this social networking can be a huge challenge to students while they are studying. It is an extremely common sight to see students studying with their iPhone or iPad or Blackberry right next to their textbooks, and every minute or two they check Facebook. Social networking is a huge distraction to your studying.
2. Social LifeThose new-found freedoms I was talking about above? Yip, they can be a terrible distraction. Imagine a police dog that has just been released from its leash and it blasts off towards its target. That's what it is like for freshmen as they embark on their first academic year after school. They have immense new liberties, and the social life can be an incredible temptation. Parties, gatherings, pub-crawls. The list is endless. But one big aspect that often suffers is academics.
3. "Romance"The reason I put this title in parentheses is because I really meant to say "sex". I had to say it because, as a doctor, all too often I have seen the aftermath of the combination of number 2 and number 3. Usually, when there is lots of number 2 above, there is little preparation and little precaution, and I have young adults, barely out of school, sitting in my office terrified either of two lines on a urine test or of a few positive blood tests. Unwanted pregnancies and Sexually-transmitted Diseases happen. A lot. A lot more than you realize. If you think they are uncommon, either you are being naive, or deliberately ignorant. These can not just ruin your academics, but they can seriously alter your life-course. Be warned.
4. Loneliness and isolationThis is especially true if you have had to move to a city far from home and don't know anybody. I really struggled when I moved to Johannesburg to study medicine, and it really did affect my studies quite drastically. These can easily lead down the road to anxiety and depression.
5. Poor living conditionsSharing a house with well-motivated, neat, helpful students is great. But, all too often you end up with one or two slackers who don't pull their weight. They don't cook. They don't do the washing. They don't do the cleaning. They leave the place a mess. Their portion of the rent is always late. Trying to study while dealing with difficult digs-mates can be incredibly distracting.
Defeating DistractionsI'm going to defer this til the next post! Ha! Sorry!
Use your mind to trick yourself
VisualizationI don't want to get all pop-psychology on you, but there is some evidence to show that visualization does have some value when we need it. Try to imagine yourself at your graduation, and in your dream job afterwards. Picture your family and significant other congratulating you and surrounding you with love and affection.
Become an Incremental TheoristSay what?! An Incremental Theorist believes that their abilities are malleable and can improve (which research shows is the case, by the way). This is opposite of Entity Theorists who believe their abilities are fixed and can't be improved (which has been shown to be false by research). You can improve. You can get better at your studies. You can develop newer skills. These are the central themes of an excellent book called Mindset : How you can fulfil your potential by Dr Carol Dweck. So how do you become an Incremental Theorist? Essentially, instead of accepting something bad happening to you as being the end of the world, rather ask yourself, "What can I learn from this experience?". Those who are Entity Theorists think that "risk and effort are two things that might reveal your inadequacies and show that you were not up to the task." How sad it would be if you let that type of mindset control your studying!
Turn it into a GameThanks to the book Mindhacker Location 3721 and following on Kindle for this reminder. See also my post How I Conquered Russia. This was one of my favorite ways of keeping myself going. I created a wargame out of my studies. Each town I conquered correlated with a section studied. Mindhacker : 60 tips, tricks and games to take your mind to the next level has some really good ideas.
FirstThe website www.stickk.com allows you to bet against yourself failing at doing certain tasks.
SecondA game called Metaphorming allows you to create your own reality around you, essentially to make your whole environment a game of your own creation by creating your own experience of life your own metaphor. You can read the original article here. So, you can become your very own Salvador Dali, weird mustache and all (except you ladies).
ThirdAnother game is called Oulipo Groceries. This originates from the French literary collective that is short for "Ouvroir de litterature potentielle" or "Workshop of Potential Literature". This means writing a short novel without, for example, the letter E. The application here would be to photocopy a chapter of your textbook, then blank out an often repeated keyword, and then try study from those pages. Sounds crazy huh? But you would be amazed at how your brain will fill in those blanks and stimulate you to make extra special note of their importance!
FourthDo not think about the story of the tortoise and the hare. I told you don't think about it! Sorry, it was impossible for you not to after I had mentioned it. But this is a bit of a game. There was a moral to this story that was taught us when we were kids that was supposedly noble. We must be noble and plod like the tortoise. But, come on! Who wants to plod like a tortoise? No, you need to be a strategic hare. Another game to play. Develop strategies in your study plans that allow you to be a plodder at times, and also allows you the freedom to do a hundred metre dash in 9.8 seconds if need be.
FiveCreate a study group and act out skits that teach the sections you are studying to yourself and others. Make it fun! See Surprise Yourself!
RationaleSo, what is my reason in this first post in this series for suggesting you help yourself keep the end in mind by turning your studies into games? Quite simple. We need to mix pleasure with business. By doing this you are reducing your overall stress levels, which in turn increases your Serotonin and Dopamine (your "happy hormones") in your brain. This also causes your Amygdalae to function better because their neurotransmitters are being replenished quicker, thus increasing your ability to learn. And, Voila'!
Why Twenty Minutes?I'm not actually making 20 minutes an exact number here for you. It will vary from one person to another, but the average length will be 20 minutes. These are the steps to follow in the 20 minutes.
1. Gather your chunk of information.This will be the chunk of information of between 5 and 9 facts. Make sure that they flow in the grand scheme of your studying progress. They mustn't be isolated. If they are isolated they are doomed.
2. Connect the information with previous information.Make obvious connections before learning and memorizing the information.
3. Make sure you understand the information.It's pointless learning the information if you do not even understand it. Memorizing something for the sake of rote learning makes your brain a simple USB flash-drive. It stores information. It doesn't make it a fully-functional integrating, thinking and solving, living entity it was made to be.
4. Memorize the information in as many ways as possible.Don't use just one way. If you are good at drawing, draw crazy pictures. For example, when I was studying Psychiatry, when I was learning about the medication called Sertraline, I drew a Search-Light : do you see the connection my brain made? Sertraline sounds like Searchlight? At least it did to me. Maybe I'm just crazy. Anyway. Moving along. If you draw good mindmaps, then use those to their maximum potential. Write a quick rap song. Act out the facts in a small skit. Use multiple ways to learn the facts.
5. When your eyes glaze over, stop.Teachers will recognize this point very easily. Eyes become glazed over, bodies change positions and become slumped, people begin looking elsewhere. If you notice your mind start wondering, then stop. If you haven't finished your total number of facts - this has given you an idea as to where to set the bar for how much to learn in one sitting. When this happens, those Amygdala neurotransmitters have been all used up. This whole process usually takes around 20 minutes or so, but can vary widely, depending upon each individual person, subject being learned, and the type of exam being learned for.
Take a BreakThis is essential. If you were to try and carry on learning now, your Amygdalae would simply bounce off all incoming information away from your learning centres. This break should be about 5 to 10 minutes and consist of you physically getting up, moving around, refreshing yourself with something to eat and drink (I personally don't have an aversion to good filter coffee here!). Go outside into the sun, stretching your legs. But don't do this for more than about 4 or 5 minutes.
Do the same again but differentlyNow that you've given your neurotransmitters a chance to rebuild, you now go back and do the exact same section you have just done. The difference now is that you are going to do it in completely different ways to ways that you have done before. If you learned the facts in , let's say 3 different ways previously, I want to now to find 3 or 4 different ways to revise it. They must be crazy, different, and way-out. You must feel out of you depth and you must feel way out of your comfort zone. This is when you will remember your work.
Keep doing this over and overKeep this cycling over and over. Give yourself a 30 minutes break for every two hours of studying you have done. After studying for about six hours, you must give yourself at least one hour's break and you must go out somewhere and do something different.
Mickey Mouse Clubhouse on DSTV. We've got the whole all the songs memorized by now! One of the episodes that we have recorded on our PVR decoder has a segment where Goofy gets stuck inside Donald Duck's huge Trombone, and they have try and remove him from it. Eventually they do, obviously. But, I know that students can get to a point in their studies where they feel like their bums are stuck inside a trombone and they can't get any further! I received an email from a student just the other day asking me about this very topic. I want to issue a disclaimer before I continue this post - every subject is different. Biochenistry (the subject this student emailed me about) is a very tricky area to deal with and has it's own set of problems. And each subject has its own set of issues. I cannot go into details for each subject so this post is going to be full of generalizations. But I will obviously be helping that student individually. If any of you have specific problems, please feel free to post below or to email me at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.My little boys are going through a phase of loving to watch
1. Start with your lecture notes. If you have followed my suggestions about taking good lecture notes, then you will probably have a goodinfrastructure with which to begin working with your subject.
2. Read your textbook for understanding. Take the textbook that is prescribed reading for your course and read the relevant section for understanding, not necessarily for memorizing. Read the section with highlighters, pencils and a notebook at hand for you to jot down any questions you have. Remember, you are reading to understand, so memorizing you are going to leave for a later stage. This particular step is fit for a whole series of topics all on its own, and perhaps we can delve into that in the near future.
3. Read other textbooks. Here, find books that simplify the information. A medical example would be Human Anatomy For Dummies. These books will often break down the information into understandable chunks and explain it in such a way that you can immediately grasp and begin to apply.
4. Seek out knowledgeable students.Take note of those in your class who seem to be pretty clued up on what is going on in the course you are struggling with. If you have a good relationship with them, approach them and ask them if they wouldn't mind explaining some of the key concepts to you, and perhaps showing you how they approach studying the subject. You don't need to even find a student on your own class, you could find one who is a year or two ahead of you who you know did well in that particular subject. Again, offer to buy them a cup of coffee, spend time with them and absorb information like a sponge.
5. Speak to your lecturer. Some lecturers are simply on another planet and cannot be reached by any conventional means. In this case, see point number 3! However, fairly frequently, lecturers are quite willing to spend time helping you if they can see you are struggling with their subject. Make an initial appointment, prepare what you are going to ask them, bring all your books and notes along, and then grill them!
Oxford English Dictionary - unless you are studying English Literature! Each course has it's very own "language". When I began my Medical School career in second year at Wits University, it was like I stepped onto a modernized Greco-Roman campus! Anterior, posterior, lateral, medial, flexion, extension, dorsal, ventral, mid-axillary line, and on the list went. One of the first books I bought was a medical dictionary. I wore that dictionary out rapidly! It does not matter what field you are studying, you will have your very own language, and you will need to learn to speak the language very quickly! Here are some suggestions on how to best use the relevant dictionary during your normal college/varsity day. A. Carry it around with you. This is stating the obvious and I'm dodging the odd tomato being thrown at me for such a stupidly obvious suggestion, but you would be surprised how many people would forget to do this. My wife is currently pregnant, and I promise you, there is such a thing as "porridge-brain" in pregnancy! So, I have to state the obvious - take your relevant dictionary with you to varsity. B.Look up every word you don't understand. Don't wait until later on. Unless it is going to affect you directly, such as a lecture that you cannot stop taking notes for. In which case jot down the term for checking later. But do check it later! Don't forget about it! This is especially fundamental in first year, or in the early years of professional degrees such as medicine. C. Read some of your dictionary every night. It may put you to sleep, but try read and learn at least five new terms every evening just before you go to sleep. Your brain will process what you have just learned and generally you will remember the information quite well the next day. Early the next morning, glance through those five terms briefly to confirm you remember them.And I don't just mean the