I have been trying to catch up on all my blogs and make some significant headway on my other written projects (secret so I can't tell you exactly what they are) and I have barely left my house for the last couple of days. Which would normally be a bad thing, as it tends to make me feel a little restricted, moody, claustrophobic and agitated. But I am powering through my work, it's work I really have to and want to get done, and it reminded me of my days at uni and some of the study hacks I used to use back then. I am also aware that this time of the year is "HSC" or final exams for students in Australia (or at least NSW), and is the lead up to end of year exams for most other grades and mid-terms in other parts of the world.
I've been staring at my laptop screen for the past few hours (implementing the 50/10 rule - see below). The sun has been shining, and while I did a bit of work laying outside in the sun this morning, I am now inside and "head down, butt up" getting some solid work done. I don't mind being inside. I find having a clean and organised work space helps me a lot! I try to remove all kinds of objects and materials that would normally distract me from my work... yes, this even includes my phone sometimes, when I find it restricts me from maintaining full focus on work. So if might help you, get rid of all the distractions and make a space where you can easily work, distraction free.
Personally, I find removing colour from my immediate environment helps too - I work best when things are simple, organised and white. It mentally allows me to think of my work space as a "clean" or "empty" space - allowing it to be transformed into whatever kind of creativity I want it to. This may seem really OCD to a lot of you, and truthfully, it probably is one of my little annoying habits and OCD tendencies! (we all have a few of these, it's okay and entirely normal!). But it's what works for me.
What works for you when studying or working? Do you work best if you're alone? Listening to a certain type of music? Facing a particular direction? Do you find you study best if your hair is wet and freshly washed? It doesn't matter how "odd" your study rituals are, it's up to you to try and figure out what does (and doesn't) work for you and then use this knowledge to make it work efficiently and effectively for YOU !
A FEW HELPFUL GENERAL STUDY TIPS:
1. Clear your space - eliminate all distractions
2. Chew gum. Apparently it stimulates brain activity by increasing the blood flow to your head
3. The 50/10 rule! This means you break your study/break up into one hour increments. It keeps you refreshed mentally, physically and even increases motivation as you are constantly being rewarded for your effort! You work hard, for 50 minutes. head down, distraction free. Then you reward yourself with 10 minutes to rejuvenate. Take this time to go for a walk out into the sunshine. Stretch your body. Have a glass of water. Or a cup of tea. Have a little snack of some delicious healthy goodies. Or that bit of chocolate you've been craving. Go say hello to your pets or jump around to some music. Anything that DOES distract you from your work is really good to use in this ten minutes. Then get back into it !
STUDY HACKS TO IMPROVE RECALL IN EXAMS:
Without even realising it, we take in so much from our environment everyday, we learn (intentionally or incidentally) and we experience through our senses. Most of those experiences get processed repeatedly in our brain and eventually are filed in our long-term memories. Of course we are more likely to remember the stuff that is meaningful to us, or if we consider it important. And there is some stuff we tend to filter out without processing at all other than to give it a cursory acknowledgement. Eg. When we say we can’t remember Mum asking us to put the garbage out, the odds are we actually can’t – that is one of those things we discard from our memory processing pretty early on! We figure Mum will remind us if it is important. So a bit of this whole “processing” thing is how much “attention” we pay to the information coming in to our brain. The usual strategies we use to reinforce processing and recall later on are things like repetition and practice. How many times have you repeated a phone number over in your head so that you can remember it later, or practiced writing spelling words or lists over and over to learn them.
This repetition and practice triggers sets of neurons (brain cells) to fire simultaneously and a “habit” or memory is formed. These sets of neurons are based on the sensory information coming in and motor messages that our brain sends to our muscles when we do something. A good example of neurons firing together to enhance learning is learning a dance to a certain song – what you hear is paired with what you do and you “learn” and are able to recall the choreography quite easily.
So this now leads me to where my thoughts wandered off a little to recalling my uni days and I became curious all over again about how I "learnt" all this stuff. While for the course I did, I didn’t have to memorise anything for a test, I did have to show in practical assignments everything we had learned in lectures that semester. Learning photography is a mix of visual, a little bit of auditory (ie sounds like the click of the button indicating the shot has been taken) and some movements (moving fingers and even whole body ay times). And because I have repeated and practiced and experienced it all in a “multi-sensory” way, it is more natural, spontaneous and familiar to do the photography the way I have been taught.
Anyway it got me thinking about how adding in another sensory dimension to study might actually help improve it. So, anyway, I have been thinking about it and have come up with some strategies that might just help you with recalling all that information you have to cram into your short-term memory at least, so that you can get it all out of your head in an exam (only to be never thought of again – or maybe it might end up being something you might just remember for life).
While I am going to talk about a few different strategies in a minute, first I would just like you all to think about what are your “strengths” already in terms of remembering things. If I asked you how you spent Christmas Day 2012, how do you retrieve that memory? Some people may first think of the food. Others may recall the decorations, or the gifts. You might first think of the weather, whether you had a white Christmas, sunny or wet ? What you were wearing ? You may work out whether you were at Mum or Dad’s place that year by the décor and the house. Still others may recall the year and what you were doing in school or work that year. What if I said the most popular song on the radio that December in the USA was Rihanna – Diamond and Bruno Mars – Locked out of Heaven; in Australia was Macklemore and Ryan Lewis – Thrift Shop; and in the UK One Direction’s “Little Things” had just been replaced at number one by Olly Murs “Troublemaker”. See once you link into the memory, it seems to set off a snowball effect of memories, doesn't it ...
It’s that snowball effect we want to create to improve your recall of the important stuff to get through your exams the best you can! The strategies will use colour, shapes, art, touch and movement creatively to trigger more of those brain neurons and enhance memory and effective study.
1. Use different colour paper creatively to organise your notes within each subject to help differentiate some of the facts and lists eg in chemistry you could summarise the qualities of solids, liquids and gases on 3 different colour paper; in English summarise different themes with quotes and characterisations on different colours; Economics – micro and macro on different colours; History – different battles/civilisations different colours. Get the gist ?
2. Use different colour pens/inks to divide information as well
3. Rather than writing lists use shapes:- so if there are three points/dates/ideas to remember write one on each side of a triangle; four around a square, five around a pentagon etc. Then you can write some useful trigger/prompt words,dates or facts inside the shape. The exam question will first prompt you to think of the shape and then all the information around and in that shape should be easier to retrieve.
4. For formulas or dates or names you want to remember try saying them as you “write” it on your forearm with the tip of your finger – this strategy uses fine motor, visual, auditory and tactile (touch and feel) strategies
5. Use movement and activity to break the monotony of study and add another dimension to your learning and recall potential. Get outside or in the garage with some chalk. Draw yourself a hopscotch game with dates or mathematical formulas or concepts you need to remember instead of numbers. As you play, you learn. This reinforces learning as you will recall the hopscotch first and then where on the hopscotch the information was written, in what colour and you will recall having to write it and what you actually wrote.
6. Make little cartoon/comic strips to remember sequence of events – like for history or chemistry experiments etc
7. Use post-it notes to remember geography places, rivers etc or to reconstruct the periodic table from just a pile of elements symbols – if you use different colours for specific information you can build quite a visual image that will aid recall.
8. Have a piece of playdough –this can be used as something to fidget with to break the monotony of study; or you can use it to carve things into. The effort put into scratching a mathematic formula slowly into a piece of playdough will certainly enhance your processing of it and the effectiveness of recall later on.
9. Music – just having the same song on over and over in the background might be useful to help you reinforce a certain concept or subject in your memory.
Just remember, each of us have different ways of processing and remembering, so if you can find out which ways are most effective or strongest for you, go with those ones.
And good luck! If you're taking the time, energy and effort to sit down and study/work, it is obviously important to you for one reason or another. I wish you all the fantastic results and success you deserve.
Love and light,