Dr. Pam Thompson

Dr. Pam Thompson

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Good Old-Fashioned Study Skills

Today’s students have exciting, technological tools to make learning fun, fast, and flexible. Yet, I’ve noticed a disturbing trend in the bright and exposed minds of capable seniors from “good homes” (whatever that means today) who launch into the world of college. They’re back home before the end of the first or second year, with no intention in the foreseeable future of returning to college. 
A number of factors contribute to this phenomenon. For this article, I’ll focus on study skills that seem so obsolete when stacked against flashy screens and fingers gliding across iPads. However, the lack of study skills prevents many bright, techno-advanced students or adults returning to school from excelling. Here are some basic tips for mastering the dying art of studying: 

1. Break down material into small chunks of information with a plan for how much to focus on per day with realistic goals. If you purpose to study a chapter a day, be consistent in that goal and the time of day set apart to achieve this. Our bodies and minds love routine and order. The more disciplined you become, the more your momentum builds as you realize small victories which enhance confidence and a sense of mastery.

2. Read as much as you can out loud in order to engage your ears and vocal cords in the process of learning. Also include tactile sensations by writing down notes that are important to review with your hand—not the computer. The hand- to-paper contact is a slower and more deliberate process, which reinforces the material more effectively.

3. For serious “life or death” exams, take as many practice tests as possible and time yourself. Record the answers you missed (again by hand) and then tape-record your voice reciting the correct answers. Listen to your recordings as often as possible while in the car or taking a walk until you’ve marinated yourself in these answers such that they’re in the marrow of your bones. This overlearning process boosts confidence and calms test anxiety.

4. Go to bed. If you don’t sleep because of an “all-nighter,” you’ve prevented your brain from consolidating the new information in the same way that Jello doesn’t gel if not put to bed in the refrigerator overnight. Since your brain needs time to “congeal” data, shoot for a minimum of 6 hours of sleep when preparing for an exam.

5. Develop a silly acronym or phrase that triggers memory for a list of facts (called a mnemonic). For instance, if you needed to remember the list of presidents from Kennedy onward, you could use this nonsensical sentence: King Johnson Never Found a Cart in the Raging Bush or Carried a Bush Overhead (i.e., Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Regan, Bush, Clinton, Bush, Obama). The more personalized and outrageous you make the mnemonic, the better the chances of recall and the more fun you have in the process.

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