CHICOPEE, Mass. (Mass Appeal) – It’s almost time for kids to head back to school, which means lots of studying! But being in the right mindset is important in order to study smarter. Clinical psychologist Dr. Tim Hope shared ways to improve your study mindset.
Way to Help Improve Your Study Mindset
1. Choose carefully where you study
A lot of people make the mistake of studying in a place that really isn’t conducive to concentrating. A place with a lot of distractions makes for a poor study area. If you try and study in your dorm room, for instance, you may find the computer, TV, or a roommate more interesting than the reading material you’re trying to digest.
The library, a nook in a student lounge or study hall, or a quiet coffee house are good places to check out.
2. Bring everything you need, nothing you don’t
Unfortunately, when you find an ideal place to study, sometimes people bring things they don’t need. For instance, while it may seem ideal to type notes into a computer to refer back to later, computers are a powerful distraction for many people because they can do so many different things. Playing games, going online, IM’ing, surfing the Web, and answering emails are all wonderful distractions that have nothing to do with studying. So ask yourself whether you really need a computer to take notes, or whether you can make do with the old-fashioned paper and pen or pencil.
3. Outline and rewrite your notes
Most people find that keeping to a standard outline format helps them boil information down to its most basic components. People find that connecting similar concepts together makes it easier to remember when the exam comes around. The important thing to remember in writing outlines is that an outline only words as a learning tool when it is in your own words and structure.
4. Use memory games (mnemonic devices)
Memory games, or mnemonic devices, are methods for remembering pieces of information using a simple association of common words. Most often people string together words to form a nonsense sentence that is easy to remember. The first letter of each word can then be used to stand for something else – the piece of information you’re trying to remember. The most common mnemonic device example is “Every Good Boy Deserves Fun.” Putting the first letters of every word together – EGBDF – gives a music student the five notes for treble clef. The key to such memory devices is the new phrase or sentence you come up with has to be more memorable and easier to remember than the terms or information you’re trying to learn. These don’t work for everyone, so if they don’t work for you, don’t use them. Mnemonic devices are helpful because you use more of your brain to remember visual and active images than you do to remember just a list of items. Using more of your brain means better memory.
5. Practice by yourself or with friends
The old age adage, practice makes perfect, is true. You can practice by yourself by testing yourself with either practice exams, past quizzes, or flash cards (depending what kind of course it is and what’s available). If a practice exam isn’t available, you can make one up for yourself and your classmates (or find someone who will). If a practice or old exam from a course is available, use it as a guide – do not study to the practice or old exam! (Too many students treat such exams as the real exams, only to be disappointed when the real exam has none of the same questions). Such exams help you understand the breadth of content and types of questions to expect, not the actual material to study for.
6. Make a schedule you can stick to
Too many people treat studying as the thing to do when you get around to it or have some spare time. But if you schedule study time just as your class time is scheduled, you’ll find it becomes much less of a hassle in the long run. Instead of last-minute cramming sessions, you’ll be better prepared because you haven’t put off all the studying into one 12-hour marathon. Spending 30 or 60 minutes every day you have a class studying for that class before or after is a lot easier and will allow you to actually learn more of the material.
7. Take breaks (and give yourself rewards!)
Because so many people view studying as a chore or task, it’s human nature to avoid it. If, however, you find rewards to help reinforce what you’re doing, you may be pleasantly surprised by the change you may find in your attitude over time. Rewards start by chunking study time into manageable components. Studying for 4 hours at a time with no breaks is not realistic or fun for most people. Studying for 1 hour, and then taking a 5 minute break and grabbing a snack is usually more sustainable and enjoyable. Divide study time into segments that make sense and work for you. If you have to digest a whole textbook chapter, find sections in the chapter and commit to reading and taking notes on one section at a time. Maybe you only do one section in a sitting, maybe you do two. Find the limits that seem to work for you.
8. Keep healthy and balanced
It’s hard to live a balanced life while in school, I know. But the more balance you seek out in your life, the easier every component in your life becomes. If you spend all of your time focusing on a relationship or a game, you can see how easy it is to be out of balance. When you’re out of balance, the things you’re not focusing on – such as studying – become that much harder. Don’t spend all of your time studying – have friends, keep in touch with your family, and find interests outside of school that you can pursue and enjoy.
Finding balance isn’t really something that can be taught, it’s something that comes with experience and simply living. But you can work to try and keep your health and body balanced, by doing what you already know – exercise regularly and eat right. There are no shortcuts to health. Vitamins and herbs might help you in the short-term, but they’re not substitute for real, regular meals and a dose of exercise every now and again (walking to class is a start, but only if you’re spending an hour or two a day doing it).
Look at vitamins and herbs as they are intended – as supplements to your regular, healthy diet. Common herbs – such as ginkgo, ginseng, and gotu kola – may help you enhance mental abilities, including concentration, aptitude, behavior, alertness and even intelligence. But they may not, either, and you shouldn’t rely on them instead of studying regularly.
9. Know what the expectations are for the class
Different professors and teachers have different expectations from their students. While taking good notes and listening in class (and attending as many of the classes as you can) are good starts, you can do one better by spending some time with the instructor or professor’s assistant. Talking to the instructor early on – especially if you foresee a difficult course ahead – will help you understand the course requirements and the professor’s expectations. Pay attention in class. If the instructor writes something on the whiteboard or displays it on the screen, it’s important. But if they say something, that’s important too. Copy these things down as they’re presented, but don’t zone out completely from what the instructor is also saying.