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Tuesday, April 23, 2024

The science of effective studying


As finals approach, the amount of work you need to do can feel daunting. But if you take a deep breath and follow some of these scientifically proven pointers, it is possible to accomplish everything you need to.

The first thing you should do is focus on the way you are thinking—cognitive psychologists call this metathinking, or thinking about your thoughts. You can minimalize your stress by eliminating negative self-talk. Telling yourself it’s impossible to accomplish everything is setting yourself up for failure. If you want to do well, you need to believe you can do well.

Another powerful thing to consider is how you let your thoughts wander. If you catch yourself daydreaming instead of reading, allow yourself a five minute break to think about anything you want, but after that break, get back to work.

Before you study, it might be worthwhile to consider what easily distracts you. If it’s your cell phone, you can turn it off for two hours. If it’s Facebook, you can temporarily deactivate, or better yet, leave your computer at home while you study. While it can be really difficult to not text or use Facebook for a few hours, it is worth it to work for an efficient hour versus distractedly working for five hours.

When everything you have to do gets overwhelming, it’s helpful to create a to-do list and number the tasks in order of priority. Psychologists believe creating lists is a useful way to visually set aside tasks. When we only think about what we have to do, it can become mentally overwhelming. Writing each task down and how long it will take will be a mental relief, and will make it easier to tackle what needs to get done. Best of all, by making a schedule you prove to yourself there is time for everything.

When actually studying, it can be helpful to create an outline of major ideas and then branch out smaller ideas beneath them. Psychologists call this method chunking. The ability to chunk, or group, means you can mentally compartmentalize the information, which is helpful for memorizing large amounts of information before an exam.

It may sound like old-fashioned advice, but practice really does make perfect. Psychologists suggest practicing what you need to know until you overlearn that information. What’s tricky about this method is that it is extremely time-consuming. If you’re cramming for an exam, you won’t have time to practice as much as you probably should. Studying for an hour once a day for a week before an exam is better because you’ll be able to repeatedly practice recalling certain information.

Where you study depends on what works for you, but it’s important to avoid places where you know you will be distracted. Moreover, choosing a location you are comfortable with can affect how well you concentrate. Dressing comfortably is also something to consider.

Likewise, on test day, dressing comfortably is important. You may have heard of the phrase “dress well, test well” which is rooted in the idea that dressing well can boost your self-confidence and self-awareness.

State-dependent learning is the idea that learning and information recall are based on a person’s physiological and mental state. For example, if you study caffeinated, the information will come to you more readily if you are also caffeinated during the test. If you sit in a certain seat or area of the room during lecture, try to sit there when you are taking the exam because you are more likely to recall information from the same context that you learned it in.

Last, and perhaps most importantly, take breaks and give yourself rewards. Rewarding yourself for a job well done makes you want to continue to do well so you can continue to feel good and get rewards; this is known in psychology as operant conditioning. If you work well for an hour, give yourself a 10-minute break and get a snack.

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When it comes down to taking your finals, it may seem necessary to cram all night, but it’s important to get enough sleep so you can concentrate for the actual exam. Managing your stress by exercising and eating right is also very helpful. Bottom line—you should be taking care of your academic success and your personal well being throughout finals week.

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