So you’re looking at your high school or college textbook and thinking to yourself, “Oh my god, this is so overwhelming and pointless, how will I ever get this done?”
Well, I’ve got some research-proven strategies to show you today that can help you move through that homework or studying venture as quickly and as painlessly as possible!
Note: the chemistry of your brain follows the laws of nature – meaning that it takes effort and energy to get over the hump of going from not knowing something to knowing something! It is actually progress if you’re finding that halfway through the study session you find your brain tingling or feeling overloaded! At that point take a 5-10 minute break (No joke! Remember this is what education research shows works!) to walk around your desk and come back. Make yourself a drink or go to the bathroom. What’s happening is that you are inputting the energy it requires to channel new neural pathways. And boy does that take a lot of energy!
It’s also important to make sure you have access to a little bit of “brain food” – simple carbs like crackers, chips, cookies, nuts, or even fruit – to get that brain running quickly and efficiently! Your brain mainly runs on glucose. And stay hydrated! Studies show that drinking water can be not only act as a focusing habit as you work (since it’s a repetitive and relatively mindless activity) but it can also help your brain stay focused because it’s not hitting the panic button (“Ah! it’s so dry up here I feel like crap!”) every few minutes.
Metacognition is a helpful strategy you should use to create a framework for the things you are studying. Basically, the word metacognition means “thinking about thinking.” With metacognition, you figure out the following ideas:
- Why am I bothering to learn this?
- What are the most important ideas, facts, and skills that I need to draw out of the flood of materials being thrown at me in this class?
- What level of mastery do I desire for this class? In my future, will it be necessary for me actually to understand 90+% of this course? Or is it sufficient for me to just work for 70-80% of the material and give myself a bit of a break?
- How will I use this in my future career? If this is a science class and I intend to study fashion or social science, how can this knowledge apply to me broadly rather than narrowly?
- What kinds of practice problems can I find to experiment with the skills I’m learning in this class?
- Think about scenarios you can construct that allow you to “diagnose” or “solve” the situation using the concepts you’ve just learned.
- What kinds of mental pictures (or even physical artwork?) can I make to integrate this information into my brain right now? –Note that education research has determined that this is actually one of the most efficient and longest-lasting ways students can pocket new information!
- Can I describe the concept or method in my own words?
- Why does this work?
- Do I like this?
- How much of this (or what parts of this) do I actually need to read to feel like I’ve gotten 70-80% of the content?
- What positives can I pull out of this difficult or challenging concept?
- How do I feel while I am studying or reading about this concept? Do I feel sad? Overwhelmed? Anxious? Happy? Excited? Interested? Bored? Angry? What could be causing this emotional response?
- If the emotion feels negative or uncomfortable, what can I do to modify my study pattern for this topic so that I can alleviate the stress or burden of undertaking this important challenge?
- Am I using S.M.A.R.T. goals to tackle this uncomfortable homework/study assignment?
- Here are some other metacognition strategies you can use to get the most out of your immediate learning in lecture. –Education research has also shown that “just in time” active learning and immediate application/practice/explanation of concepts allows better and easier retention of the material! This is a second set of strategies that also promotes active learning (and better metacognition).
- These types of questions may sound like common sense, but nevertheless: Am I hungry? Am I tired? Am I thirsty? Have I gotten enough sleep recently? Taking care of your body (in which your mind is housed) is super-important to your sense of wellness, focus, and efficiency when you start to study.
Here are some other resources to help you channel your learning in keeping with how you work best. Most of these tests identify key aspects of your personality that help you stay focused more efficiently in various ways:
- Click here to figure out which learning modality (style of taking in learning) suits you best!
- Click here to find out what study habits you already have and how specifically you can improve your efficiency!
Here is some light reading you should really give a shot – focus on the toolkit entries below that correspond to what you found in the study habits test you took above!
- Click here to access the Student Toolkit resource to promote your most efficient studying!
- Learning How To Learn
- Essay & Report Writing Skills
- Effective Use of English
- Reading & Note Taking
The saying “two heads are better than one” is undoubtedly true. When you start a new semester of coursework, find yourself a few peers around you in the classroom who would be interested in meeting 1-3 times a week for a couple hours each time to study together. Find a group study space or an open table in an area of the library that permits talking. Review notes together, summarize the lectures and practice problems, and tackle hefty problems together. This process of groups coming together to work is called cooperative learning, and a ton of educational research also speaks to the strength of working in conjunction with others. Cooperative learning allows you to develop bigger and stronger mental maps, seeing how others solve problems and undertake large projects, and articulate the material with greater agility – just by working alongside others actively! You can read more about this strategy here.
We’re working on a tutorial to show you how LikeAFemmeBoss.com Founder Hannah Stringfellow goes through a hard-core study session. We’ll have it posted soon.
Hannah Stringfellow is a freelance blogger and world traveler. She holds an M.S., Chemistry, from the University of California, Berkeley. Her interests include women’s empowerment, health and wellness, and cross-cultural competency.