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How to study continued

Make sure you’ve read the Research on learning post first.

Work efficiently

We remember studying as a group in first year, and we would often meet up at someone’s room at the halls. On one visit we passed someone’s door with the most amazing hand drawn sign. It was A4 in size, and was exceptionally colourful. There were lots of swirls and line, little animals and bit of shading. Besides their name, it said “LEAVE ME ALONE, I’M STUDYING” in big bold letters. This had clearly taken hours. Some students come up with so many ways to procrastinate.

Study does not always have to be dull, but unfortunately it often can be. Do not drag it out longer than it has to be. Try to focus on getting the work done now, rather than later. Instead of sitting in front of the TV studying, do it in a warm, quiet area. When you have done a bit of study, you can watch TV but study with 100% effort for a shorter time. It is all about the quality of study.

Make it interesting
Try to tease out the interesting bits, accentuate the hilarious, and amplify the mundane into something interesting. It’s hard to forget the interesting or funny bits, like in Chemistry the lecturer was saying how kevlar body armour was modelled on a spider’s web – or something… it’s hard to remember all of the details with Chemistry…

Hard work and no distractions
Texting that sexy lass from physics is not study, put your phone on silent for half an hour. You should be phone free when you are studying. Find some way to minimise or eliminate all interruptions to your work for a set amount of time. Focus on the work that is in front of you and only this. Short burst of focussed work are better than no bursts of focussed work, and probably better than longer stretches where you have split your attention. Ultimately, as Thomas Edison said:

“There is no substitute for hard work”.

If you ask any successful person, they will be able to tell you the same: it is quite simple, the amount of work that you put in = the amount that you get out. I have yet to meet a smart person who has not put in the hours in order to learn something* – it just does not happen (this topic is dealt with in the book “Outliers“). More effort in an area will lead to your improvement in this area, which makes the whole cycle repeat.

*There are some perceived exceptions to this rule, in that many student may have a strong background in one area or another, they will not have to work as hard whilst in the same class as you – but they have still done the work – they just did it before university.

  • Know when you are working and when you are not.
  • Work hard for short bursts if you can.
  • Hard work pays off.
  • Being interested in a subject helps hugely. Find the interesting parts.

Work consistently

In order to achieve what you are hoping for, you will need to work consistently. We can all appreciate how important this is, unfortunately many students fail to do what they know they should! Imagine that your brain is a hot air balloon. Your prior knowledge will be a start in filling it up. Some people will carry on feeding it with hot air throughout the year and then get it flying easily. Others will leave it to the last minute before attempting to fill it, then find they have lost the pump. It is a struggle to do all of the work that you need to in the last while. Ideally, you should be consolidating information in the last weeks before exams (which from experience is neigh on impossible in health science).

You may find yourself in the position where you are able to try a bit harder, and potentially get into a restricted professional entrance course, or do a three year degree before attempting again. The cold reality of entrance to the professional courses is that you are competing against other students. Many post-graduate students in medicine will comment on how they “partied too hard” in first year. Make sure that you know where your priorities lie, and are happy with the decisions that you have made. It is arguably better to have seriously attempted a course, and failed to meet your main goals than not have performed at your best. Even if you do not get to where you dreamed you would, you can be proud of your efforts, and always consider other options.

Working consistently can be difficult for everyone at times, but just as many people find it easier to establish very clear guidelines as to what they are prepared to do. If you set up a timetable for yourself then you will find that you are able to incorporate study into your daily routine, and after a while you will not be thinking about when to do it – you just will!

Study breaks

When you are studying for hours at a stretch, reading the textbook or writing pages upon furious pages of notes it is really good to have a break every now and then. When you take a break do not get off topic and go for a wander! Stay in your study place and try to limit the break time to the equivalent of listening to one song (a good length). Do a bit of a stretch and take a few deep breaths to get the blood flowing to your brain.

Generally shorter study times and small breaks are better than long study times and longer breaks. Your attention span may be completely different to the next person, so the time that you can study effectively will vary. Find what suits you.

Switch it up

And, instead of getting off task in a donuts break, you can simply switch your form of study in order to break the monotony. If you have just written pages of notes then stop to read out what you have written. Ask yourself:
“What are the most important things in what I just did?”
“What do I understand well / poorly?”

Study groups

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