Jedi-mind tricks for studying

Written by Editor’s Picks, Tips & Tricks

By: Jade Angelopoulos and Tina Reymann

Whether you’ve just returned from back-packing around the globe, or become all too adjusted to having copious amounts of free time, nanna naps and alcohol infused frivolity – getting back into study and routine after a long uni break is a struggle. Nonetheless, this time round rediscovering your studious side doesn’t have to drag out till the end of semester. After the initial new-year-week-one ‘this year will be different’ motivation wears off, we’ve compiled some useful tips and advice to get out of that holiday haze, develop good habits to keep you going strong and make studying a little easier.

Go to your lectures. Just do it

Just going to lectures and intently listening, not even taking notes is a painless enough way to ease yourself back into your subjects. Simply going to your lectures begins the process of study weeks before any exams or assessments, not only vital course information but also academic jargon is being repeated to you weekly so by the end of semester exams you’re bound to have retained more than you’d realized. Not to mention lecturers have a habit of stressing what they think is most important about topics in lectures, but not including such in online notes – this kind of knowledge can help focus your study so you can save time and energy by not rummaging aimlessly through textbooks.


Know your learning style

Everyone processes information differently and knowing the best way to reach your synapses can make all the difference when studying things. There are several models out there, some suggesting up to seven learning styles. But let’s start with the three basic learning styles:

Visual types tend to remember things by seeing images in their minds; like where something was written on a page. If you see yourself here, try to learn “the big picture” first and then work out the details. Writing down things and creating charts and maps is what’s most effective for you.

Auditory types remember what people said and how they said it, including themselves. If that sounds like you, try listening to lectures, reading out loud, discussing things in study groups or explaining the material to a fellow student. You can also try to have some soft music in the background.

Kinesthetic types need to do things to learn, like demonstrating something rather than explaining it. If that’s how you work, you could try chewing gum while studying or learning while you’re active, like on a treadmill. Try and do a lot of study breaks where you move around.


Study before bed

Instead of aimlessly scrolling through the Facebook feed on your phone, try studying for half an hour right before jumping into bed. While sleeping, the brain strengthens new memories, so you’ll remember a lot of what you review right before dozing off. Revising again for a few minutes when you wake up is a good way to lock it in for sure, and the brain has more room in the mornings to absorb new information.

Work around procrastination and take breaks

Do you find yourself cleaning up the whole house or checking your Facebook feed every minute when you really should learn? Have a look at Pomodoro; it’s a time-management strategy that manages your distractions instead of outright banning them (we all know that doesn’t work, right?) and works on the principle that many small breaks can help with mental agility. The principle is that you focus on your task for 25 minutes. Write everything that comes up that you want to do on a note and get back to focussing. It’s just 25 minutes. After that, you take a short 5-minute break to meditate, walk around, get a coffee and yes, check your Facebook. Then rinse and repeat: start the next 25 minutes of focus. After 4 Pomodoro cycles, you take a longer break for 20 or 30 minutes. There are online timers to help you with this, like You can adjust the times if other intervals work better for you; e.g. the MIT suggests 50 minutes of study with 10 minutes break. And even if you decide against Pomodoro, frequent breaks are still important to maintain your capacity.


Tell a tale

Turning the nitty gritty details you keep forgetting, into a crazy story helps make the information more meaningful to you . For instance, remember the order of mathematic operations PEMDAS like so: Peter (P) wanted to eat (E) his friend Martha (M) but he died (D) from arsenic (AS) poisoning.


Focus on one thing at a time

Multitasking doesn’t work. Our brains aren’t capable of focussing on more than one complex task at a time so you’re not actually doing several things at once but you just switch from one thing to the next. And every time you switch from one task to the next, you basically empty your working memory to load the other task, which takes time. You prevent yourself from going into the flow state and you are more likely to feel stressed by multitasking and so more likely to make mistakes.

So get rid of distractions before you start learning; turn off your phone, put a don’t disturb sign on your door and bar out the cat if you have to. When things get difficult, remember to breathe, break down your task into smaller steps and take it one at a time.


Space it out

A relatively new learning technique called “spaced repetition” involves breaking up information into smaller bits and revising these regularly over extended periods. Don’t go trying to memorize 20 pages in one sitting – learn a few dot points a day, and revise past notes before tackling the new stuff. chunks and reviewing them consistently over a long period of time. So don’t try to memorize the entire periodic table in one sitting—instead, learn a few rows every day and review each lesson before starting anything new.


Move around

Research shows that studying the same information in different spots also assists in remembering more efficiently, and getting less bored and fed up with your study. Every time you change location – the library, coffee shop, shady parks; not only do we give ourselves something new to look at – and stop that ‘my room is jail’ feeling – but we also force the brain to form new associations with the same material, making memories stronger.


Know your Brainspace

We’re not always in the state to tackle the most complicated stuff or to spend lots of time on something. Getting Things Done®, an amazing system for stress-free productivity, suggests that we write down everything that needs to be done and sort our tasks according to two parameters: how much time do we have and how much brainspace. There might be times when you have lots of time on your hand but feel pretty tired already, so you could tackle a “lot of time, low brainspace” task or a “little time, low brainspace” one. When you don’t have much time but feel fired up, you should go for a “little time, high brainspace” one. That way you’ll fit most of your tasks into your day seamlessly instead of just grinding through a todo list.

Last modified: October 28, 2015

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