Studying Smarter

Posted on Posted in Medical School

Studying SmarterYour best study strategy is going to depend partially on the type of class you are taking. If it’s a powerpoint based class, then you will need to study from the slides. If it’s a visual aid limited class, then you will probably need to study the syllabus and take good lecture notes. And if it’s a writing course, then reading articles and pumping out essays will probably be your focus. Still, some general rules can be established to more efficiently study.

1. Consistently test yourself.

After finishing a test, I often hear something like. “Ugg I totally studied that, but I got it wrong.” Or “I couldn’t remember what ___ was about even though I studied it.” Our memories will never be perfect, but active self testing will at least help you understand what you have forgotten or what you don’t know. Grab a friend and test each other, hide answers with a paper in books or practice tests and compare the answer you make up to the one written, draw out flash cards and work through them often. There are a multitude of strategies for testing yourself. Try a couple and then find one that works for you.

2. Remove studying distractions.

Studies show that 40% of the time a person is distracted from a task, he will never return to it. Just walk into any college library and you will find dozens of students on facebook, checking email, texting, staring outside the window or at the next person who walks into the library, and talking with friends. There is a time for all of these, but I would highly recommend that you don’t make it during your study time and thereby reduce your studying efficiency.

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–>Picture a typical student; In efforts to not implicate myself, we will call him James. James studies in the library, but has a habit of incessantly checking his email and facebook. Also from time to time he gets bored and texts people or looks up to glance at the potentially attractive students who walk into the library. His study efficiency is somewhere around 50%. Becoming frustrated with the time he has lost, James decides to turn off his cell phone when studying, get away from a computer when he can, and do his work in a less populated location. His efficiency improves to 75%. He is now able to study in two hours what he was previously only able to study in three. After studying four hours that day, he has saved two hours which can be used for all of his facebook, texting, people watching and friend interacting needs.

Like James, you should find a place where you study best and can remove your distractions. Take a few minutes to think about what it is that distracts you while studying and then how to deal with it. Keep in mind that, in most cases, this means changing with whom or where you are studying to better focus.

3. Actively learn.

There’s nothing worse than sitting at your computer or in front of a book and blankly reading. By the time you realize that you are not registering much of the information and not understanding any of the concepts, you may be pages beyond the part where you first averted your attention. You have essentially performed a brief stent of self-hypnotism and you are forced to backtrack to a point when you understood what was going on. At this point, you’ve lost who knows how much time and created a barrier to further learning by giving up your place in the text.
To avoid this, I’ve found that I need to make myself believe that what I am reading is the most interesting thing in the world at the moment. Then when I read, I try to make connections to past concepts and allow my mind to think of comments or questions to the material in the text. It can also be helpful to keep a notebook and pen or computer (if it isn’t a distraction for you) close by to document your thoughts or important ideas.

Your posture and location matter too. Through timed reading, I have discovered that I can read two to three times faster when I am sitting at a desk undisturbed as opposed to lying down on my bed. Doing work on my bed or a comfy chair gives my body the easy option of sleeping which is always tempting for me.

The last piece of advice I can give is to stick to your study habits. Classes are usually set up so that it is more advantageous to do consistently good than exceptionally great on one test and then sub par on the next. Nearly every person who enters the quarter or semester system goes through peaks and valleys of motivation and interest level in what they are learning. The valleys can often come in the middle of a quarter when the interest level of the topic has worn off for you and school fatigue is setting in. Or these valleys may not be products of timing or the nature of the material itself, but rather something more circumstantial: a new relationship, a difficult family issue, problems with friends, or a new non-academic responsibility. A valley in motivation could also stem from a sense of complacency or entitlement after acing your first midterm. It is often these valleys that overtake students and drown them from achieving in a particular class. Do what you need to do to stay motivated, and push through. Better times and grades will await you.