Finals week for dummies
December 17, 2013
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Since grade school, most students have been taught the “right” way to study: Dedicate yourself. Memorize. Re-read. Don’t leave until you know the material.
But how are some Carlmont students successful in their studying habits and some not?
Being successful in test-taking and studying doesn’t mean spending hours re-reading the same material. It’s how to study smarter, not longer.
Studying has long been considered a key part of a college student’s growth, both as a means to an end — a deeper understanding of the subject matter — and as a valuable habit in its own right.
Freshman Liam Jocson said, “Studying for tests not only helps me memorize the concepts so I can get a good grade on the test, but it also makes me really understand the material so it’s engraved into my brain.”
Very often students, especially those in college, claim that they can get by with last-minute cramming for tests because all they are really interested in is passing a test or a course.
Though this might work in the short term, it is hardly a strategy that will help a student prepare for life after school.
The reason last-minute cramming is ineffective is because it doesn’t allow the brain time to process anything. Everything is memorized and nothing is internalized.
Also, cramming for a test, instead of preparing slowly over time, doesn’t allow the student to fully understand the information. It is in understanding that effective learning comes about. Study progressively over the semester to prevent the need to cram.
Sophomore, Sydney Cho said, “I never cram for tests. I never do well when I cram, I like to progressively study as we go through the material. That way before the test, I pretty much already know most of the material already.”
Interestingly, the worst-performing techniques are those which most students gravitate towards when trying to retain a passage.
Underlining, highlighting, and rereading were all given a grade of “low utility” by the researchers, meaning that no meaningful difference was shown between students using these techniques and those using no technique at all.
Instead of interrupting the flow of reading by taking notes or stopping to underline, students would be better off finishing reading and then reviewing what happened in their own words.
Sophomore Kayla Fong said, “I make flashcards for my bigger tests. It really helps me remember the material more, and it’s one of my best studying techniques.”
Flashcards can really help with memorization as it forces the brain to “active recall” or remember a concept from scratch and create strong neuron connections in the brain for that memory trace.
Junior Cate Sue said, “I try to turn off all distractions, so I don’t lose focus of what I’m trying to study. If I’m on my laptop while I’m studying it takes me a lot longer to memorize the material.”
Staying focused on the task at hand is also important for studying. Even though it can be boring, engaging in the material without electronic devices or other distractions can dramatically improve the rate of successful studying.
To prevent getting bored, simply alternating the room where a person studies actually improves retention.
Studying in different locations helps memorizing as it forces the brain to make connections to the material with the surroundings, as well as studying distinct but related skills or concepts in one sitting, rather than focusing intensely on a single thing.
Psychologists have discovered that some of the most hallowed advice on study habits is flat wrong. For instance, many study skills courses insist that students find a specific place, a study room or a quiet corner of the library, to take their work.
In one classic 1978 experiment, psychologists found that college students who studied a list of 40 vocabulary words in two different rooms — one windowless and cluttered, the other modern, with a view on a courtyard — did far better on a test than students who studied the words twice, in the same room. Later studies have confirmed the finding, for a variety of topics.
The more mental sweat it takes to study, the more securely it will be subsequently anchored.
None of which is to suggest that these techniques like alternating study environments, mixing content, spacing study sessions, self-testing or all the above will turn a grade-A slacker into a grade-A student. Motivation matters.
Find what works for you and stick with it.