STUDYING EFFECTIVELY 1. Effective Work and Making A Timetable Before we discuss making an effective timetable, let’s discuss work. Good work is about much more than using time - it is about being smart! Many students take hours and hours because this makes them feel like they are ‘working’, even if the work they are doing no work at all. A physics definition of work is “Work is force times distance”, and I find this definition useful in considering work. Imagine you push a cup 20cm across a tabletop. You have applied force (pushing) to the cup, it has covered 20cm (distance) and therefore you have worked. Imagine now you push hard against a strong wall (a lot of pushing) yet it does not move (no distance) you have done no work. Infinite force times 0 distance is still zero work according to this equation. In other words it is much better to work smart. When putting in effort, always ask yourself, “Is this effort I am putting in achieving something? Am I moving” Also ask yourself, “What is the point to this section?” and make sure you get that point – because that will be moving you somewhere. If you are doing Science Chemistry, the ‘point’ may just be to know different chemicals, chemical reactions and the processes involved in this. If you are studying Marxist Theory in Politics or Philosophy, the ‘point’ is probably to have a good understanding of the theory in order to intelligently and critically discuss it. As you are ‘working’, always check that you are getting the ‘point’ with all the effort you put in. Otherwise you aren’t really working (you’re not ‘moving’ or achieving distance). Also question - “What is the most important work in this section?” - and focus most on that. Remember to concentrate on summaries, diagrams (a diagram is a visual summary), most especially your study aims and objectives etc. Use the reading tips on this site to help identify important information. In other words, timetables are about working out which time is most effective to work in, they are not just about spending time on work because work is not about time! If your work takes you one minute or ten hours – that is the ‘force and distance’ you are required to go to be ‘working’. It’s useful to make a timetable using the following steps: • • • • • Draw a table divided into days and _ hour timeslots (human concentration span tends to be 25 minutes when you are younger than 15, and gradually increases to 45 minutes. 25 minutes of study followed by a 5 minute break is very useful and effective because of this) Write down times that you are expected to do something other than study (e.g. supper, jobs, school, and homework. Note that homework time isn’t the same as study time!) Write down things you enjoy doing, and that you often do (like sport, times you spend with friends or special TV / radio programmes) After you have put these times (obligations and enjoyable times) in the table, you will see ‘gaps’. These are usually when you do ‘nothing’ (like looking in the fridge – usually several times - walking around, watching programmes you don’t actually enjoy etc). Study during these gaps! If you do, it is less likely that you will get distracted. Also decide when to study which subjects. You can easily spend time on different subjects in the same day, which will probably keep you less bored than if you did the same thing again and again. Don’t usually mix subjects in one 25 minute block though. Often students spend more time on subjects they are good at, when obviously this is not what needs most attention! Rather spend more time on subjects you battle with, but ensure that you put some effort into to all) and write down which subjects you will do when. 2. Study Goals When one studies it is helpful to have goals. When one says “This is what I am working for”, automatically they will put effort into achieving that specific thing. In other ords, it directs your activities. As an example, if you would like to buy something, you probably save money for it, rather than buying less important things. It’s much easier to save money when there is a specific something to save for. In much the same way, when you decide on the marks you’re striving for, you have a reason to study (reaching the goal) and this is a motivating factor for you. 3. Help with motivation It is easier to motivate yourself if you reward yourself with something you enjoy. For instance, you can tell yourself that you need to finish your chapter of Geography before you are allowed to watch a TV programme you enjoy or before you SMS a friend. Once you have done the work you have decided to do, you then get to reward yourself. BUT – you only allow yourself this reward after you have done whatever work you have decided to do. Always work out how much work you are supposed to do rather than how much time you think it will take. For instance say, “1 chapter of Geography”, rather than “two hours of Geography” – because that work may take 15 minutes or 4 hours! It is not about time spent, it’s about work finished. Also remember, that only you have the ability to motivate yourself! A tip like this is a useful crutch, but you must decide that you will put in the effort, and that you are worth the effort of studying. Without this decision to work, nothing will get you to do so much as lift up a pen. 4. Brain Food A balanced diet and lots of fluids (most especially water) will boost your brain – which helps in exam time. Don’t drink too much coffee - it can cause anxiety, confusion and disorganised thought processes – and don’t use drugs like stimulants or tranquillisers, because they can damage your ability to think clearly. Processed foods (anything with white flour, like white pasta or white bread – also white sugar) are not good if you have large quantities of them. Avoid a lot of dairy and oily foods when studying (some is fine, but large amounts are not wise). There are herbal supplements / vitamins that are good for your brain. Vitamin B is good for controlling stress, while things like Lecithin and Ginkgo Boloba are reputedly excellent. Follow directions on the side of the bottle for you to know much you should take. Importantly, remember that junk food is not a friend of your brain! The absolute worst ‘foods’ for the brain are colourants, sweeteners, flavourants, and preservatives. Chips, cold drinks and sweets contain lots of these things! One simple rule you can follow is that if you can’t pronounce what’s written on the side of the package – don’t eat it! 5. The Left And Right Brain (Using Colour And Creativity) Your brain is divided into two halves - left and right. The Left helps with Logic, the Right is for cReativity. Almost all school subjects are very left-brain. Solving math problems is very logical, and so is a lot of accounting procedure and science. People often think that Maths and Science (and similar subjects) are left brain, and English, Art (and similar subjects) are right brain. In fact, at school students work almost always demands the use of the left brain. Even when you write most essays for Geography, History, Art, English etc. you are supposed to recall facts, and write them in an argument to prove your point. This is a logical process, which utilises your left brain. When one studies its better to use both portions of your brain. The right side is creative, exciting and visual. A great deal of your memory process is visual and creative as well and therefore it is beneficial to use your right brain as much as possible. This helps you with your memory, and is less boring. In order to use your right brain, just have fun and be creative: • • • You can draw pictures (don’t spend long and waste time on this though!) You can use spider diagrams (also called mind-maps – although this is more right-brain, JUNO does not find this technique especially beneficial, and recommends other tricks) The easiest thing to do is WRITE IN COLOUR! It takes no longer to write in colour than in blue or black, yet it automatically kickstarts the right brain into working. The brain also often finds it easier to remember things in colour than in black and white. 6. Calming Yourself And Focusing If you are stressed, getting nervous, or if you find it difficult to concentrate, here is a simple way to help you focus and calm down: • • • • • • • • • • • Close your eyes and put yourself in a comfortable position Focus on loud noises (the radio, people talking, traffic outside etc). Listen to the softer noises around you (birds, wind in the trees, traffic far away etc). Concentrate intensely on your breathing – try to notice what it feels like deeply. Try and feel your heartbeat (if you don’t, don’t worry - your breath is sufficient) Again feel your breath – then heartbeat –breath –heartbeat et cetera. Notice some thoughts floating in your mind (whatever they may be). Notice your breath and then heartbeat again for a while. Listen to soft noises around you (birds, wind in the trees, traffic far away etc). Concentrate on loud noises around you (the radio, people talking, traffic outside etc). Finally, open your eyes when you feel ready and comfortable to do so. This exercise can help focus and concentration. You can do it for a half a minute, for five minutes, or for an hour – it is very time-flexible, and more effective than you may think. A handy eye-movement trick: If you are worried or anxious – look upwards rather than down. Looking downwards makes you more emotional (have you noticed how depressed people look down a lot?) while looking upwards helps you become less emotional. Also, if you are stressed as you are writing the exam paper, don’t look down because this will again trigger stress! Rather, tilt your head so you are looking STRAIGHT ahead of you as you write. This being said, I do not think it’s healthy to always switch of your emotions, it’s better to be aware of what is happening with you – but if you need quickly to clam down a very easy trick is looking up. 7. Reading Skills When you read, focus on the following parts of the textbook: • • • The first line of the paragraph. This usually introduces the paragraph’s important idea. The last line of a paragraph. This often summarises the important idea. Headings. This way, you can see if the section is important and if you should spend time focusing on it, or gloss over it more quickly. Important hint for varsity students (especially in humanities / social sciences) – memorise the headings of your sections. Make sure you know and understand them. This means that when you write the exam, recalling the headings often lets you discuss for a whole paragraph – and you cut down hugely on what you need to memorise. In other words, you are using them as mega-key-words to trigger off discussion, and ensure you don’t forget to bring up something important from the section. The Table of Contents. One usually finds this in the front of the book. It is a list of the book’s headings, subheadings and important sections. From this you can see what each chapter, section and sub-section is about. The Index. The Index is usually found in the back of the book, and it lists important terms with page numbers next to them. On these pages you can find relevant information – and this is useful during homework, projects, open book exams etc. Hint! If you find a number in bold (or italics, or anything different) there is often important information there like definitions or diagrams. Different textbooks use different conventions in the index. Glossaries. This is a mini-dictionary of important words and terms in the book, and it usually appears before the index. NB! When you don’t know a word – look it up here or in a dictionary! Often students don’t because they think ‘it’ll waste time’ so they end up reading for minutes understanding very little. In other words, by not looking up the word they waste a lot more time in the long run! Introduction. Very very important! The introduction is like a map of the book or chapter. Just like you look at a map when you go somewhere new, use the introductions when you don’t know the section well, because it will fill in a lot of the picture for you. If you have a map, you don’t need to know a place to give directions – and in the same way if you’ve gone through your introductions and understand them well, you don’t need to be an expert to discuss the work intelligently in the exam. The introduction is the map! Conclusions. These are even more important than introductions because they give important bits, and usually do so in an argument form. Usually teachers (and especially university lecturers) like this style of writing, so looking at the conclusion is helpful. HINT! If you need to get to grips with a subject quickly, or if you are very unfamiliar with it – try reading the introduction, then the conclusion and then the rest of the chapter! This often helps you understand difficult sections and fills in your understanding quickly. Summaries. Memorise your summaries! The information in them is often examined! Also, once you know this key information it helps you understand work as you go through it. Also remember that Diagrams are often visual summaries. E.g. Once you know the diagram of the eye, often pages of your book are unnecessary because they merely explain what the diagram already shows. Study Aims and Objectives. VERY VERY IMPORTANT! These are the most important things in the textbook! They are usually written in a block at the beginning of the chapter. They may also be called something else like ‘educational outcomes’, ‘learning objectives’, ‘points to consider’ or ‘what you should learn’. Here’s a magic trick: Look at the Study Aims and Objectives, turn the statements made in them into questions. Get the answers. And memorise them! This simple trick has perhaps more chance of helping you than any other study trick! • • • • • • • • • • Here’s an example. ÿ Objective: To understand the job of the Kidney in digestion. ÿ “What IS the job of the Kidney in Digestion? (Look it up) ÿ “The Kidney is responsible for filtering water and liquids that are consumed, extracting waste matter like urea - and also filtering impurities from the blood (etc)” ÿ Memorise this for the exam. I know a girl who went from failing Chemistry in her Matric prelims, to getting an A+ in the Chemistry final (only months later) only because she followed this simple advice! IMPORTANT HINT! When you go through work, underline or highlight important points. Most of these important points will be in these places, so do them well. Sometimes having a colour system helps. For example the most important points can go in purple, definitions in red etc. This helps your right brain, and keeps you concentrating (because you need to be awake to decide what information deserves what colour) ANOTHER IMPORTANT HINT! When you make summaries, take the information from these important bits and re-word them! Make sure they mean exactly the same thing, but re-word them because this helps you understand, remember and (later in the exam) discuss the work. (an extra 110 words added here under these 2 important hints) 8. Using Your Visual Memory Few people realise that memory is a visual process! I am sure you’ve noticed how easily you remember what you see on television, or how simple it is to recall a movie that you have seen? This is quite remarkable, because there’s often a large amount of information and yet you recall it with ease? This is because memory is visual. If you saw the movie TITANIC, HARRY POTTER or LORD OF THE RINGS for instance – you’ll immediately be able to see that you recall in great detail most of what happens. This is because memory is visual. Also, have you noticed that when your friends speak, you make a picture of what they say? And you remember it. They say, “I was out on Friday and met this gorgeous person! And they had this short weird-looking friend wearing with them”, and when you meet the ‘gorgeous’ person few weeks later you notice that they look different to what you thought! And the short friend may be thinner, taller, or shorter than you thought – but they are never the same as your have pictured them. the picture you make of the person is almost certainly going to different from reality, and we know this. So why do you make it? Why do we make a picture of a ‘false reality’? Because by making this ‘film’ or ‘movie’ in our minds as our friend speaks, we unconsciously know that we are helping ourselves remember what they are saying. It’s how most of memory works. Therefore, as often as is possible in the classroom, try and picture whatever the teacher says to you in class, because you will find that without even knowing it you remember far more. JUNO teaches one how to do this with facts. Showing this on the site would not be as beneficial as learning it on the course itself, as the principal is easier understood when taught to you by a trained facilitator. _ of JUNO’s training course is teaching people how to do this efficiently. Contact a trainer if you’d like to make a booking or know more. 9. How to take effective Notes: Handy Hint – CHANGE WORDS! One of the simplest and most powerful hints I can give (especially for note taking) is change the words that the teacher uses! Make sure they mean the same ting, but change them. I’ll explain why: “The sun is important for life on Earth because the radiation, light energy and heat energy that is produced from it allows plants to produce energy through photosynthesis and keeps the earth warm enough for life to survive and plays a role” What have I said? Basically that the sun is important because it sustains life through its heat (all life) and light (plants for photosynthesis). Firstly – do you see that this is the same but smaller? So changing words saves time and space. Also – do you see that in order to change these words you have to listen to what the teacher has said? In other words changing words makes you concentrate better. Most importantly though – why were you able to change these words? Consider this sentence: “The conception of this basic endopsychic situation provides an alternative, couched in terms of personal relationships and dynamic ego structure, to Freud’s description of the psyche in terms of the id, ego, and superego, based as this is upon a Helmholtzian divorce of energy from structure no longer accepted in physics, and combined as it is, albeit at the expense of no little inconsistency, with a nonpersonal psychology conceived in terms of biological instincts and erotogenic zones”. Can you change these words? Unless you are very familiar with the work of W.R.D Fairbairn (which Paul is) – probably not. Why can you not? Because you don’t understand it! In other words, if you change words, it forces you to see how much you understand the subject! If you battle – there’s probably knowledge missing and you’d better go and straighten that all out. 10. How to tackle your different school subjects. Because there are different kinds of subjects at school, different approaches should be used at different times. Often I hear students say things like ‘you just can’t study Maths – it’s an understanding subject’. THIS IS WRONG! Just because Math requires understanding does not mean that one should not study it – it just means that one should study it in a different way! Here are 3 categories of subjects, and the different means by which you can best approach them. (1) MEMORY SUBJECTS These are subjects in which if you know and understand the facts, you will succeed. They include Geography (not map-work), History, Biology and Business Economics. With them: • Identify important information using speed reading skills and ‘writing conventions’. Look in the 1st and last lines, headings, introductions, conclusions and pay special attention to the summaries and study aims and objectives to get core information and then • Memorise these important facts (use the memory trick from the previous section). • Tip (especially useful for Varsity): Often the headings in a chapter are the main things you should memorise. Once you have them, provided you understand the work, you can often discuss each of them at length and construct a good essay. LANGUAGES (Including Zulu, Afrikaans, English, German, Portuguese, French, Xhosa etc – all languages). • • • • • • Learn the grammar rules and make sure you always stick to them! Deliberately increase your vocabulary (by reading, and especially by deliberately memorising new words from books, a dictionary or a thesaurus). Increasing your vocabulary also means including figures of speech and metaphors. Memorise definitions of important terms in the language (e.g. ‘metaphor’, ‘trappe van vergelyking’, ‘stanza’ etc.) so that if these are asked in tests you know what’s actually expected of you. After all, if you don’t know them you are unlikely to get the answer right. With set-works make a list of important images and themes often used in the play, by the poet or in the book. As you are reading you can then refer back to this list, and meaning may become obvious. For instance, if you know that ‘’indecision and existential angst / crisis’ is a major theme in Hamlet, and that Shakespeare often uses images of ‘Nature’, when you read “To be or not to be, that is the question. Whether tis nobler to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune or take arms against a sea of troubles…” you will be able to say that this reinforces the theme of ‘indecision coupled with existential angst and crisis, and that Shakespeare is drawing on natural imagery, as he often does, to reinforce this. This will indicate that you have a deep understand of your work, and the person marking your paper is more likely to reward this. HINT! When one writes creative writing essays it is useful to describe by using your senses (sight, smell, hearing, taste, touch, AS WELL AS emotion and thought). This gives the reader a better opportunity to understand your story better. Also try and use so called ‘good’ words. It will also help you to use new words (which you can find in a dictionary, or which you’ve noted as you read through your work) and use them. Good vocabulary will usually give an increase to your mark, provided that you really understand the words!) Practice the language by reading, writing and speaking it. APPLICATION SUBJECTS These are the so-called ‘understanding subjects’ like Math, Science, Accounting, Statistics, Geography map-work, Physics, etc. In them there are usually a few core concepts that you are expected to understand thoroughly, and once you have this understanding you should then apply it by doing equations, exercises etc. VERY NB! Until you understand the core ideas you will almost certainly not succeed in these subjects! The biggest problem with these subjects is that students try to apply before understanding! Imagine that someone gives you a bicycle and then tells you that if you ‘practice’ you will get better. They are probably right – it makes sense that practice will make you stronger and that you would get better at riding. But imagine if the wheel was bent! Practice would not help! You would only fall over! You need to straighten the wheel, and then practice! For instance, in Math if you are doing a section on ‘the quadratic function’, ask yourself, ‘What is the Quadratic function? When do I use it? Why and how do I use it?’ etc. Until you have answered these it is extremely unlikely that you will do the section well. Only after you have answered them (once you have ‘straightened the wheel’) do you then do the exercises to make you stronger. With these subjects: • Understand and memorise all the theory and rules of the subject thoroughly! • • HINT! Asking questions like ‘How?’, ‘When?’, ‘What?’, ‘Why?’ is useful. When you see any theory – especially in headings in the chapter – see if you can answer these questions about the heading. (e.g. if ‘Trinomials’ is the heading to the exercise block – ‘what are Trinomials? When and how do I use them? etc). If you cannot, you almost certainly don’t understand it enough. Do the exercises given you (even do extra ones) to apply and practice these rules. If you always follow these simple steps, you will find that ‘difficult’ subjects like Math and Science are the easiest to do well in! You will notice that usually someone in your grade gets amazing marks for these kind of subjects (95%+), usually better than the best at learning or language subjects, and that’s because they do understand the sections of theory and conceptually they have totally straight wheels. This may take lots of work, because each time you don’t understand something you must look it up and learn it, but in the long term it is far better to do this. Also remember that these subjects work like a brick wall. In Grade 8 you put down a layer of bricks. In Grade 9 you put down another, building on the previous. If there’s something you missed in grade 8 you cannot build on it in grade 9 (or 10, 11, 12 etc) and if you miss something else in grade 9 you won’t be able to build on that too – until eventually by the time you are in Matric or University it’s no wonder you can’t build! You have no good foundation! (1074 words) Information courtesy of Paul Tosio, of the Juno Study Course. To find out more about study skills, techniques and courses, call Paul Tosio on 08 45 90 45 90.
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