Tag Archives: research

More Productive Studying By Raising Your Heart Rate

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Exercise in many ways optimizes your brain to learn. –Dr. John Ratey

In my personal practice I’ve found it helpful to get up from my studies or work every thirty to forty-five minutes and do some exercise … something to get my blood pumping … something that I can complete in two to five minutes. I use this helpful (free) timer to keep me on track.

I’ve found that my concentration levels remain higher, I’m more productive, and I can work much longer over all. I also don’t end up feeling as tired by the end of the day.

You will, of course, need to identify things that work well for you personally (and, of course, consult a doctor if you have any physical issues). The point is to get your heart rate up a bit.

I personally alternate between these exercises…

  • push ups
  • sit ups
  • brisk walking around the block
  • jogging
  • jumping jacks
  • squats or lunges
  • curls (I just use a basic pair of dumbbells I have)
  • bench press
  • dips (putting my feet on one chair and my hands on two more chairs)
  • shadow boxing
  • crunches

You can find demos of many/most of these at youtube.

By the way, there is solid research finding a correlation between exercise and better brain functioning.

6 Things You Must Know Before Taking a GRE or SAT Prep Course!

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First–full-disclosure–I teach a GRE prep course and an SAT prep course for Texas A&M University.

Expensive courses can be worth it if you actually get the increases they claim. They could easily make you ten times as much as they cost, in the form of scholarships, fellowships, or better jobs!

What little independent research there is on the effectiveness of such courses shows little or no increase in score for those who buy the prep books (although buying the books is not the same as reading the books). Those who take prep classes show some improvement, and the greatest increases are among those who get personal tutoring. This research was specifically on the SAT, but the two tests are very similar. On the other hand, GRE students tend to be more self-motivated students than SAT students, so they might get better results from the books.

Pricier doesn’t mean better. Most courses teach pretty much the same stuff, because they all read each others books and integrate any new techniques they find. For the price of a classroom course from Kaplan or Princeton you can get live, one-on-one, GRE tutoring via the internet. That link is for my tutoring, but I’m sure there are lots more tutors out there. Continue reading 6 Things You Must Know Before Taking a GRE or SAT Prep Course!

© Cody Blair, All Rights Reserved.

Get a Head Start On Problem-Solving Courses This Semester

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Taking chemistry, biochem, physics, calculus, or their ilk? These courses are light on information to be memorized and heavy on problems to be solved and concepts to be grasped.

That takes time, effort, and repetition, just like learning to play the violin or to draw realistically. Here are some steps to make these sorts of courses much more manageable.

  1. Don’t wait to get started. You can’t cram for these courses, so start studying on day one of the class.
  2. Study regularly with frequent breaks. Your brain needs time between each study session to process new concepts, so study a little in the morning, a little in the afternoon, and do it each day. Research shows that marathon study sessions tend to be less effective.
  3. Don’t substitute learning-about for learning. It’s very tempting to just read through your class notes or the textbook repeatedly. You feel like you are studying, but you really won’t get any better at solving the problems. To get better at the violin, you play the violin; you don’t read about playing the violin. Do practice problems, starting with easier ones and working to harder ones. Of course, your initial introduction to the concepts will usually come from a teacher and/or a text
  4. Get help. When you get stuck, go get help! Possible sources include; friends, teaching assistants, professors, the text book (useful now to help you get over a hurdle), other texts, the internet, and professional tutors.
  5. Don’t wait around to get help either, since the concepts often build on one another. You can’t just skip a difficult concept and hope it doesn’t matter. Before you know it, you’ll have missed three more concepts because they depend on your grasping that first concept.
  6. Set study goals for every class, rather than for every test. Again, since mastery is cumulative, you must learn each concept as it is presented. After each class your goal is to completely master the new concepts before your next class NOT before your next test. The good news is that, if you just keep up, you will have little to do before the tests. Artists don’t need to go back and practice stick figures after they’ve mastered life drawing. You won’t need to go back and practice the basics you learned at the beginning of the semester.
© Cody Blair, All Rights Reserved.

How to Become a Math Expert

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You aren’t going to like the answer, I’m afraid. They way to become an expert is to really work at it. I’m not being glib. Malcolm Gladwell explains (brilliantly, as usual) in his new book, Outliers, which I highly recommend.

Gladwell builds a very convincing argument that math skill is much more closely related to persistence and hard work than any innate ability. Bottomline: The more you do math, the better you get at math.

Most convincing study: Every four years, elementary and junior high students around the world take the TIMSS test of math and science. The test begins with a long, boring series of 120 questions designed to get the students’ background–parents level of education, home life, views on science, etc.

Continue reading How to Become a Math Expert

© Cody Blair, All Rights Reserved.

Avoid Cramming by Scheduling Your Semester Now

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You could just take those syllabi professors are passing out like popcorn this time of year and shove them deep into the bowels of your backpack, forgetting about them until necessity forces you to resurrect them from their linty tomb. But that’s a surefire recipe for cramming, all-nighters, and mediocre grades.

Instead, go over each syllabus with an eye towards due dates. Add major events to your semester calendar and then break each assignment/project/major-exam-prep into hour-sized chunks. Now schedule the chunks on that same calendar.

You’ll quickly see which weeks turn it to eye-popping, caffeine-fueled, study-thons. Sweeeet. So easy now to reschedule and lighten the load. You’ll be panic-free and well rested come finals time.

[hidepost]But don’t stop there. Add any other major events to your calendar. Parties, mud-football clobber fests, major shopping extravaganzas, protest marches, Mom’s birthday–you can even put down something on the calendar the week BEFORE Mummie’s Bday–so you’ll have time to actually buy her something special and get it to her by her birthday. CAUTION: Not advisable if your mum has a pre-existing heart condition. The shock might be too much!

Every day, pull out the old semester calendar and update it. Are there new events to add? Do you need to reschedule something?

Quickly scribble tomorrow’s events on a piece of paper and schedule them. For example…

Research “Porcine Alopecia” in Library – 1:30 to 2:30p
Take notes on Chapter 7 of Otoliths and You – 4:20 to 5:00p

Giving each task a time will provide structure and prevent putting-it-off-itis. Fold piece of paper in two and place in pocket. Reference throughout the day.

Now just stick to the plan day-by-day and wait gleefully for finals. The week before finals, gloat and hit the sack early whilst your cronies desperately guzzle double espressos in a bid to get-it-all-done.[/hidepost]

Procrastinate to Stop Procrastination

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The next time you catch yourself casting about for something (anything) to do to avoid that looming project or research paper try this little activity.  Take out a blank sheet of paper and a pencil and start listing all the possible negative consequences of not working on whatever-it-is-you’re-avoiding.  Go for at least seven and don’t settle for anything less than five.

Next to each of those consequences, list the consequences of that consequence.  Make a diagram like this…

After you’ve (hopefully) scared yourself a bit, take a few minutes and imagine how it would feel right now if the dreaded task were actually done!  Feel your sense of accomplishment and freedom.  Imagine how good it would be to have it finally over with!

Now pull out that dreaded task and get to work.  Each time you feel like avoiding it, remember how good it will feel to just get it done!

After you’ve worked steadily for thirty minutes or so, reward yourself.  Let yourself be pleased and proud that you overcame your procrastination and actually got something accomplished.  Make yourself a big bowl of chunky monkey ice cream and sigh contentedly.

This technique got me through a lot of boring homework.  Apply it consistently and see for yourself.

The SAT: An Overview

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The SAT Reasoning Test (note: NOT the subject specific SAT tests) is used widely by colleges and universities as one of their admissions criteria.  It is also often used as a criterion in awarding scholarships. It is claimed to test students’ abilities in subjects such as reading, writing, and mathematics; subjects that are supposed to predict those students’ college success. It does not, however, do a very good job at this task, even by the admission of the College Board, the company that makes the SAT.

Normally taken by high school juniors and seniors, it’s become a dreaded rite of passage for many high school students around the world.  Let’s take a look at the basic layout of the test.

Given seven times a year in the U.S., and six times a year overseas. the SAT tests three different areas; reading, writing, and math.  Each of these are scored on a 200 to 800 point scale, and people usually talk about a combined score, adding the scores from each section together.  A mid-level score might be 1500, while a perfect score would be 2400.

SAT Sections

The SAT has several different question types including a short essay, five-choice multiple-choice questions, and grid-ins, where the student enters their answer on a number grid.

The Writing Section

The SAT Writing section takes a total of sixty minutes; thirty-five minutes test grammar and word usage in the form of multiple-choice questions.  Students will also be asked to spend twenty-five minutes writing an essay.

More details about this section, including exact question types and examples can be found here.  The writing section is relatively new and many colleges and universities do not even consider it in their admissions.  To find out how your schools of choice handle it, you will have to ask their admission’s counselors directly.

The Reading Section

The critical reading sections of the SAT include two twenty-five minute sections and one twenty minute section.  Question types include sentences with a blank or two blanks in which you must pick the best word or words to go in the blanks.  This mainly tests vocabulary.  There are also short reading passages over which students must answer a series of questions about passage details, structure, main idea, author’s intentions, etc.  These questions mainly test reading comprehension and are the single, hardest section in which to increase your score, mainly because reading comprehension takes months or years to improve significantly.

See more details and examples of these question types here.

The Math Section

The math section of the SAT is also divided between two twenty-five minute sections and one twenty minute section.  While the majority of the questions are five-choice multiple choice questions, there are also grid-in questions (the College Board calls these “student-produced response” questions), where students must fill in their answers.  The math section tests algebra, geometry, graphing, functions, basic statistics, and data-analysis.  American students can expect to have learned everything they might see on the SAT by tenth grade.

Students are allowed to use a calculator, although every question can be answered without one.  To see the specific question types and examples as well as more details on calculator usage look here.

The Unscored Section

Students will also have an additional twenty-five minute section in either critical reading, mathematics, or writing multiple-choice.  This section is used by College Board to try out new questions, and it does not count towards your score.  However, it will not be identified as an experimental section, and you shouldn’t try and guess which section is the unscored section.  Just do your best on all the sections.

College Board claims that this section is used to make sure tests and question types are comparable from test to test and to “insure fairness.”  It also enables them to do some research at your expense.

Test Format

The SAT has a total of 10 sections. The 25-minute essay always comes first, and the final section will always be a 10-minute long, multiple-choice, writing section. Sections two through seven are always 25-minutes each and will alternate between reading, math, and writing in relatively random order. Sections eight and nine are 20-minutes each. In a single SAT administration you and the test-takers next to you may all have different versions of the test with section types (math, reading, writing) in different orders.  There are also two, ten-minute breaks; one after the third test section, and one following the sixth section.

Preparing

It is very important to prepare for the SAT, not only to make it easier for you to get into the college of your choice, but also to put yourself in the best position to get scholarships and fellowships.  Plan on taking it two or even three times.  You can take a free SAT test here.  I’ve also written about my preferred test prep books here, and I’ve written about the advisability of taking a prep course here (although the article is specifically about the GRE test–similar to the SAT but used for graduate school admissions–the principles are much the same.  I’ve also written on the best schedule to prepare for a test such as this (again, it’s written specifically for the GRE, but the principles are identical.)