• sailorsleepGet adequate sleep at night and take a nap during the day when possible. The average person needs about 8.5 to 9 hours per night, but some need more and some need less. Stress in your life—physical, mental, or emotional—will often increase your need for sleep (though it may make sleep more difficult). If possible, try to go to sleep at the same time each night and allow your body to wake up on its own. The research on this is hard to fault. Numerous excellent studies from around the world show that getting enough sleep is absolutely critical to functioning at your peak, mentally and physically. Example: A U.S. Navy study of recruits in training published in 2008 noted, “In short, recruits who receive 8 hr of sleep per night scored on average 11% higher [on a standardized ] than their counterparts who receive only 6 hr of sleep, supporting our hypothesis that more sleep was associated with significantly better academic performance.”
  • Exercising your body exercises your brain. Regular physical makes your brain work better. Not only should you work up a sweat four or five times a week, you should also get your blood flowing regularly during each study session. Get up and walk around the block or shoot some hoops every 45 minutes or so when studying. You’ll really be able to see a difference in how well your brain is working.
  • Small, regular study sessions are best; much better than study marathons. In general, studying an hour every day is much better than studying for seven hours once a week. Similarly, studying for thirty minutes twice a day is better than studying for an hour once a day. The more you live with the information the more likely it will be available when you need it.
  • Regular review is the key to transferring information from your short term to your long term memory. For example, study for thirty minutes and take a five minute break. After the break, review what you just studied and then add new information. Similarly, begin today’s study session with a brief review of what you studied yesterday.
  • Work with the information you’re trying to learn, and you will recall it much more easily than if you spent an equal amount of time simply rehearsing the information. Most of us don’t read the instructions for even the most complicated electronic gadgets, and even if we do, we don’t bother making and memorizing the instructions. We just keep fiddling with it until we have it memorized. In one psychology study subjects who a random list of into categories—but were never told to memorize the words—did better at recalling the words several weeks later than subjects who were specifically instructed to memorize the list.
  • Study with the end in mind. How will you be asked for the information? Will it be an essay test, a multiple choice test, an oral exam, a live scenario? When possible, test your recall of the information using the same format with which the professor will test you or in the same manner you will use the information in real life. Memorizing a list of the major battles in World War II and their outcomes is great if the prof will be asking you to match up a list of the battles with a list of the outcomes. It’s much less useful if you will have to write an essay asking you to evaluate the importance of several different battles on the course of the war.
  • Use metaphors and examples to grasp concepts. For example, if you are trying to learn how amps, resistance, and watts relate to electricity, relate the electrical concepts to the flow of water through pipes. Amperage is a measure of current, that is, the amount of electricity that flows through a given material in a given time. It’s like measuring how much water flows through a pipe in a given time. No is perfect so come up with several different metaphors for the same concept. How is each different? Where does the metaphor break down?
  • When learning, get as many senses involved as possible. Everyone learns using some combination of their senses. The average classroom lecture might involve sight and sound as the prof lectures and writes on the board. But when going over the classroom notes, don’t limit yourself to sight and sound. A friend of mine studying art history would sit in a different room of her house while studying paintings from different periods. Then on the test she would recall what room she was sitting in while looking at a particular painting. “Let’s see, I was sitting in the kitchen, so this painting is post-modern.” Similarly, building models of molecules makes learning the difference between hexane and benzene hard to forget. Or how about snacking on a different type of food or burning a different scented candle while learning different items. “So was Descartes a 16th or 17th century philosopher? Ummm … cinnamon candle … must be 17th.”
  • Set goals. Setting both short and long-term goals gives direction to your studying and lets you measure your progress. A long term goal might be something like getting accepted to Cornell Vet School by August of 2010. Scoring at least a 720 on the section of the would be a goal that might help you achieve that. Your short term goal for the day’s study session might be to do a single, thirty-minute, practice section of GRE math.
  • Aim to understand, not simply to recall. If you understand a concept the recall usually takes care of itself, but recall doesn’t necessarily give you understanding. For example, understanding how prevailing wind direction and mountain ranges interact to cause rain forests and deserts allows you to make predictions about climate in locations all over the globe. Memorizing the average rainfall in the Gobi Desert and in Nepal is less useful in that regard.
© Cody Blair, All Rights Reserved.


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