Consider a Study Group

Getting all your studying done can be a real drag, but one way to make it easier is to join a study group. Here are some reasons why you might want to consider studying with others at least some of the time.

1) A study group can test you on the material. You can test yourself, but maybe you’ll be tempted to get a bit lazy about this—moving to the next item when you feel sure you know something. It’s easier for someone else, like a classmate in a study group, to be tough and make sure you have the right answer before moving on.

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2) Most students don’t have a very regimented study schedule, only studying when they feel they have the time, and therefore missing or avoiding studying. When you’re in a study group, your schedule is strictly determined. If the group meets on Tuesday and Thursday at 9 PM, then that’s when you are going to study; you can’t keep rescheduling your study time and get off track.

3) A less obvious benefit of a study group is that you can compare your notes with those of other members of the group to make sure your notes are complete. During class, it’s easy to miss important material that might be on the exam because you were thinking about something else. In your study group, it’s unlikely that everyone missed the same part of the lecture.

4) You can discuss the class material with those who think differently from you and who each bring unique strengths to the group. Your classmates may understand certain things better than you, and be able to explain them to you. This will make your study session go faster.

5) In a study group, you will have to clearly explain things so that everyone in the group can follow. Because others depend on your ability to explain things, this will push you to thoroughly learn the material.

6) A study group can help build friendships. I always preach that college is a time to grow intellectually, but also a time to grow personally. You can get to know others as you learn material and hopefully become good friends with them—and the friendships you make in college can last a lifetime.

In closing: I understand that some of you only want to study by yourselves. Please consider what I have said, and think carefully about your decision. For some of you, studying with others can really pay off.

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Study Tips: Making Things Meaningful

Now you’re likely aware that when you’re in college, studying for exams is a way of life. This doesn’t have to be as much of a bummer as it seems, because you can make your studying easier and more efficient with some powerful lab-tested techniques.

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One of these techniques is to make things meaningful when you study. It’ll make information much easier to remember. I’ve discussed this before, in an earlier post about the difference between maintenance and elaborative rehearsal. Here are some mnemonics, or memory aids, to help you do this.

1) Put the information you need to remember into categories. This is called “chunking.” Let’s say I told you to remember the following letters: FBICIANYCNFL. You could try to remember each letter by itself, but it would be more efficient to group the letters into units that already have meaning: FBI, CIA, NYC, and NFL. This means that you only have to remember 4 things rather than 12.

2) Take material you already know and associate it with information you want to remember. For example, in order to remember the difference between a stalactite and a stalagmite, you could remember that a “stalactite,” which grows from the ceiling, has the letter “c” in it, which stands for “ceiling”. A “stalagmite,” which grows from the ground, contains the letter “g.”

3) Use rhymes. We’ve all heard the alphabet song, rhyming grammar rules (“i before e except after c”), and rhyming history facts (“in fourteen hundred and ninety two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue”). Make up some rhymes of your own. There are even websites that use rhymes to help medical students remember anatomical vocabulary.

4) Make an acronym by spelling a new word from the first letter of each one of the words you’re trying to remember. You may have used an acronym to learn the colors of the visible spectrum (ROY G. BIV) or the names of the five Great Lakes (HOMES). It’s easier to remember one word or a short expression than a lot of words.

Don’t stop here, though. If you need to, come up with other ways to make information meaningful. Good luck with your studying!

Study Tip: Making Rehearsal Work for You

Exams are creeping up on some of you. Time to get studying. When you review for an exam, you’re almost certainly going to rehearse the material you learned, which means repeating the information in order to more securely store it in your memory. This makes sure that what you need to know is easy to remember come exam time.

However, don’t think about rehearsal too simply; psychologists often talk about two distinct types of it. Maintenance rehearsal is when you repeat something over and over without giving any meaning to the information. Let’s say you want to remember the definition of the word “axon,” which is a part of a neuron: maintenance rehearsal would involve saying “axon” over and over until you think you can remember it. This is also called rote rehearsal. It keeps information active in your mind, but it typically has limited value if you want to remember it for any significant length of time.

Elaborative rehearsal involves giving meaning to the information you’re trying to memorize. Research clearly shows that when you want to commit things to long-term memory, like when you’re studying for an exam, you need to use this kind of rehearsal. Elaborative rehearsal isn’t only repeating the piece of information you want to remember, but also making it associated to something else you already know. So, going back to the word “axon”: to remember its definition, you can think that an axon takes a neural impulse “away” from the neuron. “Axon” and “away” both start with the letter A. This makes everything much easier to remember.

Here’s another example of how you can use elaboration to improve your memory. Let’s say that you want to remember the names of all five Great Lakes: Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, and Superior. You could repeat the five names over and over (rote rehearsal) or you can think of a more meaningful way to remember them, like forming a word from the first letter of each of the five names (this is called an acronym). This spells HOMES. Using acronyms makes it much easier to remember than five separate words!

Have you ever used elaborative rehearsal before? If “yes”, how has it helped you remember something?

The Power of Flashcards

Most of you have already started the semester, and with that (for better or worse) comes the thought of future exams. Even though you probably don’t like thinking about this, you have to start preparing for exams as soon as you can. Research shows that cramming at the last minute is a bad way to learn. Don’t do it! Sometimes you’ll even have multiple exams in a day or week, so cramming makes it so you might not have time to study for each one.

One or more of your exams is likely multiple-choice. I’d like to argue that one of the best ways to study for these is to make flashcards. Although you might think that flashcards are only for primary school children learning arithmetic, researchers (including me) have conducted studies showing that flashcards are extremely effective even for college students.

Here are some brief pointers on making and using flashcards. I think writing your own flashcards is best, but some students I’ve had swear by flashcards you can make online (by using Quizlet or other sites):

1) Make flashcards after class. Typically, everything in your notes should be on a card. That means for every lecture you will have a bunch of flashcards

2) Be brief (more like the exam questions and answers).

3) Pay attention as you write or type each flashcard in order to learn the information on it.

4) When you have your flashcards ready, shuffle the flashcards each time you study, because it’s rare to be tested on information in sequential order.

5) Now you are ready to test yourself on each card in the deck.

6) As you test yourself, sort each card by whether you know or don’t know the information on it.

7) Go back over the pile with the cards you don’t know.

8) Repeat all the steps above with each new lecture. Add new flashcards to your old flashcards, and test yourself as before.

Here’s a video link that should help:
https://vimeo.com/48027675
Good luck! Do any of you already use flashcards? Have they helped you on exams?