Study hacks that worked for me

Leima Chanu Shakti Yambem *

Coming from a state like Manipur, where the tuition culture is sky rocketing and the evenings are flooded with parents waiting outside the coaching centers; I believe that we should at least know how to study effectively. I am just an average student who stumbled upon these methods while trying to understand how to survive the medical books.

I am not an expert and am still trying to adapt to these various study skills, so you may choose not to agree with me or may have your own techniques which work well for you. This is simply a compilation of the various methods that various research scholars have put forward and my own interpretation of them.

What disturbs is when I see little children of around nine years and below, sitting in front of their houses, reciting at the top of their voice, for the sake of studying.

Though, auditory learning is a helpful way to remember, I could sense that they are simply reciting the words without being able to make head or tail out of it, to show and prove to whoever is watching over them that they are studying. Hence, children tend to grow up thinking that studying is a burden and the brain starts associating it as a negative necessary evil.

I'm just out of my teenage years and like most, it isn't that I get thrilled by the idea of studying but there had been days when I can completely concentrate and in fact enjoy the process of acquiring information.

Knowledge is not just a body of information that has to be transmitted to the students who are in turn expected to chew, digest and adapt to it at the same rate, way and manner. The view that the teacher's job is to present it to them in an organized manner, has changed profoundly.

It is no longer simply a matter of memorizing the periodic table of the elements or the minerals found in various states. We are expected to show high intellectual abilities and depth in our understanding of the field as well as itsapplication in real life. For the last few decades, a new pedagogical approach, "constructivism" has become well-established in the educational institutions worldwide.

Constructivism means that students should play an active role while learning and they should be provided with an opportunity to construct their own interpretation and meaning, instead of cramming factual information.One of the requirements of constructivism is that the students adopt desired, effective and efficient study habits so that they learn independently at their own pace and as per their needs.

Study the most difficult material early in the day.Some people call it, 'Eating the frog'. It's all about taking advantage of the circadian rhythm, which dictates which activity one is more likely to do best at a particular time of the day. For most people, the brain's peak performance happens 2-4 hours after waking up.

This is the time when the brain can focus on analytical thinking that requires the most concentration. For studying, this can be reading, writing, coding, analyzing, critical thinking, or problem solving.

Read and review study material: Set the timer to 30 or 60 minute increments to maximize concentration; or, for really short bursts of study. One can try the Pomodoro technique which consists of 25 minute blocks, followed by 5 minute breaks. I follow this method personally and have found that I can maintain unwavering interest in the study material this way, before my brain reaches synapse fatigue.

Practice exam questions: Whether it is the Board Examination or my University Examinations, my seniors and teachers have always advised me to review the past ten years papers and I have realized that it helps form a thought pattern in the brain even if the questions are not repeated.

Memorize faster with the teaching technique: One of the most powerful memory techniques is recalling newly learnt information by teaching it to someone else or simply retelling it aloud to oneself. This helps one to review, recall, and retain what one has learnt much better than just silently reading the material.

Space Repetition: When we incorporate increasing intervals of time between subsequent reviews of previously learned material, we remember it much better than studying the same material in a continuous long session.

In conversation with Michael Natter, a medical student based in the US, he said that he would draw out his notes as much as possible-making cartoons, puns, jokes or diagrams. The brain needs to form associations in order to remember and convert short term memory into long term memory.

Neuroscientists believe that sleep can help us learn and memorize better, and also give our brain time to get rid of unnecessary waste. Conversely, chronic sleep deprivation can reduce our cognitive abilities, can impact our concentration, and can even reduce our IQ.

Many students think that sleeping less while studying all night will improve their performance during the exam, however, it simply does the opposite. It is like preparing for a match the entire year and your state of mind during the match will determine whether you win it all or perform your worst.

Talking about sports, parents must encourage their children to be more active and engage in sporting activities as it is a huge learning experience. From teamwork to leadership to having a competitive edge, these are extremely valuable lessons. Theimpact is tremendous.

Daniela Kaufer, associate professor in the Integrative Biology department, for the GSI Center's How Students learn Series says that for optimal learning, the brain needs conditions under which it is able to change in response to stimuli (neuroplasticity) and able to produce new neurons (neurogenesis).Stimulation to learn requires a moderate amount of stress (measured in the level of cortisol).

A low degree of stress is associated with low performance, as is high stress, which can set the system into fight-or-flight mode so there is less brain activity in the cortical areas where higher-level learning happens. Moderate levels of cortisol tend to correlate with the highest performance on tasks of any type. We can therefore conclude that moderate stress is beneficial for learning, while mild and extreme stresses are both detrimental to learning.

In a paper called, The Neuroscience of Learning: A New Paradigm for Corporate Education by RonniHendel-Giller, he explores the leaning cycle. The cycle begins with gathering information followed by reflection, creating and active testing. Each step of the cycle is associated with a different region of the brain - those areas associated with sensory, associative and motor functions (Zull, 2002).

The relationship between memory and emotion is also interdependent. Studies confirm that we remember emotionally charged events better than neutral events (Bechara, et al., 1995).. And, while strong emotions can aid memory, stress at high levels, over time, limits the ability to learn and remember.

"Learning is not compulsory, but neither is survival." - W. Edwards Deming.

* Leima Chanu Shakti Yambem wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer is final year medical student at Sikkim Manipal Institute Of Medical Sciences
This article was posted on March 30, 2017.

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