Study strategies

Study Strategy II: Studying on the go

This is part two of my four-part series on study strategies. In part one, I discussed time management and what I’ve been doing this semester to be more efficient and maximize my time. Yes, I’m still using my trusty log book, and yep, still counting hours. I’m telling you, it works! If you missed the post, check it out here. In today’s post, I’m going to focus on LEARNING the material. In a previous post, I mentioned that one of my preferred learning styles is auditory (see the post here). Knowing this, I decided to use this to my advantage for one of my classes. I decided Human Physiology would be the best fit for this. Having a part time job (I’ll discuss this in a future post), I knew I had to find ways to maximize the amount of information I learned AND retained within my scheduled study time. I also didn’t take human physio during undergrad, so this was certainly going to be an interesting experience. The goal was to:

1. Use my study time effectively
2. Understand core concepts and lecture material in advance of the exam. Essentially the day before the exam, I should be feeling confident on the material, and if possible, straight chilling. Absolutely NO panicking.
3. Ace those exams!

Using the method I explain below, I learned to study on the goMost phones have a “voice memo” function, and as long as you have your phone and head/ear phones, you’re good to go.

Here’s what I did:

Step 1: Come to class prepared. This means powerpoint slides already printed (or for those with tablets, downloaded). This is particularly important since I took additional notes from lecture directly unto my slides. Coming to class prepared also meant my mind was mentally prepared. I’m not pulling out my phone to reply a text or go on Facebook, I am instead, listening intently to understand as much as I can so I spend less time later trying to understand what was thought.

Step 2: Within 24 hours, usually that evening or the next day, I reviewed my lecture slides and make sense of the additional notes I may have written on particular slides. I also made sure to clarify concepts I didn’t quite understand. Clarification usually meant looking up the specific concept on Khan Academy for a short and concise video on it.

Step 3: After reviewing my notes once, I could now record. I usually did this the next day. Literally, I would record myself going through each PowerPoint slide. Not just reading over the slide verbatim, but actually breaking it down as if I was teaching someone else. As I went through each slide, I could refer to other things I had mentioned. I was literally teaching myself in this recording.

voice memo

Step 4: Listen to the recording over and over again. It was best if I could listen while looking at my slides. This way I could target both the visual and auditory part of learning. Most of the time though, it was pure listening.

  • I listened to my recording while on the treadmill. My lecture notes would be mounted up so I could follow along (Side note: walking on 12.0 incline and 3.3 speed is the sweet spot for me)
  • I listened while driving. I have about a 15 mins commute to school daily so on most days, I’ld listen to my recording.
  • I listened at night.
  • I listened in the morning.
  • I listened while grocery shopping.
  • I listened whenever I could.

It worked for me. The key thing was repetition. I kept listening to lectures over and over again to the point where I knew what would come next in the slide AND I understood what I was talking about. I used this strategy for the first two exams in my Human Physiology class. Having a part time job, I felt restricted with time. I HAD to be efficient with time.

How effective was it? Well this strategy was effective enough for me to get an A minus on my first two exams.

I find that recording myself going through the material is more effective that listening to a recording of the professor because: (1), There are no tangents, random discussions, or interruptions to lecture; (2), it’s a much shorter recording; (3) I explain concepts in words I understand, using examples I can relate to; (4) I get to talk it out, out loud – which is very important.

For my last two physio exams, I switched my study style to accommodate the increasing complexity of the material. I’ll talk more about that later in the series. I hope you find this strategy helpful. Try it out and let me know what you think!

Check out my other posts on study strategies:

“Study Strategy I: Time is Money”

“What’s your learning style?”

Study Strategies I: “Time is Money”

This is part one of a four-part series on study strategies. I’ve received a few emails in the past requesting advice on general study tips or any advice on studying while working full-time (which I did during my gap years). So in this series, I’ll be presenting strategies that I currently use and have found to be effective. To kick it off, I’m starting with the major requirement for any study session and successful endeavor:

Time

Time pic

Time management is a skill most people struggle with at some point; it’s something I find myself constantly fine-tuning. Although I consider it one of my strengths (years of experience juggling competing priorities), I know it’s something that can always be improved on. During orientation this past August, one of the speakers, Dr. Alvin D. Pelt gave a workshop on study skills that changed the game for me. BIG TIME. I’m going to focus on the time management technique I gained from the presentation and have been using everyday for almost 3 months now. It’s a system that has been immensely effective for me, particularly with my challenging schedule (to be disclosed later).

“Time is like money. You always think you have more than you actually have.”

This was an analogy Dr. Pelt made and I must admit he was quite right. Ever look at your bank account and go “How in the world did I spend that much?” or look at the time, perhaps in panic, and wonder “Where did all the time go?!

Yea.

Time and money are two peas in the pod. Similar to how you would budget your money i.e. a certain amount for rent, bills etc, is the same way you should budget your time. This brings me to my first point:

Schedule daily

study

Make a “budget” for your time that day. When do you have free time? What amount of time is spent in class? commuting? Eating dinner or talking on the phone? Basically account for each hour of the day. This allows you to see the potential times during your day which can be made more productive. Once you’ve blocked out potential times during the day, then comes the crucial step:

Log actual study time

No, this doesn’t mean logging in 4 hours in the library, when you actually spent 2 hours on Facebook, half an hour in the bathroom, another half hour getting situated, and only one hour in the books. Nope not that. As Dr. Pelt put it, your actual study time is different from your perceived study time. So here’s the key ingredient, the magic to this technique:

Log in & out each time you start or stop studying. Exclude bathroom breaks, naps, phone calls etc.

pic study 2

Please excuse my chicken scratch handwriting 🙂

Boom. That’s it. It sounds so simple and perhaps you’ve done a version of this in past, but this method requires discipline and definitely some behavior adjustments. The picture above is my log book. This notebook is EVERYTHING. I carry it everywhere.

Seriously.

It’s always in my backpack and folks who have studied with me, have seen me whip it out and scribble in a time as soon as we stop studying or take a break. I personally aim for 4 hours/ day or a minimum of 20 hours/ week of focused studying. Although I may fall short on my 4 hour goal on some days (unexpected interruptions, my mood etc), I consistently exceed my 20 hour/ week minimum (weekends to the rescue!). This leads to the last point:

Graph the results. Place the graph where you will see it everyday

Now, I’ll be honest, I typically don’t graph the results because I find tracking my daily progress in my small spiral notebook very effective just in of itself. However, this last point was mentioned by Dr. Pelt. As he noted, it’s particularly important if you’re studying for a major exam for a long period of time i.e. USMLEs, MCAT etc. It allows you to see if you’re on track or should perhaps, postpone. There’s also something gratifying about seeing a visual representation of your work and discipline.

charlie-sheen-winning

Success takes discipline. Budgeting my time and tracking actual study time has definitely worked for me. Give it a try. Stick to it. You might find yourself being more efficient and having more productive study sessions.

Thank you to Dr. Pelt for his awesome workshop!

Time: Image source

#Winning: Image source

What’s Your Learning Style?

This might seem like a simple question, but it makes a world of difference when it comes to learning large amounts of information in what might feel like a very short time. With a new school year beginning, it’s something that’s been on my mind. The big question: What is the most effective way to learn new information? This varies for most people. Thinking back to my college years, there were many nights where I sat bent over my textbook, reading a chapter, only to find out 5 pages in, I had NO IDEA what I just read. Alas, back to page one. Who knows what I’m talking about here? Struggles. For me, reading was NOT my dominant learning style (at least for this particular subject). Neither was writing my notes over and over again –  still I had a difficult time.

I was struggling to utilize a method that was simply not my dominate way of learning.

struggling learning

SOURCE

It took me a while but it finally clicked; perhaps if I sat in the front two rows, never missed a lecture, and instead of trying to write down everything being said by the professor, just simply paid attention. Just listened.  

*BOOM*

I found the missing link. I discovered I’m a strong aural (auditory) learner and retain information better that way. I needed to hear things and have discussions for the information to stick. This makes sense because close friends know me for being a good listener (which further translated into my interviewing skills for qualitative research). Furthermore, the classes I enjoyed the most were discussion based or taught by professors who sought to really engage the class. So for me, sitting in the back of the class or maybe just the middle, wasn’t ideal. And missing a lecture, simply a NO-NO. For others, maybe not so much.

VARK model

SOURCE

So what’s the big deal about finding out your preferred or dominate learning style? Well for one, it makes you more effective at studying and learning new material. If you’re putting a lot of hours into a class, perhaps you have stacks of flashcards, lots of outlines but still find yourself struggling with the material – it might just be that you’re not utilizing your dominant/ preferred learning style. Determining what learning style is most effective for you can help you determine what strategies to use for studying and disregard others that may just be time wasters for you.

Thanks brain

SOURCE

Organic Chemistry for example, is a class where you’d really want to know your preferred learning style very early on and create effective study strategies based on that. Personally, I’m multimodal with aural (listening to lectures/ discussions), visual (pictures, charts), and kinesthetic (trail and error, practical exercises). This means that either of these strategies work for me based on the subject I’m learning OR I need to see the material presented in different modes to really learn it (I’m still trying to figure out which is most true for me!). So to grasp the topics in Organic Chemistry, I knew reading wouldn’t be enough for me – that would be struggle bus all the way. I need to hear the explanations over and over again and see visual representations, so I sought out videos. In my case, I used Coursesaver videos, and YouTube, and truly those helped me a lot!

So how do you determine your dominant learning style? There are several quizzes and questionnaires online that can help you with this. The VARK model appears to be a popular one and splits the learning styles into four categories: Aural (auditory) learners, visual learners, reading and writing learners, and kinesthetic learners. I encourage you to check it out!

The new school year’s begun and it’s time to hit the road running! So what’s your learning style?