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Ten Principles of Learning for Students: Work Smarter

With practice, you will get better at whatever you try.

  • The trick is to practice over and over with practice strategies that work, such as quizzing yourself with flash cards.
  • Learning takes effort and hard work like all skills and qualities you want to develop. In fact, the more effort, the deeper the learning. Think you won’t enjoy the work? As you get better you probably will.
  • Confront challenges, make a plan to overcome obstacles in your path. By taking on challenges and mastering new material, you will gain confidence that will impact all areas of your life. So make that plan and make it concrete: when, where, how.

One Successful Practice Strategy? Quiz yourself

  • Frequently test yourself using flash cards, end of chapter questions, recall what you’ve read, do extra problems and old tests from your instructor when available
  • Mix it up. For even better practice, mix up the topics in a single study session, mix up the problem types or mix up the chapters when preparing to ace an exam. Academics call this interleaving and their research shows it works. This isn’t as easy as studying one thing at a time, but the effort is rewarded in stronger learning.
  • The more you quiz yourself, the less stress you’ll have when it’s time to take the real exam.

Work Thirty Minutes a Day per Class

  • Work daily on your class by self-testing or working on projects.
  • Control distractions: Close all unnecessary browser windows, and turn phone, TV, and music off. You can reward yourself by checking them during your breaks.
  • Try the Pomodoro method. Work some, take a short break. Repeat.
  • Make a checklist. Prioritize it. Make the checklist the night before to be even more effective, your brain can process it overnight for you!
  • Know this: Anticipating doing work is more painful than actually doing the work. So spare yourself the pain and just do the work.

Sleep: Ideally, get 7-8 hours per night.

  • Know that groggy feeling when you stay up too late? That is partially due to metabolic toxins that didn’t get cleared with adequate sleep. Their presence reduces your study efforts, making you perform as if you’ve studied less than you did.
  • Consolidation, movement of short term memories to long term memories that can be recalled at test time, occurs while you sleep.
  • Your brain will continue to work on solving problems on your mind, so if you’re working through a problem, try sleeping on it.
  • Configure cell phone to ‘do not disturb’ when you’re sleeping

Exercise Daily

  • Exercise combats stress and increases circulation, delivering oxygen to your brain. It also allows your brain a break from focusing so you can return to your studies refreshed and more focused.
  • Walking, running, lifting weights are all effective. So put your shoes on and get going when you need a break from studying.
  • On campus, take the stairs, park in the far lit, or take an exercise class.

Beware the Illusion of Competence

  • The illusion of competence occurs when someone incorrectly gauges their knowledge of certain information. This typically occurs as a result of ineffective study habits.
  • Re-reading, highlighting, reviewing how to solve problems (rather than solving them) and multi-tasking are common strategies that lead to the Illusion of Competence.
  • Instead: Recall what you just read, quiz yourself, and space out your retrieval and quizzing.

Become Part of a Team: Start your own study team or join one with peers

  • Find your own weaknesses and illusions of competence.
  • Prepare for meetings, this gives you a jumpstart on learning the material.
  • By explaining material to your peers you are deepening your own understanding.

Over-Prepare for Exams

  • Being over-prepared allows success even when anxiety begins.
  • Daily review and self-testing allows you to be over-prepared as does understanding the overall structure of the exam such as the number of questions and types of questions you’ll be answering.

Prepare for Each Class

  • Read assigned materials before going to class so you can ask questions of your instructor.
  • By being prepared you will be more confident in participating more, making class more interesting for you and your peers.

Take Notes by Hand

  • Yes, it’s easier to take notes using a laptop or tablet but your research evidence consistently shows that we remember information better if we take notes by hand.

Sources: Mindset by Carol Dweck, A Mind for Numbers by Barbara Oakley, Learning How to Learn Coursera.org Course (Summer 2015), Make it Stick by Peter C Brown, et al.

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