Top Ten Semester Study Tips
It is that time of the year, friends! With barely a weekend left before the start of the semester, be emboldened to take it by the reigns with these ten study tips:
1. Healthy Body, Healthy Mind
Meeting the responsibilities and requirements of higher education comes with its highs and lows. A common low many students struggle with is managing an overwhelming amount of stress. This can be a result of meeting strict deadlines, keeping up with several classes, and constantly seeking to perform one’s best. Unfortunately, mental stress can translate to physical stress. Dr. James Gordon, founder of the Center for Mind-Body Medicine elaborates, “all the organs of our body and all the emotional responses we have share a common chemical language and are constantly communicating with one another.”¹
As gloomy as this may sound, the opposite is also true! It’s no secret that physical exercise is good for our bodies. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America explains that exercise releases endorphins in our brains — chemicals that serve as natural painkillers.² This elevated feeling is known to affect our mental health in a positive way. Take care of yourself this semester by hitting the TalTech gym regularly, or even taking a walk in Männi park with friends!
The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health lists meditation, yoga, creative arts, and prayer (among other relaxation techniques) as other methods of reducing stress. Execution of these activities focuses the mind towards more restorative and relaxing thoughts, diverts attention away from anxiety-inducing thoughts.³
In any case, the multitude of studies and articles prove that keeping one’s physical self in top shape will do the same for the brain. Who doesn’t want their mind to be at its best this semester?
2. Actively Attend Class
The Study Cycle is a well-known teaching strategy by Dr. Saundra McGuire adapted from Dr. Frank Christ’s PLRS learning system. By previewing, attending class, reviewing, and studying, students are exposed to different types of learning — such is the difference between reading material, and listening to material being explained by a lecturer. Repetition and distributed practice of a student’s learning skills are the most effective way of retaining information.⁴ So, attend class! Actively attending class indicates a preview of information beforehand, as well as a follow-up after class. Participating in class will present an opportunity to have questions answered… something a textbook can’t do!
3. Review Briefly and Often
As aforementioned, repetition and distributed practice are a great way of learning material. In 1885, Dr. Hermann Ebbinghaus published his work on the spacing effect that is still very relevant today. He found that exposure to new material is forgotten in just 24 hours 80% of the time.⁵ This disproves the habit many students have: waiting until the night before class to review or do homework.
Students are also tempted to study for long periods of time in attempts to study more. After all, more is better, right? Actually, be encouraged to break up study sessions into small, frequent amounts throughout the week. A 2008 study published by the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press brought to light how memory is affected by context clues.⁶ When learning new information, the brain considers all the factors of one’s learning environment. Taking a break from learning gives the brain a chance to develop context clues. When exposed to those context clues, you might find you can recall information even better!
So practice learning early and often! Replace your three-hour Sunday Study Sesh before Monday’s class for thirty minutes of review throughout the week, instead. Retaining information better just might score you that five on the exam!
4. Review Homework Exercises Regularly
This circles back to number three. If you review practical exercises often, you’ll get the experience you need! For the homework-heavy classes, doing the homework once might not be enough to help you retain the problem-solving skills you will need for the midterm and final. Reading the chapter and trying the exercises ahead of time will serve as review for the class covering the questions the first time. Doing the teacher-assigned homework will be your third attempt at solving the exercises; by then you’ll be a pro!
5. Review with Peers
Exercise, creative activities, and studying does not always fill one’s social cup. Connect with your peers by studying together with them. You will feel accomplished by understanding the topic more in-depth, while learning in different ways together. Forming a study group or a peer system will also notify you of anything you may miss in class. Getting in touch with your peers helps you and your peers out! Encourage each other so everybody can do their best in class.
6. Develop a Routine
Developing a routine, no matter how small, is likely to keep good habits around. Good study habits are something every student wants more of. A great example of a well-versed routine is the Pomodoro Technique. Invented by Italian author, Francesco Cirillo, the Pomodoro Technique values time, simplicity, and task-oriented studying. The technique works through a cycle of 25 minutes worth of intense, undivided attention towards a task, with a five-minute break following. Write down your task ahead of time (for example: actively read through this chapter), gather the supplies you will need, and set the timer! If the task is not complete after four “pomodoros”, or 25-minute sessions, use the following break as a half-hour break before returning to work.⁷ Routines like this will help break down the intimidation any student feels when starting a task.
7. Find Enriching Breaks
We have discussed that breaks should be thorough to allow processing of new information, and the five-minute break associated with the Pomodoro Technique. Consider that checking your phone during those precious minutes exposes your brain to even more information, which is not using the break for its intended purpose. While there is generally nothing wrong with checking your phone, it may be disruptive to a good work flow. Instead, consider using your breaks as moments to fulfill points made in tip number one. Drink water, make a snack, stretch out muscles that have been stagnant for too long. These refreshing breaks will fill you with a new vigor to conquer your tasks. Use longer breaks for similar purposes — getting that walk in, meeting with friends, pursuing a hobby, and even making a healthy meal.
8. Set Goals
Remember that this semester is what you make of it. Everyone has a dream to aspire after, however possible or impossible. Working towards the vision is what matters most. Being objective about what you’d like to accomplish, and making a game plan — a goal — towards it will bring that dream within reach.
Goal-setting is vital to success. Dr Gail Matthews of the Dominican University of California concluded from a study that those working towards a goal were 33% more successful at achieving their goals than their peers. How? Writing down goals, sharing goals with others, and keeping track of progress are all viable ways of bringing a goal into fruition.⁸ Set goals for this semester! Be thorough on how you plan to accomplish your goals, and stick to the plan.
9. Schedule Reminders
Everyone could use a reminder now and then. Once you first hear about an assignment or important date (like an exam, presentation, group project deadline, etc.), mark it down! Keep it somewhere you are likely to check often. If you are a pen and paper kind of person, keeping it on iCalendar is a missed deadline waiting to happen. The same is true for our tech-friends; leave that dusty planner at home and get it on your phone!
Not only will setting reminders actually remind you should you forget, it will help you stay conscious of those deadlines. Planning for an upcoming assignment usually entails planning for self-made deadlines beforehand. When would you like to have it ready for peer-review? Write that down. When would you like the final draft to be done? Write that down. When would you like to turn it in? Write that down!
10. Get Excited!
Preparing for the semester can get a little overwhelming. It is easy to get caught up in the past mistakes of last semester and the stress that followed close behind. Instead, be encouraged! However far you are in your university journey, know that this marks one semester closer to graduation and getting that degree. Mente et manu, TalTech!
: The Center for Mind-Body Medicine. (1991). James S. Gordon. Retrieved August 22, 2022, from https://cmbm.org/about/founder/
: Anxiety and Depression Association of America. (1979). Physical Activity Reduces Stress. Retrieved August 22, 2022, from https://adaa.org/ understanding-anxiety/related-illnesses/other-related-conditions/stress /physical-activity-reduces-st
: The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. (1998). Stress. Retrieved August 22, 2022, from https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health /stress
: McGuire, S. Y. (2015). Teach Students How to Learn: Strategies You Can Incorporate Into Any Course to Improve Student Metacognition, Study Skills, and Motivation. Stylus.
: Ebbinghaus, H. (1885). Memory: A Contribution to Experimental Psychology. Dover.
: Gomez, R., Hardt, O., Hypbach, A., Nadel, L.(2008). The dynamics of memory: Context-dependent updating. Learning & Memory, (29), 574-579.
: Cirillo, F. (2018). The Pomodoro Technique: The Life-Changing Time Management System. Ebury.
: Matthews, G. (2015). Strategies for achieving goals, resolutions. Communications and Media Relations (1–5). Dominican Scholar.