8 New Ways to Study (when the old ways stop working)

It’s midterm week. The week where I have all the major tests/stress happening. You know, the week before reading week.

I always find this funny, but it’s the same every year: Midterm week comes right before “reading week.” Maybe it’s just my luck, but year after year my professors seem to all think that we want to get exams “over with” before the week off, giving us a bit of a vacation–or, as some profs reason, to give us time to study for our other classes with post-reading week midterms.

I don’t have any classes with post-reading week midterms.

I’m not trying to bitch and moan. I actually like these weeks. I thrive on the pressure. I have two midterms and a paper due in one day (that would be tomorrow, folks), and while that is making me sweat a bit…I like sweating a bit. I like it for awhile, at least. But every now and then my eyes glaze over or my brain gets overwhelmed with information and I just can’t study like this anymore.

Fine. But I still need to study. So the question is, what’s a student to do when the nose-in-a-book method becomes ineffective?

Here are some go-to alternative study methods:

Watch it. There are documentaries out there about just about any and everything. As long as you watch your sources, you can take a break from studying and still let the information seep in by seeking out a film relevant to your courses. Two nights ago, I found a great biography on Ho Chi Minh via http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/, which I threw on to take a break from head-spinning Southeast Asian History readings. As a History student, my “break” videos usually come from history.com, the CBC archives, biography.com …and every now and then, Youtube and Netflix have something interesting to offer.

Listen to it. When I was living in France, I was also taking an American History course and trying to study for a paper on the Harlem Renaissance. This was such a specifically American subject that information, even secondary sources, were less-than-accessible from the libraries in this small French village. I’m an auditory learner, so my solution then was downloading lectures from iTunes U…and it has pretty much been my go-to ever since.

It’s easy: Type just about any subject into iTunes. Click “iTunes U” in the left hand “Filter by media type” menu. Chances are, you will find some academia about it available for free download. Then go for a run on the treadmill or take a nice walk while you listen to people talk about stuff that you really should know for that paper (just make sure to cite it if you use it!).

Another possibility for auditory learners, especially when facing  “defining terms” type assessments, is recording oneself defining terms that need memorizing, then playing it back while walking/treadmilling/playing tetris/baking a cake/etc. Either way, it’ll seep in.

Why do you keep mentioning the treadmill?  Sometimes, when what you have to learn is REALLY thick and dull, the only way to stay awake is if you’re moving.  I am convinced that I only passed 10th grade biology because I brought my science class material to fitness class with me. Reading during the low-intensity part of cardio was the only way I knew to stay awake while reading that stuff. When I’m confined to a desk, I also find that I’m more productive with a drink by my side, even just a glass of water. I guess that if I’m going to need the odd 5 seconds away from work regardless, a cup of coffee is a better call than a “quick” check to Facebook or Twitter.

Twitter-ize it.  One of my most successful study nights happened last spring, when I decided to work through the information by creating a temporary new Twitter account and using it to write definitions, biographies, important dates, documents, or ideas–in 140 characters or less.  It forced me to really, really know what I was talking about and what was important, and to categorize things properly. You don’t need to create a Twitter account to do this (quite frankly, it’s a bit of a pain), but squeezing your words into simple boxes takes consideration and comprehension, so it’s a great way to learn your stuff. Bonus: It’s also a great lesson in the English language. It’s also kinda fun.

Productivity-Off. I coined this term in second year, when a friend from home tweeted that he was working on some second language worksheets while I was painstakingly translating French documents into broken English. I messaged him back, suggesting that we race each other to finish of our respective assignments first.

This is now a thing. It’s called a productivity-off, and after introducing it to my roommate at the time, it got me through second year.

You know how pitting kids against their siblings will get them ready for bed in record time? Turns out a little bit of competition can bring out an incredible level of productivity in fully grown adults, too. Why? Because games make things work.

Play with it. Outside of productivity-offs, there are so many ways that games can make things work. Last month, my 8th grade brother insisted to me that he would “NEVER be good at this French grammar stuff.” I sent him to the French section of quia.com to find games that related to the concepts giving him trouble. Now, he has informed me that he rocks irregular verbs.  Why? Because he found a way to interact with them and to face a game-style challenge that got his competitive side up.

Keep this in mind: If you have a map quiz, there is probably a flash game that can help you play through learning the geography you need.   If you have a history test, trivia quizzes could be a fun “break” that tests your knowledge. If you have a friend around, you can play the Wikipedia Game and navigate between content from your respective courses–especially if those courses are worlds apart. You could learn something new to boot.

Reward yourself. If you don’t have someone else to be competitive with, and the internet doesn’t offer a way to get your game face on, you can still sometimes pull out that drive by setting goals and rewarding yourself when you get them done. This takes a little more self-discipline, and I know that a false sense of urgency is not always readily available…but if you know there’s a beer in the fridge just waiting for you to finish that article, usually that article will get finished.

Keep your study spot sacred. I spend a lot of time with my computer in my bed and on the couch. This might seem silly, seeing as I have that cute little cloffice sitting there just begging to be used.  Here’s the deal, though: I use my computer for my leisure time, for watching TV, talking to friends, monitoring memes…you know, the important things in life. I avoid doing those things at my desk, save for the odd conversation that pops up while studying.   Why? Because I have trained myself to get into work mode the minute I sit at that desk.

The cloffice is where I get serious–at least, as serious as a girl who studies with documentaries and flash games gets.  If I’m writing something substantial, if I’m doing readings, if I’m writing study notes, if I’m recording study notes, if I’m memorizing scripts–that’s cloffice time. I’m not perfect with it, but I guarantee you that I get a whole lot more done when I’m in a place that has been set aside for, well, getting a whole lot more done.

Speaking of which….think it’s time to go home for some cloffice time.  Maybe record some concise term definitions. And maybe, just maybe, earn that cold beer in my fridge.
Happy studying!

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