Study Effectively

~ I personally love to study. ~

I’m not sure if you’re not going to like me for saying this, but I personally love to study.  Studying feels like a hobby to me and no there’s nothing wrong with me or people who enjoy it. Studying is second nature to a student (so is procrastination and cramming the entire syllabus before finals but we’ll get to that later) and I like to think that I’ve gotten the hang of it. With one midterm lined up after the next, I feel like now it’s the best time to share with you my tips on “studying effectively.”

But before that, I’d like to share a little backstory on how I got into the habit of studying.

I wasn’t a smart kid during my primary school years. I hated going to school (who didn’t?) and I had no idea what homework was. I got into so much trouble in kindergarten because I used to turn in my homework sheets empty or with whatever I could scribble on before the class started. I am from Yangon, Myanmar, and I was one of the fortunate few who could afford to attend an international school. The school being international used the English language as its teaching medium and I vividly recall that all throughout kindergarten, I understood very little what the teacher was saying. I simply didn’t complete my homework because I didn’t know I had to.

But I didn’t let my weak grasp of the English language stop me. I practiced daily through cartoons, movies and little story books which were scattered on shelfs in the stationery aisle at the supermarkets. Overtime, I built up enough vocabulary to express a single idea or concept in multiple ways. But my accent was still nowhere near ‘professional’. I used to imitate Hollywood actors on TV, mimicking their accents. My predominant English accent was the British accent and it garnered a lot of praise from my teachers but I knew all my friends secretly hated it. They’d laugh at me for my ‘fake’ British accent and ask who I was trying to impress by saying “water” as “wotah!” I didn’t mind all their comments because I knew I was a good speaker. However, after high school, I fell out of practice with the British accent and switched to a more subtle American tone of voice.

Like I said, I wasn’t a smart kid during primary school but my parents offered a much-needed push to change that. My parents would make it seem like all my classmates were my competition. Every time someone achieved a higher test score, I’d be told that I wasn’t as good as that kid. I’d be reprimanded for not studying hard enough and instead of feeling happy for passing the test, I’d end up crying because nobody appreciated the efforts I put into studying. Overtime, I started to loathe my parent’s unfair comparisons and I was determined to fit into their concept of the ‘perfect’ student. That was when I started to study from as many sources as I could. I didn’t limit myself to what was taught in our syllabus and I began searching for extra information to complement my knowledge. At the start of each school year, I’d draft out a study timetable and try my best to stick to it giving up most of my leisure activities such as watching TV. I’d study on the way to school, during lunchtime, and on my way back.

Did my grades improve? Yes. Was I exhausted? Definitely. Was I studying effectively? No.

Looking back, I felt like I relied too heavily on memorizing information rather than understanding it. And the blame was not on me but on the education system which made memorizing seem like the holy grail in education. That’s simply not true. Allah has blessed me with the ability to capture volumes of information in my head and I’m thankful for that but if I had spent all those times understanding what I was studying instead of remembering strings of sentences, I would had been able to pick up information much faster and still recall half the stuff I studied all throughout my school years. So you probably know where I’m going with this anecdote. Here’s my first tip: Try to understand what you’re studying instead of memorizing it. Once you understand something, the concept is forever ingrained in your head whereas information stored in memory can be lost. And to truly understand something, you should search information from various sources to ensure you’ve grasped the right concept. False understanding is detrimental – not only to the learner but to the person who learns from him as well.

Next, let’s shift to a lecture class setting. During a lecture, you shouldn’t sit idly. You should be listening actively and jotting down what your lecturer is teaching.  I know that its difficult to fully concentrate in class (especially in theory subjects) so I advise you to keep some sour candy or light snacks on hand to wake you up. The best way to stay fully engaged during a lesson is to take notes. You shouldn’t be writing down whatever your lecturer goes over but instead jot down the key points. And also, don’t worry about your handwriting during notetaking. It doesn’t have to be neat but it should be legible enough to be read by you so you could produce more detailed notes when you study at home. Yes, I always practice taking notes twice. I believe it helps in retaining information. I scribble the key points in class (in such awful handwriting if I may add) and rewrite them when I sit down to study in my dorm.

To continue, you should figure out what studying method works for you. I love to study from reference books, but when I’m too tired to read or skim through a five-hundred-page book, I’d rely on YouTube videos to clarify a concept or complement by understanding. It might work differently for different people. Creative people often draw out mind maps to spill and connect all their thoughts and ideas. People who love listening to music finds it more enjoyable to study while shuffling through their playlist. Personally, I find it hard to concentrate while listening to music. Don’t get me wrong. Listening to music is one of my favourite hobbies. It just doesn’t work when I’m studying.

And my final tip, don’t put everything off until the last minute. Procrastination is the enemy of motivation and to stay motivated you’ve got to work. You should study everyday regardless of whether there’s a test or not. It’s better to put in the effort earlier rather than staying up all night before a midterm to cram half the syllabus into your head. No, it doesn’t work like that. Even if it does, the information will just be stored in your short-term memory; it is more likely that you’ll have to restudy the entire syllabus before your final exam instead of just going over a few chapters you haven’t caught up on yet.

So get studying and enjoy it! Make full use of your lecturer’s consultation hours. Take the reference book with you and ask them to spot a couple of questions to practice. If you haven’t noticed it yet, most questions for tests and exams are derived from the reference book so it would be advantageous for you to study from there. If you enjoy studying in a group, get your friends together. Get something to eat and no, I’m not talking about a three-course meal. Get pizza, snacks, pretzels or even coffee. Share your notes with your friends. Help others. Explain your point of view to them. I personally study best when I’m explaining a certain topic to my friends (after all, I’m set to become a lecturer one day). And most importantly, take care of your health. If you’re not healthy, you will miss classes and you will not be able to study well. Use the tips in the article and make studying fun. You’re bound to see a satisfactory improvement in your academic performance. I guarantee it.

My current Peer Assisted Learning (PAL) class for Fluid Mechanics.

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