Finding YOUR best way to study!

I’ve had this entry in the works for a long time, so I’m really happy about finally being able to write it. I felt like I had to have some sort of proof of my learning technique hypothesis’, that figuring out how you retain information best, is the best way to achieving your grade goals. This year, I feel like I finally cracked some sort of code, learning-wise. I did not have to cram until the night before the exam, I could allow myself to take breaks without feeling guilty about not studying, and I still reached all my academic goals for 2015 on my impossible list.

The way I did this was mapping out under what conditions, and with what tools I work best. This is a very individual process, which I personally think everyone ought to go through to learn about themselves. You can save yourself so much hassle if you figure out your “path of least resistance” to the grade you want. I started out by taking a couple of tests, helping me get a general idea about what kind of learner I am. The results I got most often were read-and-write learner and visual learner. Even though most of the results pointed to those learning techniques, I still wanted to be open to the possibility that my answers were coloured by my experience with the Norwegian school system, where read-and-write learning is heavily favoured, therefore I could be missing out on some really good kinaesthetic learning tips for example.

Auditory learning:

Pros: Made me focus more during lectures, made me ask more questions, made me better at explaining what I’d learned to other people, works really well in social sciences.

Cons: While I remembered the broader strokes, I forgot the details. Although it worked in biology, it did not work as well in physics and maths.

Tips for testing yourself: Listen to podcasts, listen to taped lectures, try to teach someone what you’ve learned using only words, discuss at a colloquium.

I started out by doing something I usually never do – not taking any notes in class. Don’t get me wrong, I did pay attention. Instead of writing down almost everything the professor said, having to sift through what is actually relevant later, I tried listening intently. In addition to this, I also raised my hand a lot more than usual, asking clarifying questions. My theory was that by asking questions, I’d remember the discussion later, therefore solidifying the learning experience. However, what I noticed was that while I could remember the broader strokes, perhaps even better than usual, I’d lost most of the detail. For me this was problematic, as it’s the details, in my opinion, that makes for the most interesting exam answers or essay subjects.

Kinaesthetic learning:

Pros: Works really well in courses where lab-work is required, is great for understanding physics. Is a great tool for motivating students, and spurring further curiosity.

Cons: I did not feel like I understood technical details at a micro-level as well by just observing and having concepts explained to me, as I would have by reading about them.

Tips for testing yourself: attend a lab-class, draw or build a model of what you are learning about

While trying to create some sort of hybrid between my usual note taking and keywords, inspired by my auditory learning experience, I also tried to incorporate some kinaesthetic work into the process. This included going to the lab, trying out different experiments, and “thinking aloud” with my lab partner. Things like handling a microscope properly, or doing experiments with lights and lasers were really motivating, and helped spark a desire to work more when I got home, trying to figure out precisely what I saw through the microscope, or why some sort of physical phenomenon occurred. However, if it hadn’t been for the consecutive work I put in after I got home, I wouldn’t have learned as much as if I had just gone to the lab and looked at, or touched things. It did help me familiarize myself with the lab, making me more comfortable doing things on my own, and in an exam setting.

Visual learning:

Pros: You can learn at your own pace, you can comply your notes into small diagrams, making larger concepts easier to remember.

Cons: Some might get easily distracted by using tools such as YouTube for learning, it can be difficult to find reliable and complete resources.

Tips for testing yourself: Watch videos, draw mind maps or diagrams, and make overview-posters to revise

This might have been my absolute favourite way of studying, and I will definitely blog about some aspects of this learning technique in further detail another time. I think the reason I liked this technique so much is that it combined so well with the read-and-write learning style I was previously familiar with. I modelled my visual learning experience after the “flipped classroom” concept, watching videos on YouTube (mostly CrashCourse and SciShow videos, and some Norwegian resources), and Khan Academy. After teaching myself the main concepts, I went to my lecturers’ office hours and asked them about topics that needed additional explanation, such as exam-specific topics, or what I should focus more or less on. I highly recommend checking out these links and infographics on flipped classroom learning, as they made it easier for me to learn at my own pace, which I know is a problem for many students. Either the teacher could be going on about the same topic for far too long or jumping ahead way to fast to get through the curriculum in the allotted time.

Read-and-write learning:

Pros: Writing down what you’ve read can help you retain more of the information, easy to go back in your notes to revise what you might have forgot.

Cons: Some might write too much, therefore confusing themselves as to what is actually important.

Tips for testing yourself: rewrite notes, create lists and make analogies to explain difficult concepts, write synopses

I think this is the learning style most students are familiar with, as was the case in my experience. My best tips for this technique is after taking notes in class, set aside some time afterwards to rewrite your notes, using new words and sentences. This is not an original idea at all, as it has been recommended by many other “study-bloggers”, (if I can call myself that). However, one thing I will add, that I haven’t heard anywhere else, is that when studying STEM-sciences, try to use words to explain equations and rules. By forcing yourself to create an explanation using only words and analogies, for a concept explained best with numbers or other figures, you learn the concept so well, you can apply it to a number of different problems, as well as giving yourself another way to remember it.

Before I end this post, I want to add that these are my pros and cons, therefore they are not as objective as they should be. You should try this learning experiment out for yourself! Learning how to learn is one of the most valuable tools in life, as one continues learning throughout all of it. How you retain or use the information you pick up along the way is entirely up to you.

Good luck with the next semester, (and remember to check out the links)!

– Benedicte

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Finding YOUR best way to study!

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