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Skilful studying advice

Tuesday 28 April 2009 Exam Tips

Studying at university often signals coffee, cramming and more coffee. Just opening a text book can induce sleep for some students. But those dreaded revision and study sessions need not be a chore if you can get a handle on some basic skills.

The biggest obstacles to effective studying are stress, slow reading, poor concentration, lack of a good study plan and negative thinking. But how do you get round these obstacles?

Tony Buzan, author of The Study Skills Handbook, shares his views on the stresses of studying and takes you through some of the techniques, such as mind mapping and speed reading that can improve performance.

Why does studying sometimes feel like such a huge task and where does the anxiety come from?

Many study texts are big, often with 400 pages or more. There are often 500 words per page. The average student studies at less than 100 words per minute, a number which becomes even slower when you factor in the copious linear note taking. In addition, 80 per cent of the detail of what has been studied is forgotten within 24 hours.

Thus, many students, having studied for an hour, will only finish six or seven pages, and will have forgotten 80 per cent of that tiny amount by the following day!

It doesn’t take the brain long to figure out that actually finishing the book and remembering what is necessary, is a virtually hopeless task. Knowing at the same time that your future depends on your successful completion of that task, the reason for the commonly experienced fear and panic becomes very clear.
You minimise anxiety and fear by learning how to use your brain properly.

Why mind mapping?

Although it is a common way of taking notes, linear note-taking is not very effective. Mind mapping is a pictorial and colourful way of making notes by drawing on key words and key images. It is a dynamic research and revision tool that organises and prioritises key trigger facts, ideas and information in a visual way that helps your mind remember them.

How much study should you do in a day?

It is normally best to study for between five and eight hours per day. This study routine should be composed of study units that ideally last between 40 and 60 minutes, followed by five to ten minutes rest or physical activity breaks.

Doing it in this way gives your brain appropriately-sized ‘chunks’ of information, with enough time in the breaks to integrate what has been learnt and to get ready for the next ‘meal’!

Your brain never becomes ‘useless’. It simply becomes tired through misuse.

How can you stop yourself from falling asleep when you are reading?

• Make sure you have a balanced rest/exercise/sleep/social/study routine.
• Mind Map what you are reading. The activity of Mind Mapping in itself, and the stimulation of the key words, colours and images, will keep your brain happily alert.
•  Read faster rather than slowly and carefully in the same way that driver’s driving fast tend to pay more attention to what they are doing than those who are dawdling. It is the same with your eyes when you are reading.
• The best way to absorb information is by taking in the words in phrases or ‘chunks’. This allows you to absorb the meaning rather than the individual dictionary definition of each of the words in the sentence.

Is there a short cut to absorbing information?

You need to learn to Speed Read. Some quick hints on the way to doing this:

• Reduce skipping back over words when you read
• Take in words in meaningful groups rather than single words at-a-time
• Motivate yourself to read faster
• Use a guide such as a thin pen or a chopstick underneath the words you are reading
• Mind Map, at the end of each section, what you have read. This will consolidate the information you have taken in, and will help keep it there.