BREAKS

Studying is like a race. It’s not about doing our best only for a couple of days, but rather about being able to keep a nice work rhythm for a long time.

It’s more like a marathon than a test of speed.

This demands a perfect health, and breaks play a really important aspect in this.

The student needs to plan his activities in a way that it leaves him time to study, but also has time to rest and enjoy.

It’s important to be able to disconnect oneself from the work, to have some incentives.

There are many hours in a day, and you can do a lot of things, it’s just a matter of organization. You would be surprised with what you can do in a day if you know how to make the best of time, if you avoid absurd waste of time.

Considering that, in most classes (school, college, except in some careers like engineering, architecture, medicine, etc.), dedicating around 2 to 3 hours of study a day is enough, there are still many hours left to do other activities.

First step of studying: Understand the lesson

We shouldn’t start memorizing without having previously understood the lesson.

We don’t have things in order, we don’t have the material ready, we don’t verify that our notes are complete; we don’t know what subjects the teacher thinks are more important, we don’t have the supplies we need at hand.

We study in the wrong place, with noise, somewhere where it’s impossible to focus.

For example, we study in the living room, trying to watch a football game at the same time.

It’s better to stop and watch the game and then make up for it another time, doing the work we didn’t do.

Lack of motivation also produces a waste of time.

Studying demands effort, and we don’t always want to do it. But, since we need to do it if we want to pass our tests, then it’s worth working hard for it.

It helps to be convinced about the importance of studying, and to know the future benefit it will bring us.

Studying with apathy demands double the time than when you’re motivated.

Studying requires concentration

It’s a tiring activity, and that’s why we sometimes “study” in a more relaxed way, less intense but also less efficient.

This gives us a clear conscience, making us think that we put many hours on studying for the test, but what we really did was a waste of time.

In the end, we have to do the effort, so all we got with that “light” studying was an unnecessary use of more hours than we should have.

Many times, we waste time because we get distracted.

Without noticing, we start thinking about other things, we avoid the subject we need to study, and we completely lose focus.

Every time we get distracted, we should write down the cause (got a phone call, my mother wanted to talk to me, I went to look for my calculator, I wanted to see the sports section in the newspaper, etc.).

It’s easier to solve the causes of the distractions if we know them.

Other times, we waste time simply because we don’t know how to study:

We review the lessons we already mastered, over and over, and we forget to review other lessons we know nothing about.

It’s better to take a test having medium knowledge on everything than mastering some lessons and not knowing anything about the others.

We study uninteresting information, with an unnecessary level of detail. This information doesn’t give us much knowledge, and it’s a waste of time and effort.

We read a chapter, and we read it over and over without putting the least of effort to go deep into it (completing notes, understanding, writing diagrams, memorizing, repeating, etc.).

We study without a guide. We open the book and start memorizing from the first line, without having previously read the lesson to know what it is about and what structure it has, without having worked on it.

It’s a tiring activity, and that’s why we sometimes “study” in a more relaxed way, less intense but also less efficient.

This gives us a clear conscience, making us think that we put many hours on studying for the test, but what we really did was a waste of time.

In the end, we have to do the effort, so all we got with that “light” studying was an unnecessary use of more hours than we should have.

Many times, we waste time because we get distracted.

Without noticing, we start thinking about other things, we avoid the subject we need to study, and we completely lose focus.

Every time we get distracted, we should write down the cause (got a phone call, my mother wanted to talk to me, I went to look for my calculator, I wanted to see the sports section in the newspaper, etc.).

It’s easier to solve the causes of the distractions if we know them.

Other times, we waste time simply because we don’t know how to study:

We review the lessons we already mastered, over and over, and we forget to review other lessons we know nothing about.

It’s better to take a test having medium knowledge on everything than mastering some lessons and not knowing anything about the others.

We study uninteresting information, with an unnecessary level of detail. This information doesn’t give us much knowledge, and it’s a waste of time and effort.

We read a chapter, and we read it over and over without putting the least of effort to go deep into it (completing notes, understanding, writing diagrams, memorizing, repeating, etc.).

We study without a guide. We open the book and start memorizing from the first line, without having previously read the lesson to know what it is about and what structure it has, without having worked on it.

Stop wasting your time before studying

Time-wasting is a problem that affects practically every student.

We all waste time, but we have to try to minimize that waste.

The reason for the waste of time might be that studying is an activity that demands effort; it’s tiring, and the student can often find other alternative activities that are much more pleasurable. So, the student always keeps procrastinating and doesn’t study.

The result is always the same:

Since the student has to really learn to pass the test, he’s then forced to make up for the lost time, and sometimes it’s too late for that.

If you don’t make up for lost time, you run the risk of failing the test, and so you have to go retake the class during the summer, while all of your classmates are having fun in theirs.

When you waste time, you’ll have to dedicate 3 to 4 hours to an assignment you could have studied in a couple of hours if you had followed your study planning.

Let’s see an exaggerated example of waste of time:

Let’s think about a lesson you can have ready in a couple of hours (for example, from 5 pm to 7 pm). The student starts working late (at 6 pm).

First, he reads the lesson with the TV on, so he’s not really paying attention (he does this for an hour). Now, it’s 7 pm, and he could have finished already if he had made the best of his time.

At 7 pm, he takes a break that lasts until 8:30 pm. At that time, he decides to continue, just in time for dinner (which makes his mother mad). In the end, after arguing with his mother, he decides to continue after dinner.

Then, he notices it’s late already, and he starts getting worried, so he does some serious work (from 11 pm to 12:30 am). Now he’s tired and he doesn’t really learn. Besides, now he can’t watch the movie he really wanted to watch, and he goes to bed late, so he’ll be exhausted the next day.

Paper presentation

When you write a paper, you have to start by defining its subject. Sometimes, the teacher is the one who determines it, but other times, the student himself has to suggest it.

In this second case, choosing the subject is key, because this can help determine the work’s success or failure.

The subject can’t be excessively broad or too restrictive.

If the subject is broad, it will be too difficult to go in depth, to contribute new things, so it might just end up with the basics, and this won’t make it really interesting. Besides, there will be so much available information that it will be difficult to select some.

If the subject is too restrictive, the student can have serious trouble finding information.

The work’s subject must be somewhere in the middle. The student needs to have enough information and must be able to go in depth and provide interesting input.

You need to be informed about the planned extension of the research.

Avoid being too short or too long (it would mean you’re working too much, which might not be necessary).

It can be convenient to talk to students in higher grades, in order to know what kind of papers the teacher likes best.

If it’s possible, it would be interesting to look at some of the papers from previous years.

The student should start to look for information:

For a school or college paper, it’s usually enough to consult at least 3 to 4 specialized books.

For other longer papers (theses, dissertations, etc.), the list of consulted bibliography must be much longer. You also need to do research online, in newspapers and specialized magazines.

You take all of this material, extract ideas, opinions, theories, etc., and then use them as the base to determine the thesis to be used, and the point of view to be developed.

Then, you outline the work’s structure:

 

For example: there’s a first introductory part; then, there are three parts where you express your main ideas; these parts are divided in sub-parts where you go deep into specific aspects; finally, there’s a part for conclusions.

 

Once you’ve determined the structure, the ideas and concepts you’ll deal with in each part, you start redacting the paper, expressing the ideas with your own words, using explanations, hypotheses, examples, etc.

It’s preferable to do the whole work at once even if it’s just a draft. Then, you go over it several times in order to complete it and improve it.

You shouldn’t copy literal parts from the consulted sources, unless they’re in quotes and you mention the author.

Probably, the most important part of the work is in the conclusions.

It’s not about writing a small summary of the paper, but rather about highlighting the main ideas and the arguments supporting them.

They must be thorough ideas, with a certain dose of originality, but with discretion (we can’t present crazy theses).

All papers need to have an index in the second page, because this lets you know the structure of the paper, and it says in what page you can find everything.

The student can include an annex where he goes in depth in some of the aspects that haven’t been included in the main body of the paper, either because of how long they are or because of their level of detail. This information can also be added as footnotes.

Lastly, the student should include a bibliography at the end of the paper, and mention all the consulted sources.

These sources must really have been consulted, because it can’t just be a big list of books that the student obviously didn’t use (the student would then lose credibility in the eyes of the teacher).

This list goes in alphabetical order according to the author’s name.

In a written paper, both the information and the form are important.

You need to work hard in your redaction, the construction of phrases, grammar and style.

You can’t have even a single misspelling.

You also need to keep aesthetics in mind: use bolds, outlines and cursives, margins, periods (don’t write endless paragraphs), presentation, etc.

Other recommendations for study preparation

If it’s a written test:

– Read all the questions.
– Mark those questions you feel you are more prepared for.
– Always be aware of the time you have and the order in which you’ll answer the questions.
– Think about what you’ll answer.
– Express your ideas logically and coherently.
– Write clearly and keep things clean.
– Answer the largest amount of questions that you can.
– Don’t take too long to try and answer something you don’t know; move on to the next question
– If you have extra time, check your answers.

If it’s an oral exam:

– Understand what’s being asked.
– Think about what you’ll answer and structure your answer.
– Speak slowly and clearly.
– Think logically and coherently, supporting your answers.

Preparation for taking an exam

The guarantee for success and good grades is in following a good study procedure, having good habits and a correct method. Forgetting to study and hoping you’ll be lucky enough to pass is really risky, because this can cause you problems.

The level of tension must be adequate to motivate you to do well on tests. If tension is too low, the result is apathy toward both the preparation for the exam and taking the exam itself. On the contrary, if there’s too much tension, it can overwhelm us, making us lose control of ourselves, and making us feel less confident about what we learned; it can block us, and that might stop us from doing the exercise correctly.

As we’ve said before, breaks are really important for studying, especially when we are studying for an exam, because we’re trying to reach a goal, and we should be in good mental and physical shape.

The night before the exam should be calm, with similar activities and schedules as the other days. You need to prepare the necessary supplies for the following day, which will help you avoid rushing and forgetting things because of nervousness before the exam. According to how much time you have, and your mood, you might want to do a normal review or to relax completely. However, there are no set rules: every student faces situations in their own way. What we can say, in general, is that it’s not good to go on last-minute “binges”, because this doesn’t guarantee success.

Lastly, it’s good to rest enough at night, in order to have a fresh mind and to feel completely awake during the exam.

HOW TO LEARN A SUBJECT OR LESSON

  • Quick reading of the subject to see what it is about.
  • Slow reading, outlining key ideas (un-linking the essential parts from the extra parts).
  • Diagram or summary of the most important ideas, relating them to each other, forming conceptual networks and determining their causes, consequences and conclusions.
  • Content learning (diagrams or summary), whether it is by reading them several times, saying them aloud as if they were being explained to someone else, reviewing them in a different order or using extravagant images.

Mnemonic rules.

 

These resources can be really useful to help you remember, and they can be interesting when:

 

– You can’t establish logical relationships, for example: lists of words, numbers, dates, etc.

 

– In high-anxiety situations, if you get too nervous and feel blocked.

 

– If you’re short of time (but this last thing shouldn’t happen if you do a good planning)

 

► Examples.

 

  1. Acrostics: they consist on constructing words from initial letters or syllables in a list of words you want to learn. You can also use the first syllable in every word of the list.

 

Ex.: learn this list of names: Bartolomé Díaz, Vasco de Gama, Colón, Ponce de León, Magallanes, Elcano.

You could remember it with the following acrostic: BARVASCOPONMAEL.

 

  1. Comic strips: it consists on creating a comic strip with the information to memorize.

 

  1. 3. Rhyme, verses: it consists on looking for a rhyme for the information you have to remember, because this will make it easier.

Summary example

Summary of a text:

The 365-day calendar was an Egyptian invention. Reason: to control the cycle of crops. Sirius appeared in Canis Major in the New Year (July 18). They counted 365 days until the celestial body appeared again. Every four years, one more day.

Example. Outline and write a summary:

“According to research published in 1992, over 50% of Spain’s surface is affected by erosion; this situation is serious or very serious in 18% of the land, which is 9,360,000 hectares (one hectare = 10.000 m²). This could mean, according to I.C.O.N.A., an annual loss of 30,000 million pesetas…

Strong rain, which takes place every 20 or 30 years, can produce in a single hour, degradation equivalent to 100 years of normal erosive action…

In the last 50 years, the great majority of the natural coastal surface in Galicia has been substituted by Eucalyptus trees, a species that burns easily and that covers 200,000 hectares.

According to a report from Madrid’s Autonomous University for the European Union, published in 1990, Eucalyptus plantations are not only negative from a natural point of view (they dry up wet soil, increase erosion, and eliminate micro-fauna responsible for organic material production), but they are also economically negative, because they generate fewer jobs than agricultural exploitation and traditional cattle breeders.

Desertification is linked to the erosion process. Once the vegetation is gone, the soil loses its fertile layer, making water absorption more difficult, and increasing surface run-off and evaporation, making the soil even more sterile.”