These days everyone wants a quick fix, something to help take a ‘short cut’; probably thanks to our microwave society and fast-paced world. And it’s no different for studies. Actually, I personally think it’s even more prevalent in the studying arena, especially for students who are not really keen on the whole idea. But let me let you in on a little secret. There is no quick fix and definitely no short cut. The key to successful studying is good old fashioned hard work and understanding. Yes, you read that right. Hard work and understanding.
We need to understand that studying should not be for ‘vomiting’ information on a paper and then hoping for a pass. The true aim of studying is actually for understanding. Why gain information if you don’t understand it, or understand how the information fits into the bigger picture of the subject concerned? Yes, you may hate the subject, but there is still value in the studying material.
Time for me to get off my soapbox!
I have a confession to make. The heading of this blog is wrong – on purpose. It should really read ‘The 7 step MASN study ROUTINE’. But who wants to read about routine, right? Now you can understand why I didn’t include it in the title. Otherwise, you probably would have never taken a second glance at this blog. Sneaky.
So now that I have your attention (hopefully), let’s explore this 7 step routine.
Firstly, why routine? Well, one of the MASN philosophies is that studying is done one bite at a time, just like eating an elephant. And just how is this done? Through daily summarising, and this needs to ultimately become routine. As work is done in class or the lecture room, so it should be summarised later in the day. Thankfully it’s not a long process, especially once you’ve become accustomed to doing it. And it’s done through the following 7 steps:
- Good mindset
- Analytical Thinking
- Double Checking
- Good mindset: This is probably the most important part of studying. If you go in with a negative attitude, and a closed mind-set, you have a very good chance of not achieving your goals. You are telling your brain that it’s incapable of doing better and that you won’t improve your current marks. The experience will be frustrating and counterproductive. However, if you go in with a positive, high energy attitude and a growth mindset, you will achieve more than you anticipated. The growth mindset says one’s capabilities (including intellectual capability) can be developed and improved through hard work and dedication. This mindset creates a love of learning and develops resilience.
- Understanding: This is divided into ‘two’ phases. Phase one would be when you first hear or read the information, namely in class or at lectures. Phase two is after the class or lecture when you are going over the work covered. In both instances, it is important to be attentive, present and in so doing, obtain understanding. Daydreaming and mentally wondering off is counterproductive and will only set you back in time and effort. Questions to ask would include‘Am I understanding the information that I need to study?’, ‘Did I get it successfully?’ and ‘Do I need to ask any questions to have a clearer understanding?’. Now I’m not only talking about the lesson/lecture or the textbook. I’m also talking about your attitude regarding understanding the information. Are you interested in what is being taught, even if it is one of your not so favourite subjects? Are you paying attention? Are you thinking about what is being said, or what you are reading? This is relevant for both ‘phase one’ and ‘phase two’.
- Analytical thinking (questioning): Analytical thinking can happen throughout ‘phase one’ but it is more prominent in ‘phase two’. The reason is that there is now time to actually stop and think about what was learnt that day, and time to pull it apart and put it back together again if necessary. This is a time for reflection, asking questions and answering them. By answering your own questions you’re able to assess whether or not you truly understand what was learnt. Now how do you practice this focussed, analytical thinking? By reading over the material or notes from the day, but only in small chunks. Only 1 to 3 sentences maximum at a time. Read it for understanding, not for reading sake. Engage as many of your senses while doing this. Read it out loud. Read with a guide, like your finger or a pencil, but not a ruler – your eyes need to see what’s coming next. Draw circles around keywords or highlight them. Look for concepts and relevant information. Get involved and active with your studies. The more you engage your body in your studies, the more active you become in forming neural connections in your brain (brain highways).
- Summarising: Summarising is a vital stage in the studying routine because it cements your understanding of the work that has been covered. Summarising allows you to write down the key concepts focused on in the analytical or questioning phase of your study routine. The visual aspect of summarising is also a vital component in memory formation. Summarising, in the form of mind mapping particularly, helps the brain to process and take in the facts of the subject being studied by having the big picture and the details of the subject in one place. This helps consolidate memory pathways in the brain. Summarising can be done through many methods, namely mind maps, lists, diagrams, short paragraphs etc. It can be done with colour or just plain black pen. It is totally up to you to choose the method that you are most comfortable with, but don’t settle on a method until you’ve at least explored a variety of methods. Another benefit of summarising is that you are able to go to a teacher, a parent or a lecturer and ask if you have ‘missed’ anything. It gives perspective to what you have understood, or potentially even misunderstood.
- Double-checking: To double-check means to evaluate, to assess, and to see if what you have summarised is accurate and correct. Once again, this step helps to reinforce memory regarding the work you have just covered in both the summarising and analytical steps of this routine. It is a simple step really. Go through your summary notes and make sure that it is easy to understand and that it makes sense. Is the information put down clearly, in a logical and structured way? Check that you are happy with the information that has been included. Make sure that there is no ‘fluff’ (irrelevant information) and the information is presented in a logical and structured way. Does it flow? And is the content memorable? You can make it more memorable by adding colour, pictures and symbols. At this stage, you should feel confident that if you come back to these summary notes in a week or even a month’s time, you would understand what you had put down and that you would be able to recall the majority of the information.
- Explaining: The second last step is to explain what you have summarised. In this step, you get to be the teacher. Take a little bit of time to reteach someone, or something, what you have just learnt; like a parent, the dog, the person in the mirror or even a plant. Remember that you cannot teach something that you don’t understand. This will again help you to see where you might be stuck. Teach it in a way that you would have liked it to have been taught to you. If you get stuck at a certain point, then you would need to go back over that section to cement it in your memory. By teaching you are using multiple senses, namely speaking, hearing, and reading. Using these together helps to strengthen the neural pathways and long term memory formation. You may feel silly doing this and that’s ok; do it anyway!
- Sleep: And the final step is probably everyone’s favourite – sleep! Yes, believe it or not, regular and consistent sleep is vital for memory building and studying. During sleep, memory is consolidated, sorted and stored into long term memory. There have been numerous studies proving that sleep is a key component in successful memory creation, eg(https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/ulterior-motives/201611/how-sleep-enhances-studying) Now we all know that cramming and ‘burning the midnight oil’ is often synonymous with studying, especially towards tertiary education, but it really should be avoided at all costs. It’s actually counterproductive and detrimental to memory building. Try to ensure that you go to bed consistently at the same time and for the same length of time each day. In today’s fast and crazy pace, this is not always possible, but it is worth aiming for.
This routine may seem daunting, and after reading it you may feel that it will take an age to do for each subject and every day? No ways! Let me tell you, at first it will seem unnatural and just not the norm, but be assured that the more it is done, the more it will become second nature. It’s a habit that needs to be developed, and as with each habit, the more you repeat it, the easier it becomes. The good news is that you will find each step flows naturally into the next step, and some steps even begin to intermingle with the step before, and the step after. This is good news when this does happen, because your brain is training itself to be attentive, to evaluate and to pull facts and concepts from the fluff.
The key to this whole routine hinges on the 3 D’s of studying. Desire.Determination.Discipline. Having a desire to do well and achieve your goals. Being determined to achieve your goals even when obstacles get in the way. And being disciplined to carry on when you don’t feel like it.
Getting into the routine of doing daily summarising may be difficult at first, but keep at it because the results will be worth it.
You are capable, and you can do it!