6 Active Listening Drills To Improve Your Testing Skills
Hearing and listening, as you’re probably aware, are two different things. Your teachers have said that to you a million times — at least mine did. What they mean when they inevitably say those words is that your head is nodding, your eyes are on them, and sounds have probably entered your ears, or at least hovered like a couple of pollinating bees around them, but the meat of the information isn’t getting through. Now grant it, some teachers aren’t that good at making information and learning sound exciting, but what separates the good students from the bad, is the ability to actively listen.
If we had to administer a single definition to the term “active listening,” it would probably go something like this:
The ability to listen and make sense out of a person, information, or a learning concept, even when said material should bore you to tears.
You’ve got to be able to do it, regardless of the quality of instruction or the difficulty of the subject. Here are six ways to make sure you get there.
Make Eye Contact, And Keep It
This is easier to do when you’re dealing with a teacher or some other person, but on a test — particularly a standardized test where they try to trick you with the phrasing of questions and answer selections — it’s more difficult. You’d be surprised, however, at just how much making eye contact will improve your understanding. Locking eyes with another person’s or simply with the individual words on the page, creates a foundation for connection, and that’s something you can build upon. While it’s not the only answer, as you’re about to find out, it certainly goes a long way.
Eliminate Outside Distractions
Outside distractions can quickly derail the best of intentions when it comes to learning anything. Of course, in a testing environment, the rules of the test and the proctor pretty much take care of that for you, but it’s still a valuable skill to have. After all, you do have to study for the test by watching online videos, attending prep classes, or engaging with a study guide on your own time. The problem is that “on your own time” thing. Not sure about you, but when I was coming up, I had a million things I’d rather be doing than reading over materials or making my brain hurt from all the thinking going around. And I didn’t even have a smartphone or online social networking to worry about, so you’ve got it way worse than we did in the Old Days of dial-up Internet!
Those little cursory nods and murmurs that you dish out when a teacher or friend is trying to tell you something are more important than you realize. When integrated with the eye contact and the elimination of distractions, they help keep you connected to what’s going on. While they don’t do much good when you’re on the phone or focused on something else, they get you involved and lead to greater levels of involvement and response as the communication continues. From a testing vantage point, being responsive means that you’re constantly trying to engage with the material. Asking yourself questions, making connections, and jotting notes as you work through a problem are all positive ways you can “communicate” with a test or test preparation materials.
Block Out Internal Distractions
External distractions aren’t easy to get rid of when they’re right there in front of you, but you can at least take steps to make sure that you’re not sharing the same space with them. When it comes to internal distractions, however, it’s another story altogether. Where do you go to get away from the thoughts that are in your head? Luckily, there are things that you can do to help push these disruptions from your head.
Two things that have worked well for me: setting aside blocks of time that are wholly reserved for work, then using a timer to make sure that I complete the challenge. Generally, sitting — as you often do when studying — is bad if done for too long without any breaks in between. A 40-minute work, 20-minute standing-and-moving option is best if at all possible. Use your phone. Set the timer. Be rigid about it. Stand up immediately as the alarm goes off, and then sit down again when your 15 or 20 minutes are up. If you’re testing, then the time scheduling shouldn’t be a problem. If you’re not, you may want to consider adding some ambient music played at a low enough volume not to be distracting. Secondly, preparing to work by listening to relaxation audio and self-hypnosis can be a great helper. I’m certainly not one to think that hypnotism can work on me in the traditional sense, but the soothing voice of a trained hypnotist and a little quiet time laying flat on the couch, can put you in a perfect state for work, allowing all those worries to melt away before you tackle a big project.
Open Your Mind Until The Communication Is Over
When some people hear something they don’t like or something that disrupts their understanding of what they know to be true about a situation, they immediately freeze on the disruption and refuse to go any further. This is not active listening. What has happened is, the mind shuts down because going any further would be breaking new ground (or offensive to what one had previously held to be true), and that’s a scary journey. So keep that mind open and free to think. And in our experience, the only way to do that is to…
Know going in that you may learn new things about a subject or hear something with which you may not necessarily agree. That’s normal. Warn yourself ahead of time that the best way to understand where something is going is to stay with it until it gets there. Do that, and your active listening will be much better than it ever was before.
[Image via Basic-Counseling-Skills.com]