Self-Study: What To Do When A Group Won’t Do
Self-study was always my preferred way to go when I was trudging through academia, first in high school and then in college. While later in life I could see the value of study groups — more in the professional arena, though — entrusting my understanding of something to a group of five wherein two or three were invariably knuckleheads didn’t sit well. But if you do get more out of group studies, more power to you. Still, it’s important to know how you can “go solo” because life circumstances won’t always allow a helping hand. Here are some of the best self-study tips I’ve been able to round up. Some are my own. Some come from other sources. Each external source will link to somewhere else, where you might be able to find even more self-study tips. Let’s get started.
1. Study in short, frequent sessions.
This one comes to us by way of IvyWise.com, and it says that instead of “treating your study session like a marathon, break up your material by topic into a series of short sessions, separated by short breaks. That way, you won’t be staring at your books or computer for too long while wearing on your focus, and your brain can absorb the material more easily. While cramming may seem like a great way to cover a lot of material in a condensed amount of time, studying in short, frequent sessions is a more effective way to learn subject matter and self-study.”
I can attest that this one is true from personal experience as well. When you’re engaged in a long, seemingly endless study session, you’re never quite sure what you’ve retained and what has seeped out of your head shortly after entering. By breaking up sessions, you can also see progress in the form of accomplishing smaller, actionable goals.
2. Throw in physical activity for good measure.
This tip has helped me in so many ways professionally because my job mostly consists of long stretches of time in front of a computer day-in, day-out. Not only is it tolling on the eyes, but the time spent sitting can be detrimental to my health. That’s why I don’t feel it’s enough to study (or in my case work) for 20 minutes and then take a break by surfing a website or doing some other form of activity that requires little movement. Instead of getting caught up in the distractions and the dangers of the sedentary lifestyle, I will actually leave my computer during breaks and go for a walk. Using step trackers like the Breeze App is a highly effective way of focusing on your physical health and that activity will stimulate brain functions and critical thinking skills — essential when you return to the study table.
3. Set regular study times.
Just like your job requires you to work a set schedule a week or two or even a month in advance, you should have both short-term and long-term study plans. According to PickTheBrain.com, you should consider making these study times at regular times, so it becomes routine and you don’t have to think about how to get started. More from the website: “Set periods of time that you will spend studying each day. Once you spend a month reinforcing these learning periods, it will become automatic. Regular studying times prevent the need for cramming and can give you consistency in your schedule.”
4. Observe the Natural Learning Sequence.
This tip comes from SoundFeelings.com, and it’s a good one. I’ll let them explain: “Think of the activities you did when you were in nursery school. Using your whole arm, you probably performed the song that goes: ‘Put your right hand in, Put your right hand out.’ Then, in kindergarten, using your hand, you might have been asked to draw lines or circles with crayons. Later, in first grade, now holding the pencil with your fingers, you drew smaller lines and circles to create letters. Believe it or not, this natural learning sequence, moving from large to small, coarse to fine, still remains effective even though we are now older. When you study, if you try first to grasp the big picture and then fill in the details, you often have a more likely chance of success.”
Couldn’t agree more. Without some idea of the endpoint, how do you know the directions that you’re supposed to be going?
5. Make your own study guide.
Sometimes the tasks are not going to be clearly laid out for you. You may have to do a fair bit of decoding before being able to completely make sense of the goal. Instead of getting frustrated, act like you’re the teacher. How would you explain this to someone else if you had to at gunpoint? Making your own study guide or teaching plan can do two things: 1) It can help you realize what you do know, thus making that information more easily internalized; and 2) It can call attention to what you DON’T know, so you will be able to more easily figure out what needs your focus. Minding the gaps in your knowledge is a natural result of creating your own study guide, and I highly recommend it to anyone into self-study, regardless of what topic you’re taking on.
6. Endgame simulation.
Think about the purpose for which you are studying. What is the endgame? What does your final outcome have to be, and how will you be tested? This method of self-study is good for everyone from ACT to LSAT test-takers because it requires you to remove yourself from friends and family, enter an environment that will be similar to what you’ll experience on the day of the actual test, and, last but not least, to work through the test at the same pace and according to the same rigors. I call it endgame simulation, and while it best applies to those of you prepping for a standardized or professional exam, it can also be useful in the classroom if you have some idea of your teacher’s expectations. The more authentic of an experience that you can give yourself leading up to the endgame, the better your final outcome will be.
The bad thing about self-study is that you could find yourself on your own; but the good thing about it is that it puts control of your future in your hands and no one else’s. What are some self-study tips that have helped you? Share in the comments section.
[Image via TheAsianParent]