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The Secret to Studying Success

I was talking to one of my students today about how to study for one of his classes. His Spanish teacher has him memorizing vocabulary by writing out the Spanish word and English definition 5 times each. That is it: 5 times. Honestly, even if he wrote them 10 times each, there would still be better ways to study for his quizzes. Students waste a lot of time and energy inefficiently studying for their classes. In the end, they become discouraged because they look at all of the effort they put into the process only to see mediocre results. Learning how to study for something is possibly the most important task with which a tutor can help. The great thing is that improving this one skill set will help in every academic area.

There is a trick to studying. Well maybe trick is a bit of a misleading term, as it is likely only a trick to those who have not yet discovered it. The secret ingredient to a successful academic career is processing the information. The human brain operates like a computer in many ways. However, unlike a computer its storage abilities can be interfered with, disrupted, or even left to waste away. When I say that the trick is processing the information, I mean that the trick is actively thinking about the fact or concept, re-explaining it in your own words, and then testing yourself on that knowledge. My student was not actively thinking about the Spanish verb "saber" and its English translation "to know." In fact his brain was likely on autopilot as he scribbled these words down next to each other. Sure you could argue that he was processing this knowledge, but only on the most basic level. Real memories are created when something is processed deeply, so that it makes an indelible impression on you. Make no mistake, much of learning is about making powerful memories.

I work with all of my students with this model of deep processing in mind. We take time to understand information and material at the conceptual level when appropriate, and when it is time to study for exams and tests, we re-word the information so that we have to think about it deeply and really understand it. Finally, in order to make sure the memory pathway is complete and stable, we create study guides and flash cards for review. This is the secret to studying, and it has been the secret to my academic success to date.

In the end, it makes sense that you would have to think in order to learn.

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