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No one likes to mess up, but going to great lengths to avoid errors - even when the consequences of making an error are benign - is unlikely to help you learn. In fact, in her review of the literature, Janet Metcalfe makes a compelling argument that making errors while learning - so long as you receive corrective feedback - results in better outcomes than making no errors at all. Her findings are somewhat counterintuitive. If the goal is to perform flawlessly in high-stakes situations, shouldn't we pursue perfection in order to prepare for them? Early theorists feared that the commission of errors would make it harder to learn the correct response later on. One of the most famous psychologists of the 20th century, Albert Bandura, believed that only correct responses should be rewarded; errors, if they occurred, should be ignored. However, what Metcalfe's review of the literature suggests is that errors should be encouraged as part of an active exploratory learning process,... read more

We all know we do better when we're well-rested than when we're not. Modern sleep research has started to uncover exactly why that's the case. In terms of memory, there are at least two important reasons to make sure you're getting enough sleep. First, we better remember what we learned the day before. This is because sleep plays an essential role in the conversion of short-term memory to long-term memory. Short-term memory relies heavily on a brain region known as the hippocampus (named after the Greek word for seahorse, given its shape), while long-term memory relies on a broad network of cortical association areas. When we learn new information, the hippocampus is very active, and when we sleep, it turns out that the activity of our hippocampus predicts how well we will remember what we learned when we wake up. Researchers have even found interesting ways to manipulate and improve this process. For example, in one study, experimenters paired the scent of a rose with a spatial... read more

The Importance of Study Skills Study, as defined by Oxford Dictionaries, is the “devotion of time and attention to acquiring knowledge on an academic subject, especially by means of books; a detailed investigation and analysis of a subject or situation.” Merriam-Webster defines study as an “application of the mental faculties to the acquisition of knowledge”. My personal definition is a combination of both. To study is to devote time and energy/attention to gain an understanding and knowledge of a subject. Study skills, therefore, are the set of strategies that are used to adequately acquire and gain knowledge about a chosen topic or subject. When we possess these skills or strategies, we are able to increase the efficiency of learning. We are also able to increase the likelihood that what we are to be learning is retained in our long term memory for future use. Which brings us to the definition of learning. Learning is a lifelong skill, that when successful and... read more

When I worked for Kaplan, they required all private tutoring lessons to be two hours. That surprised me because I thought of lessons as one-hour affairs. However, I soon discovered that we could get through a lot more in one two-hour lesson than we could in two one-hour lessons.  Why? For starters, each lesson always starts with a few pleasantries and takes a couple of minutes to get going. Furthermore, it usually takes 15 minutes or so for students' minds to warm up and perform at their best. So by the time we are at our best flow, if the lesson is only one hour, we have often used a quarter to a third of our lesson time.  In my experience, I've found that 90 minutes works well for many students. With 90 minute lessons, we can go through the warm up period and spend more than an hour at our most productive level. An hour is generally too short and delivers less value per dollar than a longer lesson.  Exceptionally motivated students can often... read more

As we get closer and closer to the end of the academic year, a lot of math students will be studying for exams.  Some of these tests are comprehensive exams that cover everything from day one to the day before the test.  I believe that as tutors, we need to help those we teach with ditching old, faulty study habits in favor of successful, incremental approaches.   What is the biggest bad study habit you might ask? Cramming...   Cramming, at best, will help students remember the material the day of the test and promptly forget it the next or, at worst, actually degrade their academic performance.     Researchers at UCLA have found that excessive "cramming" actually makes students perform worse on average than those who adopted daily study habits.  This was published in the Journal of Child Development in 2012.  In another study conducted by Time.com in 2011, the average student who crammed for the exam only passed... read more

Our understanding of the relationship between memory and learning continues to improve. Why not benefit from the latest research by incorporating some of these findings into your own study habits? I help my students come up with creative ways to do this all the time, and wanted to share one of the more helpful summaries I've come across about what works and what doesn't.    Here are a few highlights: Link new information to things you already know Actively participate in your own learning Create both a visual and a verbal memory for the same information Whenever possible, study in an environment that is similar to the testing environment Spread studying out over several days, rather than cramming Avoid multitasking when learning difficult or dense material Review information you're trying to memorize right before you go to sleep Quiz yourself frequently to practice retrieving these memories, making them stronger in the process   You... read more

I started my Physics course this Summer telling my students they are not allowed to say "I don't know," unless they can't read, listen to a recording, watch a video, or ask a question of someone more knowledgeable. When I was in school we did not have access to information like students do today.  In my humble opinion, students need to bulk up on two things like body builders do using supplements. What are those two things students need to bulk up with? Asking quality questions and learning how they learn.  Take for example, Google is an awesome resource, but if you ask the wrong question or use terms inappropriately, you will not get the answer you seek. Ask a bad question one gets a bad answer. Ask a wrong question one gets a wrong answer. Ask an incomplete question one may very well get an incomplete answer. Its that simple. Quality of questions is paramount and good questions come from meticulous vocabulary management. Therefore, students must become... read more

I published this article on my blog and I believe that it will help students, tutors and parents alike so I decided to re-blog here.  Time management is such an important skill! The article published by University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension entitled “Thirteen Timely Tips for More Effective Time Management” proved to be very beneficial as well as the Time Management Quiz. They highlight the importance of prioritizing, goal setting and eliminating distractions. I found five time management tools that can help us achieve our goals. StayFocusd – This is a Google Chrome extension that blocks you from going to time-wasting sites. It works like a timer, and asks you to set the maximum time you want to waste on your customized time-killer sites before they’re blocked. This tool would be perfect for parents to use with students who go to school online. It would help them to keep their kids on track and not chatting on twitter or posting photos on Instagram. This tool... read more

Here is a study tip for all you science students.     Go to the library and find all the textbooks you can on your given subject - especially for Organic Chemistry.  Since I am referencing Organic, I will use the subject as an example.   When I was in first semester Organic Chemistry, there was an Emeritus Professor who left the department.  He was a great teacher, but more than that, he was a mentor and a friend to many of the undergraduate students.  When he left, his office still had all of his books in it and come to find out, he left all the books to the department.     There were only a handful of students who went to collect books and see if we wanted any of them.  I found a page labeled with the semester, year and exam number next to a problem.  That gave me the idea that there are books with old exam questions.   So, I not only took all the books that I could to practice the problems... read more

As a college student with a difficult major and two minors, my timetable is my best friend.  It's not an exaggeration when I say that I live and breathe by it.  I don't schedule anything without looking at it, and if anyone (friend, professor, boss, etc.) asks me, "Do you have free time at [X]?", I just email them a copy of it.   If you don't have a timetable, then that might be why you can't seem to manage your time properly.  And I don't just have my classes scheduled.  Every single thing I ever have to do is logged in it.  This includes, but isn't limited to :   Classes Work study Work (outside of work study, like here!) Meal times Homework times (further divided up by class) Tutoring appointments (for me and my classes) Extracurriculars (the number of which has shrunk as my college career has gone on) Cleaning the apartment Me time (because who can live without down time?) Sleep time Now,... read more

The most requested tutoring subject is MATH! Many students struggle with math (algebra, geometry, calculus) because there is no easy way to learn it. It is nice to have someone to break it down for you and talk you through your problems. But, what happens when you do not have your tutor next to you?!?!   PANIC?! OF COURSE NOT!   Although it is my duty for you to have a firm grasp on the math concepts, I may not always be there when you need me (of course, I will always try =)). What I used as a math student and what I use as a math tutor is a study "cheat-sheet" guide. I would make my own cheat sheets that broke down steps and had formulas with explanations of what each variable meant. This was a HUGE HELP when learning new concepts or having to remember old concepts for a final exam.   As you continue to learn new concepts, you add it to your cheat sheet. These should be very short blurbs like a formula or a short example of the problem... read more

I use a varied approach to learning math, from the fundamental algebraic basics, to the complex procedures of calculus. I use songs and cheers to remember rules. None of us have much trouble remembering songs from the radio. Why not apply that innate strength to math?  I also try to find ways to incorporate physical movement. An algebra student and I might, for example, walk in different directions, dropping place markers to better understand graphing. (This can be even more fun if you have square tiles somewhere in your house or study location.) I'm dyslexic, which I view as a strength. Because I'm dyslexic, it can be hard for me to remember new things from reading. As a result, I am quite fond of color coding to facilitate synthesizing new information. I use color coding with my students in higher levels of mathematics to help them track where certain terms are going in a multi-step procedure. With students who struggle with stamina in studying, I like to... read more

If you couldn't tell from the title, I'm really excited about this one study technique. I wish I had started it in high school, when my dad was hounding me abut it, but I waited until college. Once I started using this technique, I was so shocked at how little I needed to study before a test I actually had time to do fun things during midterms and final seasons while my other friends spent the day (and night) cramming. And the best part, it took me less than 15 mins (and I mean it - I timed myself). And without further ado, your study technique: I'm supposing your going to class and taking notes. So, let's go through the week and implement this study habit. Monday: read over all your notes slowly. Not like, turtle slow, but try to think of why you wrote that note and what your teacher was commenting on or what you noticed that made this note important. Do this for all your subjects (if you're in high school, and you're taking 7 classes, this may take you 20-35... read more

Colleges and professional schools want candidates with a well-rounded resume. This means that as students, you have to balance demanding coursework with sports, internships, volunteer service, and most importantly, also find down time to enjoy with friends and family!   Efficient study techniques will help you juggle all this quite well.    Some tips:   Don't record lectures to spend extra hours listening to the same lecture later. Save study time outside of class and learn within class time. Take good notes during lecture! Note topics the instructor spends time on, important keywords, terminology.    When given an assignment, complete it in advance and run it by the instructor a few days before it's due. This will ensure full credit because his feedback will tell you exactly what he wants out of the assignment. You're going to do the assignment anyways, just plan ahead and make time for it early on. Do not procrastinate... read more

Do you find yourself putting in lots of study but still falling shy of your learning goals? Do you find yourself blanking on tests for which you have studied for hours the night before? Maybe you are a senior in college and need a simple encouragement for good academic performance. Whatever your situation, if you are trying to learn well, these lifestyle suggestions are definitely worth integrating into your daily routine.   Nutrition Give your body the nourishment it needs. Make healthy eating part of your daily routine, being sure to follow guidelines set by accredited nutritionists. It may seem a bit odd, but from a biological point of view, for learning to occur the body must be nourished so that the proper state of mind can be maintained. The more vivid example of this is the familiar hunger during study sessions that prevent full attention to be given to the subject matter. More subtle forms of this phenomenon include forgetfulness, difficulty relating new information... read more

Sure, we have all heard our math teachers say "Study for your test tomorrow." While we can all agree the importance of studying and getting prepared for an exam, not many math teachers actually tell you HOW to study. I am sure we have all spent time making flash cards, staring at our notes, or watching last minute videos on youtube, only to realize the test results often don't correlate to our effort. Before long, these upsetting experiences and test results created a scar in our minds, that statement we have all heard before: I am just not good at math.   The truth of the matter is, many people who have expressed their inability to understand and perform well on mathematics simply don't know how to study for a math exam. After all, those negative signs and multiple choice questions are often so tricky, even though you calculated every step correctly until the very end, all it took was one single mindless error that can well ruin the entire result. If we closely... read more

There are two basic levels of study skills with which I attempt to help people. The first is what we might call basic or rudimentary skills. These have to do with establishing good habits that lead to successful study. The latter is more advanced and has to do with conducting research, discerning the authenticity and value of sources, and so on. The purpose of this article is to provide basic advice to those struggling with basic study habits.   Difficulties with basic study habits are usually rooted in a lack of understanding of the subject being studied -- leading to frustration -- and general distractions. If you are having trouble progressing in your studies consider trying the following:   Study at the Same Time Every Day Find a time of the day when you typically feel calm and there aren't a lot of interruptions. Make that your routine study or self-improvement time. With practice, this will condition your mind to go into "study mode"... read more

Study Skills 2: Illusions of Learning You can call it organized self-deception. It starts with a brilliant idea like: 'Next time I'll visit my German cousin, I'll talk to her only in German“, or „I want to be able to quote Johann Wolfgang von Goethe at every suitable moment“. The venture ends soon after the idea takes place with buying the best and fanciest Learning German Book or the complete works of Goethe---the one with the gold rim. It looks good on your bookshelf and soon it is covered with dust. Or maybe, you are a little bit more forward: you always take the book with you, you fight the dust, you spend a lot of time with it. However, there comes the day when your cousin starts to babble about the latest news in German and you beg her to switch to English, or your friend negates all your requests and you try hard to remember the famous Mephistopheles quote, but to no avail (“I am the spirit that negates”). That is when you realize that you fooled yourself about your... read more

Study Skills Part 1: Fighting Procrastination It is always the same: You just think about the German vocabulary you have to learn, or about the historical dates you should know---and hey, presto, you find yourself checking E-mails, updating your Facebook site, or cleaning the windows to perfection like you have never done before. There is a word for this phenomenon: procrastination. Although this isn't per se a bad habit, it can be very annoying in quite different areas of your life. You know what? I just did it. I planned to publish this blog post last week. At first, it felt very rewarding to clean the windows instead of working to finish and present the post. However, it was not sustainable. „When we procrastinate, we know we are acting against our own best interests.“ (Steel [2010], p. 3) There is no doubt the long term effect of procrastination is just nasty. You are waiting for the good news? Here it is. It's easy to fix. You will become the master of... read more

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