Study For Success: Do’s and Don’ts

If you’re wanting to give your grades a boost or ensure that the information you’re studying actually gets learned rather than being forgotten the instant you leave the exam room, you’re in the right place. Here are some methods to ditch, and some to adopt to perform to your potential.

Whatever level you’re at with your education, you want to be putting your best foot forward when it comes to studying. Unfortunately, research has shown that the most commonly used and popular methods of study are actually relatively ineffective for your learning and remembering. Lesser known are the successful, proven methods that actually work.

If you’re wanting to give your grades a boost or ensure that the information you’re studying actually gets learned rather than being forgotten the instant you leave the exam room, you’re in the right place. Here are some methods to ditch, and some to adopt to perform to your potential.

 

Common Mistakes:

Learning Styles:

There is a commonly believed and promoted myth that studying in accordance with ones preferred mode of learning is the most effective study strategy. This is the myth of ‘learning styles.’ Just because it’s plausible, doesn’t mean it’s true. The vast majority of individuals do not fit perfectly into tidy boxes, we are more complex than that. As with most things, we all lie somewhere on a spectrum, not entirely one thing, and not quite another, often somewhere in between.

In one study, students who were instructed to use their self-prescribed learning style to study either performed equally as well as, or worse, than the control group who studied without this instruction. Moral of the story: don’t confine yourself to a ‘learning style’ when there are more successful and evidence backed methods out there.

Highlighting:

Highlighting is a trusty go-to for most students. It’s easy to do, makes you feel like you’re actively engaging with material, and adds some aesthetic points to your notes. It seems like a win-win, but unfortunately, it’s basically useless, (sorry). Highlighting has been shown to have no impact on learning. Basically, studying with highlighting does nothing to improve your performance, so you’d be better off-putting your effort into a study method that’s actually going to do you some good.

The issue that’s been found with highlighting is that it tends to be misused. It can be an effective method if used properly, because highlighted information stands out more than unhighlighted text, helping you to remember it. We tend to, however, either over highlight or under highlight. Over highlighting stops the highlighted text from standing out anymore rendering it pointless, while under highlighting misses important information. It’s also been shown that performance suffers when you are tested on the information you missed out of your highlighting.

Essentially, highlighting as a study technique on its own is unhelpful. I would advise that you use highlighting to complement other techniques, to allow you to go back and identify the information you want to cover.

Rereading:

This again is a super common method, and while it does improve performance above if you hadn’t studied, it’s one of the less effective methods. If you are pressed for time or don’t have time to learn how to properly use one of the highly effective techniques shown here, rereading is worthwhile. On the occasions when you’ve left yourself enough time to not have to cram, you’re better off using your time doing something else.

Often, we mistake the improved ease in reading a text for having learned the material. This is called the ‘illusion of competency,’ and is just the result of familiarity with the writing improving fluency. The benefits of rereading are actually, unfortunately for all of us who do this, not very significant.

Summarisation:

Once again, summarising information seems like a good idea, which is why a lot of us do it. It can be a good idea too, but only if you know how to do so effectively, which it turns out a lot of us actually don’t. If you’ve been taught how to summarise, go for it, it’s a good way of further processing information you want to learn, but otherwise, it’s not going to be much help to you, so you’re better off skipping it. If you want to keep using this method but you’ve never learned how to summarize, it’d be a good idea to look into how it’s done for it to be of use to you.

Cramming:

Need I say more? If you use this type of study, you likely know it’s not the best. Leaving it to the last-minute doesn’t allow you to learn properly, you will likely forget the material quickly afterward, miss some crucial information, and you will not perform as well as if you had adequately prepared over time. However, if you really have to, cramming is the only option, and it does improve your performance above if you’d done nothing, so better to give it a shot if you’ve left it too late.

 

Effective Methods:

Practice testing:

Practice testing can be done in many different ways and is a highly effective method of studying, time and time again shown to outperform other common methods. Practicing retrieving information from your memory makes it easier to do so in the future. The benefits of testing withstand time, as it improves how long you retain the learned material. To use practice testing to your advantage, repeat testing until your responses are correct, from there, any further testing will further boost your performance higher still.

Some ideas for this method could be, testing yourself with flashcards, answering textbook questions, using past test papers if you can get your hands on some, or using Cornell note-taking (leave a column blank next to where you’re taking notes and later create questions based on the material in the column for yourself to answer when you go to study). My personal favourite technique is to test my memory by covering my notes, writing out what I remember and elaborating on it as much as I can, checking my notes, and repeat this until I can recollect more, and more accurately. Whatever practice test style you wish to use, you will see benefits from it, although more in-depth, elaborative methods show better performance in tests than do more basic ones.

Distributed practice:

We tend to leave our study for later, closer to a test or exam. While that seems logical, evidence actually shows that spreading your study out is a much more successful strategy. Distributed learning is the act of breaking up your study into separated sessions, with longer breaks proving more successful than shorter breaks. More forgetting between study sessions facilitates learning and improves performance, who’d’ve thunk it?

Obviously, the amount of time you have before a test needs to be taken into consideration, because clearly, you cannot space your study sessions so far apart that you sacrifice the number of study sessions you are able to fit in. To use this method to your advantage, you’d ideally not wait until a test or exam is coming up, but study periodically throughout the whole term or semester. Maybe set aside a day each week, right from the start, to go over what you’ve learned, you’ll be happy you did.

One research paper found that a group assigned to six study sessions, each separated by 30 days, performed better in a test than a group assigned to the six study sessions performed only one day apart. The one day apart study group was found to outperform the group who did the six study sessions back-to-back on a single day (cramming). In addition to this, as would be expected, distributed practice testing performs better still than distributed study.

Teaching others:

Join a study group to discuss and help one another understand the content of your class, or bug your family and friends by teaching them about what you’re learning. Teaching other people is a performance boosting study tactic. Explaining to others can help you understand what you’re learning better, and also help you identify holes in your knowledge.

A study showed this to be effective, by comparing the test results of three different groups. One group studied as they normally would, another prepared a lesson on the topic, and the third taught the information as a study method. The group that prepared a lesson out-performed the normal study group and the group who taught a lesson outperformed them both.

Environment:

Location, location, location! Its been found helpful for your ability to recall information to study it in an environment similar to that in which you will be required to recall it. So basically, if you will be in a silent classroom test condition, then you should study in an environment as close to this as you can get. If your tests are held in the same place as your lectures, attending your lectures will help in your tests because being in the environment in which you learned material can help to trigger memories of it.

Studying in the same space, and not using that space for any other activities, helps you build an association with that location and studying, making it easier to concentrate. It can be tricky to concentrate in a spot you’re used to doing something else in.

Sleep:

I’ve said I before, but I will say it again. Sleep is so important! Make sure you get some good sleep after your study sessions and before your test. While sleep is not a study method in its own right, it’s included here because it will help all your hard work pay off.

Consolidation occurs during Short Wave Sleep, transferring memories from temporary storage in your hippocampus, to long-term storage in your neocortex, stabilising them. During sleep, your brain processes information which is useful for your future plans, and transfers the information you learned but weren’t conscious of, into consciously known information.

 

If you’re gonna do it, you may as well do it right. Ditch your old study methods and give your performance a boost with these well researched and evidence-based study hacks. You have the resources you need right here to help you smash your goals.

 

For more advice for students, see my post: 7 Tips From a Bad Uni Student to New Uni Students

 

 

 

References:

1. Kirschner, P. A. (2017). Stop propagating the learning styles myth. Computers & Education106, 166-171.

2. Rogowsky, B. A., Calhoun, B. M., & Tallal, P. (2015). Matching learning style to instructional method: Effects on comprehension. Journal of Educational Psychology, 107(1), 64-78.

3. Dunlosky, J., Rawson, K. A., Marsh, E. J., Nathan, M. J., & Willingham, D. T. (2013). Improving students’ learning with effective learning techniques: Promising directions from cognitive and educational psychology. Psychological Science in the Public Interest14(1), 4-58.

4. Born, J., & Wilhelm, I. (2012). System consolidation of memory during sleep. Psychological research76(2), 192-203.

5. Nadel, L., & Willner, J. (1980). Context and conditioning: A place for space. Physiological Psychology, 8(2), 218-228.

6. Fiorella, L., & Mayer, R. E. (2013). The relative benefits of learning by teaching and teaching expectancy. Contemporary Educational Psychology38(4), 281-288.

The Food Bible

Whatever your health and body goals may be, this right here is a compact summarisation of the ‘need to knows’ on what you put into your body. Welcome to Wellth’s Food Bible. Let’s make some miracles happen.

Here it is! Welcome to my wellthy take on healthy eating. Nutrition may not be my area of expertise, however, as nutrition plays a big role in health which is what Wellth is all about, I have done my research so that along with my own two cents, I may lay down some science-based wisdom on the topic and not be talking to you out of my ass.

Whatever your health and body goals may be, this right here is a compact summarisation of the ‘need to knows’ on what you put into your body.

Weight Control:

Everywhere you look, there is someone weighing in on different diets and quick fixes. No skinny tea is going to cause you to lose fat. What does lead to fat loss, is the consumption of fewer calories than you are expending. Simple as that. Reach a caloric deficit and your body has no choice but to dip into pre-stored energy resources (i.e. fat) in order to keep you up and running. Alternatively, if you are trying to gain weight, eating an excess of calories will do just that.

While reaching and maintaining a caloric deficit is simple in theory, many of us know that these things are easier said than done. To reach a deficit you may think you have to eat boring foods and next to nothing, leaving you starving and lured away by temptation until you fall off the wagon entirely, landing right back where you started. But this does not have to be the case. There are ways you can make it easier to maintain a deficit.

Maintaining a Caloric Deficit:

Although you can reduce portion sizes of energy-rich food to create a deficit, this can leave you feeling hungry and unsatisfied. Studies have shown that weight loss is more successful when small portions of energy-dense foods are exchanged for larger, satiating portions of low-energy-dense foods. Basically, load up your meals with lots of low-calorie foods. This will leave you satisfied, and still put you into a calorie deficit. If you don’t know how many calories you should be eating, or the caloric content of different foods, then there are resources that can help you such as MyPlate by LIVESTRONG.COM and the MyFitnessPal app by Under Armour, or just hit up good old Google. You may want to consider consulting a nutritionist to ensure you’re doing what is healthy and right for you.

Burning Calories:

It is important to take into consideration the amount of exercise you do in relation to your calorie intake. If you are trying to reach a calorie deficit but you do no exercise, you will need to consume fewer calories than you would if you did exercise, because you will be burning fewer calories. This applies if your goals are weight maintenance or weight gain also: the more exercise you do, the more calories will be required to reach your goals. Exercise is important for all health and body goals. Muscle growth is essential for healthy weight gain, and to gain muscle, you need to be exerting those muscles. For the goal of fat loss, exercise is helpful both for allowing you to stay in a calorie deficit through burning calories and for increasing your muscle mass. Muscle requires energy to move, and a higher muscle mass requires more energy from your body to use them even in everyday life as well as during a workout, meaning your calorie burn will be higher. So if you aren’t already, it’s definitely worth getting into fitness. There are bonuses all around.

Protein:

Increasing the amount of protein in your diet (in accordance with your calories, be it calorie deficit, calories for weight maintenance, or calorie excess for weight gain), has many benefits. Diets with elevated protein aid in muscle maintenance or gain (dependent on your goals) and loss of fat. Along with this, protein helps improve satiety, helping you stay fuller for longer, so it’s helpful in the maintenance of a calorie deficit. Another bonus of a higher protein diet is that it increases thermogenesis. Thermogenesis is a metabolic process in which your body uses energy to keep itself warm. This means that increased thermogenesis helps keep you in a calorie deficit because it increases your calories burned.

‘Bad’ Foods:

You do not need to entirely remove carbohydrates or fats from your diet. Carbs and fats have been labeled ‘bad’. (Let me just say this about fats real quick: fats are not evil. In fact, there are structures in your brain which are made of fats, in which fats improve function). We’ve been told eating carbs and fats will cause weight gain, but as I explained above, specific foods don’t cause weight gain, an excess of calories causes weight gain. Sure, high fat and high carb foods are high calories, but you can eat these foods and lose weight if you are still in a calorie deficit overall. The whole ‘bad’ food label is no help, it’s better to consider that foods are either high or low calorie and high or low nutrient. In order to be healthy, you need to find balance: provide your body with sufficient energy to function, but not excess energy, and provide your body with the nutrients to support your bodies functions, but not get down on yourself when you eat something low nutrient because you like the taste.

Variety:

From a mental health standpoint, eating a variety of different foods is important for allowing your brain to function optimally. Deficiencies in vitamins and minerals can lead to a whole load of issues you may not have even known about. Here I’ve compiled a basic run-down, courtesy of my university study notes.

  • Deficiencies in vitamin B6 (found in: meats, whole-grains, vegetables, nuts) can result in depression, cognitive decilne, dementia, and autonomic dysfunction.
  • Deficiencies in vitamin B9 (found in: eggs, green veggies, chickpeas, almonds, orange juice) can result in cognitive function impairment.
  • Vitamin B12  (found in: meat, shellfish, eggs, dairy) is required by every cell for metabolic functions, fatty acid synthesis, and energy production. Deficiencies can result in fatigue, depression, memory issues, and neuropathy.
  • Vitamin A is an antioxidant (found in: dairy, eggs, fish, pumpkin, carrots, oranges) and is required for visual perception, gene expression, and neuronal differentiation during development. Deficiencies can result in impaired night vision, blindness, and altered gene expression.
  • Iron (found in meat, shellfish, lentils, spinach) is the oxygen carrier in our blood. Deficiencies can cause fatigue, depression, memory impairment, decreased attention, and irritability.
  • Zinc (found in: oysters, meat, whole-grains, pumpkin seeds, legumes) is required for the perception of taste and smell, as well as the facilitation of DNA production. Deficiencies can result in neuropsychological impairments.
  • Iodine (found in: iodised salt, seaweed, mussels, eggs, sea fish) is used by the thyroid gland to make thyroxine, deficiencies of which can result in cognitive impairment, fatigue, and depression.
  • Magnesium (found in: walnuts, beans, mussels, dark leafy vegetables, sails (if that’s your thing)) is required for the synthesis of energy by all cells. Deficiencies in magnesium can result in depression, insomnia, muscle twitches, and migraines.

Balance:

I’m an advocate for healthy relationships with food. There are many ways in which you can have a negative relationship with food. Eating an excess of food low in nutrients is detrimental to your physical and mental health. Fearing food groups and being excessively strict and restrictive on yourself indicates an unhealthy mentality towards food. Eating food you deem ‘bad’ and punishing yourself for it, or feeling down on yourself and guilty is unhelpful and detrimental to your wellbeing. Studies show that in restrictive eaters with the tendency to guilt and binge eating after breaking their diets, mindfully considering a diet break with self-compassion reduces guilt and prevents binging. It is important that you fuel your body with love.  Put into your body foods that will help it do its job. Treat it well. But also treat you well – eating foods you love that aren’t of much health value, is not going to make you unhealthy if you otherwise treat your body well. Eating foods you love is you allowing yourself to experience life fully and get all the enjoyment out of life you can. This is why you will find recipes for foods on Wellth that are not so nutritious, but definitely delicious. You should be able to let yourself enjoy these foods too. A balanced relationship with food is a healthy relationship with food.

Don’t Judge:

I’m going to leave this here as a reminder to let others live. If a specific style of diet is working for someone, great. There is more than one method to reach the same goal. Just because someone’s method is different, doesn’t make the method wrong. (Of course, some methods aren’t as healthy as others or are total BS, but I’m not talking about those here). Veganism, paleo, keto, or whatever floats your boat is great! If you find a diet you enjoy and that makes you feel good, and whats more, that works for you, that’s awesome. You do you.

 

Eating well can be hard, but your health is worth it. Treat your body right, and don’t be afraid to treat your tastebuds sometimes too. Follow this bible and you may achieve some miracles for your body and mind.

Stay wellthy, and happy eating!

 

 

 

References:

1. Julia A Ello-Martin, Jenny H Ledikwe, Barbara J Rolls; The influence of food portion size and energy density on energy intake: implications for weight management, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 82, Issue 1, 1 July 2005, Pages 236S–241S, https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/82.1.236S

2. Douglas Paddon-Jones, Eric Westman, Richard D Mattes, Robert R Wolfe, Arne Astrup, Margriet Westerterp-Plantenga; Protein, weight management, and satiety, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 87, Issue 5, 1 May 2008, Pages 1558S–1561S, https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/87.5.1558S

3. Claire E. Adams and Mark R. Leary (2007). Promoting Self–Compassionate Attitudes Toward Eating Among Restrictive and Guilty Eaters. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, Vol. 26, No. 10, pp. 1120-1144. https://doi.org/10.1521/jscp.2007.26.10.1120

The Wellth Self-Care Guide

Stress can be helpful in certain situations, it doesn’t exist without purpose. Stress can, however, become a bit too much and begin to feel overwhelming, so here are four proven strategies you can and should employ to keep yourself well.

Let’s begin this guide with a trusty cliche: life isn’t fair. From time to time, life throws you a curve-ball, no matter how hard you work or how good you’ve been, and it really is not fair. But it happens anyway. When you’re stressed, looking after yourself can fall to the bottom of your to-do list so it’s important to remember to keep your wellbeing a high priority, you’ll probably find that in doing so, your stressors will become easier to tackle.

Stress is the activation of your brain’s fight-or-flight mechanism. We need stress to help us react quickly to danger, and it can even be helpful to motivate you to complete your work to a deadline. However, stress can get too much and begin to feel overwhelming, so here are four proven strategies you can and should employ to keep yourself well.

1. Mindfulness

A lot of scientific research has gone into mindfulness and its ability to reduce stress through learning to calm your mind and body, similar to meditation. Its a technique taught to people suffering from chronic diseases, nurses, psychotherapists, councilors and health professionals who frequently deal with high volumes of work that can be distressing or emotionally taxing in nature. So don’t dismiss ‘mindfulness’ as mumbo-jumbo, it has been proven to reduce levels of stress, anxiety, and depression. Keep in mind this is a strategy that’s best if you get some experience doing it and make it a regular thing. If you try it once and you don’t think it works don’t give up on it altogether. Heres how you can practice mindfulness yourself:

•    Take some time out to focus your mind on one thing. Here are some ideas to help you get the hang of it, focus on: how the sun feels on your skin,  the taste and smell of your food, your breathing, the tension in your muscles and relaxing them methodically, all the sounds in your environment. Direct all your attention to whatever it is, don’t try to multi-task, all you should be doing is relaxing and focusing your mind on the task at hand.

•    If you’re having trouble and find that your mind is wandering, that’s ok, don’t dwell on it, acknowledge it and direct your mind back to the target of your focus.

•    Since you’re doing this because you’re stressed, you may have some intrusive thoughts or feelings about the stressor. That’s ok too, acknowledge the feelings, allow yourself to feel the sensations of emotion, but guide your mind away from engaging in actual memories or thinking through the problem. If you notice this happening, you don’t need to get frustrated, just relax, acknowledge it, don’t judge your thoughts, and direct your mind back to your focus.

•    If you’re new to this, it’d be better to start with short periods to allow yourself to get the hang of it before increasing the amount of time you do it for. But remember that you can do this any time, it doesn’t matter if you’re sitting at your work desk.

•    Another mindfulness strategy is the ‘body-scan.’ From your toes to your head, pay attention to and notice how your whole body feels.

•    If you are someone who struggles with anxiety or frequent worry, give yourself a moment where you allow these thoughts to go through your mind, and try to acknowledge them and not engage with them or feel anything about them.

2. Exercise

Exercise as a stress reliever is a more well-known strategy, but I’d like to push the importance of it. Engage in a level of activity that challenges you and makes you feel good. Not only does a good workout release endorphins in your brain, you have also achieved something to be proud of which is a mood booster in itself. If the stressor you’re facing is a problem that needs fixing, exercise can help you think more clearly as it improves your cognition and increases your energy. Try just going for a walk, or practicing yoga in your room. If you need some motivation or inspiration head over to the Beginners Guide to Loving Fitness.

While getting active when you’re stressed will help you, regular exercise is important to help keep you in good spirits the rest of the time as well. Exercise is especially important and recommended by health professionals for those with anxiety and depression.

3. Social Support

A problem shared is a problem halved. Confide in someone you love, get some good advice and reassurance, allow someone to help you. Don’t bottle it up, nothing good ever comes from that. Sometimes someone else has a different perspective that will make you view your problem in a different way, or they may help you come up with a plan that helps you feel like you’ve regained control.

If you don’t feel comfortable sharing whatever it is that’s getting you down or stressed, then even just reaching out to someone for some quality time can do you some good. Get your cuddle on, hugs reduce the stress hormone cortisol, so get amongst. Getting someone to give you a massage can be a good stress reliever as well. Stress leads to muscle tension, and massages release muscle tension and feel-good endorphins! So relax, and let your partner or bestie put in some elbow grease to work the stress out of you.

4. Time for Yourself

A good stress reliever can simply be doing something just for yourself. Treat yourself to some quality ‘me-time.’ A bit of a pamper or even just getting yourself organised can make you feel refreshed and set to take on the world again. Time for yourself can be anything you enjoy doing, here’s a quick list of self-care ideas straight from my own personal journal:

  • take a bath
  • listen to music
  • paint your nails
  • put on a face mask
  • light some candles and get some mood lighting going
  • watch a movie
  • bake your favourite treats
  • snuggle into fresh sheets
  • write a to-do list
  • clean your room
  • write in a journal
  • go outdoors
  • treat your body to some fruit and veggies
  • stay hydrated

 

When life gets you down or gets overwhelming, just remember, it’s not a bad life, just a bad moment. How many bad moments have you had that you completely forgot about because it got resolved or seems insignificant now? Remember that this too shall pass, and you will be able to say you conquered it. If bad things didn’t happen you wouldn’t appreciate the good. Feel the emotion and appreciate you’re experiencing the full human experience, you get to experience all the feelings that come with being alive, and that’s beautiful.

 

 

 

References:

  1. WebMD, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction – Topic Overview
  2. Anxiety and Depression Association America, Physical Activity Reduces Stress 
  3. Birnie, K., Speca, M., & Carlson, L. E. (2010), Exploring self‐compassion and empathy in the context of mindfulness‐based stress reduction (MBSR). Stress and Health, 26: 359-371. doi:10.1002/smi.1305
  4. Khoury, Bassam & Sharma, Manoj & Rush, Sarah & Fournier, Claude. (2015). Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction for Healthy Individuals: A Meta-Analysis. Journal of Psychosomatic Research. 10.1016/j.jpsychores.2015.03.009.
  5. Chiesa A, Serretti A (2009). Mindfulness-based stress reduction for stress management in healthy people: A review and meta-analysis. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 15(5): 593-600.