Accelerated Learning and Life Skills


Ten Rules of Bad Studying

Wow – I can’t believe it’s been more than four months since my last blog post! I apologize for the long delay. Last semester was crazy busy for me and I chose to prioritize other things over this blog.

(A quick side note: Notice the language that I used –  “chose to prioritize” rather than “had to prioritize”. This is a subtle but important difference. The language that we use is powerful and “have to” and “had to” are very disempowering statements. They make it seem like we have no choice in the matter. The truth is that everything we do is a choice. Technically, we don’t have to do anything. We choose to do it because we don’t want the consequences of not doing it. For example, as a student, you don’t have to study. You choose to study because you don’t want the consequences of not studying. This simple change of language can have a positive affect on your attitude when doing something you may not really want to do.)

Now that I have a bit more free time, I am choosing to make this blog and teaching accelerated learning techniques a priority. Since the spring semester is just about to start, I thought a couple posts on how to study and how not to study would be beneficial.

Let’s start with how not to study. The following “Ten Rules of Bad Studying” was taken directly from a blog on the Coursera website. (Here is a link to the original post.) They were adapted from Barbara Oakley’s best selling book “A Mind for Numbers: How to Excel at Math an Science (Even If You Flunked Algebra)”. Avoid these ten rules of bad studying and you will greatly increase your chances for academic success in any class.

Ten Rules of Bad Studying

  • Passive rereading. Sitting passively and running your eyes back over a page. Unless you can prove that the material is moving into your brain by recalling the main ideas without looking at the page, rereading is a waste of time.
  • Letting highlights overwhelm you. Highlighting your text can fool your mind into thinking you are putting something in your brain, when all you’re really doing is moving your hand. A little highlighting here and there is okay—sometimes it can be helpful in flagging important points. But if you are using highlighting as a memory tool, make sure that what you mark is also going into your brain.
  • Merely glancing at a problem’s solution and thinking you know how to do it. This is one of the worst errors students make while studying. You need to be able to solve a problem step-by-step, without looking at the solution.
  • Waiting until the last minute to study. Would you cram at the last minute if you were practicing for a track meet? Your brain is like a muscle—it can handle only a limited amount of exercise on one subject at a time.
  • Repeatedly solving problems of the same type that you already know how to solve. If you just sit around solving similar problems during your practice, you’re not actually preparing for a test—it’s like preparing for a big basketball game by just practicing your dribbling.
  • Letting study sessions with friends turn into chat sessions. Checking your problem solving with friends, and quizzing one another on what you know, can make learning more enjoyable, expose flaws in your thinking, and deepen your learning. But if your joint study sessions turn to fun before the work is done, you’re wasting your time and should find another study group.
  • Neglecting to read the textbook before you start working problems. Would you dive into a pool before you knew how to swim? The textbook is your swimming instructor—it guides you toward the answers. You will flounder and waste your time if you don’t bother to read it. Before you begin to read, however, take a quick glance over the chapter or section to get a sense of what it’s about.
  • Not checking with your instructors or classmates to clear up points of confusion.Professors are used to lost students coming in for guidance—it’s our job to help you. The students we worry about are the ones who don’t come in. Don’t be one of those students.
  • Thinking you can learn deeply when you are being constantly distracted. Every tiny pull toward an instant message or conversation means you have less brain power to devote to learning. Every tug of interrupted attention pulls out tiny neural roots before they can grow.
  • Not getting enough sleep. Your brain pieces together problem-solving techniques when you sleep, and it also practices and repeats whatever you put in mind before you go to sleep. Prolonged fatigue allows toxins to build up in the brain that disrupt the neural connections you need to think quickly and well. If you don’t get a good sleep before a test, NOTHING ELSE YOU HAVE DONE WILL MATTER.

Although these rules to avoid apply to any subject, I think they are especially relevant for science, math, and engineering students (of course I may be a bit biased). Please watch the short 10-minute video below for some thoughts on how these rules apply specifically to studying physics but more generally to any science, math, or engineering.

Thanks and have a great spring semester!

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