With the New Year underway, we revisit some key pointers for effective learning, brought to you by our award-winning careers team at the Sixth Form College in Angel.
“It’s important to first understand how best you take in information,” says Head of Careers, Joanne Bishop. “Many people make the mistake of assuming there’s one way to learn new things, but everyone has their own relationship with their work: some people learn quickly, and others need a little more time and deliberation. Some people learn best by hearing information and others need to repeat it.”
The VARK questionnaire, available here, is a twenty question assessment that helps you understand your learning style. A five minute test might be your key to making better notes and developing a more efficient strategy for taking things in.
While we can wish we were always perfectly self-motivated and well-enthused, it ain’t always that simple. A 2013 study found that the anticipation of a good reward enhanced memory in both younger and older adults. A fifteen minute break and something to eat might be just what you needed to pass your exams after all!
In 2011, a study at the University of Illinois found that study performance started to decline after 50 minutes of constant work, but that this could be avoided with occasional pauses.
For your health, the NHS recommends you should spend two hours of the working day stood up; we advise you get up and walk around at least every twenty minutes to help flush out the waste lactic acid built up while sitting in one position.
“Organise your learning around a clear and consistent schedule. Be realistic about the amount of time you can devote to studying each day – it’s better to promise yourself twenty minutes and do it than aim for an hour and not,” says Jo. A small but achievable goal is much more likely to motivate you to keep going past your target than something overly ambitious and demoralising.
Breaking up your schedule also helps reinforce learning as you find yourself consistently going over the same ideas; cramming ten hours of work into the first day and taking the rest of the week off is not only stressful, but ultimately doesn’t help to strengthen the muscle of retaining information.
It’s easy to tell yourself you would have got that right i
on the exam or that you think you understand what that quote means, but checking with a friend is a safer bet. “Find somebody who will help you keep to schedule, and that you can talk with candidly when you don’t understand something.”
Teaching somebody something is also a great way to check you fully understand a concept, and more – that you can verbalise it in a clear way. Even if you’re sure you know what you’re talking about, make sure you know what you want to say before going into the exam.
Enduring hard work is always going to come a close second to mindless distraction, but it’s your responsibility to help get the balance right.
A number of apps are now available for iOS and Android, offering points-to-prizes schemes based on how long you can leave your phone untouched. Consider tying in devices and social media access to your reward schemes, but first do the kind thing and minimise temptation. It’s much harder to procrastinate when you remove sources of entertainment, and faced with nothing better to do you may find yourself working harder!