Study pointers that actually help

I’ve had three private students who have gone to Harvard and quite a number to Princeton and UBC Medicine and Engineering. But I need to tell you when I first met them, they were not straight A students. They were students with incredible passion and discipline. Some were more playful than others which I actually found refreshing! Some had issues with focusing and memorization (an incredibly vital thing for biology and chemistry). I have often shared a few techniques I used in my own studies, all of which I have included in “The Sky’s the Limit”. Below are just a few that I’d like to share and that I hope will be able to help you.

1. An organized study space is an organized mind
It’s good to have specific folders or large paper clips to keep separate notes. Color coding your chapter or topic notes by color tabs also helps. Color tabbing can also be used for vital information or priority notes or text that you have to read or tasks you have to deal with first.
Making sure your room & desk is tidy is vital. It will save you time and effort trying to locate things. It also makes it easier to file and put away papers. This scenario allows you to focus better and a sharper mind also lays the groundwork for a better memory.

2. Diagram your information & use your visual memory
Often after flipping through an information page, we will recall the image of a dog than the name of the dog. This is due to our visual memory. Rewrite your information notes in diagram form. Two good ones are the spider diagram and the flow chart. In the first one, a key theory, topic sentence or event is placed in the middle with arrows pointing towards various facts. In the second one, a key theory, topic sentence or event is placed inside the top box of the flow chart with arrows leading to one level of boxes, one of each leads to more boxes of facts. The information is connected and ordered in chronological or sequential order. When your mind works through the diagram location, you jog your memory.

3. A memory map
This is another form of using your visual memory. If you ever played games such as Myst, you will know that recalling what was found in certain rooms in a building will help move you forward in a game. The truth can be said about using a memory map the way that the detective Sherlock Holmes did with his ‘method of loci’. This is a simple method that can support few or many facts.
a. Imagine a building such as a family house. You can have many floors and rooms dependent on the work you are dealing with.
b. Place a unique piece of furniture in each room. In other words there should not be identical chandeliers in two different rooms. Link one piece of information such as part of a biology system to a specific chandelier. Alternately, you could just have different colored rooms. Different parts of the system will be linked to different rooms or objects.
c. For a test or exam, you can help remember the facts by walking through the house. The different mapping of the rooms is just a way for you to build upon your facts and visualize them.
d. When you are given more information, you can place an additional room to the house.

4. Use pictograms
Social studies always consists of a lot of information. When I was helping my students remember a chapter, I would actually take the raw information and pictorialize it. For example, if one province’s economy was based on gold mining, car manufacturing and forestry etc, I would draw a gold bar on top of a car on top of two trees. If a government offered land, wheat and fishing rights to a certain native group, I would draw a fish on top of a bushel of wheat on top of a parcel of land. It is often good to make the pile of pictograms funny or odd to help the brain retain the image better. I’ve used this method to help students who have a lower retention ability with new information.

5. Memorable phrases
Sometimes it’s often easier to come up with a memorable sentence whereby the first letter of each word stands for a fact you have to recall. This is more so when the facts have to be in order. For example, one way of recalling the colours of the rainbow, red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet, is by using a sentence such as the song ‘Richard of York gave battle in vain’. My favourite for recalling the order of operations for mathematics is ‘Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally’ which stands for parentheses, exponents, multiply, divide, add, and subtract.

6. The acronym
This is another method similar to mnemonics except that one just memorise the first letter of your ordered facts. For example, ‘ROYGBIV’ is the acronym for the order of the rainbow colors: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet.

7. Creating names
This is often used for a group of one word facts and is similar to the above two methods. For example, ‘Pvt. Tim Hall’ stands for the essential amino acids : Phenylanine, Valine, Threonine, Tryptophan, Isolucine, Histidine, Arginine, Leucine, Lysine.

8. Memorize using practical experience
If there are things you can actually do to help imprint certain facts into your memory try to do them. For example, museums (of natural history, each province and various universities) often have displays explaining major paleontological or war events. This visual information may help you register certain facts in your mind as well as write an interesting paper. If your teacher makes note of an upcoming exhibition, it would be worth checking out.
What might be even easier is doing searches for documentaries and movies about the era you are studying for social studies. Seeing what happened in World War 1 trenches will help you to understand and hence recall a war poem even better. There are indeed memorable shows and books like “What Plants Talk About” and “Your Inner Fish” which are worth checking out. When you are on the Amazon website after you search for “Your Inner Fish”, you will find other recommendations that relay science in rather interesting ways.

9. Retell your information as a story
This short anecdote is all over the web — Simon was a chemist’s son, Simon is no more, For what he thought was H2O,Was H2SO4.
The formula is for sulphuric acid which can of course burn one’s organs and hence be fatal. Writing a story can help with information or formulas in physics or chemistry which you may find a little too dry or condensed. Hence chemical reactions or qualities of a compound can be rewritten as actions and qualities of a person.
Organize the information like a story in a movie with Setting, Incident, Rising action, Conflict, Resolution and even Falling action. This works with Socials and even some biology processes.

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