3 Rules for a Successful Study Routine

I was kind of an over-achiever in high school. Yearbook committee, school newspaper, concert choir, art club- I did it all while taking advanced English, and studying all of the languages my school had on offer (much to the chagrin of my guidance counselor). Oh, did I mention that half of my electives were in French? (Canada is bilingual, so English-speaking students required to study French until a certain grade and have the option of enrolling in an immersive language program.) My GPA was pretty high. And the worst part was, I wasn’t even trying.

Is this you?

See, I was just always kind of good at school. Making top of the class was easy for me so imagine the shock that I got when I went to university and realized that everyone there was at the top of their class, too. Suddenly, I didn’t seem so smart anymore. It really did a number on my self-esteem.

I don’t want this happening to you.

My problem was that I never learned how to study. I wasn’t sure how to organize my workflow, and I couldn’t identify any issues I had with the material until it was too late, and I’d end falling behind.

If this is your problem too, here’s my best piece of advice: your school probably offers workshops on a variety of things that help you do well in school. Take them all. Glean what you can. There is no one magic formula for studying that works for everyone, so try everything until you figure out a strategy that’s best for you.

I narrowed down some of what I learned until I had it crystallized into three rules for successful studying:

Study like it’s your job. Treat your school day like a 9-5 workday and find time in between classes to catch up on assignments, reading, or studying.

Assess the type of learner you are. Do you respond well to tactile things like flash cards, or copying something out? Do you need to draw a chart to connect ideas, or colour-code your notes for memorization? Maybe you do best when you explain a concept to someone else, or make up a song in order to remember terms for a test. Knowing how your brain works will help you select more useful and productive ways of studying instead of just trying to adopt a method just because someone says it’s the “right” way or the “best” way. There’s no such thing.

Assess your personality type. This can provide the framework for when, where and how often you study, as well as who you should choose as study partner. (Or maybe you don’t do well with them at all!) Are you easily distracted and find it hard to sit still? Study in short bursts. Are you a morning person? Wake up early to find time to review notes before class. Easily distracted? Then high thee to a library, and sequester yourself in a dark corner with your phone on airplane mode.

Also, there’s this thing known as actually hunkering down and doing it, which is probably the most obvious route to successful studying. You’d be surprised though at how many people let it fall by the wayside in favor of completing more immediate, pressing assignments or class readings. Do yourself a favor and don’t break study dates with yourself, or with your study buddies. Good intentions are great, but unfortunately they don’t usually help you pass an exam.

Wrap Your Head Around This!

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Up until recently it was widely accepted that the adult brain no longer generated new brain cells. The rapid death of brain cells was part of the natural aging process.

In actuality, this is only partially true. The scientific community now believes that the brain actually produces up to 1,000 new brain cells every single day that die if they are not used- 1,000 brain cells we can put towards mastering a new skill, learning a new language, or memorizing a new information. Just kaput. Bye-bye. Every. Single. Day.

This is exciting information to me because it means that learning is still a life-long process and that we as humans have the capacity to expand our brains by putting them to use and take advantage of those new brain cells that we generate on a daily basis.

Improving your brain health has longed been linked to long-term health benefits such as the prevention of devastating diseases that affect the brain and nervous system, and has been linked to greater well-being overall. I’m no scientist, and I could probably cite hundreds of articles listing the benefits of keeping your brain in tip-top shape, but my own personal experience with trying to keep my mind engaged is proof enough to me that taking care of your brain is a practice that can lead to stress reduction, improved memory, increased energy and results in a much happier, more balanced me. Who could argue with something like that?

I’ve been reading up on better brain health (call me a neuroscience nerd) and a lot of the solutions seem to be common sense to our overall well-being. A balanced diet and regular exercise all contribute to better brain health (and some argue can reduce the effects of certain mental and anxiety-related illnesses caused by chemical disorders). But keeping your mind engaged by utilizing these new brain cells we grow everyday seem to be the key for improving your brain’s elasticity in both short and long-term situations.

Environmental and social factors also play a big role in our physical and mental health. Smoking, lack of sleep and excessive alcohol consumption can contribute to poor brain health.

Brain health advocates recommend taking up fun hobbies and pastimes. Activities that require expanding on or learning new skills force your brain to work harder, and putting yourself in new social situations encourages the brain to make more connections, process more information and store more memories.

Reading, crossword puzzles, Sudoku and other fun puzzles and games are also widely touted as helping to improve memory and learning over time, and certain smartphone apps supposedly encourage activity in all areas of the brain with specially designed brain games.

There are so many ways that we constantly put our bodies (and subsequently) our brains under stress that it’s little wonder we get sick so often despite the advances in health care. In an age where it seems technology has solved all of our problems for us, we’re at risk for becoming lazy, dispassionate people too distracted by modern comforts to engage in a life that can be rich and challenging. Our brains are the only ones in the animal kingdom that have the capacity to create that kind of consciousness, and it’s something of which we do not take enough advantage.

Let’s make that change today. Learn Italian. Go back to school. Read a book. Play a game. Grow your brain.

You are totally worth it!

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Skeptical about brain games? I’m not paid or perked to write about them but I still like playing them, even if they don’t transform my brain as dramatically as their advertising claims. To brush up on the brain game controversy, click here.

What’s your favourite way to train your brain? I’m not so good at sending and receiving psychic messages yet, so comment below or shoot me a line at keepingbusyb@gmail.com. Want some more ways to keep your brain busy? I always love me a good organizing project. You can find a list of them here.