Busy vs Productive: finding a study rhythm

Looking back

To undergrad, I wasted so much of my precious time studying the wrong way.
Luckily I made it through and accomplished all of my goals, but now I see that it could have been so much easier.
In the past, my study habits were somewhat varied but generally consisted of these same things: go to class and record the lecture, take very detailed notes, read the textbook and write notes (4-5 hours per class), do any applicable back of the book questions and usually multiple times, take all objectives and make a study guide, re-listen to lectures on material I didn’t understand then take more notes, and hope it all was for the best. While it got me through every exam, I was also extremely exhausted and burned out. At the same time, it got me A’s so I was worried to let go of the security blanket that worked, even if it was difficult to maintain.
Toward the end of my undergrad courses, I switched this up a little further, with the addition of another guide. Instead of just hoping it all stuck, I went through everything and quizzed myself, and the points that stuck out as being the most difficult topics, as well as the material that just wouldn’t stick, I would write down on a sheet of paper, and this paper would go everywhere with me. I took it to work and class, and whenever I had downtime I would read these papers and try to get down the hardest material.
I always knew there were different types of learners, but I never really took the time to figure out what kind I was. Finally, my senior year I took a test on studying techniques, and I have always wished I had done it sooner. I found out that some schools actually offer this testing as a service in advising. Mine did not, but an online quiz let me know alot about myself and my habits. If you’re struggling to figure out your rhythm, maybe try it out for yourself! Il link a couple


So, what did I find out? I wasn’t totally on the wrong path, but life could have been easier. After implementing a few new techniques I was able to slough off many hours from my routine and give myself a little more room to breath in my personal life.
This is what worked for me.
Through testing I learned that I am a VERY strong visual learner, a moderately strong tactile learner, and a weak auditory learner. This doesn’t mean that you only serve the strongest category though. Il explain.
So, what does that mean?

A visual learner thrives by seeing pictures, mnemonics, charts, and other visual representations of the material. You arrange material into categories, and big-picture themes, and use colors and drawings to commit material to memory. Flash cards are an excellent tool to utilize, and generally distractions are kept at a minimum while studying, thus choosing a secluded area, or a method to alleviate distraction, is key for success.
An auditory listener thrives by being taught and explained to, and through discussion. When something isn’t sticking, usually a new method of explanation will allow the topic to make more sense and be committed to memory. They also thrive by reading material aloud, and re-listening to lectures. Flashcards can also be used here, but they’re not useful unless read or “mouthed” aloud, so that the brain can associate the word with movement of the mouth. If possible, having tests read aloud is beneficial, as is quizzing back and forth on material with a friend.
A tactile learner thrives by associating learning with feeling or movement. Using a white-board to arrange material, and re-write associations is a great method to utilize. You really like to have something in your hand or in your mouth (gum, candy, etc) while studying. They often find themselves tapping a foot while reading, clicking a pencil in the test, or grabbing notes and pacing around the study space to get material down. Sitting up in a higher table or chair helps keep you in focus. Taking a walk while listening to material, or reading notes while working out helps to solidify material as well. You like frequent, short breaks.
Study buddies

Auditory and Visual: People that are auditory learners and people that are visual learners thrive well together, as the visual learners can piece together their notes to show how it correlates (via chart, picture, or mnemonic), and the auditory learners can absorb what’s being taught to them.
Tactile and Visual learners also go well together. The visual learners and tactile learners both like sorting material, but each may do it in a different way, which can be helpful. The visual learner will often explain diagrams and charts, and the tactile learner will memorize through re-writing the material.
Study revamp Undergrad edition:

After finding out this information, I revamped my study schedule entirely.
I was doing myself a service by going to class and taking notes on what I heard, because it allowed me to turn an auditory stimulus into a visual representation of the material. I also had the right idea on reading the textbook, but I needed to focus more on the big-picture idea. Instead of spending hours writing notes on the textbook material, I needed to check out the chapter objectives and summaries to better understand the end goal of the material. I also needed to focus more on pictures and charts.
I spent alot of time in social study environments, when I actually learned best through studying in the quiet library or finding a method to block out noise, like listening to a study podcast or white noise.
Lastly, my strongest learning styles involved a need repetition in some sort, so I incorporated flash cards into my routine and it changed my world for the better.
My D1 study techniques.

Now, while I still go to class and take notes, Flashcards are my main method of studying. For the shear amount of material we cover, I don’t have enough time incorporate all of my study techniques into such a short interim between exams, and have it be effective.
I did however, pair an unusual technique that really helped bond together my visual and tactile learning tendencies in a big way.
Every day after class, I return to my notes and make sure I have all of that day’s material. I take the notes on notability, and go back to the spot in my recording where I missed something and I fill it in, or fill in the objectives. I then make flashcards of either the lecture slides, or the objectives of the material.
When the exam is approaching I review the flashcards. BUT, instead of spending hours milling over my flashcards and trying to stay in focus, I would go to the gym, throw in headphones and a white-noise soundtrack, and sit on a recumbent bike while looking at my flashcards. I memorize them 4 at a time, make sure I have those down, then move on to the next four. When I complete the deck I run through it once all together. What used to be a 4-6 hour process to complete a deck of flashcards, I can now memorize in 1 to 1.5 hours. THAT is how much my tactile learning style was being starved.
Because that method proved to be so helpful for me, I invested in a $200 bike from Scheels and threw it in a corner of the basement, and that’s my go-to method for Every. Single. Test.
THEN, after studying the material, I go back to my notes, and if something didn’t make solid sense, I find a way to draw it out, or complete objectives.
I then go through notecards again while sitting at my desk (because I already spent memorization time on the bike and at this point I have them down) and if a notecard doesn’t make sense, I write it out on paper explaining it to myself.
Flashcards get a bad rep, but I personally thrive on them.
I make paper cards for the most part, but if the exam is visual (say, histology slides) I can use quizlet. I also take pictures off the internet for dissections, and spend a bit of time labeling and quizzing myself on landmarks in anatomy. For me it works.
If you’re struggling with finding a good rhythm to your study, don’t get stuck in a toxic routine. Try setting up an appointment with your advisor to see if your school offers services that test for learning style strengths. You could also check out some of the many free learning-style quizzes offered online. I recommend doing a few, comparing results, and seeing how you relate to the advice given!
Until next time, keep up the grind!

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