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10 Ways for Students to Crush It Next Semester

10 Ways for Students to Crush It Next Semester

A fresh, new semester is right around the corner. And that means a chance for us students to start with a clean slate, forget whatever happened with that Chemistry lab last semester, and upgrade our study habits so that we can really crush it this time around.

Here are 10 ways to get you started.

1. Develop “true grit” when it comes to studying

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    As it turns out, the highly-esteemed, much debated “IQ” is actually a pretty poor predictor of academic performance.

    This is good news for us, because there’s a different characteristic – one the we are in control of – that researcher Angela Duckworth has identified, called “grit,” which correlates much more highly with success.

    Duckworth defines grit as, “perseverance and passion for long-term goals.” It sounds simple, but it’s surprisingly effective. Your stick-to-it-iveness will not only up your chances for sticking with math homework, but can actually predict, with a high degree of accuracy, things like which incoming cadets will make it through West Point’s grueling training program.

    Action Step: See how you stack up on the grit scale, and then work to “up” your grittiness.

    2. Build “tiny” study habits

    How many times have you said to yourself, “This is the year I get it shape,” only to promptly quit on your new gym habit a few weeks into the new year? For a lot of us, establishing new habits is tough, especially for things we know we “should” do, but don’t necessarily want to (like studying).

    Well according to behavior scientist BJ Fogg, director of the Persuasive Technology Lab at Stanford University, it might be that we just have the wrong approach. Taking on big behavior change usually fails, but only because we try to take on activities that are too difficult at the beginning. Instead, Fogg’s “tiny” habit method focuses on establishing the habit first, and then increasing its duration and difficulty.

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    Each habit is composed of cue, routine, reward. The more you reinforce this cycle, the more likely it is that you’ll keep with it over time, ingraining that new activity into your psychology. So to accomplish this task, we want to do something so small that it will be trivially easy to repeat this habit cycle each day. This “tiny” habit could be as simple as doing 1 pushup each day (if you’re trying to start an exercise habit), or flossing just 1 tooth each night (if you’re trying to become a flosser, per your dentist’s recommendation).

    Then, once it becomes a behavior you can reliably repeat (after a few weeks), you can start to increase the difficulty and/or duration until you reach your ultimate goal. And we can apply this same method towards studying.

    Action Step: Try adding a 5-minute study session to your morning routine. Anybody can study for 5 minutes a day, so start there. After you’ve been able to do this for a few weeks, increase to 10, then 20…

    3. “Gamify” Learning with a Habit RPG

    150909-flickr-MarcoArment-VideoGames

      Think of how easy it is to sit yourself down to play a video game. (Hell yea, Call of Duty here we come!)

      That’s because the designers have “gamified” the process to make it more enjoyable. Gamification is a “process of making systems, services and activities more enjoyable and motivating”.

      Well, it turns out that you can “gamify” learning and study habits in the same way, and that’s exactly what the people over at Habit RPG have done. Make progress on your new habit each day, and earn experience points, so that you can “level up” and progress through the game. And this works GREAT for getting yourself to study more.

      Action Step: Join Habit RPG, set a learning goal, and get started.

      4. “Bind” Yourself to Studying Using Beeminder

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      150909-flickr-rychlepozicky-OneDollar

        As much as we like to rely on motivation to get us through difficult work, you don’t need to wait to get motivated to sit down and start cranking through homework problems. And once way to make this easy for yourself is to create reliable motivation with negative bets. What does that mean? I’m talking about putting stakes on the line (e.g. cash) to keep yourself on track.

        One way you can do this is by using a site like Beeminder to create a daily goal for yourself (e.g. study for an hour), with a penalty if you don’t keep up (e.g. you pay Beeminder $10 if you miss your goal 2 days in a row). This decreases the temptation to procrastinate, and gives you that extra “push” to get up off the couch and sit down to start on those practice problems.

        Action Step: Set up a daily study goal (e.g. 30 minutes) on Beeminder.

        5. Use the “Goldilocks” Principle to unlock your brain

        In his book Why Students Don’t Like School, professor Daniel Willingham explains his guiding principle for learning:

        “People are naturally curious, but we are not naturally good thinkers; unless the cognitive conditions are right, we will avoid thinking.”

        This is the basis of what I call the Goldilocks Principle: Solving problems brings pleasure if they are hard enough that the answer isn’t totally certain, but no so hard that we can barely get started. Not too hard, not too easy, just right.

        Action Step: If you find yourself getting bored with your work, make it more interesting by asking yourself questions that you don’t yet know the answer to. If you find yourself overwhelmed or unable to get started, think about how you can break down the problem into small 30-minute chunks.

        6. Do practice problems before you’re ready

        We all know, as students, how horrific tests can be. I still have nightmares about walking into class and completely blanking on physics finals. But it turns out that giving ourselves tests is one of the most effective ways to ensure that we’ll retain what we’re learning about.

        Self-testing, according to the research, can significantly improve the amount of material about a subject you retain later on (like, when a mid-term rolls around), and this effect is strongest when you DON’T review the material beforehand (i.e. you have to rely on your long-term memory to retrieve facts and procedures). It turns out all of those homework assignments you did as a kid could have paid off.

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        Action Step: Next time you get home from class, instead of jumping right into the books, try testing yourself on the material you just learned. Do this without studying first, and even if you don’t get the answers right, you’re subsequent study sessions will be more effective, and you’ll remember more later on.

        7. Be lazy and sleep in

        150909-flickr-BurnoCaimi-Sleeping

          If you haven’t noticed, sleep is a bit of a taboo subject in our culture. Getting by on 4-6 hours of sleep is like a badge of honor, especially when it comes to work and school. Unfortunately, it’s quite possibly the dumbest thing you could do as a student.

          According to the research (but honestly, do we really need research on this to tell you how crappy you feel after a short night of sleep?) chronic sleep deprivation “impairs attention and working memory, but it also affects other functions, such as long-term memory and decision-making. These are all things absolutely essential to learning. Besides, sleep itself is part of the learning process, consolidating new learning into long term memory as you progress through the different sleep cycles.

          So unless you’re a fan of throwing away all of the hard work you put into learning each day, 7-9 hours of high-quality sleep each night should be in your future.

          Action Step: Set a bedtime alarm. Childish? Yes. But if you back-calculate 8-9 hours from the time you need to wake up, and set yourself a reminder to go to bed, you can help ensure that you’re getting in the hours you need for optimum learning the next day when your morning alarm goes off.

          8. Become a Pomodoro master

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            If procrastination is your thing, maybe all you need in your life is a simple timer. Becoming a master of the Pomodoro Technique, and getting in the habit of putting in short bursts of work followed by short breaks, can help you break through that wall, and actually start studying.

            Action Step: Try doing one Pomodoro right now.

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            9. Let tough problems “percolate”

            Sometimes you’re sitting there, banging your head against the wall, trying to wrap your mind around what is going on with this Calculus problem… But no matter how hard you try, you can’t seem to crack it.

            It turns out part of the problem may be that you’re focusing too hard, and by doing so, not allowing your brain to access other thought patterns that may hold the answer to your problem. According to Benedict Carey, author of How We Learn, maybe what you need is to quit on your problem, and come back to it later, taking advantage of a phenomenon called “percolation.”

            By quitting mid-problem, you give your subconscious mind a chance to dig around in the background and find a new way to look at that problem you’ve been focusing so hard on. Then when you come back to it, you’ve got a new perspective, and possibly an answer to that problem you previously considered impossible.

            Action Step: The next time you find yourself frustrated with a difficult problem, and your progress has stalled, quit on it. Give it an hour or two. Then come back. You might be surprised how easy it seems once you come back to it.

            10. Space it out and mix it up

            150909-flickr-AlbaEstevez-exam

              How many of you have spent hours studying right before a test, taken the exam, and then promptly forgotten everything you just took that test on? It turns out spacing out our study sessions holds huge benefits beyond simply reducing stress and staying organized.

              By putting in shorter, spaced-out study sessions, rather than huge marathon cram sessions, what you do learn will be more robust (you’ll be able to remember more, more often), and you’ll also retain the information longer.

              Action Step: Engineer short study sessions into your schedule each week, even if it’s just 30 minutes in-between classes.

              Featured photo credit: Francisco Osorio via flickr.com

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              Last Updated on December 10, 2019

              How to Stay Motivated and Reach Your Big Goals in Life

              How to Stay Motivated and Reach Your Big Goals in Life

              It is hardly a secret that the key to successfully accomplishing one goal after another is staying motivated. There are, of course, tasks which successful people may not like at all, yet they find motivation to complete them because they recognize how each particular task serves a greater goal.

              So how to stay motivated most of the time? Here are 5 simple yet effective ways on how to stay motivated and get what you want:

              1. Find Your Good Reasons

              Anything you do, no matter how simple, has a number of good reasons behind it.

              You may not be able to find good reasons to do some tasks at first but, if you take just a few moments to analyze them, you will easily spot something good. We also have many tasks which don’t need any reasoning at all – we’ve been doing them for so long that they feel natural.

              If you’re ever stuck with some tasks you hate and there seems to be no motivation to complete it whatsoever, here’s what you need to do: find your good reasons.

              Even when you set goals, there needs to be reasons behind these goals. They may not be obvious, but stay at it until you see some, as this will bring your motivation back and will help you finish the task.

              Some ideas for what a good reason can be:

              • A material reward – quite often, you will get paid for doing something you normally don’t like doing at all.
              • Personal gain – you will learn something new or will perhaps improve yourself in a certain way.
              • A feeling of accomplishment – at least you’ll be able to walk away feeling great about finding the motivation and courage to complete such a tedious task.
              • A step closer to your bigger goal – even the biggest accomplishments in history have started small and relied on simple and far less pleasant tasks than you might be working on. Every task you complete brings you closer to the ultimate goal, and acknowledging this always feels good.

              2. Make It Fun

              When it comes to motivation, attitude is everything. Different people may have completely opposite feelings towards the same task: some will hate it, others will love it.

              Why do you think this happens? It’s simple: some of us find ways to make any task interesting and fun to do!

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              Take sports for example. Visiting your local gym daily for a half-an-hour workout session sounds rather boring to some. Yet many others love the idea!

              They like exercising not only because they recognize the good reasons behind it, but simply because it’s fun! At certain time of their daily schedule, they find going to gym to be the best thing to do, simply because nothing else will fit their time and lifestyle so perfectly.

              Depending on how you look at it, you can have fun doing just about anything! Just look for ways of having fun, and you’ll find them!

              A simple approach is to start working on any task by asking yourself a few questions:

              • How can I enjoy this task?
              • What can I do to make this task fun for myself and possibly for others?
              • How can I make this work the best part of my day?

              As long as you learn to have the definite expectation of any task being potentially enjoyable, you will start to feel motivated.

              Some of you will probably think of a thing or two which are valid exceptions from this statement, like something you always hate doing no matter how hard you try making it fun. You’re probably right, and that’s why I don’t claim everything to be fun.

              However, most tasks have a great potential of being enjoyable, and so looking for ways to have fun while working is definitely a good habit to acquire.

              3. Change Your Approach And Don’t Give Up

              When something doesn’t feel right, it’s always a good time to take a moment and look for a different approach for the task.

              You may be doing everything correctly and most efficiently, but such approach isn’t necessarily the most motivating one. Quite often, you can find a number of obvious tweaks to your current approach which will both change your experience and open up new possibilities.

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              That’s why saying “one way or another” is so common — if you really want to accomplish your goal, there is always a way; and most likely, there’s more than one way.

              If a certain approach doesn’t work for you, find another one, and keep trying until you find the one which will both keep you motivated and get you the desired results.

              Some people think that trying a different approach means giving up. They take pride in being really stubborn and refusing to try any other options on their way towards the goal.

              My opinion on this is that the power of focus is great, but you should be focusing on your goal, and not limiting your options by focusing on just one way to accomplish it it.

              4. Recognize Your Progress

              Everything you may be working on can be easily split into smaller parts and stages. For most goals, it is quite natural to split the process of accomplishing them into smaller tasks and milestones. There are a few reasons behind doing this, and one of them is tracking your progress.

              We track our progress automatically with most activities. But to stay motivated, you need to recognize your progress, not merely track it.

              Here’s how tracking and recognizing your progress is different:

              Tracking is merely taking a note of having reached a certain stage in your process. Recognizing is taking time to look at a bigger picture and realize where exactly you are, and how much more you have left to do.

              For example, if you’re going to read a book, always start by going through the contents table. Getting familiar with chapter titles and memorizing their total number will make it easier for you to recognize your progress as you read. Confirming how many pages your book has before starting it is also a good idea.

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              You see, reading any book you will be automatically looking at page numbers and chapter titles, but without knowing the total number of pages, this information will have little meaning.

              Somehow, it is human nature to always want things to happen in short term or even at once. Even though we split complex tasks into simpler actions, we don’t quite feel the satisfaction until all is done and the task is fully complete.

              For many scenarios though, the task is so vast that such approach will drain all the motivation out of you long before you have a chance to reach your goal. That’s why it is important to always take small steps and recognize the positive different and progress made. This is how your motivation can sustain in long term.

              5. Reward Yourself

              This is a trick everyone likes: rewarding yourself is always pleasant. This is also one of the easiest and at the same time most powerful ways to stay motivated!

              Feeling down about doing something? Dread the idea of working on some task? Hate the whole idea of working? You’re not alone.

              Right from the beginning, agree on some deliverables which will justify yourself getting rewarded. As soon as you get one of the agreed results, take time to reward yourself in some way.

              For some tasks, just taking a break and relaxing for a few minutes will do.

              For others, you may want to get a fresh cup of coffee and even treat yourself a dessert.

              For even bigger and more demanding tasks, reward yourself by doing something even more enjoyable, like going to a cinema or taking a trip to some place nice, or even buying yourself something.

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              Your progress may not seem to others like anything worth celebrating but, take time and do it anyway! It is your task and your reward, so any ways to stay motivated are good.

              The more you reward yourself for the honestly made progress, the more motivated you will feel about reaching new milestones, thus finally accomplishing your goal.

              Mix and Match

              Now that you have these five ways of staying motivated, it is a good moment to give you the key to them all: mix and match!

              Pick one of the techniques and apply it to your situation. If it doesn’t work, or if you simply want to get more motivated, try another technique right way. Mix different approaches and match them to your task for the best results.

              Just think about it: Finding good reasons to work on your task is bound to helping you feel better; and identifying ways to make it fun will help you enjoy the task even more.

              Or, if you plan a few points for easier tracking of your progress and on top of that, agree on rewarding yourself as you go; this will make you feel most motivated about anything you have to work through.

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              Featured photo credit: Lucas Lenzi via unsplash.com

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