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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

              More by this author

              7 Reasons You Won’t Start Studying Until It’s Too Late, And What To Do About It The 3 Things Elon Musk Knows About School That All Students Should Copy 10 Ways for Students to Crush It Next Semester 20 Funny Things Everyone Can Do Every Day to Get Smarter 10 counterintuitive quotes on learning that will make you a better student

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              How to Increase Brain Power: 10 Simple Ways to Train Your Brain

              How to Increase Brain Power: 10 Simple Ways to Train Your Brain

              How often do you think about your brain? Do you ever stop to marvel at its incredible power and supreme cleverness? Or at least check in and give it a little spring clean and a recharge it from time to time?

              If you’re like the majority, then your answer will likely be “no”.

              Astoundingly, we only use around 10% of our brains yet we seldom think to invest in a little training every now and then.

              For a long time, scientists believed that we were stuck with the brain we were born with! Luckily for us, that hypothesis has gone out the window!

              Enter neuroplasticity – a new theory that has proven one very incredible fact: Our brains can change.

              This means, if you’re not very intelligent in one area – that’s OK! You have the option to literally ‘change that area of your brain’ through some little trainings.

              Your brain is a muscle. You need to exercise it regularly.

              The exciting thing is that you don’t have to be a millionaire to increase your brain capacity. All you need to do is invest some time to regularly train your brain.

              So how to increase brain power?

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              Here are 10 simple ways to increase your brain power and improve your intelligence!

              1. Do something new

              When you experience something ‘new’, that actually ‘stimulate’ your brain!

              Don’t get stuck in a rut doing the same old things – the only way to change the structure of your brain is to do something new. This creates new neural pathways, increasing your intelligence level.

              You could take a new route to work, try a new recipe for dinner, or even a new form of exercise – mix them up!

              2. Ditch the GPS

              Gone are the days of map reading! Sat Nav may have made our lives easier, it has also made our brains lazier and less efficient at the same time!

              Go back to the old school and use a map to navigate every now and then. This exercises the part of your brain responsible for understanding spatial relationships.

              3. Ban the calculator

              Remember back at school when we were taught to use our brains to do simple sums like times tables? It’s incredible how we now rely on devices like smart-phones and laptops to calculate really simple equations.

              Resist the urge to work things out using an external device and use the device you were born with – your brain!

              4. Be curious

              Instead of taking everything at face value, get into the habit of questioning everyday things/products, services that you come into contact with.

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              By being ‘curious’ and questioning everything, you force your brain to innovate and create new ideas.

              Curiosity may have killed that cat but it created super important things like electricity and computers!

              5. Think positive

              Stress and anxiety kill existing brain neurons and also stop new neurons from being created.

              Research has shown that positive thinking, especially in the future tense, speeds up the creation of cells and dramatically reduces stress and anxiety.

              Try and get a handle on negative thoughts and make an effort to replace them with positive ones.

              Not sure how to do it? Take a look at this article:

              How to Turn Off Negative Thoughts in Your Mind

              6. Exercise regularly

              It’s been proven that regular exercise helps to increase brain function and enhances neurogenesis. This means that every time you exercise, you are creating new brain cells!

              Here’re 5 Ways to Find Time for Exercise, get off the couch and get moving!

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              Your brain will thank you for it.

              7. Train your memory

              How often do you hear people say “I wish I had a better memory!’ Yet no-one does anything about this!

              If you discipline yourself to memorize phone numbers and other important numbers (passport, credit card, insurance, driving license) you will start to see a marked improvement in your memory.

              8. Eat healthy

              Our diets have a HUGE impact on brain function. Our brains consume over 20% of all nutrients & oxygen that we consumed – so remember to feed your brain with the good stuff! (i.e. fresh fruit and veg & plenty of OMEGA 3 oils found in oily fish)

              Here’re more healthy foods that will boost your brain power:

              10 Healthy Foods That Make You Smarter

              9. Read a book

              Reading relieves tension and stress, which is brain-cell killers because it’s a form of escapism.

              Research has also shown that using your imagination is a great way to train your brain because you force your mind to ‘picture’ what you are imagining. Reading is a great way to trigger your imagination!

              Reading every day helps your thinking and imagination, learn more about it here:

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              10 Benefits of Reading: Why You Should Read Every Day

              10. Get enough sleep

              Sleep is like a mini detox for the brain. This is when your body regenerates cells and removes all the toxins that have built up during the day.

              Get to bed between the hours of 9pm and midnight to benefit from the most effective hours of sleep!

              If you have difficulty sleeping, you should read this guide:

              The Ultimate Night Routine Guide: Sleep Better and Wake Up Productive

              An intelligent brain comes from hard work

              If you do take my suggestion and do these things consistently, you’ll soon realize your brain is sharper and you can remember more stuff.

              You don’t need to do everything all at once, pick one to two and start making them your daily habit.

              Intelligence comes from hard work. Make effort to train your brain and you’ll become smarter.

              Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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