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Study Rails: A Web App To Study

Study Rails: A Web App To Study

Study Rails

    In high school, I had a great routine. About five minutes before I had to leave to get to school on time, I would be hitting print on the paper, project or homework assignment due that day. If I truly had timed things perfectly, I might be printing out anything due in the afternoon in the school library during my lunch period.

    To put it mildly, I was a great procrastinator. College put a little bit of a kink in that approach, though. Professors think nothing of setting due dates all on the same day, forcing me to actually plan ahead. I struggled a little with that sort of planning, to be honest. I had never really needed to plan my time out for studying: I could make a project take as much time as I thought I had before it was due, and prioritizing wasn’t exactly my strong point.

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    Looking at my list of must-haves for a good study planner, I noticed that Study Rails (in open beta) seemed to have most of them. I’m taking one class this summer. I figured that maybe Study Rails might be able to help me out.

    Study Rails Set Up

    Setting up a Study Rails account is pretty easy — although only a 14 day trial is free. After that, there’s a subscription fee of $10 per month. Once you’ve confirmed that you really do want to register, the site asks you some basic questions. You will need to put in your class schedule, so I’d recommend have that handy. You’ll also need your cell phone, for Study Rails’ text message capabilities. There is one optional piece of software that the website asks you to download.

    The Benefits of Study Rails

    At first glance, Study Rails seems like little more than a calendar application with a few study skills bells and whistles. You input your class schedule, along with any other appointments that block off your time. You list out your upcoming assignments and estimate the number of hours you’ll need to complete it. Nothing fancy, right?

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    When you start marking off hours for your study time, you start to see a difference. Study Rails automatically prioritizes what assignments you’ll work on during a given hour. The program doesn’t automatically assign you to work straight through on a project, either. It breaks up your study session so that you do a little work on all your assignments and projects.

    Study Rails also tells you when it’s time to hit the books. During the setup process, the site asks for your cell phone number. That’s so it can send you a text message 10 minutes before you’re supposed to start studying. It also text messages you when you need to switch over to a different project or assignment.

    As far as calendar applications go, Study Rails is a pretty aggressive taskmaster. But for many of us not used to planning study sessions on our own, a stern calendar may be necessary. I wouldn’t recommend it for a student who has a good planning system, and it may be a bit overkill for part-time students. It is worth $10 a month to students who need a little help, though.

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    Study Rails, the Software

    As you provide the site with your class schedule and cell phone number, Study Rails offers something in return: a software download. This download is available in both Mac and Windows flavors — although Linux users are out of luck. When installed, this program, known as Study Rails Blocking, will prevent you from accessing any applications and websites you chose. You can prevent yourself from opening up a chat client while you’re supposed to be practicing your Latin vocab or browsing YouTube when you’re supposed to be doing math.

    I’ve seen plenty of plugins and websites that limit your web surfing but most of the methods I’ve seen for blocking AIM and other distracting applications have required a bit more complicated setup than Study Rails Blocking. Interestingly, settings for the blocking software are handled through the web application’s dashboard. Furthermore, you can’t change blocking settings (eliminating sites, etc.) while the calendar says that you’re supposed to be studying.

    I can think of a number of problems that sort of limitation could create — what if you had to IM a classmate to get the question numbers for your math homework? Overall, though, I think it’s a good idea for some people. I know I struggle with checking my email and other distractions when I’m supposed to be working on a specific project. It isn’t the most elegant execution, but it is a decent implementation.

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    Who Should Use Study Rails?

    Study Rails isn’t the perfect web application for every student. Its niche is students who have difficulty managing their studies on their own. For most other students, I can’t recommend spending $10 every month for a calendar — even if it is a great calendar. I think, however, this application is perfect for parents working with their kids to better manage study time. It would be great if Study Rails added some functionality to allow parents to check up on their kids’ schedules down the road, but as is, Study Rails works well as training wheels for study skills.

    I can’t imagine anyone sticking with Study Rails forever. Even for perpetual students, it isn’t a lifelong system. But I could easily see a student using it for the full four years of his high school or college career.

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    Last Updated on September 18, 2019

    How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    Note-taking is one of those skills that rarely gets taught. Almost everyone assumes either that taking good notes comes naturally or, that someone else must have already taught about how to take notes. Then, we sit around and complain that our colleagues don’t know how to take notes.

    I figure it’s about time to do something about that. Whether you’re a student or a mid-level professional, the ability to take effective, meaningful notes is a crucial skill. Not only do good notes help us recall facts and ideas we may have forgotten, the act of writing things down helps many of us to remember them better in the first place.

    One of the reasons people have trouble taking effective notes is that they’re not really sure what notes are for. I think a lot of people, students and professionals alike, attempt to capture a complete record of a lecture, book, or meeting in their notes — to create, in effect, minutes. This is a recipe for failure.

    Trying to get every last fact and figure down like that leaves no room for thinking about what you’re writing and how it fits together. If you have a personal assistant, by all means, ask him or her to write minutes; if you’re on your own, though, your notes have a different purpose to fulfill.

    The purpose of note-taking is simple: to help you work better and more quickly. This means your notes don’t have to contain everything, they have to contain the most important things.

    And if you’re focused on capturing everything, you won’t have the spare mental “cycles” to recognize what’s truly important. Which means that later, when you’re studying for a big test or preparing a term paper, you’ll have to wade through all that extra garbage to uncover the few nuggets of important information?

    What to Write Down

    Your focus while taking notes should be two-fold. First, what’s new to you? There’s no point in writing down facts you already know. If you already know the Declaration of Independence was written and signed in 1776, there’s no reason to write that down. Anything you know you know, you can leave out of your notes.

    Second, what’s relevant? What information is most likely to be of use later, whether on a test, in an essay, or in completing a project? Focus on points that directly relate to or illustrate your reading (which means you’ll have to have actually done the reading…). The kinds of information to pay special attention to are:

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    Dates of Events

    Dates allow you to create a chronology, putting things in order according to when they happened, and understand the context of an event.

    For instance, knowing Isaac Newton was born in 1643 allows you to situate his work in relation to that of other physicists who came before and after him, as well as in relation to other trends of the 17th century.

    Names of People

    Being able to associate names with key ideas also helps remember ideas better and, when names come up again, to recognize ties between different ideas whether proposed by the same individuals or by people related in some way.

    Theories or Frameworks

    Any statement of a theory or frameworks should be recorded — they are the main points most of the time.

    Definitions

    Like theories, these are the main points and, unless you are positive you already know the definition of a term, should be written down.

    Keep in mind that many fields use everyday words in ways that are unfamiliar to us.

    Arguments and Debates

    Any list of pros and cons, any critique of a key idea, both sides of any debate or your reading should be recorded.

    This is the stuff that advancement in every discipline emerges from, and will help you understand both how ideas have changed (and why) but also the process of thought and development of the matter of subject.

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    Images

    Whenever an image is used to illustrate a point, a few words are in order to record the experience.

    Obviously it’s overkill to describe every tiny detail, but a short description of a painting or a short statement about what the class, session or meeting did should be enough to remind you and help reconstruct the experience.

    Other Stuff

    Just about anything a professor writes on a board should probably be written down, unless it’s either self-evident or something you already know. Titles of books, movies, TV series, and other media are usually useful, though they may be irrelevant to the topic at hand.

    I usually put this sort of stuff in the margin to look up later (it’s often useful for research papers, for example). Pay attention to other’s comments, too — try to capture at least the gist of comments that add to your understanding.

    Your Own Questions

    Make sure to record your own questions about the material as they occur to you. This will help you remember to ask the professor or look something up later, as well as prompt you to think through the gaps in your understanding.

    3 Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    You don’t have to be super-fancy in your note-taking to be effective, but there are a few techniques that seem to work best for most people.

    1. Outlining

    Whether you use Roman numerals or bullet points, outlining is an effective way to capture the hierarchical relationships between ideas and data. For example, in a history class, you might write the name of an important leader, and under it the key events that he or she was involved in. Under each of them, a short description. And so on.

    Outlining is a great way to take notes from books, because the author has usually organized the material in a fairly effective way, and you can go from start to end of a chapter and simply reproduce that structure in your notes.

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    For lectures, however, outlining has limitations. The relationship between ideas isn’t always hierarchical, and the instructor might jump around a lot. A point later in the lecture might relate better to information earlier in the lecture, leaving you to either flip back and forth to find where the information goes best (and hope there’s still room to write it in), or risk losing the relationship between what the professor just said and what she said before.

    2. Mind-Mapping

    For lectures, a mind-map might be a more appropriate way of keeping track of the relationships between ideas. Now, I’m not the biggest fan of mind-mapping, but it might just fit the bill.

    Here’s the idea:

    In the center of a blank sheet of paper, you write the lecture’s main topic. As new sub-topics are introduced (the kind of thing you’d create a new heading for in an outline), you draw a branch outward from the center and write the sub-topic along the branch. Then each point under that heading gets its own, smaller branch off the main one. When another new sub-topic is mentioned, you draw a new main branch from the center. And so on.

    The thing is, if a point should go under the first heading but you’re on the fourth heading, you can easily just draw it in on the first branch. Likewise, if a point connects to two different ideas, you can connect it to two different branches.

    If you want to neaten things up later, you can re-draw the map or type it up using a program like FreeMind, a free mind-mapping program (some wikis even have plug-ins for FreeMind mind-maps, in case you’re using a wiki to keep track of your notes).

    You can learn more about mind-mapping here: How to Mind Map: Visualize Your Cluttered Thoughts in 3 Simple Steps

    3. The Cornell System

    The Cornell System is a simple but powerful system for increasing your recall and the usefulness of your notes.

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    About a quarter of the way from the bottom of a sheet of paper, draw a line across the width of the page. Draw another line from that line to the top, about 2 inches (5 cm) from the right-hand edge of the sheet.

    You’ve divided your page into three sections. In the largest section, you take notes normally — you can outline or mind-map or whatever. After the lecture, write a series of “cues” into the skinny column on the right, questions about the material you’ve just taken notes on. This will help you process the information from the lecture or reading, as well as providing a handy study tool when exams come along: simply cover the main section and try to answer the questions.

    In the bottom section, you write a short, 2-3 line summary in your own words of the material you’ve covered. Again, this helps you process the information by forcing you to use it in a new way; it also provides a useful reference when you’re trying to find something in your notes later.

    You can download instructions and templates from American Digest, though the beauty of the system is you can dash off a template “on the fly”.

    The Bottom Line

    I’m sure I’m only scratching the surface of the variety of techniques and strategies people have come up with to take good notes. Some people use highlighters or colored pens; others a baroque system of post-it notes.

    I’ve tried to keep it simple and general, but the bottom line is that your system has to reflect the way you think. The problem is, most haven’t given much thought to the way they think, leaving them scattered and at loose ends — and their notes reflect this.

    More About Note-Taking

    Featured photo credit: Kaleidico via unsplash.com

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