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Academics and stress: Are you studying effectively?

During my years as a university professor, many students have expressed difficulty with working through some of the problems and issues discussed in the classroom. As a psychotherapist, I have encountered many students that find themselves falling under the weight of academic pressure, organisation, and excelling in this era of standardised scoring.

In this post, I provide some useful tips for effectively studying academic content. First, I need to preface my comments by stating that these techniques will not work if you merely attempt to cram prior to the exam. In fact, these methods will show to be quite counter-productive. The success in many study techniques involves a level of discipline, focus, and time commitment. Second, these tips will prove effective for those engaging in personal study, short courses, other academic environments. It is my goal to help those that struggle with academics to alleviate the stress associated with the pressure of grades, exams, and academic/life balance.  

The task of studying for a class requires that the student…

  • Read the required material prior to the day of the class. Many students believe that they will gain all of the knowledge they need from the class. Remember, the professor is providing an abbreviated version of the text he or she has chosen for the class. The classroom provides clarification for concepts that are known to be dense or complex. For example, it will take the professor copious amounts of time to discuss normative ethics and contrast them with other forms of ethics. As such, to become specific in terms of explaining normative dominance may be beyond the scope of an organised lecture. However, your prior reading will provide you with an excellent foundation to which you can build upon to gain further knowledge of the content.

  • Take notes on what you read in outline format. Use the “table of contents” as a guide to your outline. Each section has a section and subsection identification. Attempt to pull out the main ideas and concepts from each section by the subsections. The key is to be organised.

  • Create examples that refer to either experience (past, present, personal, or professional) or funny conceptual thoughts. In this case, think of something that makes you laugh or that you know beyond all doubt. This makes access to material easier to access long-term memory from your short-term memory.

  • Ask questions. Sometimes, you may not know what questions to ask. In such a case, put an asterisk next to the phrase or text that confuses you to ask the professor. He or she is trained to interpret and know the material. Use them for all they are worth.

  • While in class, take notes according to the same outline you developed at home. By staying consistent you are not tricking your mind into thinking that the content is somehow different than what you have read. While the professor will have different views or arguments against the topic, the general interpretation will not stray too much.

  • After class, review your notes by consolidating the material from the book and the lecture.  This will help to also consolidate information in your mind.

  • Start on the new material for next class. These techniques are important for helping you to succeed and maximise the amount of knowledge you gain from a class and will help you prepare for the exam. However, there is one other aspect to this equation…

Structure your study environment!

  • Study tools and utensils. Use only the utensils required to study. Avoid things such as Facebook, Twitter, incoming calls, and text messages. Every time something distracts you, your mind has to go through various stages of thought again. Think of it as sleeping. If you are in a deep sleep but your alarm sounds every five minutes to awaken you from your sleep, can you get a good night sleep? Certainly not! Your mind goes through several stages of thought. Every time something distracts you, you come back to a basic stage of study that will not involve deeper levels of thinking. Also, think about how these micro-surfing moments affect the amount of time spent on social media. As you read posts, watch videos, and respond to comments, you find that time moves faster than originally thought.  

  • Study in a clean and uncluttered area. The dictum is very clear… “Cluttered space, cluttered thoughts”. A clean environment allows for fewer stimuli around that could distract you. For example, if you like to clean, a dirty house will prohibit you from focusing on other issues.

  • Stay within the moment. Do not constantly think about what you “will do”, “could be doing”, or “what others are doing”. Stay in the moment and continue to study. Allow the other things to wait.

  • Manage your time. 

Remember, it is fine to take occasional breaks. In fact, I would recommend that you take breaks. However, make the breaks scheduled. Do not pick at your time by distracting yourself. Think about what you do and how much time you wish to spend on each activity. In this case, studying will become more productive and efficient.

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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