Study Tips & Tricks of a Life Long Learner!

Where all my students at?!

Since I'm a lifelong learner (seriously I got a tax return for just that!), I wanted to share what study tips worked for me. These are very general tips. Really, the way in which you prepare for a class depends upon how the exams for that class are formatted. For example, I have one class, Epidemiology, which is completely about memorization. While my other two classes - Biostatistics and Immunology - you're allowed aids during the exam.  Biostatistics allows you a study sheet, and Immunology is completely open note.  But, anyways, these are the general things that I've found to work for my classes!

Disable your internet.  I often have to work on the computer for research, doing stats, or just for typing something up. But, simply because I’m me, I will often have ADD moments and have a dire need to look something random and unrelated up on the internet. Ultimately this turns into me internet surfing or browsing facebook or pinterest for VASTLY too long. So, I have found a great remedy to this problem – TURN OFF YOUR INTERNET! I don’t mean go unplug your modem out of the wall. I mean on any device your using that receives wi-fi (ipad, laptop, even your phone, if necessary), go in and disable your wi-fi while you study.  You might be thinking – “Why does this work? I can just go in and turn it back on?”  Trust me when I say that when you double click on the internet to go do some well-planned time wasting, simply seeing that you can’t connect will serve as a reminder that you need to buckle down and get shit done.  

Find study buddies that are enablers. When I was an undergrad, I had a friend who loved to study with me, but I hated studying with her. I felt that she didn't spend as much time making sure I understood, or that she didn't care. Her study method didn't work for me.  I didn't like studying with her. I actively avoided it.  It ended up causing issues in our friendship because I was passive aggressive about it. That was my fault, but anyways.  I had another friend, that we just ended up chit-chatting instead of studying. Also a problem.  When I moved out here, I met a girl who we will call E. E and I bonded over our shared roots, and over the fact that we seemed to be the only two summer-starters in the graduate program who were remotely interested in hanging out with other people during the summer!  She's by far my best friend since I've moved out here. And, she's also my study buddy! We study very similarly - we're marathon studiers, we buckle down and don't chit-chat, etc. Also - she's my motivator! We joke that I'm the flakey, crazy one that makes sure we have fun, and she's the serious, studious one that keeps us focused!  To be fair, she is a lot of fun. I just like to tease her like this! She is my study buddy and we're a good team! I also have a friend from Biostats who is a great study buddy - she's a sweetheart, and we totally understand different portions of the material so we're able to help eachother.  So, find good study buddies!

Organize study groups. I mentioned the gal I study with from Biostats. Well, we met because we sit next to each other in class, along with another guy. As the first exam approached, we all decided to study together! We booked a study room in the Public health building, met up, and just helped each other through everything. It was so useful! The things that I didn't understand, they totally understood and explained to me. And we went back and forth helping each other out. Needless to say we all kicked some booty on that first Biostat exam. Same in Immunology! I got together with a group of other students and we went through and explained things to each other.  Nothing is better for making sure you understand something than explaining it to someone else!  

Study as you go...I don't know how else to say this other than to study as you go. I try to stay on top of my readings, read before class if necessary, and then after class, summarize the lecture completely separately than my actual notes.  This is really helpful for me because it allows me to learn what I really understand and what I have to spend more time on, which is a good thing to know ahead of actually starting studying for your exams.  

Start early, small doses, organization. I thought about breaking these up into different sections, but basically there's so much overlap about the process I use that they all got combined.  I start studying at least a week in advance of an exam. I actually aim for 2 weeks. Why? Well, because even if I'm only organizing what I need to know, I'm at least looking at the material.  This starts me off getting an idea of what seems vaguely familiar, and what I'm lost on and need a lot more time on. I usually get the majority of my studying done on Saturdays and Sundays. Sundays are especially busy house-keeping days, so this actually proves to be a good day for me to get started on my studying. I will do my laundry and while I'm waiting outline the topics. Then, while the laundry is drying, or maybe while I'm making food for the week, I will organize all my lecture notes into something convenient.  For example, I take notes on my ipad, so I have to upload all the pdfs onto Dropbox so I can easily access them from my PC.  For Immunology, we have open note exams, so I organize all the powerpoint lectures into one document.  These are just examples of what I do to stay organized.  

Take breaks.  I can't tell you how many studies have been doing showing that taking frequent breaks allows for better absorption and focus on what you're working on. I used to be able to marathon study - start at 8 am and finish at 10pm. I don't know how I did that as an undergrad. Apparently my "ADD" has gotten worse over the years because I can't do that anymore. So, work steady and smart for an hour, and then give yourself a 5 minute break to chat, get a coffee, walk around, stretch, etc. Whatever it is take five minutes to do, and then press forward. Frequent breaks maintains productivity, and let's face it, it keeps you sane!

I hope those tips helped! I can post later about the specific ways in which I study for different types of exams, but these are just general tips that I've found to help me so far.

Everyone is totally different - so these tips might not work for you! As I go, if I find something else that works better, or that maybe one of these techniques isn't as helpful as I thought, I will make an update and let you all know!
In the mean time, keep working hard!

Other great sites:
How to Defeat Procrastination
Tips for taking notes like straight A student
Demote your Assignments
Marshall your resources
Invest in Academic Disaster Insurance