How to Survive College: Tips from Cognitive Psychology On Learning Part II

Don’t be like this cat, even though it is tempting. Instead, read this article to get a better understanding of how to get the most out of class so you can afford to nap while others stress. Image found:

As this is the beginning of the first official week of Hell (in other words, midterms; the second official week of Hell being finals), we thought sharing some tips on how to survive would be helpful.

In Part I there were tips about starting the semester off to a good start and what to do in preparation for classes. In Part II, we will cover what cognitive research and educators* recommend for learning in class during and after, and, most importantly, how to study for those exams you’re dreading.

Before we begin, here’s a picture of a bunny:

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During Lecture

Do Not Skip (Unless You Absolutely Have To)

Simply put, you won’t learn if you don’t go.

Even if the lecture is essentially a review of the material you already read, just showing up and hearing the material again will allow the information to more easily become part of your long-term memory.

Furthermore, teachers will often explain the material in different ways, so if the way the book describes a concept does not make sense, the teacher’s description may help clarify what you did not understand. Teachers also tend to add additional information that they believe is relevant to the class that is not included in the book but most likely will be on the test.

Take Notes By Hand

There are exceptions to this as students become more accustomed to taking notes with a laptop than with a pen and paper. Even so, the use of a laptop could distract both you and your neighbors as the temptation to look on social media and the internet is tempting, so be careful in how you use your laptop and where you sit. The authors of the study suggest turning off your WiFi so the internet and social media will be less tempting.

The reasons behind the insistence on using the traditional method of taking notes is related to the lower levels of information processing generated when using a laptop. Students take notes with their computer mindlessly, while those who use a pen/pencil and paper must process the information and convert it into something that is not word-for-word, but will make sense to them in the future.

In other words, those who write on a piece of paper know that they cannot copy everything down and therefore have to pick and choose what is the most important information to write down in a concise manner. This method of note-taking therefore leads to greater comprehension of the material.

Your wish is my command, Chem. Cat!

Obtain Slides Before Class

That way, you will not have to write everything down that your professor talks about, but can add to the information already shown. You can pay more attention to what the professor is saying instead of madly trying to copy everything down before they go to the next slide.

After Class

Most students leave immediately and focus on whatever they have to do next, but the authors of the article recommend going back over notes from your lectures later on in the day. By doing so, you can fill in whatever information you remember but did not get a chance to write down, as well as to find where you need more information on a topic.

In addition, write down whatever questions arise from your studying and try to answer them yourself before turning to your book. The authors say just spending fifteen minutes looking over your notes can help you better understand and remember what you learned that day.

By studying this way, you don’t have to re-learn everything the night before the test but can instead simply review the easier concepts and focus more on what you really struggled with.

Preparing for Tests

Advice for this section is essentially what has already been discussed. Research shows that students tend to study at the last minute by looking over notes and rereading material paying close attention to highlights, but that these methods do not work as well as one might hope. Instead, the authors recommend studying over a length of time and using active studying techniques (Putnam et al., p. 656).

Space-Out Studying 

Image result for space cat
The author of this article has no clue what is going on in this gif, but she finds it mildly amewsing. Found on:

Don’t cram everything at the last minute, instead, space out your studying over the course of several days. You’re still spending around the same amount of time, but you are learning much more from these study sessions than from one gigantic cramming session the night before (or day of).

Cramming may seem to work in the short-term, but for long-term memory retention, spacing out your studying sessions will drastically help your performances on tests.

The authors also make note of how rereading should be for when you are confused about a topic after quizzing yourself, not when you want to remember something. If you want to remember something, quizzing will help much more than simply reading over what you’ve already read before.

Reasons of Quizzing

This emphasis on quizzing yourself is based on a learning tool called “retrieval practice.” By quizzing yourself, the authors point out, you are literally doing what you are going to have to do for the test: retrieving information from memory.

Image result for the more you know gif

The authors provide a few more ways to improve results from study sessions. Besides the read-recite-review method and other methods discussed in part I, the authors also recommend the use of flashcards. Use memory retrieval and do not look at the answer side when trying to answer the question; in addition, make sure you keep using the card until you have gotten the answer right at least three-to-four times. Finally, don’t just define the term, but try explaining the term to a friend; this method also helps retention.

Some Other Tips

The authors provide a helpful link towards balancing studying and retrieval practicing through suggesting looking up something called successive relearning (Putnam et al., p. 656).

Continuing on, if there are a lot of terms you need to memorize, using mnemonic techniques can be useful. Mnemonics are probably familiar to you; teachers use them often, such as when you are learning the order of operations in math. Teachers will probably use “PEMDAS” to help you remember, with each letter corresponding to something else: Please (parenthesis), Excuse (exponent), My (multiplication), Dear (division), Aunt (addition), Sally (subtraction). You can use mnemonics to help you in college as well, either through this particular way or through loci, which are mental associations formed with objects or buildings familiar to us in order to help us remember harder things.

The Final Exam 

By following the suggestions above and in part I, the Final Exam will not seem quite as daunting as before and you might even be able to get a good nights rest. Be sure to start studying well ahead of time and test yourself on what you recall, reviewing what you cannot and making sure that everything you do remember is correct.

Final Tips

Put studying at the top of your priority list (you and/or your parents are paying a fortune for you to learn), but also remember to have fun with your friends and reward yourself for what you have accomplished so far. Exercising can be a great method of stress relief, as well as getting a regular amount of sleep.

In the end, it’s easy to get caught up in the multitude of activities and assignments we involve ourselves in, but be sure to just take a few minutes for yourself to just… breath.

Everything will be okay.



*The information discussed in Part I and Part II is taken from a study conducted by Dr. Adam L. Putnam of the Department of Psychology in Carleton College and  Victor W. Sungkhasettee and
Henry L. Roediger, III of the Psychological & Brain Sciences Department of the Washington University in St. Louis. Their study, published in 2016, is titled “Optimizing Learning in College:
Tips From Cognitive Psychology” and can be found here.

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