Open your mind while you revise

With Christmas fast approaching, you’ve got a lot of time to explore your productivity by testing out different ways of working.

It doesn’t matter if you hate change, you may be surprised to find that incorporating some change in your life can work wonders.  And as you get used to making changes, any lack of change becomes the difficult beast.

For many of you, exams are just around the corner.  Revision covers so much ground that it’s not always clear where to start.  Do you re-read your notes, write further notes, make flash cards, read scholarly books, create mnemonics, devise weird and wonderful learning tables…?

Revision Notes - photo by jez`

In revision, I suggest you should mix the game up a bit and embrace change.  I mean several different things:

1. Use a variety of media

  • pen & pad: An oldie but a goodie.  We’re so used to working from computers now that it can be quite liberating to write things down in longhand.  You may be surprised at how differently your thinking can be when writing to how it is when you type at a keyboard.
  • word processor: If you’re working from lecture notes, it might help you to set them out electronically.  Not only can the new input on screen help your memory, but you should also be able to make the notes more concise and readable.
  • flash cards: Not always applicable, but if you can work like this with your subject, don’t forget to make the most of memory jogging flash cards.  They sound like a good idea to many students, but regularly get forgotten about.  If you can remember things this way, you’re doing yourself a disservice if you don’t give yourself the time to create the flashcards!
  • e-mail: Sometimes it’s good to see a different screen when you’re working, even if just for 10 minutes.  Why not tap away an e-mail to yourself?  The nature of writing this way is different to writing a letter, so you may be able to fool yourself into using different parts of your brain.  Watch more ideas and memories come flooding out to help you with your revision!
  • mind maps: For a more diagramatic set of notes, mind maps work wonders.  It will also provide links that you may not have noticed if you were working from words and numbers alone.  If you’re not aware of mind maps, check Litemind, MindmappingMashable and Wikipedia for introductions, tips, and helpful software/websites.
  • tables: No matter what subject you’re studying, you may be able to create tables in Excel or similar.  Even if it’s just to note down similar concepts in a row, the shaping within tables can sometimes be quite helpful.  When you look through a magazine, the tables and pictures are usually the most striking and memorable elements.  It stands to reason that you can, therefore, make use of tables in jogging your memory rather well.
  • dictation machine: Your own voice is a powerful tool in itself.  Don’t forget that speaking out loud can help your memory greatly.  So why not speak out loud, which is a help in itself, but record those speeches at the same time?  Listening back to yourself will open up yet more parts of your mind.

2. Visit numerous places for study

  • bedroom
  • dining table
  • library
  • friend’s house
  • park
  • cafe
  • campus

Changing area regularly while you study is a boon for some.  Instead of getting bored with the same surroundings, it can keep the mind active.  It can also engage your interest if you pick areas that you haven’t been before.

If you have a number of different places to go to, you may also find it helpful to pick a different topic for revision each time, so you can think back to when you were in a particular place.  That should help the mind open up the memory banks.

Study in the park - photo by ortonesque

3. Go further than set texts

  • look AROUND the subject as well as within: It’s important to get a grasp of the bigger picture, even if you’re studying a niche area.  Gaining a knowledge of the basics around what you’re studying can help all the pieces of the jigsaw come together.  It’s the equivalent of finding all the corner pieces of the jigsaw first, so you know how the bigger picture is shaped.
  • research up-to-date journal articles: Academia goes far beyond your undergraduate degree, as you’re bound to know.  Professors around the world are writing their own essays to fill millions of books and journals.  That means you’d be wise to keep abreast of recent issues of journals that are relevant to your line of study.  If you can refer to new discoveries, recent theories, and up-to-date opinions in your exam answers (and your essays, of course), you’re on the way to being a cut above.
  • read book reviews on related topics: While I was at uni, I found it so useful to read book reviews.  They would give a potted explanation of the book, as well as the most important and controversial issues.  If these were brand new books, sometimes the reviews were the only place you could get word of the book’s content, unless you were willing to pay huge amounts to buy the book yourself!
  • ask knowledgeable people (from professors to librarians): If you want more info, or if you’re stuck looking for some important revision material, don’t suffer alone!  Always ask for help.  Nuff said.
  • join mailing lists & read in forums: You may be treated to brand new arguments, or you may be propelled into some mind-expanding debate between people…if you’re lucky, it’ll be scholars arguing amongst themselves, which could give you a bit of working into their ways of thinking.

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