Improve your study skills and get motivated
- 3 February 2016
- Posted by: Open Minds Tuition
- Category: Tips
Many parents dread the lead up to their children’s exams. Nobody likes to feel overwhelmed or under too much pressure to perform, it saps energy and is counter productive. Young people who are studying for exams are often put under a great strain to do their homework, to concentrate for long periods of time, to please their parents and their teachers, and to get results.
Improving study skills and learning how to feel relaxed and calm can greatly improve performance and well-being. Children are vulnerable to stress just like the rest of us but they may not know how to handle it effectively. Parents and teachers can encourage a positive mindset by remaining calm themselves and making learning enjoyable. Setting goals and then breaking them down into smaller steps can help to make things easier.
Hours of study every evening might sound like hard work, but effective planning to include breaks and rewards makes the time go a whole lot smoother. Parents can help children to concentrate and focus better by understanding how to structure study time by using a few simple concepts and skills. Imagination is a great tool to use when learning and children are excellent at using their imaginations.
“Imagination is a gift you give yourself in the present that allows you to go into the future feeling better and stronger, more calm and comfortable.” Linda Thompson
Using all our senses
We all learn in different ways. Some people are more visual and remember what they see, some are more auditory and remember what they hear and others are kinesthetic and process information by working things out. In order to remember information, it’s a good idea to bring as many senses as possible into the learning process.
Tim Taylor, in his article in The Guardian (5 February 2013), agrees that children learn better when they use their imagination.
“Children learn best when they are engaged in their learning, when it matters to them, when its contextualised in meaningful ways and when they have a sense of ownership and agency”.
Memories are encoded in the brain by paying attention to something that enters conscious awareness through the senses, and processed through association. Emotion tends to increase attention and the emotion itself is processed by an unconscious part of the brain. New neural pathways are laid down when we are learning something new, and stretching ourselves. The more we code our memories, the easier it will be to retrieve them, that’s why mnemonics, acronyms and rhymes trigger our long-term memory. For example, Richard of York Gained Battles In Vain helps us to remember the colours of the rainbow.
Memory prompts, drawing pictures or diagrams, saying words aloud, and imagining what the word represents are all ways to make information stick. Pictures that are funny, colourful and uniquely meaningful can be particularly helpful. Using a theme the child finds amusing can be more engaging. By activating the senses you enhance the natural ability to learn in a fun way, which in turn encodes information into memories that are easier to recall.
It is generally believed that short-term memory is encoded using sound, and long-term memory is more reliant on semantics (the meaning we give to things).
Using The 3 Primary Senses
- Visual: Use colour when reading and writing notes. Have a variety of brightly coloured pens to highlight words, pictures or ideas, and make connections in the same colour to form associations between things. Choose coloured squiggly lines to connect ideas.
- Auditory: Read aloud and hear yourself say certain things in a certain voice. Maybe the voice of a teacher, or a hero, or someone you imagine being very confident. Practice speaking aloud and notice how your voice can change how you feel.
- Kinesthetic: Write key phrases on cards, or type notes up on a computer.
Create the right study environment and get started
Having a structure helps to create good learning habits that will become automatic.
- Prime yourself for study by imagining your study time unfold calmly and effectively;
- Work in the same place when possible so that your brain associates this place with study;
- Have everything ready so you don’t have to keep getting up looking for things;
- Sit on a comfy chair at a desk or table at the right height for you;
- Switch of the TV and your mobile phone;
- Have water and snacks to hand;
- After every period of focus, about 20/30 minutes, take a break and do something different for a few moments (eat your snack or look out the window). This helps to recharge your brain so you focus better when you sit down again;
- Set an alarm or a timer to keep you on track;
- Set a goal for each session, you might surprise yourself and achieve a bit more than you expected;
- Motivate yourself by thinking of how you will feel when you have achieved your goal for the evening;
Children can often become distracted and find it difficult to concentrate on one thing for long, however they do have the ability to multi-task and engage their brain on several things at once. When we observe a group of young people, they can be chatting, texting, playing games and talking all at the same time. Once they are interested in something they can focus really well as they develop self-discipline and motivation. The key is to make study interesting and rewarding. The reward may be a feeling of satisfaction.
The Marshmallow Experiment
A series of studies done at Stanford University on delayed gratification, back in the late 1960s and early 1970s, became known as the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment. A classroom of 4 year olds were offered a choice between a reward of one marshmallow now, or two marshmallows if they waited 15 minutes. The tester left the room and returned later to see which children were able to wait and which ones couldn’t wait. Follow up studies showed that the children who waited tended to have better outcomes in life, did better in education, had a better Body Mass Index (BMI) and generally fared well overall, than those children who couldn’t wait.
Learning the skill of delayed gratification can help children and adults alike, in all areas of life. When we work hard and motivate ourselves with a reward, we achieve better results. When a person makes a positive connection with the reward (motivation), they are more willing to work for it. For example, study for half an hour and then have a treat.
Good study habits are life skills that will bring success in all aspects of life. It’s not just about getting results in the exam; it’s about creating positive habits and learning how to structure your time. The ability to motivate yourself and overcome setbacks are useful tools that lead to confidence.
10 Tips to help concentrate and focus
- Work for 20/30 minutes and take a break;
- Take a 5 minute break, have a stretch, drink water, walk around; have a treat or eat a piece of fruit;
- Go back to your work, test yourself and carry on;
- Congratulate yourself;
- Study some more – look out for important information and highlight it in colour;
- Make notes of what’s important using pictures and diagrams;
- Repeat the pattern every half hour or so;
- If you lose focus suddenly, it’s ok, just take a deep breath and look away for a few moments. Think of something funny (for example a purple spotty elephant). Take another deep breath as you re-boot your brain, remain calm and carry on.
- Remember that all you can do is your best, not anyone else’s best.
- If you feel anxious, practice diaphragmatic breathing for a few minutes. Breathing in for 4 seconds, raising your tummy all the way up, holding that breath for 4 seconds, and slowly exhaling for the count of 8, releasing all the air from your lungs. Repeat a few times until you feel calm again.
10 Tips to get motivated
- Have a plan of action in your head so that you know what you are going to. Structure your workload like a roadmap so you know where you are going.
- Run a movie in your mind of things working out well. Engage all your senses, imagine receiving your award certificate; hear the voices of congratulations; feel the sense of pride in your efforts.
- Keep a journal of your successes, however small, and build a bank of success stories. Remind yourself of your previous achievements whenever you need to.
- Your brain makes connections between your visual cortex and your feelings. Make sure you imagine or “see” things positively.
- Encourage yourself with words of praise and reinforcement.
- If you have a bad day, don’t worry about it, have a good day tomorrow.
- Think of something you feel naturally motivated to do and get into the zone of feeling motivated about something – then transfer that feeling into what you need to do.
- Inactivity is a killer of motivation. If you get writers block, write about something you know, for example an anecdote, a description, a joke or a declaration. Even if it is nonsense (you can always go back and change it later). Once you have got that out of the way, you can begin to flow.
- Procrastination is another hurdle to overcome; it zaps your mental energy and build up resistance. It’s best to get on with the task and enjoy a sense of achievement knowing you are doing what you need to do in order to a achieve your goal.
- If you get stuck, imagine what some confident motivated person might do to motivate themselves, and try it out
©Mary Bowmer Inner Space Hypnotherapy