This is a guest blog post written by our friend Gretchen Wegner at The Anti-Boring Approach to Powerful Studying. They help de-stressify school for overwhelmed students who struggle with time management, organization and effective study strategies. We encourage you to learn more about Gretchen and the Anti-Boring Approach!
“To me, doing schoolwork was like dying for a short time.”
I ran across this quote in a short story recently. The author was reflecting about his relationship to school as a child, and the accuracy of this quote floored me. For sooo many students (and their parents!) schoolwork DOES feel like “dying for a short time” every night.
I work as an academic life coach, helping overwhelmed students manage their time, organize their things, learn to to study, and advocate for themselves with their teachers.
The truth is that for so many students (and parents too!), school is overwhelming and stressful. This is true for the struggling student whose grades are often lower than they’d like, and the perfectionist, who is anxiously trying to keep up the high standard of your grades.
I used to think that the problem was mostly around time management, organization and motivation. As a coach, if I could help student develop routines for staying on top of their work,
But then I realized that the problem is deeper and more insidious than that —
I discovered that schools never teach students HOW to STUDY! It turns out that one of the major causes of anxiety and overwhelm is that students spend too much time studying in ineffective ways. They review their notes, and re-read textbooks. They make flashcards and study those ad nauseum. The conscientious students invest HOURS in these study tactics that work against the brain’s natural inclination to learn; the struggling students sometimes can’t motivate themselves to get started with these study tasks, because they feel so boring.
Once I started experimenting with teaching students how their brains work and how to use the built-in power of their neural pathways to design powerful study techniques for themselves, everything changed — motivation went up, anxiety went down, students became more willing to study over time (rather than at the last minute), and schoolwork felt less like dying and more like living.
So, students, let me talk directly to you for a moment — would you like to learn the “secret” to how to study in brain-friendly ways? What if there were some simple things you could do that makes studying and school work interesting enough that you don’t mind doing it… and maybe even have some fun too. What if you could actually spend less time studying, while raising your grades, and having a social life too?
Yes! All that is possible. The key is what I call “The Anti-Boring Study Cycle”. Neuroscience shows that there are 3 actions the brain needs in order to truly learn new information and skills. If you can design a study process for yourself that cycles through these 3-actions over and over again, you’ll discover that you can learn more in less time. I summarize The Anti-Boring Study Cycle in this 5-minute video over on my website, and I encourage you to check it out (sometimes it’s easier to learn through a quick demonstration than by reading).
However, I’ll summarize it here for you, too.
- First, you need to learn the information in the first place. The brain scientists call this process “encoding.” In school teachers are usually in charge of helping you do the initial encoding.
- Secondly, you need to practice testing yourself, or showing yourself what you know and what you don’t know. The brain scientists call this process “retrieval.” It is imperative here that you learn to test yourself from memory! Too many students rely on their teachers to test them, and don’t learn solid retrieval skills. The point of testing is to get clear about what you’ve learned, and what you haven’t learned that you still need to study.
- Finally, and most importantly — you need to re-encode the information that haven’t learned in a new way! This is where most students slack. If they re-encode at all, they do it in the same boring ways that they learned the information initially — by reading the textbook and mindlessly reviewing their notes. Learning new and interesting ways to re-encode what you don’t know is one of the most important academic skills you can give yourself before you head off to college!
So, those are the 3 steps of The Anti-Boring Study Cycle. I strongly suggest you head on over to my website to watch the 5 minute demo. Then, if you have any questions about how to apply the Study Cycle to your current classes, don’t be shy! Pop me an email from the contact form on my site. I’d be happy to help.
Remember — schoolwork doesn’t have to feel like “dying for a short time!” and you don’t have to lose your life to school and studying. Learning the Study Cycle was the key for most of my high school age clients, and I bet it’ll be your lifeline too.