Have you ever bombed an exam even though you spent hours staring at textbooks and praying to whatever god will listen to allow you to pass? Yeah, we’ve all been there. Luckily, the Academic Achievement Center is helping students find better strategies for studying and understanding their course material to help with that dilemma.
On Monday, Oct. 9 the AAC hosted a workshop called “Strategies for Deeper Learning.” Henry Wen, an eighth-semester psychology major with a minor in human development and family sciences, and Margaret Luo, a physiology and neurobiology major with a minor in materials science and engineering, are both coaches of the AAC at the Storrs campus. They began their workshop by asking students to guess the average number of sign-ins that the AAC receives in an academic year. Shockingly, the number amounts to over 15,000 students who utilize the resources the AAC provides.
Wen wanted the audience to understand that “there is no right or wrong answer for what is a good study strategy, but some are certainly more effective than others.” The AAC defines the least effective study strategies as highlighting, mnemonic devices and rereading. The most effective studying strategies are teaching others, using practice tests or problems and studying over a long period of time.
Wen and Luo broke down learning into six categories. The first is remembering, which includes keywords such as list, receive, recall, identify and trivia knowledge. This is based around general knowledge that you might have learned but don’t have a deeper understanding of quite yet. An example is being able to recreate the Apple logo from memory. In most cases you would just draw an apple with a bite mark, but specific details such as the direction of the leaf or which side the bite is on requires more than just a vague memory. Wen poses the question, “Is being familiar with something the same as having learned it?”
The second category is understanding, described with words such as explain, summarize, describe, interpret and paraphrase. Understanding takes the memorization of the concepts further and asks you to describe them in a more detailed manner.
Apply is the third level, asking you to calculate, solve, execute, implement and relate the material. Can you solve 4x2−4x−4=0 using the quadratic formula? Questions like this are examples of application at work, applying material towards other concepts in order to solve problems.
Fourth is analyze, which means to contrast, compare, classify, organize and discuss. Being able to relate issues to others lets you gain a better understanding of them individually as well as the relationships between concepts. This is especially useful to students studying literature or in majors that require critical thinking on a daily basis.
Fifth is to evaluate, or critique, decide, support, argue and defend your stance. Wen and Luo asked the audience to think about which dining hall on the Storrs campus is the best and to describe why. There were varying opinions (Northwest is the best) but this was essentially an exercise in evaluating. Another case where evaluation could be applied is this question: should Connecticut legalize euthanasia? Why or why not? Situations where you must decide on an outcome requires you to evaluate both sides further. You cannot support one without also understanding the other.
The final category is to create, which means to design, construct, develop, generate or modify something. This was a more difficult concept to describe since it can’t be applied to all subjects, but Luo best sums it up with an example: “Einstein made the equation E=mc2 for his theory of special relativity, and he was able to do so because he had a very deep understanding of physics.”
Some techniques and exercises that were mentioned include mind maps, which are diagrams on a certain topic that help expand upon it. “Mind maps help me focus on one thing and what that relates to,” states Luo. She mentions that she also uses study guides and the Cornell study method. The Cornell method requires you to self-test yourself on material regularly. The Pomodoro Technique is a time management method, where you break down studying into long, segmented sessions with short breaks in between. Wu describes the Pomodoro Technique as “reps for your brain!”
The final study method that Wen and Luo mentioned is a common one: the five-day study plan. It includes chunking information, creating strategies to approach material, distributing practice and reviewing versus preparing. This plan holds students to a strict regimen. “It’s harder to procrastinate when you have a plan in your face,” says Luo.
The AAC is located in room 217 of the John W. Rowe Center for Undergraduate Education on the Storrs campus. It’s located in room 202 of the Hartford Times Building on the Hartford campus and in room 128 of the Waterbury campus. The AAC is open Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. and on Fridays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.