Monday, 31 December 2012

How To Take Notes - Cornell Notes

This post is the second in my series on note-taking. If you haven't already, take a look at my post on pictorial notes here.

What Are Cornell Notes?
Cornell notes is a system devised by a university professor at Cornell University which is more structured than other approaches to note-taking I have come across. It is a very organised way of making notes that can accurately record in-class discussions or lectures and be used as a revision aid afterwards. Despite this, very few students have actually heard of them.

How To Make Cornell Notes
 It involves splitting your page into three sections:
  1. Notes - this is where you record the information you want to retain. Be sure to keep them short and to-the-point, with plenty of space around each point. There is nothing more off-putting come revision time than a dense slab of words.
  2. Cues - I prefer to place short questions beside the corresponding notes so I can 'test' myself quickly and easily. Formulating questions on your own notes are a great way to make you really consider which points are most important and what you need to know about them.
  3. Summary - I think that this is the most innovative aspect of the Cornell notes system. Most people don't consider writing a summary for each separate page of notes - even if they are on the same concept. This really forces you to look over your notes and understand them because you have to condense your notes, whist retaining the main ideas. The summary is especially useful for quick skimming when you are short of time.
  • Uber-organised notes
  • Two ways to revise from them: answering questions and quick review
  • Forces you to revisit your notes after making them, so you are more likely to retain the information
  • Having to rule across your entire pad of paper! (as an alternative you could simply print this template)
  • Having less space per page for actual notes.
What do you think of Cornell notes? Do you already use them? Leave a comment below.
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How to Take Notes - Pictorial

How to take notes is a question students ask very frequently. Unfortunately, it's something we are never told or taught. It's something we are just expected to know and be good at. Since notes form the basis of our study and revision, it's important to get them right.
This post is the first in a series on how to take notes.

What are Pictorial Notes?
Put simply, they are notes in the form of pictures. Not works of art, but simple line drawings. You can use colours to code for different objects/areas in the drawing or you can go right in with your biro. Depending on your subject, they could be annotated diagrams or cartoons. There's no right or wrong way.

Taken by me!
How Can You Make Them?
  • From writing in a textbook or your own notes for example. Here, I used them to turn two wordy paragraphs into two little drawings that communicate the ideas more effectively. Although images are the main focus, don't be afraid to add labels and annotations - just keep them short and snappy.
  • From speech. So if your teacher or lecturer is explaining the structure of... I don't know... the human eye, you can draw it as they talk. Diagrams are a good way of communicating ideas quickly. It may also be quicker than copying down their dialogue word-for-word.
  • From memory. This can be a good way to test your understanding of a concept, especially for visual learners. You can then compare this with your existing notes, allowing you to identify any gaps in your understanding.

  • Can easily summarise wordy paragraphs into a simple image
  • Makes things like anatomy easier to understand
  • Great for visual learners
  • Not suitable for all subjects and concepts - I wouldn't be able to use it to make notes on a poem, for example!
  • If you hate drawing you might not find this useful...
Do you use this note-taking method? Are you going to try it out? Let me know in the comments section.

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Sunday, 30 December 2012

Frustration Busters

So, you're hunched over your desk (as you have been for the last three hours) trying desperately to think of a way to begin that essay which is unfortunately due in less than 24 hours. You're frustrated because you can't think of anything and then you become frustrated that you're frustrated because it makes it harder to think which makes you even more frustrated because you can't think and you're running out of time and....
 In this kind of situation there is no point in forcing yourself to continue. It's wasting time instead of being productive. You need to relax before any work worth handing in can be done. But everyone says relax or calm down or whatever. The question is how? You don't have time to waste going to the gym or meeting a friend or watching TV. So what can you do? Well. here are some suggestions:

  • Make yourself a drink or snack. I know you've heard this before. Everyone says it. But that's because it actually works. And who doesn't like food? Just try to choose something remotely good for you. (No, strawberry-flavoured lollipops DO NOT count :D)
  • Get up and exercise. Yes, that's right. Believe it or not, exercise can actually invigorate you and get you all pumped and ready to go. However, I would not recommend this if you are in a public place i.e. the library. People will give you funny looks. 
  • Try some concious free stream writing. This is really effective to use before studying as well. Find out more here.
  • Switch tasks. Do you have any other important tasks to complete? Switching to a very different subject can help e.g. from English Lit to Maths ( if you're weird like me and study both at A-level) These subjects require you to use different skills and parts of your brain, so you can rest the overworked parts. Think of it like switching exercises during a workout so you don't overwork or pull a muscle.
  • Do something easy. Are you good at solving simultaneous equations? Do a bunch of them. Do you frequently beat the high score on Angry Birds? Or maybe you have a special talent for balancing spoons on you nose. Whatever. Just do something you are good at for 5 or 10 minutes just to remind yourself of your own amazingness. Then, when you sit down to tackle that horrid essay, you have your brilliant self-belief to get you through. After all, what is Larkin compared to the master of spoon-balancing?
So next time you find yourself going crazy over some work (hopefully not too soon!) try out these suggestions and tell me how you get on.
Good Luck!
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Concious Free Stream Writing - A Way to Clear Your Mind

Sometimes, no matter how much you want to get work done or how long you sit there and try, you just can't seem to get down to it. This is one of the worst things to happen to a student, I think. You could have all the time, all the resources etc.  but if you can't actually make use of these then there is not much point, right?
In my experience, when you aren't tired/hungry/on your phone/watching TV/on Facebook the cause of this is stress or your mind focusing on other things.
Now, you've probably had lots of advice on how to focus and get rid of stress.
Some bits of advice don't work for everyone and others are downright patronising: "Why are you stressing over that Chemistry exam? Chemistry's not that hard. My sister/brother-in-law/imaginary friend got an A in that. And anyway, you can retake it, can't you?"
Anyway, what I have recently discovered to combat a lack of focus is concious free stream writing.
It is basically written diarrhoea.
*Awkward silence*
Seriously. What you do is write/type whatever is on your mind. I start with the words "I feel ___________ because..." and just go for it. Spelling, grammar and neatness no longer exist. Don't pause or re-read what you have written because it will disrupt the flow. It doesn't matter if what you have written is complete gibberish. It's probably a good sign.
Try timing yourself to write as much as you can in 5 or 10 minutes. You can do this before you begin working as a kind of preventative measure. Then, once you're done, you can return to work with a lovely clear mind.
I find that it's pretty good therapy.
Just make sure you burn/delete/re-cycle the evidence afterwards. You don't want your mum or room-mate thinking you're crazy.
Even if you are.

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How to Exercise When You Don't Have Time

Everyone knows that exercise is good for you, right? And it's important to maintain a balanced lifestyle whilst studying for those all-important exam(s).
 But the thing is not everyone wants a gym membership or to flail breathlessly jog outside in the cold. Most people struggle to find the time to exercise and for a beginner, the prospect of all that effort and (perceived) pain actually isn't that attractive.
These are all problems that I have faced.
After a bit of experimentation, I have found a way to overcome these problems by exercising in my room. This way, I can still get some physical activity in the colder months and can do it when the mood strikes and during my study breaks.
However, I don't believe in rigid, unchangeable routines. I prefer a more 'pick and mix' approach:

  1. Warm up (some ideas here)
  2. Choose 5 exercises (like these or these) and do 8-15 repetitions of each (depending on your fitness level)
  3. Rest for 1-2 minutes
  4. Repeat if you want
  5. Cool down stretches when you're done
This would take about 15-25 minutes, depending on what you choose. You can do this once a day or several times a day. First thing in the morning is great for shaking off that early-morning grogginess! Be sure to switch things up so you don't get bored.

Handy tip
You can use water bottles for weights (just make sure they're closed properly before you begin as being doused in water is not nice :/ ). Experiment with different amounts of water to give lighter or heavier masses. 

Please be aware that this is not a substitute for all other physical activity (sorry, you should still walk to school and attend badminton/football/kung fu practice) but is intended for use when you are short of time or need a quick break from working. 
Also, consult a doctor before attempting a new exercise regime if you have a medical condition that is affected by physical activity e.g. asthma or diabetes.
Make sure you stop if you feel pain! This shouldn't hurt. If you feel yourself getting tired, switch exercises, even if you haven't completed the set. 
If you are new to exercise, have at least one or two days off a week to let your body recover so you don't get injured.

Give these a go and tell me what you think. Which exercises are the most effective? Which ones are just plain nasty?


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Friday, 14 December 2012

How to Become the Perfect Student...

There are so many students out there who are intent on being 'perfect'.
They aim high, work hard and put in the effort. However, when things don't go exactly how they expected, they beat themselves up. And when I say 'go wrong' it's something other people would call silly. Like getting 98% in a test instead of 100%. Or almost crying on results day because they got 7 A* instead of 9.
That's right. Crazy, huh?
People like that strive so hard to be 'perfect' that they often disregard their other achievements, label themselves as a 'failure' and cause themselves unnecessary stress.
That used to be me.
What I realised is that, to be successful you don't need to be perfect. You need to aim high and be willing to work hard BUT you also need to accept mistakes as an opportunity for improvement. Mistakes can be GOOD. They show you where you are lacking and allow you to learn from them. They give you a healthy dose of reality too.
Mistakes can help you to become a better student, as long as you learn from them. And, yes I said better instead of perfect. That's because (as cliché as it sounds) we are human and humans are not perfect.
Nobody is.
Because if we were, what would be the point in tomorrow?
Life is all about growth and experiences and trying to be the best we can.
So instead of trying to be the perfect student, why not try to be a better student?
That's the idea behind this blog and I hope you will find it helpful on your journey/ mission/ unbelievably-frustrating-drag.
To perfection betterness!

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