Tag: finals

It’s that time of the year again — the air is colder, holiday carols blast from Ferris, and you are on your 11th hour sitting Butler, staring mindlessly out the window, with very little to show for it. Sound familiar? Even though you’re hardworking and want to do well on finals, studying doesn’t seem to be getting you anywhere. It happens to the best of us, because many of the ways students study don’t line up with how humans actually learn. Luckily, neuroscience has made major progress in figuring out how we learn — so you can hack your brain to study smarter.

1. Stop re-reading your textbook While it might seem like the obvious way to learn information, re-reading the textbook is actually one of the worst ways to learn if you’ve already read it. Textbooks are full of extraneous information that take lots of time to get through, so you’re wasting precious storage space on unnecessary information. It’s also incredibly difficult to focus on ‘passive’ learning of information, such as listening to a lecture or even reading a textbook — your brain has a tendency to revert to its ‘default-mode’ network and your mind wanders. If you haven’t read the textbook yet read it once while simultaneously making a study guide. Constantly ask yourself if the information is relevant, testable, and related to what was said in lecture. Write the important points down in your study guide to be referenced later.

2. Instead, study by re-creating the exam condition — Again and again, education research has found that constantly testing yourself is a much better way of learning than re-reading material. If your professor provides a practice exam, take it under real-exam conditions. The closer you are to taking a real exam, the more your episodic memory, powered by your hippocampus, can easily recall those memories on test day. After you take your practice exam and you’re reviewing your wrong answers, take the time to learn why you were wrong and focus on more practice problems that specifically test the troublesome concept. If you don’t have a practice exam provided or your upcoming exam is heavily essay-based, try coming up with practice problems/prompts for yourself. By becoming the test-maker, it’s easier to see what material lends itself well to making questions, and helps you to focus your studying on the low-hanging fruit that will likely make an appearance on an exam.

3. Study with friends/classmates — This one seems counterintuitive, as many nights spent alone in the libraries by all of us will attest. However, it’s one of the most powerful ways to enhance memory recall. Your brain is wired to prioritize social activity since we evolved as cooperative creatures. Set up a study session with someone else in the class, preferably two other people. Quiz each other on the material, asking each other the hardest questions you can come up with. Make your partners explain the entire concept through. When you have to interact with another person, your brain is more engaged and those memories will be ‘tagged’ with the importance of the interaction, leading to better long-term memory. As a bonus, being forced to explain material to someone else helps you to recognize weak points that you might have been skimmed over otherwise.

4. ‘Tell a story’ of the material to make it emotional — This works best when you’re telling it to someone else, but can also work alone. Human memory is predisposed to narratives; it’s why storytelling was one of our earliest art forms. Correspondingly, we remember best when the material has emotional significance. For some disciplines this may be easier than others, but it’s still possible to ascribe motivation to, for example, the movement of molecules. If you can personify information, your brain will ascribe it more significance and you’ll remember more of it.

5. Do one thing at a time — We all think we’re fantastic multitaskers, but neuroscience has shown that we’re actually horrible at it. On average, it takes you anywhere between 10-25 minutes to get back into an optimal ‘flow’ after a distraction. Switching rapidly between classes means you’re not giving yourself the opportunity to activate your executive attention network, and means you’ll spend more time staring blankly at information you’re not actually understanding. If you need the extra boost, apps like SelfControl for Mac, Freedom for PC, and Forest for both Android and Apple phones will help force you away from distractions. Find what distracts you most, whether it be Facebook, Instagram, or messaging friends, and block access to those activities during study blocks. Your brain will thank you.

6. Take a 15-30 minute study break every 1.5 hours — Attentional control research has found that people can’t really focus for more than 1.5 hours in a row without a break. Set an app like the aforementioned SelfControl for 1.5 hours, and sit down to work just for that time. It’s less daunting than realizing you have 8 plus hours of studying to do in one day, and by delineating specific times for work and breaks, you’ll be more productive overall.

7. Study more than one thing per day, and then repeat it — Reactivation of a memory is essential for long-term consolidation, as it lets your brain know that information is important and needs to be held on to. Those 1.5 hour ‘focus’ blocks provide natural breaks to switch topics. Where those switches happen and after how many blocks is up to you and your personal exam schedule, but switching it up helps to refocus your brain by exposing it to novel content. As a bonus, by studying for three smaller blocks on three days in a row before an exam, you’ll have enough exposure to do significantly better than if you studied for the same amount all on one day.

8. A little stress is good, a lot will hurt you — Much has been said about the ‘stress culture’ that permeates this campus, but being constantly stressed out has extraordinarily negative effects on not only your health, but also your ability to remember anything. Chronic stress has been shown to actually kill off the very neurons in your hippocampus you need to store and retrieve information, meaning the longer you’re stressed about an exam, the worse you’re going to do on it. Short periods of acute stress can actually help your brain remember information, because evolutionarily, if an event might cause you harm, it makes sense to remember what that event was. In an exam context, feeling worried about an upcoming exam can be a potent motivator of helpful study behavior, but feeling full-on panicked can be a detractor. Use those 30 minute breaks to do something that brings you joy, instead of  just mindlessly scrolling through the internet. Chat with a friend, meditate, watch a short TV show — it doesn’t matter what your happy activity is, just don’t forget to do it.

9. Get at least five hours of sleep between studying and taking the exam — I know that saying to sleep more is obvious advice, but the science here specifically for learning is the strongest. You need to sleep to consolidate that fragile, newly learned information into declarative memory, which lets you actually access that content when you need it. Five hours is the bare minimum you can get away with, because your brain will go through at least one sleep cycle in five hours. Optimally, you want to aim for at least seven. Your brain uses that crucial time offline from sensory experiences to make connections among all the new information you learned and store what’s most important, making recall that much easier on exam day.

10. Don’t change your routine on exam day — Whenever you usually wake up, whatever you usually eat for breakfast, if you drink a cup of coffee in the morning, try your best to leave all those mundane factors unchanged. Altering routine is one of the biggest sources of stress in animals, and floods your brain with the stress hormones that damage your memory neurons — not what you want before an exam. Give yourself at least 10 minutes before the exam to center yourself, and try to be as calm as you can when you’re taking your test. Stress will suppress your ability to access a lot of information, because your body thinks it’s under attack. Taking the time to calm down before or even during an exam will be much more valuable in the long run than an extra 10 minutes speed-reading notes.

Lion Guides: Literature Humanities Review

We here at the Lion understand that this is a hectic week for you leading up to Fall Break. Two or three midterms? A couple of papers? We truly feel your struggle. Thus, to take a little load off your shoulders and maybe grant you an extra hour or so of sleep, we took the liberty of compiling various study guides filled with A1 content. Hopefully, this will make your cramming a breeze (like the one Iphigenia was sacrificed for). Good luck: may the odds be ever in your favor.

The Lion team would like to credit Ryan Mandelbaum, Michelle Vallejo, and Constance Boozer for putting together this comprehensive review guide.

NOTE: Some texts such as, Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon are not included.

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I need help.

When combined, these three simple words create one powerful phrase. Yet, one could count the number of times they have heard Columbia students say this phrase on one hand. And that’s a problem.

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As we reach the end of the semester and the start of finals, The Lion team wanted to share some recent submissions we’ve seen.

Orgo Night 

One of Columbia’s more controversial events, the Columbia University Marching Band’s Orgo Night takes place in Butler 209 at 11:59PM on 12/16. During the event, the band comments and jokes about past events on campus while helping students destress through their performances.

To get ready for the event, check out their promotional video here and advertisements below.

Fall 2015 Orgo Night Poster

Fall 2015 Orgo Night Poster

 

In other Orgo news, Kevin Chiu (SEAS ’17) along with Helen Chen (CC ’17), Rebecca Gellman (CC ’17) , and Sid Perkins (SEAS ’17) created a video for every student out there studying for their Orgo Finals.

Only 13 days until the end of the semester. Good luck with finals!

Want to share some of your group’s upcoming events on campus? Send us an email at submissions@columbialion.com

Congratulations! You’re at Columbia! Now brace yourself for a deluge of substandard teaching practices.

But seriously, what does it take to get some quality education around here? As a senior, I have taken way too many classes where either I or the TA end up teaching me how to pass the test. What’s the point in having a professor if he or she is not going to teach us anything?

Change We Can Believe In

I don’t need technology in my lectures. I know everyone’s excited about bringing Powerpoints and videos into the classroom (my high school was obsessed with SmartBoards), but have you ever taken a Gulati class? The man is brilliant with a chalkboard.

Anyways, if there is technology in a lecture, I demand a copy. Because a) it’s easier to annotate a lecture that’s already written out than copy the whole thing over again, and b) it’s like showing a kid candy and saying you can’t have any.

Post the lectures. Online. Ahead of time. Please and thank you.

Regardless of whether a class has a chalkboard, whiteboard, or Powerpoint, I need my lectures to be organized. I want you to lay out a framework, and talk about each point, in order. I do not need you to skip around, or zoom ahead so fast that no one has a chance to write anything down.

This is not conducive to learning, and it makes the whole room hate you.

Finally, let’s talk about style – public speaking skills and such. Here’s a few don’ts: do not interrupt yourself mid-sentence right when you’re coming to your point. Do not mumble in a way that makes you impossible to understand. And for the love of God, do not speak in a monotone for 2 hours.

Conspiracy Theories

It’s rumored that professors have literally no incentive to teach (other than with grade inflation). That is, tenure at Columbia depends almost exclusively on things other than teaching – we’re assuming this is published research and/or papers. If you win the Nobel Prize, you get tenure. If you have a gold nugget on CULPA, no one cares.

In this kind of system, do the student evaluations even mean anything? Furthermore, do students even mean anything? Or are classes just seen as a necessary evil on the way to a pinnacle of academia? Food for thought.

Moving on, let’s talk hypotheticals. Maybe this is all some dastardly plan to force us to teach ourselves. I mean, if you have to learn it on your own (or risk failing), then maybe students learn it better. Maybe this is supposed to teach us independence, working in ambiguity, and all of those middle school goals we were supposed to achieve.

Maybe professors think that, by handing us things, like clear formulas and logical explanations, they’re making it too easy on us. After all, we are Columbia. We’re one of the best schools in the country – maybe dealing with nonsensical lectures is how we got there.

Maybe not.

The Lion is the only campus publication that pledges to post all submissions that meet our open submissions policy. To respond to this piece or submit a piece of your own, email submissions@columbialion.com