All three of my children are students; my son and daughter are in college and my youngest daughter just started high school. And I have been a professor for over 25 years, so I see lots of variation in how students -- undergraduates, masters students, and doctoral students -- go about trying to learn and be successful. As such, I was struck with a list of 9 things over at BPS research that students can do to be more effective, gleaned from The Psychologist. Check out the post at BPS research for details, but here they are:
1. Adopt a growth mindset: This might be the most important of all; as Carol Dweck's wonderful research shows, when people believe that their intelligence and abilities are malleable rather than fixed, they try harder of learn more. It is useless and downright destructive to view your abilities as fixed because, if they are, why should you bother try? And failure means your dumb. That mindset is dangerous nonsense -- and if your teachers start talking that way, ignore them --or send them some information about Dweck's research.
2. Sleep well. There is tons of evidence that sleep deprivation makes people dumber and nastier. There are times when you've got to push it because of deadlines and such, but I think we all know that feeling a dulled mind from lack of sleep.
3. Forgive yourself for procrastinating. A cool study shows that students who forgive themselves for past sins here procrastinate less and perform better in the future.
4. Test yourself. As BPS reports: "A powerful finding in laboratory studies of learning is the ‘testing effect’ whereby time spent answering quiz questions (including feedback of correct answers) is more beneficial than the same time spent merely re-studying that same material."
5. Pace yourself. People remember things better when they do a bit every day rather than cram for exams. I know this is against the instincts and habits of many students out there, but the evidence here is clear, so learning to plod along can help you a lot.
6. Vivid examples may not always work best. This one is interesting because, as professor, I know that students love vivid examples. But BPS reports some research suggesting that learning abstract concepts rather than the juicy stories that illustrate them enables students to more easily apply the concepts to diverse challenges. (I have to learn more about this, as it actually seems inconsistent with stuff in Made to Stick -- although perhaps the challenge is that juicy stories are so sticky that we don't focus on the underlying lesson).
7. Take naps. I love this point. I talk about it a lot in Good Boss, Bad Boss because there is evidence that taking a nap not only makes you more effective, it helps keep your inner jerk from rearing its ugly head. Napping is also a way to offset some of the negative effects of sleep deprivation when the pressure is on. See the BPS summary of research on how to nap -- lying down is better than leaning forward, but leaning forward is better than not napping at all.
8. Get handouts prior to the lecture. I blogged about this research awhile back; many faculty now put handouts on line, so if you are a student, it sounds like looking at hem before the lecture and bringing them with you is a good idea. Students who get handouts in advance take fewer notes, but still tend to better on tests, at least according to one recent study.
9. Believe in yourself. As BPS tells us: "Self-belief affects problem-solving abilities even when the influence of background knowledge is taken into account. Bobby Hoffman and Alexandru Spatariu showed this in 2008 in the context of 81 undergrad students solving mental multiplication problems. The students’ belief in their own ability, called ‘self-efficacy’, and their general ability both made unique contributions to their performance."
I will send this post to my children; I hope they read it! I would also add that if you look at this list, these tips aren't just for students. Really, they are nice summary of the learning mindset, of how to manage yourself for learning over the long haul. In particular, two overall themes jump out at me that are supported by piles of behavioral science research conducted under diverse banners (psychology, education, sociology) and labeled with diverse jargon:
1. If you believe you can, you can; if you believe you can't, you can't (points 1 and 9)
2. Treat your journey as a marathon, not a sprint or series of sprints (points 2,5, and 7; and perhaps some others)
Let me know what you think of these tips; and also let me know your ideas about how to persuade others to do some of this stuff! I am especially concerned about the challenge of teaching people (and myself too) to "pace yourself." That is something that is easier said that done.