Additional Homework and Study Tips

Use whatever materials you need to make sense of it all (Photo by Jay Tamboli)

My previous post stated that one advantage that distance learners have over most traditional students is the ability to use their computer for note-taking during meetings. Especially if you have set up folders on your computer for each class, you almost don’t have to lift a pencil during your entire college experience. However…

Many studies have shown that there is a direct link between your hands and your brain. Come up with some way to manipulate the information that you want to learn, and your brain will remember it better. Now, typing does involve your hands, and if you’re lucky, using a keyboard may provide enough of a connection between your fingertips and your gray matter to send the data that you’ve entered speeding into your memory cells as quickly as you enter it on your computer.

If instead you find that, after setting up and filling in your outline, you are still having trouble understanding the subject matter or any part of it, pull out a piece of paper and get to work. Make a chart, with the main idea in the center of the page, and details clustered in a circle around it. Or, draw a picture or doodle what a section of the text makes you think of. Rewrite the parts of the outline that aren’t making sense, and try filling in more details by hand. Remember Richard Dreyfuss’ character in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”? You might want to stop short of tossing plants through your  windows, but feel free to play with the information any way that feels comfortable to you. You are not being weird when you are literally trying to get a grip on your classes. It’s how humans learn.

When studying and doing homework, pay attention to your own internal rhythms. Some people jump out of bed as though they had a shot of caffeine before they woke up. Others don’t hit their stride until after supper. If you can set up any kind of schedule at all, work on the most difficult projects when you are most alert. Everything that you do will seem easier.

Speaking of things seeming to be easier, there are two schools of thought on doing easy stuff versus taking on the harder projects first. Of course, they give opposite advice. One says to tackle the most difficult items first, to get them out of the way. Everything after that will be a piece of cake. The second says to toss off a couple of easy things, so that you get a feeling of accomplishment that provides a needed boost when you move on to a more difficult level.

Trust your instincts. Do projects in whatever order seems most natural to you. But be honest with yourself. If you find yourself doing all of the easy things while never seeming to find time for that paper, you’re not doing yourself any favors. On the other hand, if you spend all of your time doing research on that paper, testing and discarding various themes, working incredibly hard but never seeming to actually accomplish anything, you’re spinning your wheels. You need  to seek help immediately.

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