Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Visual Notes: Crash Course

How much more likely are you to read an infograph than an actual article or research study? Probably a lot more likely, right? In fact, 90% of info transmitted to our brains is visual! "Yeah, so what?" you might be asking. So... have you ever considered using visual notes for studying instead of just writing out a bunch of words? You know, a little like creating your own infograph? I started doing this for two reasons:

  • #1: When I was in high school, we had a teacher who would allow us to create a 1-page study guide that we could use on our tests. I know, I know... sounds so easy, right? And you are right, it was easy. But here is what our teacher knew: He knew that we would spend SO MUCH time analyzing and evaluating what information to put on those study guides, that we would secretly be learning more information the whole time we were creating them! Pretty sneaky, huh? 

  • #2: I am a visual learner. And you probably are, too. In fact, 65 percent of us are visual learners! This is why we may get overwhelmed when we open a document/e-mail/textbook that just has dense paragraphs and paragraphs full of words. And I don't mean for that to sound as bad as it may sound (like we're too lazy to read a book or something). It's just that images, like charts or graphs or illustrations or photographs, can make it easier on our eyes and our brains because they improve a document's readability

In fact, when I was in my Educational Psychology class a few years ago (favorite one ever, btw), our professor told us that one of the jobs within that field is to create those little images and tables in textbooks! I just thought it was pretty cool... I never even thought about why they were in there! Now I notice them all the time (AND I actually pay attention to them)!  

Now, whenever I'm feeling particularly overwhelmed by a topic, I try to put all of the most important info onto ONE PAGE using a mixture of bullet points, charts, drawings, keywords, whatever I think will help! I created a study sheet of visual notes for my most recent certification exam (the last one ever. YAY!). Luckily, I took photos of this one because, as you know, studying is a little like working out: If you don't photograph it, it doesn't count.

As you can clearly see, stick people are my specialty. Just look at Jean Piaget's glasses.
Remarkable talent. 

So, how about this: How about if, the next time you're studying for an exam, you comb through your notes and your textbook and create an infograph-style study sheet. One sheet (or poster) with pictures to quickly trigger certain concepts in your brian with a few keywords or major facts to remember! Then hang it up somewhere where you will see it frequently throughout the day (like above your desk or on your mirror to look at while you're getting ready). 

Maybe you'll be able to get a little more into studying using a method like this than you would if you had to sit down, pull out your notes, and flip back through pages and pages of your own handwriting! I have included some examples of "visual notes" to inspire y'all! Also, there are links to several different sites that mention them (and other things) as well! 

Of course I love this one by Liz Cazaly because it's about education, too! Win-Win!

This one is by Austin Kleon (of achieves what I was TRYING to do in the photo above.  

And this one by Guilia Forsythe makes it easy to scan through the categories of the topic! 

Here are some links to sites that are
not drawn by Kindergarten teachers
actually informative on this topic 
talented at drawing visual notes 

Remember, it doesn't have to be good to be effective!
Thank goodness! :)

Do you take visual notes or have you ever tried? How do you typically create study guides? Have you tried that trick of putting them on your mirror (or somewhere in your home)... if so, did it help or not help? 

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Write Notes in Your Own Words

I can't really remember when I started doing this, but I'm pretty sure it was sometime around my Junior year of undergrad. Okay. Wait a minute. Actually, I can tell you exactly when I started doing this! I remember it like it was yesterday... it was indeed the fall semester of my Junior year. Apologize by OneRepublic was on the radio every 15 seconds and Facebook was still the only social media network we needed.

I was in a World Civilizations class (which somehow made me hate my favorite subject... history!). My professor was wonderfully nice, but she literally, LITERALLY typed entire pages/paragraphs of notes onto her PowerPoint slides. At first, I joined the whole class in frantically trying to copy each slide word for word, until I figured out that I could quickly read the paragraph, then paraphrase it into one or two sentences.

It was like reaching this super state of zen or something.

I was able to stay so calm during her lectures while everyone else stressed about the slides. And yes, that is the only time in my life that I have been less stressed than... oh, I don't know, anyone else. A lot of people went on to drop or fail that class (her tests were also 100 questions long). But not me. In fact, I did so well that it ended up being my first time to be exempt from an exam! Once I started grad school, I learned why paraphrasing the notes helped me so much.

And I totally love the reason because... it's science! It turns out that what I was doing (just to save my hand from getting a cramp) was called active listening. Instead of mindlessly copying words without thinking, I was forcing myself to comprehend the material before I could write it. That way, when I re-read my notes, I totally understood them because they were all in MY own words to begin with! 

On top of active listening, this gave me ownership over the notes... I created themThey were my wordsmy examples; not my professor's. And we all love the things that we create, right? That's why teachers aren't supposed to use red ink to grade papers anymore... It's just too traumatic for us to see our beautiful creations all covered in that mean-old red ink!

 Below, I have listed some articles on effective note taking, but the one I like the most is University of Reading because it compares Active Note-Taking and Passive Note-Taking! Passive Note-Taking includes things like underlining, highlighting, and copying from Power Point slides! All of our favorite things to do! When you look around your classroom, you are probably swimming in a sea of Passive Note-Takers!

BUT who wants to do more work and get less out of it? No one, that's who! So check out these examples of Active Note-Taking! Go into class with a purpose and with questions about the topic! Try to connect the new information you're learning to other information that you already know! Think of your own examples. And, of course, write notes in your own words! (unless you need to remember a direct quote, obviously).

Less writing, less study time, and better understanding of the topic?

Ummm... yes, please! :)

Here is a really cool article about Effective Note-Taking from University of Reading!

Do you take notes in your own words? Why or why not? 
If not, do you think you might start now?

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Note Organization Checklist

Keeping up with class notes can literally get a little messy sometimes. I didn't start rewriting mine until my junior year of college when my Landforms professor mentioned it... but ever since then, my newly-rewritten, color-coded notes have acted as study guides for upcoming quizzes, tests, and exams! 

So, knowing exactly where to find what information is super important! And obviously, it required a system! The way it looks has transformed over the years, but the main idea stays the same!

Every semester, there are a certain number of quizzes and exams. They are almost always on the syllabus (I don't think I've ever had a college professor give a "pop quiz")... so there is pretty much NO reason not to be prepared for them! 

When I rewrite my notes, I try to make them look like a study guide... or an infograph... or something else remotely interesting to look at! Hence, all the different colors, silly doodles, and bullet points! Try to fit as much important info as you can onto one page!

Then keep all of the notes from every class together and in chronological order! Last year, I tried out a filing system. This year, I'm using a binder. Some years, I just put them in a designated side of my class folder

Different things will work for different people (and different professors' teaching styles), so don't be afraid to change it up! Just be sure to be consistent with whatever system you choose to use! Keeping all the notes together is the most imperative part of keeping them organized!

Be sure that each page of notes is labeled with a date and topic header. This will help you quickly flip through the top of your papers as you look for particular chapter notes or notes from a specific time frame! 

Since tests are usually organized by a few chapters at a time (Chapters 1-4, or 5-8), it's helpful that these notes are all back-to-back wherever you choose to keep them. If you've been writing page numbers in your notes, you probably know exactly which pages the questions will come from, too! 

And if you used a graphic organizer to help you rewrite your notes, definitely don't leave that out! Date and label them just like you would any other page of notes! In my opinion, these are some of the most helpful "study guides" because they are just very visually-easy to read. 

A good combination is to outline the actual textbook chapter and rewrite your class notes using a system that works for you! Between those two documents, you should have all info you need for the exam!

Once I finish with a particular section of notes, I either put them in the back of the "notes" section or I paperclip them together to let me know that I'm finished with that information. Don't throw them away! 

It's always nice to keep them around just in case you need to revisit something in the future... or if you have a (*DUN DUN DUN*) comprehensive exam at the end of the semester! (aka: how you know your professor really hates his/her life and wants you to be miserable, too).

If that's the case, better start those flashcards now!

Finally, don't be afraid to use some "mixed media" to help you quickly identify useful information in your notes! Post-It's, Sharpies, Washi tape are all awesome ways to draw attention to information that you'll need to find quickly again (...and again... and again) throughout the semester! 

At the end of the day, "organization" is a pretty subjective word, so you need to find out what it means to you and implement the best practices for yourself to keep up with the information in your notes!

And even though I joke about comprehensive exams, don't let them stress you out either! Because so much information is covered on them, nothing really gets too in-depth so I actually think they're easier than exams that cover more narrow scopes of information. 

If you don't take away anything else from this post, take away these two things: 

Everything else is just the compulsive-freakishness-icing-on-the-cake! :) 

How do you keep your notes organized throughout the semester! Do you tear them out of your notebook or just flag the pages? Or if you keep notes on your computer/iPad, how do you save/study them?!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

How I Make Flashcards

Because a photo is worth a thousand words (and a few paragraphs) today's post is written Sarah Vickers-style (and I say that out of love for her and her stylish ways). Well, with two exceptions: I took these photo myself and everything "featured" in them is less than $10 altogether. Okay, fine... three exceptions because I captioned the heck out of these photos to make up for the lack of writing! 

Okay, here are some flash cards I've made over the past year (and saved because they're obviously priceless). 

This is a cardboard gift box from Starbuck's, which turned out to be the perfect flash card holder!

My number one rule of flashcards is: MAKE THEM INTERESTING. The more colorful, the less I hate looking at them!

Aside from these markers, I really love the Crayola Tips ones (the skinny, white markers). PERFECT for notes!

I use whatever helps me remember the material: an acronym, a chart, an example, a picture... the sillier, the better!

For information that I'm already pretty familiar with, I just write some bullet points or a definition. 

Once I start studying, I highlight things I need to work on for next time... so apparently, I didn't do so well on this one!

Real-life examples are the best because they're just so memorable and obvious! 

For new or more challenging information, I get more in-depth by drawing charts, examples, graphs, pictures... this one is from some silly show on Bravo... but it worked perfectly for the definition! 

I worked in a restaurant over the summer and the menu was... though for me.
Whatever the opposite of a "foodie" is. That's me.

Graphic organizers even find their way into my flashcards! I used my Papermate Flair pens for these pictures, btw!

Do you make flashcards to help you study? I've heard it's helpful to cut the corners off... but I've never tried that, have you? Do you use pictures on your flash cards, too?!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Note-Formatting Resource

I was recently asked to share a post on how I format my notes. It’s pretty straightforward the way that I do it, but I’ll do my best to make it sound interesting!

If I’m in class, I kind of just scribble away quickly with a mechanical pencil… making sure to include all examples and maybe draw a quick graph if I think it will help me remember the material. These are my really quickly-written, really sloppy-looking notes. I use a lot of abbreviations, bullet points, and paraphrasing so that I can keep up with the PowerPoint/professor. It's never fun to be that person in class that everyone waits for as they copy the entire slide word-for-word! 

Once I get home, I rewrite them into more logical, colorful notes that I will actually be able to read in the future. In the photo below, old notes look the ones on the left and the more-organized, rewritten notes look like the ones on the right. The ones on the right get saved and used as future study guides.

When I rewrite them, I start at the top of the page (naturally) by writing the chapter/content title at the top center and the date in the top right corner. This is so that, when I'm flipping through my notes, I can quickly look for a particular chapter, date, or topic... which saves a lot of time in the future!

Then I begin writing the major headings/slide titles/topics on the left side of the page (by that red line that’s on notebook paper… the margin line, maybe?). I used pink in this example, because it stands out the most to me, but you can choose whichever color you like best (obviously). I used to write the title in a different color, but now I like the title, date, and major points to be the same color.

If there are numbers or bullet points for the major headers (1., 2., 3.,), I put those to the left of the red line. If there aren't, then I just don't put anything over there. This is just helpful for things that may have steps (like Bloom's Taxonomy for you education majors). It helps me remember for tests!

Then I just start filling in the information under each heading/topic by rewriting my original notes. Just copying the info from my "scribbly" notes and adding missing information, removing repetitive information, or clarifying things that may not have made sense from my first round of notes.

If I’m following along in my textbook, I write the page number of everything we cover. This makes it easier to read the text in the future because you've already connected it to something learned in class! Also, there are SO many times when a professor/teacher asks a question and the answer is literally written right there on the page. It's not a trick- go ahead and say the answer! Then write down the page numbers because if they bring it up in class, they'll probably bring it up on the exam!

Depending on the complexity of the material and how familiar I was with it to begin with it, I either write whole sentences (if it’s new and I’m still learning it), or just a few quick phrases or keywords (if I already know it and just need to remember to include it). In this example, purple and blue could really be consolidated into one color... but if there are a lot of different levels, it may be helpful to have more colors to differentiate the information! Add page numbers for quick referencing!

I draw or write down every example given by the professor or book because picturing it in a real-life situation is what helps me remember the content the most. I love examples because they bring the material to life and actually give it a purpose! Teachers are always adding real-life examples or stories to go along with their lectures! WRITE THOSE DOWN! They make the information so much easier to remember! And the crazier the story, the more likely you are to remember it on the test! yay!

If there is a new vocabulary word, I write that all the way to the left of the red line (in the margin) so that it stands out. I may even highlight that if it’s a super-important concept AND a new word. This means that the things to the left of the margin line are page numbers and vocabulary words, which makes it easy to find and reference both!

When I get to the bottom of the page, I just draw an arrow pointing to the right in the bottom right corner to show if there is writing on the back. Although, lately I have really been trying to condense my notes into one page instead of two.

If I do write on the back, at the top of the page, I write the topic name follow by con’t. 

Then I use the same formatting system on the back of the page (gotta save those trees!).

If I’m writing notes straight out of the assigned reading, I write them like this. And that’s pretty much all that I can think of to describe the way I format my notes. Please let me know if this sounds confusing or if I should clarify something! 

Do you have a special system for formatting your notes? How do you do it? Do you rewrite them afterwards or just format them the first time. 

Monday, October 20, 2014

3 Ways to Form Study Habits

Sometimes it’s easy to make yourself sit down and do some schoolwork (like when your assignment is due tomorrow) and other times, you kind of need a little boost of motivation to sit down and get started on it. That doesn’t mean that you’re a slacker, or lazy, or a bad student. It’s hard for everyone to force themselves to work on things that don’t necessarily have a sense of urgency. Schoolwork and studying really rely on discipline and habit. It takes work and organization… and even planning (YAY!).

We often hear that it takes 21 (or is it 28?) days to form a new habit.  And, with that already in the back of my mind, I heard something pretty interesting earlier this year when I was researching for the 4 Rules for Effective Studying post. In that post, there is a video of a lecture from a professor (Dr. Marty Lobdell), and he suggests a really cool idea: having a “study lamp”. I kind of blended those two ideas together and came up with a couple of other ways to create a study habit/routine in my everyday life.

So, here are 3 tricks that you can use to get into the habit of studying daily, too! 

1: Use a "Study Lamp"

This is the idea from Dr. Lobdell. He especially suggests it for students who study and sleep in the same room (aka bedrooms and dorms). A “study lamp” is a lamp (obviously) in your study area that you only turn on when you sit down and actually start on your schoolwork. When you get up to take a break, turn the lamp off. And don’t use this lamp for any other reason! The reasoning behind this is that your mind eventually gets into the habit of going into “study mode” when the lamp is turned on.

2: Designate a "Study Chair"

That idea kind of inspired me to think of some other things that could trigger that kind of conditioned response. Consider designating a “study chair”. A place where you always sit when you’re working, but that you don’t use for anything else. Since we moved into our loft, I’ve been using one specific chair at our dining table as my “work station”. Even though I sit at that table for dinner and other things, I never use that particular chair unless I’m working. When I’m there, I know it’s time to get stuff done!

3: Buy a "Study Candle"

Along those same lines, I also recently did some research on Aromatherapy, which I am just fascinated by. Did you know that smell is our biggest link to memory? I can still spray the body spray I wore in high school (Love Spell!) and immediately be brought back to those memories. And the smell of dew-covered grass in the morning reminds me of all the soccer and softball games I played as a little girl. The same with the smell of the beach of course! So, I thought, why not do the same with studying?

I have a “study candle” that I light when it’s time to get some schoolwork done, and a “relaxing candle” that I light when I’m ready to calm down my mind, turn off my electronics at night, and just be present in the moment. When I looked into the scents that would be most effective for working, the things that I found were just SO interesting! Different scents have different effects on our brains, such as boosting confidence, creativity, and focus. There are some links below to take you to some of these articles!

Here are some scents that may help boost your productivity:

Cinnamon: Concentration and Focus
Jasmine: Calmness, Confidence, Energy, and Optimism
Lavender: Calmness
Lemon: Calmness, Clarity, and Concentration
Peppermint: Clarity, Concentration, and Creativity
Rosemary: Energy & Memory

And here are the different scents that I use at different parts of the day:

Morning: Jasmine, Peppermint, or Rosemary
Night: Jasmine, Lavender, or Lemon
Studying: Cinnamon, Lemon, Peppermint, or Rosemary
Writing: Jasmine or Peppermint

This, this, and this are some interesting articles to check out if you want to read more about aromatherapy or the Olfactory Bulb (the reason smell and memory are closely linked)! There are even more scent suggestions in the articles, the ones listed above are just my personal favorites. Just a few helpful things to keep in mind while you’re walking down that oh-so-alluring candle aisle at Target! 

… it gets me every time! :) 

Do you use any of these kinds of tricks to get yourself into the habit of studying? Have you tried using aromatherapy ever? Do you have a special routine or space designated to “study time”?