Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Reading Textbooks: The Right Way, The Fast Way, The Wrong Way

For many classes, everything you need to know for the class is in the textbook. The problem is that you need to read the textbook.

If you want to do well in the class, and you are going to spend the time reading, you might as well do it right. Here are some ways to read textbooks:

The Right Way: When you really need to learn the material, here is the best way that I have found to read and retain information from a textbook. It is my practical, faster version of the SQ3R method. Follow these steps:

  • Skim everything that is not a paragraph. The great thing about textbooks is that they put all of the important items where they are easy to read - boldfaced titles, italics, diagrams, picture captions, end of the chapter summaries. Read these quickly.
  • Ask yourself what is important. You are more likely to find the answer if you know what the question is, so ask yourself what the textbook author wants you to know based on the material you skimmed in step one.
  • Read the paragraphs and take notes - quickly. Now is the time to read the chapter in order, but keep a fast pace so that you don't get bogged down. Every two or three paragraphs, write down a line of notes. Review last month's newsletter for tips on note taking.
  • Use two column notes. In the left margin next to each line of note, write a title - two or three words that describe the content of the notes.
  • Review. Skim over the chapter headings, illustration captions, and end of chapter material just like you did at the beginning. Did you learn about all of the important things that the textbook highlighted?
  • Study. Fold your page of notes over so that the titles in the margin are showing. Test youself. Do you know the information that goes with each title?

The best part about this method is that your brain is exposed to the content several times. Each time you skim, read, write down notes, look at your notes, or review, the information is cemented in your memory.

The Fast Way: But what if you are too busy to read the correct way? Do the best with the time you have. You know how you skimmed the boldfaced titles, chapter headings, italicized phrases, illustration captions, and end of the chapter stuff in the instruction above? Since that has most of the important information, this is where you should go when you are pressed for time. Ten minutes of skimming will give you a lot more than reading the first two pages of the chapter.

The Wrong Way: Do not read a textbook the way that you would read a novel. If you just sit down and start reading in order, it is not likely that you will remember as much. Furthermore, if you run out of time, you will stop reading where you are and get nothing out of the end of the chapter.

Strangely, reading a textbook should be a lot like surfing the web - lots of skimming and looking at pictures, with close reading only where you need it. This is especially true if you are reading an electronic textbook on an iPad or other device.

Speaking of devices, don't forget that our Essay Engine shows you how to write great essays and works wonderfully on all internet-connected devices.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Orange Tic Tacs: The Key to Better Exam Grades

An old student of mine that is now in college posted on Facebook that she had a big exam to study for. I gave her my favorite study advice. Eat Orange Tic Tacs. 

The trick is to eat the Tic Tacs while you study your notes and text book. It does not necessarily have to be Orange Tic Tacs; it just has to be a candy or breath mint that you rarely eat. It also must have a strong scent. Then, don't eat that candy any other time. Finally, eat the candy while you take your exam. You will be shocked how well you remember the content and how well you do on the test. 

Don't believe me? Think about this...What is your favorite smell? Take a moment and think about it. Now answer this - why is it your favorite smell? I have asked my students this question a few times, and none of them say that their favorite smell is the best because it is sweet or makes their nose feel good. They all tell stories of a happy time that is associated with the smell. The smell of the ocean that reminds the of a trip to the beach with their friends. The smell of their grandmother's chocolate cake that she makes on everyone's birthday. The smell of chalk that the student uses at gymnastic meets. 

Smells are linked more directly with memory than any other sense. How many times have you caught a faint whiff of a scent that reminds you of a person or place that you have not thought of for years? It's almost like your nose remembers better than you do.

Why not harness that olfactory-mnemonic power to help you on a test? The trick is give your nose a smell during the test that will remind you of the good ol' days when you had your notes and textbook in front of you. It will increase your recall and make your test easier. I haven't heard how my old student did on her ram, but I bet she's happy with the results. 

Of course, Tic Tacs won't help you if you have an essay instead of an exam. That's what our Essay Engine is for, it will make essay writing a breeze. 

Stay tuned for my next post on the Teachademics blog where I share with all of the teachers why the Tic Tac trick really works

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Make a New Year’s Resolution You Can Keep

At some point in the school year, every student promises his/herself (or parents) that he/she will do better in school.

If getting better grades is one of your New Year’s resolutions, here are some tips on how to make that happen.

Organize Your Notebook(s): A leading cause of lower grades is lost papers. Fortunately, this is one of the easiest ones to fix. This January, clean out you notebook. Put old, graded, papers in a file or box. Don’t throw anything away until the end of the school year, but you don’t need to care it around every day. Put all notes in one section of your notebook. Put all papers that your teacher has given to you in a different section – if your teacher has taken the time to xerox something, it probably is worth keeping. Put all of your work in progress in a third section. I always recommend a different notebook for each core subject.

Read! Keep your brain sharp. Keep it from turning to mush with too much time on social media or playing video games. Read a book for fun or even a few magazines – anything that is not on a screen. Reading book for half of an hour a day in a quite place will lengthen your attention span, improve your vocabulary, and increase your retention when you have to read boring school books when school resumes.

Use a Homework Calendar: An electronic organizer, a pocket spiral notepad, a My Little Pony wall calendar, it does not matter. When you start the new year, have a place where you write down every assignment, paper, and test. I even suggest that you cross out each item as you complete it.

Communicate with your Teacher: Answer questions in class (even if you are wrong). Ask your teacher questions after class when you need a hand (try email if there is no time). Share an article you have seen that is related to a class topic. Teachers love when students are engaged, and they love to help. If a project or lesson is unclear, ask a question right away - it is easier and more effective than complaining about a low grade later.

Try Clickademics Essay Engine: We built Essay Engine to help you write better, more organized essays in less time. In most classes, essays are a large grade, and nailing an essay will really boost your average.