Category Archives: Study Tips

Posts that look at the underlying basics of what makes for good studying and learning, and the latest research on ways to improve.

Winnable Games

Game Strategy Board

In a previous article on Timeboxing I wrote about how to use timeboxing to help you procrastinate less and get things done quicker. The way to make timeboxing work for the things that you really can’t seem to motivate yourself to do is to look at the reasons behind why you don’t want to do the task. I think, for me at least, the reason I put something off comes down to two things: the task is not seen as being fun and it is seen as taking too long to complete in comparison to the energy I have to put into it.

Timeboxing can help make tasks more fun and quicker. Your first step is to break down a large, seemingly insurmountable task into smaller bits. Break down the heck out of a task! I don’t care how ridiculous it may seem to keep making the actionable tasks you have even smaller and more minuscule. Do it! By leaving yourself with 100 mini-tasks instead of 1 giant project you have taken the level of perceived energy need to complete things down significantly. Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on February 12, 2011 in Motivational, Study Tips


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The Darkside of Timeboxing

Time Boxing
In my last post I wrote about the benefits of timeboxing with battling procrastination and keeping yourself on track. This article will cover some of the pitfalls of timeboxing that you can, hopefully, avoid now that you’ve been blessed to read these insightful words of wisdom. Onward!

Negatives to timeboxing and how to beat them:

Timeboxing, even with the best intentions can be sabotaged and turned into a whole different creature. Below are some of the things I think are important to note.

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Posted by on December 11, 2010 in Motivational, Study Tips


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Timeboxing – Life in Small Chunks

Time-whating now?

Timeboxing is something I’ve experimented recently, and ties in well to helping you overcome and avoid burnout. Timeboxing is a relatively old idea, but something I’ve only stumbled upon in the last two years or so. Steve Pavlina writes about it in his blog on personal development. The essence of the technique, as I see it, is to cut the amount of wasted on procrastinating and to focus on the important things.

Timeboxing involves setting up set time periods to finish tasks. By breaking down a project into smaller manageable chunks you’ve done yourself a huge favor already. Each of the small chucks are completed within a set limit(say 20 minutes per task). While most sites I’ve read say small chunks are 10 minutes or so. I’ll break down my approach to timeboxing as an example.

My Timeboxing Routine

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Posted by on December 7, 2010 in Motivational, Study Tips


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Formatting Your MCAT Flashcards

A Rocky Start

When it came to formatting my flashcards in Anki for my MCAT studies I had some trouble figuring out what to do. I shuffled between a number of ideas before settling on a setup that works well, isn’t overwhelming to keep up, and is simple and easy to review. In my earlier post reviewing the flashcard program Anki, that uses spaced-repitition algorithms to maximize your learning, I talked about how flexible the software was for making different custom fields and using different media. This is a big part of getting a good study setup.


When I started out I had cards that were asking for multiple pieces of information per card. It went from something like:
What are the names and functions of the chambers of the human heart?

  • Left Ventricle – pumps oxygenated blood from the lungs out to the body
  • Left Atrium – pumps oxygenated blood from the lungs to the left ventricle
  • Right Ventricle –  pumps de-oxygenated blood out to the lungs
  • Right Atrium – pumps de-oxygenated blood from the body to the right ventricle


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Posted by on November 27, 2010 in MCAT, Study Tips


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Concept Maps: Meh

Photo is courtesy of Wikipedia…my concept maps should never see the light of day. 😛

An experiment that went south

Okay, so I tried out these things called concept maps, and I gotta say they’re pretty cool. And when I say they’re cool, I mean I would have to overlook the time-consuming task of making one of these monstrosities, the lack of flexability with my program use to make them, and the fact that they fail to really help me remember any of the stuff that I’ve read.

So no…I don’t think I’ll be continuing to use concept maps, no matter how highly recommended they are. I think that the spaced repetition flashcards like Anki are a lot less work and can do the same job better. Work harder not smarter. Err…the other way around. You know what I meant!

Where did it all go wrong?

Is it just me? Do you actually use these unholy creations for your studying? Is it my poor choice of software? I wanted to like them. They were colorful and had awesome lines and shapes connecting all over. (sigh…)

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Posted by on November 10, 2010 in Study Tips


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Know It, Teach It, Master It

Teaching a group
Image Source – Miss Emily goes bananas

In the post “Knowing When You’ve Learned Something“, I explored how to make sure you really know a concept before an exam. Mostly, I talked about making up questions for fake students as if you were the professor giving an exam. A friend of mine mentioned to me another helpful tip for internalizing the material you study: by teaching it.

Those batty old professors were on to something!

It’s been said by countless professors that they understood their material best only after having taught it. Why is this? I hypothesize that it probably has something to do with making the knowledge your own. When you have to teach something, you tend to think about the material and then put into your own words to tell someone. I think it’s that act of digesting and then producing the new material that really helps to learn it.

It’s a sensational way of learning

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Posted by on November 8, 2010 in Study Tips


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Knowing When You’ve Learned Something

Girl studying at her desk Image Source – crazyfrogleg [catching flies]

The real stumbling block that I continue to hit upon in looking for better ways to study, learn, and retain knowledge lies with this question:

“When do you know that you’ve really learned something?”

It’s Hard To Pin Down

Is it during an ah-ha moment while studying late at night? Is it when you can remember the wording of the definition for a term, verbatim from your textbook? Or is it during the exam, when you break down over realizing that you don’t actually know it as well as you thought you did?

For sure, if you’ve gotten to the exam and are drawing a complete blank then yeah, it’s safe to say you didn’t know the material well. But what about working to catch things before it’s that bad? What can we, as students, do to improve our chances of mastering the material that we study?I am the kind of person that is not satisfied with vaguely understanding something, and seek to know it inside and out before I can confidently say I’ve mastered it.

Thinking Like a Wrinkly Professor

One way to understand something better is to approach the subject like you are the professor. What would you think are the important points? What connections between concepts and ideas would you find important to test students on? Make fake questions for your fake exam you’ll be giving to your fake students.

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Posted by on November 5, 2010 in Study Tips


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