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14 tips for successfully getting through the block

Professor of Educational Studies Martin Valcke is facing his very last exam period after a career spanning many years. As an expert, we asked him for the ultimate tips for you to pass the block and exams successfully (Source: Durf Denken - UGent).

"A lot of students fool themselves by unilaterally applying the same study strategy for hours on end. They know the ingredients of a good cocktail. They know tequila and they know cola. But they don't know the cocktail. Studying well means making cocktails. You have to grasp the subject matter in as many different sensory ways as possible."

1. Don't turn your teaching materials into a coloring book

"By using highlighters, you can never look at the same text analytically more than once. The primal text is best left clean because it contains more than what you marked. Highlighting is what you do on your own texts."

2. Don't just study your summary

"In creating a summary, you learn the process of summarizing. After that, the learning process stops. You should think of a summary as a closet full of empty coat racks. While studying, you take each coat rack and hang clothes back on it. In this way you reconstruct the entire subject matter.

Because a summary is a selection made by you, it is best to use it only once. An extra tip here is to make more than one summary and compare them. Did you make the same selection again?"

3. Make up your own exam questions

"Creating your own set of exam questions is a very good way to learn how to study. But be careful, again this is a selection. After all, studying is selecting, organizing and integrating information. Are you sure you selected correctly?"

4. Reading alone is not enough

"Many students are addicted to reading. However, writing your thoughts down or, if necessary, drawing them has much more value. This is called a psychomotor representation. You add an extra sensory experience to the meaning of what you are reading. In this way you link the learning material in your memory to something you already know. This way you really understand what you read and you will remember the learning as well."

5. Repeat learning in the right way

"Studying consists of selecting, organizing and integrating the subject matter. When selecting, you fall back on your current knowledge base. Because your knowledge base is always expanding and you will select different things each time, you better study the subject matter more than once.

But this is not enough. Repeating something the same way several times does not guarantee that you will remember it better. You also have to organize the learning in a different way: visually, aurally, graphically... And you have to relate the learning to other concepts by looking for other examples, for example."

6. Explain the learning to someone else

"When you explain something, you are going to select and organize knowledge elements from your long-term memory in such a way that the relationships between those elements become clear. Therefore, a good study tip is to meet with fellow students while studying and tell each other what is on page 45 of the textbook, for example. You give each other 2 minutes and you each take turns narrating. In this way you make an auditory representation of the learning material. This is a very strong and slow representation because it works linearly. In fact, you have to wait until when you have the meaning. You will also discover that you and your fellow students selected and emphasized other things on page 45."

7. Explain the learning to yourself

"You can also explain the learning to yourself. Sit in front of your computer and record yourself. First, try to explain how the learning is structured. A second step is to ask, "What does this actually mean? Use your own words when doing this. This is a fun method, but it is used by few students because it is quite confrontational. In fact, you will be amazed at how many mistakes you make. Moreover, by listening to yourself you will re-select, organize and integrate. Now of your own knowledge. You will also immediately be able to validate that knowledge against the pieces of learning you forgot."

8. Plan as completely as possible

"Many students cheat themselves. They ignore the things they know they won't have time for. Therefore, you must plan the entire block and exam period to the end and reason back. Day plans alone are not enough. When you think something is really not going to work, you should not do it. It is better to immediately go into an urgency mode and be realistic."

9. Make sure you can physically grasp the learning material

"Part of good planning is also gathering your learning materials in a timely manner. Physically grasping the learning material (the course, your notes, all the exercises...) can be very liberating. On the one hand, it will help you realize that you have a lot of work ahead of you. On the other hand, after an exam you can also really put the material aside. That is a cognitive processing of the amount of learning material by making a physical representation."

10. Use time blocks that work for you

"The ideal time block for studying does not exist. Just know that almost no one can work with concentration for more than three hours. Your cognitive system cannot. Continually storing new information overloads your working memory. You keep selecting information without organizing and integrating it with what was already in your memory. In other words, the information will never go to long-term memory. You therefore need to arrange your time blocks realistically. Make sure your head remains sufficiently fresh so that you can also get to work with the new information: structure, organize, anchor, cluster.... Only then can you add new information again."

11. Studying in group is limiting

"Many students like to study in groups. Often as a function of discipline, which in that sense is wise. However, it does not guarantee real studying. Sitting with other students limits you because you have to work in silence and cannot apply a lot of study strategies. It is therefore a less good idea to do this throughout the block and exam period. It is good in the first phase though, where you go through the course for the first time."

12. Make vacation plans now

"It's a mountain you're facing. Therefore, make vacation plans now so you have something to look forward to. Also schedule short moments of relaxation as rewards, sort of like micro vacations. For example, reward yourself with one episode of your favorite series on Netflix. Of course, you then have to have self-discipline to stick to that."

13. Eat healthy and regularly

"Don't listen too much to all kinds of dietary advice. Eat healthy and regularly. Also consider your meals, including preparing them, as a moment of relaxation."

14. Start when the cherry trees are in bloom

"One last tip, but perhaps one for next academic year. From the moment the cherry trees are in bloom, it's time to start."

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