There are no rights or wrongs to how to study at home. And the chances are that every person you ask would come up with a different set of answers. And that’s the point. It’s about finding out what works best for you – not what other people think or say you should be doing. As a coach I have long been interested in how we can apply the kinds of reflect practices I adopt with my clients to help people to ‘self coach’ themselves.
By reflecting on past experiences of studying, or just from how you generally react in different situations you can start to get some idea of what might work for you. For example, I know I can’t read a book for pleasure whilst listening to music with lyrics but know I can concentrate just fine with classical music on in the background.
For the rest it’s a question of trial and error. Don’t be afraid to try new things, whether they are different places, times or methods. But do so consciously. Be alert to what you have experienced and whether it has worked or not. There’s no need to go overboard. Just spending a minute or two at the end of the day asking yourself a couple of key questions can be really effective.
1. What worked well today?
2. What didn’t?
3. What might I try tomorrow?
Thinking about and answering these three questions will ensure that you continue to build on the positives and shed the negatives along the way.
Do more of what works – Example
What worked well today?
– Working for 50 minutes each hour then having a 10 minute break
– Focusing all morning on one subject
– Using my headphones to drown out my sister’s terrible singing!
– Using different coloured pens in my notes
– Sticking to one subject all afternoon when I was getting tired and bored
– Trying to work on my bed – difficult to juggle books and I got back ache
– Keeping my phone on me – too many distractions!
What might I try tomorrow?
– Working at the dining room table
– Looking at a few different subjects in the afternoon when I’m getting tired
– Trying some online revision aids to mix things up
Performance coaches and elite sportsmen and women have all recognised the importance of ‘marginal gains’ to help maximise their chances of success. Marginal gains are the small steps, each seemingly inconsequential when viewed individually, which when combined can make a big difference to your chances of success.
Marginal gains work by taking a big goal and breaking it down into very small pieces and then thinking creatively about the changes you could make to improve each individual element. Then, when you string them all together, you find that you are actually making really big improvements.
The following are all examples of potential marginal gains. Sourcing a chair that you can comfortably sit in for long periods. Changing the height of your desk so that you don’t get a crick in your neck. Trying different pens until you find one which doesn’t make your hand cramp. Realising you work better from 7am until lunchtime than during the afternoon.
Taken individually each one may not appear to offer very much; but start putting them all together and their cumulative impact is not to be sniffed at.
But in order to realise the benefit of marginal gains you must be open to recognising them. For example, by trying new things and being honest with yourself about whether or not they are working.
This is where asking and answering our earlier questions at the end of each working day, comes in.
● What worked well today?
● What didn’t?
● What might I try tomorrow?
Adding these to your daily debrief will help keep you alert to the possibilities and actively exploring what is working.
Then, a simple rule of thumb can be applied.
Do more of what is working for you and actively change what is not
The following example shows how quick and simple such an end of day ‘debrief’ exercise can be. In not much more time than it takes you to pack up your pencil case you can have reflected, planned and set yourself up for an even more productive day tomorrow than today.
“Creating the mind map of reasons for the outbreak of the First World War really seemed to help. I’m pretty sure I can remember all the main points and using a different colour for each reason helped it stick in my mind.” (What worked well today?)
“Working in the living room was not a good move. There were too many interruptions, especially around lunchtime when my brothers were wanting to watch TV” (What didn’t?)
“I could see if creating a mind map would help me make sense of my animal reproduction notes in biology. I still like the idea of getting out of my bedroom and working downstairs for a chance of scene, but will try doing it first thing in the morning when its quieter” (what might I try tomorrow?)
So, the moral is: Keep trying. Keep reflecting. And keep improving!