April 16, 2024
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Cramming, Procrastination and the Art of Studying for a Test

What do a tomato shaped kitchen timer, a checklist, classical music and a pet have in common? When it comes to studying for a test, these are all suggested enhancements and techniques that students with challenges focusing and with time management might find helpful to improve their procrastinating tendencies.

Let’s start with the tomato shaped timer. What is it and what is special about this timer? The Pomodoro Technique is a time–management tool developed in the 1980s. Since then it has been used by professionals to promote productivity. Pomodoro means “tomato” in Italian, and the popular icon associated with this time management measure was the old-fashioned tomato-shaped kitchen timer. Today, we have several other options. We can use apps on our phones and the popular TimeTimer. An essential component of the Pomodoro Technique, beyond keeping track of time, is that it requires one to actively plan out each study session and to be thoughtful about what tasks to accomplish. Another essential component is that keeping track of time includes tracking the time taken to do the work itself and also how to effectively take important, but limited, breaks when studying.

Why try it? The Pomodoro Technique helps you plan what you need to do and avoid procrastination. Sometimes time can be your worst enemy; if you have too much time, some ask, “Why bother starting, yet?” If you don’t plan enough time, you’ll rush and might end up with a product that is not your personal best. This simple time management tool has been proved to help students gauge how much effort and time academic tasks will require. I apply the Pomodoro Technique when coaching and tutoring my students at The London Learning Center, and have seen first hand the positive results and impact.

How does it work? The Pomodoro Technique is a way of taking your study time and chunking it into small, bite-sized pieces, and self-monitoring what you accomplish while you work. First, you create a task-list of what needs to be accomplished and estimate how many “chunks” or “pomodoros” are needed. Each chunk of time is 25 minutes, and is a session of uninterrupted work. Next, you set the tomato timer or other app or timer and then get to work. After 25 minutes, the timer will ring, signaling you to stop the work, and record what you accomplished. This chunk is followed by a short, 5 minute break. As you check things off your list, you are giving yourself feedback about what you have accomplished, which will help you in the future to set goals and timelines for completing work. Additionally, you will find it rewarding to actually see the “to-do” list start shrinking and replaced by a “done” list. A key part of using this strategy is to apply it when you are struggling to study or do a job and need some external discipline to commit to putting in the time. It is also suggested that the student write down any distractions that occurred in the last chunk of time, and then work to remove them for the next 25 minute interval of studying.

So let’s back up to discuss some study strategies that will help your child be better prepared before they turn on the tomato timer. When someone struggles with studying or has executive functioning weaknesses, cramming for tests is not ideal, but it happens. Studying when you have challenges focusing can be daunting, but research shows that students can succeed. They need to study differently. One very helpful way to study is to make a practice test. Try to predict what the teacher may ask on the exam. Reading through notes, old quizzes and study guides, and asking teachers and classmates what they think is important to review is extremely important. Cramming doesn’t work well, and distributed practice is a better way to prepare. What this means is, instead of studying for three hours the night before, study the same material for 45 minutes over four nights. This works because it involves repetition and review in order to gain familiarity with the material. The concept of metacognition plays a key role in preparing for an exam. It’s learning about your learning, and knowing when and how you best need to prepare. It may be as simple as moving locations when you realize that your house is too noisy, or putting on headphones with classical music to drown out siblings and family members. Studies also show that you remember more when you take 15 minutes before you go to sleep to review what you learned earlier in the day. Research has also shown that exercise prior to studying is helpful in sharpening your focus and improving executive functioning skills related to concentrating. Yoga, Tai Chi and ballet require that students focus on body and brain and may set the tone for studying. Using your nose and sense of smell has also become associated with reducing levels of stress. Research shows that if you are exposed to the same smell, such as an essential oil, when you study you may associate that fragrance later on with what you had been studying. There are some essential oils associated with memory and brain function. Rosemary is one uplifting oil used to stimulate the mind and body and may even improve cognitive performance and mood.

Now, let’s say you might find yourself in a position where cramming is the only way to go. So, cram like a pro!

Manage your limited time: Spend half of your allocated time organizing the information you need to study, and the rest of the time committing it to memory.

Conceptualize: Read over the course syllabus, read and reread the review sheets. Ask yourself, “If I were the teacher, what would I ask my students?”

Create Questions: Take your notes from class and turn them into questions.

Connect: Find a connection between what you have read, lectures and assignments and then think of the concepts and ideas that have been discussed in class. Think details, but then think big: know the facts, but then make generalizations and bigger connections.

Brainstorm and make a mind map for essay questions: Write the main idea in the middle of the page and leave room for details. Look for relationships and put events into chronological order.

Learn the way you learn best: If you’re a good visual learner, use flashcards and use the Cornell note-taking technique. Use the art of rewriting to help you memorize the content. If you’re an auditory learner, recite the words as you write them down. Take notes on your notes.

Narrow down: If you’re a crammer, you won’t be able to cover everything. Use your study guide, scan the key sections of the text and look at the beginnings and ends of textbook chapters.

Test yourself: Do the teacher’s practice test. Answer the review questions at the end of each chapter.

Try memorization strategies: If the facts aren’t sticking, use a strategy like a mnemonic device.

Review: Before you take the exam, look over all of your notes again quickly. There may be something you missed.

And now a word about pets, therapy dogs, cats and stuffed animals: There’s science to back up the benefits of what researchers call “animal-assisted intervention.” The goals of each of these studies vary, but basically they seem to demonstrate that spending time with animals will decrease a student’s stress level.

So “talk to your animals.” Teach them what you’ve learned. Verbalizing what you are trying to master is a true test that you can explain what you have learned. The pet cat, Tuxy, in the picture “studied” for eighteen years. She listened to readings about literature, science, biology, chemistry, math and the SATs. Tuxy was the best study buddy and will be remembered as a soothing companion during stressful test taking times.

Now that you have the tools, turn on your pomodoro, hug your favorite toy and get on the road to success. And if you run out of time, procrastinate well. Ready, set, go.

By Patricia London

Patricia London is a state certified LDTC, school psychologist, resource teacher and counselor. Her tutoring practice, London Learning Center, is located in Englewood to provide diagnostic prescriptive tutoring for students in grades pre-k through college. She is an expert in the field of executive functioning and language based learning disabilities. Patti works with students with a wide range of needs including dyslexia, ADHD, and anxiety disorders. She helps provide them with support and techniques to understand subject matter while learning efficient studying skills. She can be reached by email at [email protected], or 201-871-1248. Leave a message and set up an appointment for consultation and tutoring support.

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