Brain Tips and Tricks

Discover new ways to improve your study technique and avoid distraction and procrastination, with some scientifically proven tips.

Your brain is one of the most complicated things you’ll ever meet! It solves problems, it’s in charge of all your learning, memory and critical thinking. Yet it can also be your own worst obstacle. Your neural pathways can be driven by negative or positive thoughts. These affect your brain patterns and the way you approach things.

For example, you may feel fear, (procrastinate), or be unable to snap out of going down the same paths or ruts your brain gets stuck in.

So how do you train or even outwit your brain to help you in your studies? Here’s some scientifically based tips.

TIps to follow

1. Improve your memory through quizzes and tests

Research shows that doing quizzes or tests works far better than if you just passively read information, in terms of you being able to remember. This is called active recall. It means your brain stores information in your deeper memory and you’re more likely to remember things in the long term.

2. Spaced repetition

Spaced repetition is another great way to keep important study information in your head.

When you repeat information multiple times, your brain takes it in. But, there’s a catch. The repetition can’t just be you saying a fact over and over in one short burst of time. It needs to be repeated in gradual intervals - usually over days. This helps strengthen your memory. Recent studies have looked into how many spaced intervals are needed to remember information and have generally agreed that information stays with you after a 24 hour period,

Scientist Hermann Ebbinghaus called it the Forgetting Curve. He found you can forget 70% of what you just learned within a day. But then, after that, it slowly tapers off. So you might only remember a few things 24 hours later, but then you’d remember them for a long time. His use of spaced repetition to slow down the ‘forgetting curve’ has been verified to this day.

3. Try memorisation techniques like Mnemonics

Mnemonics are visual or memory aids that help you remember key information. They have been shown to help with most tasks, and come in all kinds of forms, such as acronyms.

Examples of Mnemonics

  • “Every Good Boy Deserves Fruit” (to help remember the order of music notes EGBDF on the treble clef)

  • “My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nuts” (based on the order of the planets Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune).

Mnemonics can also take the form of stories to help. This is sometimes known as the Linking Method. It means you give each thing you’re trying to remember a fun backstory and put it together in a sentence. The more exaggerated and silly the story is, the more you’re likely to remember it.

Examples of linking stories

  • If you want to remember the names of the first four Australian Prime Ministers: Edmund Barton, Alfred Deakin, Christ Watson and George Reid. You could do a story sentence like: BART ON (Barton) a lake found a duck with a BEAK IN (Deakin) a net and asked WHAT’S ON (Watson) in the REEDS (Reid).

As you can see from this example, it really doesn’t have to make a lot of sense, just as long as it works for you. It can even be songs and jingles if that will help retain information in your head. Who knows: you could be the first person to come up with a catchy rap about fractals!

4.. Fight procrastination through intense focus

A great way to stave off procrastination and distraction is called the Pomodor Technique. It's like the mental version of a high energy, fitness exercise. This is all about intensive study and trying to force your brain to focus on just one activity. It’s a really simple practice that works in sprints.

Firstly, it’s important you put away any possible distractions such as phones or games. You set a timer (the inventor of this technique used a tomato-shaped kitchen timer) and dedicate 25 minutes to working non-stop on one assignment or piece of study or trial exam or whatever goal you set.

You do nothing else in that entire time.

At the end of 25 minutes you get a 5 minute break. Each of these 25 minute sprints is called a pomodoro. After four pomodoro you get a 15-30 minute break. During each sprint you can’t do anything other than the task. It’s a great way to beat both procrastination and distraction. And, just like being fit, it sharpens and focuses your brain, but you won’t be all stinky and sweaty afterwards.

5. Play fun brain games

Brain teaser games can be excellent vitamins for your brain. They help increase dopamine which is a neurotransmitter. Dopamine is a big part of how we feel pleasure. It helps us focus, work, plan and remember. So doing brain games like sudoku, crossword puzzles, or any great online brain test are great aids. You feel good when you solve the game and this gives you a rush of dopamine which, in turn, sharpens the key parts of your brain .Mind puzzle games help you focus and use your spatial sense. Plus, brain games are a nice reward after you’ve put in that time studying.

6. Sleep well

Sleep turns out to be highly important to your study. There’s an established link between sleeping badly and not doing well academically. When your circadian rhythms get disrupted this directly affects your physical and mental well being.. Irregular sleepers will not function as well during the day which affects how well they learn information or perform in exams. So - make sure you get a good night’s sleep every night!

Things you should avoid in your study habits

1. Don’t highlight or underline.

“Oh no, don’t highlight!” Multiple studies and research tests have shown that highlighting and underlining text doesn’t help you remember information. In fact, some surveys have found that it can hinder your learning and students who highlight have a worse recall than students who don’t. It can also harm your learning as you’re remembering a small piece of information and not making connectionsabout the whole text.

2. Don’t cram

Cramming for exams or tests the night before is never a good idea. And it’s been shown to place too much stress on the brain. Studies have found that students who cram don’t even remember the information they crammed in the long term. Avoid cramming by treating study as a long term marathon and set aside enough time each day. Having a well structured study timetable will help avoid last minute cramming.

3. Don’t multitask while studying

While we often multitask in our day to day lives, especially switching between multiple electronic devices, the experts say that multitasking impacts your ability to retain information. You’ll not only have problems remembering information but you may also remember irrelevant or wrong information. For your brain to work properly it needs complete focus on the task at hand.

4. Turn off your phone at night

Your phone can be a major distraction when you’re trying to study. But research has also found that using an electronic device late at night interferes with your sleep patterns and the quality of sleep you get. People who use phones or devices late at night can feel depleted and disengaged the next day. So if you want to be more productive and switched on - switch off your phone!

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