MyGuru is launching a new book summary program where we summarize and analyze books that discuss recent research on what drives academic performance and leads to success inside and outside the classroom.Read More
Improving Academic Performance
The average person probably believes that a critical key to success in life, particularly one’s academic life, is intrinsic intelligence as measured by IQ.
Yes, most of would say, hard work matters a lot too, but at least in many academic situations, no amount of hard work can really make up for a lower level of raw intelligence or aptitude for certain types of academic or cognitive skills.
Some of us are “math people” and some of us just aren’t, right? Not really.Read More
When a student is really struggling in school or on standardized tests, reversing the trend can seem like a truly daunting task. One of the first things a parent might say to student who comes home with a “C” or “D” on a report card might be, “are you paying attention in class?” This is indeed a very important question, because paying attention in class is critical to performing well in school. Paying attention while taking a standardized test is also critical, yet oddly it probably seems so obvious that you may have never actually thought about the fact that it’s important. In this article, we’ll discuss a seemingly obvious concept in a new light: paying attention.
The idea that “paying attention” is important seems simple, but it actually operates on a variety of different levels. In this article, we’ll address the following three questions:
- What does it really mean to focus on paying attention? What are the different dimensions of “paying attention” that a student or parent should be thinking about?
- Why is paying attention so important?
- What are some strategies for improving your ability to pay attention (follow up post)
1. What does it mean to pay attention?
Let’s start by thinking about your typical high school or college student sitting in class. I’d submit that there are three level of paying attention to consider:
- Just listening to the teacher vs. staring out the window or day dreaming about something else
- Actively listening to the teacher, and focusing on when she explicitly calls things important, not important, assigns things, asks questions, and perhaps most important, when you do vs. don’t understand what is being said
- Fully engaged listening to the teacher, in which you are really trying to understand and digest what she’s saying (which I recognize is not easy if you aren’t also very interested in what is being discussed) to challenge and enhance your understanding of it
You might call (A) the bare minimum and (C) the gold standard of paying attention. (A) is fundamentally about being committed to being a part of the situation at a high level. The first step in this direction is, of course, attending vs. skipping class altogether. But, once you’re there, you really have to focus on listening to what’s going on. If you are day dreaming, it’s almost as if you aren’t there at all. The next step is actively listening, where you focus on identifying when something important has been said. Finally, in C), when you are fully engaged in the lecture, you will naturally ask a question when you don’t understand or want to make a point.
As you move from A through B and toward C, you are essentially realizing that listening to words being said out loud is only the first step in understanding an idea. When you are really paying attention, you are constantly breaking down explanations and ideas, re-phrasing them, creating linkages to other ideas you understand to be true, and making sure you understand.
2. Why is paying attention so important?
Many students think that reading and homework assignments are substitutes for attending or really paying attention in class. But, they are wrong.
When it comes to a typical academic subject, the more obvious reason that paying attention is so important is that classes are typically structured such that you learn things in class, they are reinforced in assigned readings, applied through homework and projects, and your knowledge is then evaluated through quizzes and tests.
However, it’s a little messier than that. Many of us have probably found that, when explained in layman’s terms by a teacher, a given concept or idea is much more digestible than when described in a text book. In other cases, something might be covered in class that actually isn’t covered in a text book at all. So, you can’t skip class, or sleep through it, and think that you’re going to be well positioned to do well in the class. You will literally be missing information that you need to have.
The more subtle reason that paying attention is so important is that our brains and minds don’t just learn things upon hearing or reading them. They learn through the struggle of trying to understand what is being said. The process of trying to digest what is being said in real time, ask questions if necessary, and synthesize information together to form our own opinions and perspective. If you aren’t really paying attention, you won’t be able to identify what it is about a concept or idea that you don’t understand, and therefore won’t be able to struggle to understand it. You might, in fact, not realize that you don’t understand something.
Finally, many people don’t realize that standardized tests explicitly measure your ability to pay attention. When you read a question that says “which of the below answers is not correct?” You may need to know algebra to correctly answer the question, but if you aren’t paying close attention, you might pick A), because it is the answer to the equation. Unfortunately, you would be answering incorrectly, because the question is asking for what is NOT correct.
At the end of the day, if you compare the straight A student with a 4.0 GPA to the straight B student with a 3.0 GPA, or the high school student that scored a 31 on the ACT to his friend that scored a 27, you might just find that the ability and commitment to pay attention is the only real differentiator.
In our next post, we'll explore some strategies for improving your ability to pay attention.Read More
A 1961 study entitled "Project Talent" found that college students in those times spent an average of 24 hours per week studying. Fast-forward 50 years to 2011, and students were studying only 14 hours per week on average, according to the National Survey of Student Engagement.
Some have attributed this drop to the adoption of more pass-fail courses, so students need only do the bare minimum. Others have posited that foreign language requirements (and the long study hours associated with them) are being phased-out, while grades are becoming less important to job recruiters in lieu of extracurricular activities.
But grades don't necessarily have to suffer because you're studying less. Efficiency is more important than quantity when it comes to preparation. Here are a few ways to maximize the effectiveness of shorter study sessions.
Divide and Conquer
This phrase is a negative when referring to government strategies but is golden for college students trying to get the best grades possible. In courses that require a lot of reading, find a couple classmates who are dedicated and committed to getting good grades. The three of you can divide the reading assignments equally by three, take solid (yet brief) notes, then have a study session during which you all exchange the information. Each student can make copies of the other's notes after discussions about the main ideas. This method can literally cut your time spent reading by more than a third.
Variety Is King
A 2010 study by University of South Florida researchers examined a group of fourth-graders trying to learn new mathematical equations. Half of the group studied one type of equation at a time, calculating the solutions for several in a row, then moving on to the next type of equation. The other half studied a mixture of all four different types of equations simultaneously. When the students took a test the next day, the ones who studied the mixture of equations fared twice as well on the test than their counterparts.
An August 2011 study published in Psychology and Aging similarly tested adults using the same method. The first group viewed mixed collections of paintings by various artists, while the other group viewed a dozen paintings from each individual artist, then a dozen from another artist, etc. The previous group was better able to distinguish the styles of each artist upon testing.
What this means is that students should vary their studies as opposed to spending five hours on one subject on a given night. Do an hour of calculus, then read your literature assignment for an hour, then log onto your Lenovo and post your required discussion group response for your online history course.
There is absolutely no better brain food than blueberries. Researchers at Reading University in the U.K. gave lab rats a steady diet of blueberries for three weeks. The blueberry-fed rats were not only able to improve memory by 83 percent when navigating through a maze vs. the control group, but also experienced a reversal in age-related declines in memory. College students and adults over 50 should eat a half-cup of blueberries per day to get the benefit of the flavonoids that regenerate nerve endings. Some doctors have even considered blueberries as a treatment for Alzheimer's disease. Blueberries are also tasty and rich in anti-oxidants.
About the Author
Neal Ortega - Neal is the co-founder of a student charity group at his university.Read More
You can walk into any classroom today and see that different students struggle with different things.
Some students at the elementary school down the road might have a hard time doing fractions during math class while others might struggle with remembering the capitals of all 50 states.
Maybe a college student is in an Intermediate Accounting class, but her previous professor from Intro to Accounting only went over straight-line depreciation and never mentioned double-declining depreciation. She lacks that foundation she needs to succeed in her class. It is not her fault. Her previous professor just decided to emphasize a different topic of accounting instead.
Personalized learning is important because each student has his or her own individualized needs and focus areas to reinforce. Students learn in different ways. They come from different backgrounds. They even have varying academic foundations. When it comes to a student’s education, one-size does not fit all.
More effort will have to be put into identifying topics and subjects that each student individually struggles with. Maybe it is a teacher, a professor, or a tutor explaining it to them in a different way by using a visual graphic instead of writing it out on a white board. Maybe it means going over that biology material a few extra times to make sure the student understands it. Maybe it comes to a few extra hours of studying those GRE vocabulary words to guarantee you really have them down.
Thankfully there are many great opportunities, services, and tools out there to help personalize the learning of each student. Professors have office hours that students can attend and ask questions. Teachers are normally in their classrooms during lunch. Both of these options are both a) remarkably underutilized by students and b) completely free. These two options should be considered step one to improving your academic performance. Private tutoring is, in many ways, the gold standard of customized instruction, but it can be expensive.
However, there are also great online learning tools out there to help personalize the learning experience for each student. Kahn academy is perhaps the most popular. It’s free, and has a fast growing library of high quality, on demand video content in a wide variety of subjects. It allows a student to build their own study plan around the concepts they might be struggling with. Magoosh, ePrep, and Leanerator offer low cost, video-based, adaptive test prep environments for the ACT, SAT, GRE, GMAT, and many AP tests. Most of these solutions offer content and unique technology solutions to allow a student to customize their learning experience with varying degrees of structure.
Our Memory Science platform is a different type of online learning tool. It uses key tenants of neuroscience to deliver Byte-Sized chunks of information that help students learn and retain anything that they might struggle with. A student can create a supplement herself to help her remember the process of a reaction in O-Chem, or purchase premade content on macroeconomic theories. The Memory Science platform is a place for you to spend time on the topics and materials that matter to you.
About the Author
Memory Science is a neuroscience-learning platform that utilizes Byte-Sized Learning to help students learn efficiently, retain more, and perform better. You can find us at https://marketplace.memoryscience.com/marketplace/Read More
“A bit of stress in short doses is useful in improving our memory and enhancing performance. However, too much, too regularly, is extremely damaging to our mental and physical well-being.”
From https://www.headspace.com/science/stress, a web-site founded by globally recognized mindfulness and meditation expert Andy Puddicomb
Just because you have no major or minor diagnosed mental health disorder, doesn’t mean you have a completely healthy mind. If school, work, sports, orsocial situations tend to make you nervous and stressed, your performance suffers.Read More
Most people tend to have one of two mindsets: fixed or growth. Those with a growth mindset believe they can always improve and change their personality or level of intelligence through feedback and hard work. They believe, accurately, that the brain is a muscle that can be built up over time. Those with a fixed mindset believe your personality and intelligence is more or less given to you at birth, and you can only tinker around the edges. You want to adopt a growth mindset.
Developing a Growth Mindset
Why is the growth mindset important? First, because the research suggests it’s true, and second, because adopting this mindset leaves to whole host of behaviors that have been shown to lead to academic and other types of success, most notably “grit” and the willingness to stick with things when the going gets tough. People with a fixed mindset tend to think their abilities, personalities, and intelligence is given at birth, and can’t be changed. They may tend to avoid activities at which they fear they’ll fail, since this will expose a lack of ability which of course, can’t be changed. This creates a truly unfortunate cycle.
Because the student believes they simply, for example, aren’t good at math, but recognizes that it would be nice if they were good at math, they avoid situations in which their poor math ability will be exposed. They make the choice to avoid raising their hand, for fear of looking dumb. So, they don’t ask questions to clarify their understanding in class. They may even avoid doing their homework, since it’s somehow easier mentally to do poorly because you didn’t study than to try your best and fail, thus confirming your belief that you may just not smart. Ultimately, and over time, a student with a fixed mindset starts to try far less hard, do much less homework, falling farther and farther behind, until the evidence seems to confirm that yes, other people “have it” and they don’t when it comes to math (or, insert any other common skill).
People with a growth mindset believe that abilities and talents are built up over time through hard work, persistence, feedback, and ultimately learning. They’ll ask a question in class in the honest pursuit of feedback and learning, without being too worried about sounding dumb. They have no fear of being exposed as lacking math skills, because they believe they can and will just build up their math skills if they lack them today.
Based on our work with students every day and in our review of the research on academic performance (and really, any type of performance), we’d encourage anyone wrestling with doing better in school, preparing for a standardized test, obtaining admission to college, graduate school, or business school, to follow four simple rules.
This article will describe these four rules, and also provide links to easy-to-read books that explore each in much more detail. At the end of the article, we’ll offer a brief summary of how these rules work together to improve academic performance.
Rule #1: Adopt a growth oriented, ownership mindset
Have you ever caught yourself being too critical of your abilities in a given area? Students in particular can be their own worst enemies. They don’t realize how powerful an influence mindset can be on day-to-day actions. In reality, what we think about ourselves and our abilities will determine what we can achieve, especially academically.