Creating an Effective Study Environment

Studying – this is a term that many university students use when they are referring to exam preparation. The term is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “the devotion of time and attention to acquiring knowledge on an academic subject” (2015). Many students tend to overlook the “time and attention” portion of this definition when preparing for their exams. Although the methods that one uses to study are important to consider (ex. Re-writing notes, creating cue cards, self-testing, etc) the study environment itself is equally as important.

Of course, there is no ‘fix-all’ solution that will dramatically and instantly improve your study habits, but I have listed 5 key factors to consider in creating an effective study environment that can help you get there.

1. Location
2. Atmosphere
3. Private vs. Group Study
4. Distractions
5. Resources

1. Just like they say in Real Estate… Location, Location, Location!

Location is extremely important in determining the success of a study session. In order to study effectively, you must pick a location where you can focus. Some options could be your bedroom, the library, study rooms or quiet lounges in residences or university buildings, empty lecture halls and classrooms, or even a coffee shop.

2. Atmosphere! (Not to be confused with the protective layer of gases that surround Earth)

Working in conjunction with location, it is important to consider the factors that impact the atmosphere of your study space. Things like noise and lighting all play a role in how effective your study session can be. If you are a student that needs to have complete silence when you are studying, then it might not be wise to study in a high traffic location such as a coffee shop. Instead, you might want to try studying in a quiet space such as a library, or an empty classroom where there would be minimal interruptions. Another factor to consider could be the lighting available – Do you prefer bright lights of a large room, or the soft light of a lamp?

3. To Group Study, or not to Group Study? That is the question.

Studying in a group is a really good strategy to study effectively, but only when it is done properly. As one of my professors has said, “Our collective knowledge is vastly greater than the knowledge of the individual”. When preparing for a test, studying with a group can be extremely useful, especially if different people in the group know a concept better than others. This can create a dynamic where students can teach and challenge each other on concepts, and come to a greater understanding of the material together. However, there are a few things to be aware of:

– Who are you studying with? Will the group be able to stay on track?
– How many people are in the group?
o To keep things effective, you shouldn’t go over 4 people (unless of                                           course you are attending a study group run by a facilitator to keep                                             everyone on track).
– Make sure to take breaks and pack some snacks
– Be aware of the location and atmosphere! If you are studying close                                             to a restaurant, the group can get distracted and decide                                                                 that going out to eat is more important (this is why you should pack some food!)

4. Distrac- hey… I’m hungry.

Of course, even if you have picked a good location and have a good atmosphere to study in, you will not be successful unless you eliminate or at least minimize all possible distractions. Today, one of the biggest distractions that interfere with students’ study time is technology and social media. So, if you are going to study, be proactive and use some strategies to prevent yourself from getting distracted. For example, if you are glued to your phone, you can try putting it on silent, leaving it in your bag, turning it off completely, or even leaving it at home.

Here are some other distractions you might want to avoid:
- Listening to music or wearing headphones
          – Studying while watching a TV show
          – Trying to study with a friend who is not taking the same course, or who does                       not want to study

5. Resources (Last, but definitely not least!)

Okay, you have picked a location with a good atmosphere, you have decided whether or not you will study in a group, and you have minimalized your distractions. Excellent! Just one more thing to remember – be prepared! When you are getting ready to study, always make sure you have a collection of supplies readily available such as pens, pencils, highlighters, sticky notes, etc. Forgetting these things can throw you off your game, and distract you from studying! This may seem like a small problem, but it can have a big impact – I never leave my house to go study without my ball point pens and a highlighter (and of course the textbooks and any reading material or previously written notes I have!)
So, there you have it. Next time you study, keep in mind these 5 keys factors, and you will be successful!

Happy Studying,

Mason Gomes
Senior Facilitated Study Group Leader

References

Ramsey, C., & Witter, A. (2010). Ideal study environments and factors that influence studying. Writing and Learning Commons. Western Carolina University. Retrieved from: http://www.wcu.edu/academics/campus-academic-resources/writing-and-learning-commons-walc/course-tutoring-and-academic-skills/academic-strategies/ideal-study-environments-and-factors-that-influence-studying.asp

Advising and Learning Assistance Center. (2015). Effective Study Environments. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Retrieved from: http://alac.rpi.edu/update.do?artcenterkey=9

Oxford Dictionaries. (2015). Study. Oxford University Press. Retrieved from: http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/study

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Brainstorming Techniques: Getting an Early Start on your University Papers

Sometimes the starting point for writing university papers is the hardest; however, it’s a very important step.   Essentially, brainstorming helps you break down your overall topic and come up with a generic rough outline for your future paper. Through brainstorming you’ll be able to create a visual organization of your topic, find possible arguments, build ideas off of each other, and critically analyze your topic.

The good news is that there’s no “right” way to brainstorming ideas. Here are some useful ways to help you get started on your brainstorming process.

Mind Maps

                Mind Maps are a great way to brainstorm topics for university papers. By using mind maps you’ll be able to organize your thoughts, classify ideas, connect your main ideas to the central topic, and critically analyze your findings. Mind maps also allow you to identify the topic and how it impacts other areas related to it.

Steps to Creating a Mind Map

  1. Write your topic in the center of the page
  2. Add branches by creating subtopics/ideas of the central issue
  3. Add sub-branches from those newly created ideas by expanding on other relatable ideas. 1

Useful Sources/Apps

  1. Free Mind
  2. iThoughts
  3. Mind Node

Break Down the Topic into Levels

Sometimes people like to break down their topic into different levels in order to help organize their thoughts. For example:

The overall topic: The relationship between France and immigration to the New World

A topic question: “Why did French immigrants want to come to the New World?”

Supporting details that can support the argument:

  • Free passage and full paid dowries for the French women
  • Searching for safety and freedom
  • New opportunities and a better life for themselves and their families

Cubing

When using this brainstorming method you’ll be able to consider your topic from multiple perspectives. Similar to the sides of a cube, your argument will identify six “sides” of your topic. When brainstorming using the cubing method, you’ll want to consider your topic and….

1. Describe it2

2. Compare it

3. Associate it

4. Analyze it

5. Apply it

6. Argue for and against it

After you have finished brainstorming the different ideas, reflect upon your responses to see if there’s a theme that is occurring. This will help you start to generalize your topic, create a thesis and find supporting details.

 Free writing

One of the first things that you should do when brainstorming is to free write for 5 or 10 minutes. By free writing, you’re writing anything that comes to your mind when you imagine the topic, even if it’s something small. After you’re finished with your free write, review what you’ve written and make a list or highlight all of the specific ideas mentioned. Afterwards, you can start to develop a topic sentence, focus points, and supporting details to the new narrowed topic.

Tips:

  • Don’t worry about your grammar, spelling, or punctuation at  this 3stage. You’re just brainstorming!
  • Choosing a topic that interests you will be easier to brainstorm!

Good luck,

Emily

Peer Mentor

Works Cited

Allen, Roberta, and Marcia Mascolini. The Process of Writing: Composing through Critical       Thinking. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice, 1997.

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Lessons from a Graduating Student

As a fifth year Concurrent Education student, this is sadly my last blog post for the Centre for Student Success. It’s hard to believe that my third year as a Peer Mentor is coming to an end. As a final adios I have reflected on my time here and have compiled a list of the most important lessons that I have learned.

  1. Get Involved                   

It took me until my third year at Laurier Brantford to actually Laurier_GOLD_rgb_SMget involved in something on campus (working at the Centre). Applying for this job was the best decision I made in my undergraduate career. The benefits of being part of a team and being involved on campus are endless. Working on campus has allowed for more opportunities to meet and have meaningful conversations with my peers and faculty. It has also made me feel more connected to the Laurier community.

For those of you who have not come in for an appointment or to attend a workshop I would advise you to absolutely do so. The staff at the Centre for Student Success includes some of the funniest and most caring individuals that I have met in my time at Laurier. They are the people I am going to miss the most when I have to leave campus as they have made my experiences and memories of Laurier ones that I do not want to forget.

  1. Access Available Resources

I have found that my own academic writing has improved immensely over the years. I credit this improvement to working at the Centre. I wish I had been more familiar with the services available to me as a student back in my first and second years. I am now much more confident with citation styles (APA, MLA, Chicago Author-Date), how to write an effective thesis statement, paragraph development, writing with an active voice, how to use a semicolon, and how to write all different types of assignments (research proposal, annotated bibliography, literature review, etc.).

These are all skills that students at Laurier Brantford can acquire by accessing resources. Through individual appointments, handouts, and workshops, students can learn and practise all of these skills to help improve their own writing. If you find that you are not getting the grades that you hope for, or if you lack confidence in your writing ability, you should participate at the Centre in one way or another.

  1. Reflect on your own Learning

Metacognition. It’s my first day of training, starting my third year as a student, and our manager Jenna Olender brings up this word. I was stumped. Simplified, metacognition is our thinking about thinking.

I now understand this concept to mean that we need tometacognition think about our own learning and engage in personal reflection. The same strategies – such as note taking or studying strategies– do not work well for all students. There is no universal method to being a successful student. This means that we all need to individually look at how we learn best.

Prompting Questions to Engage in Metacognition:

– How do I study?

– Why does this strategy work for me? Why does it not?

– If this strategy didn’t produce the results I desired, how can I modify it and/or what other strategy can I try next time?

– What works best for me?

I like to think of this as trial and error. However, you don’t simply try, fail, and then give up. You have to take it the step further and think about why something didn’t work for you and critically engage in coming up with a new strategy for yourself. Once you figure out the strategies that work best for you, you don’t have to continue with trials. Find what works for you and then stick with it (modify as necessary). You will become a pro in strategies that WORK FOR YOU.

  1. Create Personal Goals

First year. Cramming for exams the day or two before. Trying to stuff as much knowledge into my tired brain as possible. Why didn’t this work?! I have become much more effective and efficient with my studying since then. This is largely due to taking the time to become organized and set goals before I even begin studying.

Weekly schedules with chunked out studying blocks and study goals has kept me on track with my studying. These study schedules ensure that I am not cramming the night before to compensate for spending too much time studying for one exam and forgetting about another one.

Creating small goals for yourself can keep you on track and motivate you to work hard to meet the standards and expectations you have set for yourself. Rather than simply putting on your schedule “Study for BF190,” be very specific about what you want to accomplish in that hour time slot. This will make studying seem less daunting and once you’ve completed your goal, you know that you deserve to reward yourself and take a break.

Example GoaSmart Goalsls:

-Read over lecture 1 and create study notes
-Create cue cards for chapters
1-3
-Make a practice test for the first half of the content-Take the practice test, mark it, and highlight which terms and concepts need further reviewing

Good luck with the rest of the term and have a great reading week!

Brittany
Peer Mentor

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Properly Punctuating

Ensuring I have properly punctuated my work is by far my least favourite part of writing, and it is something we spend a lot of time working on here at the centre. So, here are some tips that I like to use when trying to figure out if I have used the right punctuation, mixed with a bit of humour (or attempted humour at least).

We’ll start easy.

The period

It is used at the end of a complete declarative period and is often used after an abbreviation. It indicates a full stop. Did you know that a prisoner’s favorite punctuation mark is the period? It marks the end of his sentence.

Period

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The comma

 These tiny things let your reader know when to pause in a sentence. They are used after conjunctive adverbs or introductory phrases, to indicate that a clause is not essential to a statement, when there are three or more items in a list and to isolate who is doing the speaking when there is a quotation. Watch out for comma splices! This happens when two independent clauses are joined by a comma.

Comma

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The apostrophe

The apostrophe is used to show possession or ownership. It also is used to indicate when a letter or number has been left out (a contraction).

Apostrophe

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The colon

Colons do many things. Firstly, the link closely related complete sentences by indicating that what follows the colon will expand on what had just been stated. You can also use a colon to link a main clause with an appositive (a noun or noun phrase that renames the noun preceding it). Finally, colons are most often used when you present a list. But, this should only be done when it is being used to join a list to an independent clause (a sentence that could stand by itself).

Colon

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The semicolon

The semicolon is one confusing piece of punctuation. Two sentences can be connected by a semicolon when their meaning is connected. The second sentence often adds details, further explanation, or points out a contrast. When doing this ensure that there is no coordinating junction (and, but, for, nor, so, yet, etc.). You can also follow the semicolon with a transitional expression (however, therefore, etc.). The second way that a semicolon can be used is in place of a comma to separate major items in a list where at least one of the items contains a comma. Basically, this will just simplify your list for the reader.

semicolon

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Hopefully these brief descriptions will be able to help you figure out how to properly punctuate your work. If you ever need a refresher feel free to either book an appointment with us or check out our online handouts!

Enjoy your semester,

Shannon

Senior Peer Mentor

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Final Steps for Crafting the Perfect Essay

You have finally typed the final word of your essay – you are DONE! Now quickly open up MLS and submit your essay to the drop-box folder. You are seconds away from releasing yourself from the stress of this paper. WAIT! Don’t submit your paper yet! I want to share with you a couple of tips that should take your paper from being “okay” to “awesome.”

Begin by reading your paper aloud. It may sound silly, but reading it out loud will help you to catch small grammatical errors that you may miss if you read your paper silently. While you read, it is important to pay attention to five key things:

  1. Topic and Thesis – As you read your paper pay close attention to your thesis. Does your paper actually address what you wrote in your thesis? If it doesn’t, try to tweak your thesis statement so that your content reflects your argument.
  2. Organization – Does your paper follow a logical order? Remember that you want your reader to be able to easily follow what you are saying in your writing. For example, it might be confusing if a term is discussed before it has been defined. To fix this, you could define the word, and then provide your reader with examples.
  3. Voice – Pay close attention to the way that your writing sounds. Does it sound too formal or informal? Are you consistent in the way that you use words like “one” and “you”? Make sure you consider what type of writing assignment you are working on. You would probably use different language for a personal reflection than a formal essay.
  4. Diction – This is when you should examine the words you chose, and how they fit within your sentences. Are the words you chose appropriate for your essay? In most writing it is important to avoid slang or jargon.
  5. Grammar – This is something that you will likely hear as you read your paper. However, some mistakes might slip past your radar. To catch these ones, look back at old essays that have already been handed in and marked. See what errors you made then, and try to avoid making them again!

After reading your essay out loud, ask someone else to look over your paper. A fresh set of eyes can help draw attention to things that you may have missed. In addition to this, don’t forget that you can always stop by the Centre for Student Success. At the Centre, we can provide you with feedback on your writing that will help you with your writing process.

Happy Writing,

Anne Wyatt

Peer Mentor

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