Just the tips: An A+ guide to a great first semester

Whether it’s hitting the books early or learning Swedish so you can decipher Ikea instructions, it’s never too early to start studying. But for most first years (and I know this was true for me), there is a huge and startling difference between high school days of skimming and my-books-weigh-more-than-I-do college studying.

With this in mind, here are a few tips to help you make the most of your nose-in-the-book hours.
The first reminder, of course, is that studying is hard. So remember that while these tips will minimize your effort, the studying still requires actual effort in and of itself.

Take more notes on paper

The obvious reason to avoid using your laptop to take notes is that it is extremely easy to multitask (read: use any number of social networking sites) while sitting in class, but the pen might be mightier than the computer for another reason: students who type notes tend to type fast enough to transcribe them.

In other words, it is easier to write down what a professor says verbatim when you are typing, and this simply doesn’t trigger learning as well as using a pen and paper. When I physically write notes down, I can’t write fast enough to catch every word, which means I have to put concepts into my own words. Neurologists have a word for internalizing concepts, encoding, and the better a student encodes information, the better that student retains that information in a meaningful way.

Two 2014 studies by Princeton psychology professor Pam Mueller and UCLA psychology professor Daniel Oppenheimer test the quantitative difference between handwritten and laptop notes. In Mueller’s study, researchers found that longhand notetakers scored significantly better on conceptual memory tasks than the laptop notetakers when tested after viewing an informative lecture.

Oppenheimer’s study on the same subject attempted to control for verbatim transcription. The study found that even when laptop notetakers were warned about transcription and encouraged to write notes in their own words, longhand notetakers still scored higher on conceptual memory tasks (i.e. critical thinking questions, not fact-retention questions).

In addition, the second study found that, unsurprisingly, longhand notetakers wrote fewer overall words and further analysis found lower word count was predictive of higher scores, suggesting that concise, thoughtful notes were more valuable than high-volume transcriptive notes.

In conclusion: type less, think more, and write with a pen!

Take an active study break

If the study material makes you want to scream and run away, neurologist Lukasz Konopka suggests you shouldn’t resist the urge (well, at least the bit about running) in his 2015 article “How Exercise Influences the Brain: a Neuroscience Perspective.”

One reason aerobic exercise is thought to improve cognition is that it causes the release of the biochemical molecule BDNF (Brain Derived Growth Factor), which increases the proliferation of new neurons up top (that’s good!). In addition, aerobic exercise increases brain perfusion, which after some intense Googling, I learned means the speed at which the body delivers blood to specific sites, in this case the brain. Faster brain blood delivery roughly equates to better neuroplasticity, which helps your ability to flexibly absorb and adapt to new information. This enhances your brain so you can prepare for that Psycho-Calculus 8 test you’ve been dreading.

So after cramming your brain for a while, get your nose out of the book, and start sprinting!

Hopefully these two study tips are simple enough to implement soon, but the best thing you can do for your study life is to start buying books now and get a head start before the crushing workload hits. Good luck!