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If we have already met, you have definitely heard me emphasize the key role that high school transcripts (rigor of classes + grades) play in the admissions evaluation process. While March was all about selecting upcoming classes that demonstrate rigor, April and May are all about buckling down and finishing the year strong. With this theme in mind, I’d like to share 3 resources that can help students organize and plan their study sessions better.

Resource #1: Anki, a flashcard app

This is best suited for: motivated students who want to up level their studying game and boost their productivity.

Contrary to popular belief, scientific studies have proved that re-reading, highlighting and summarizing are not the most effective study strategies. Instead, active recall and spaced repetition are the magic mantras to absorb information quickly and effectively. Active recall, as the name suggests, forces your brain to strengthen connections (neuro links) between the concepts that you have just learned. And spaced repetition means recalling these concepts in a phased manner. So for example, your study schedule may look something like this:

Day 1: Study a new concept and actively recall it (with the textbook or computer shut).

Day 2, Day 4, After 1 week, After 3 weeks: Recall it again.

This spaced repetition method (as opposed to cramming the night before a test) helps you to inch your way towards converting concepts from your short-term memory into your long-term memory.

Tools required: Traditionally, physical flashcards have been used to aid active recall. But our tech-savvy teenagers may prefer using a flashcard app that incorporates both active recall and spaced repetition: Anki. Students can download pre-made flashcards or create flashcards of their own through the app and then based on how easy/difficult they rate their recall ability, Anki will re-test them on the same flashcard within a few minutes or a few weeks. This helps students to continue challenging themselves and not waste time by simply reviewing material that they already know well.

Resource #2: The Pomodoro Technique

This is best suited for: students who tend to lose focus quickly or who are inclined to put off assignments and studying till the very end.

This study technique developed in the 1980s makes use of a timer to encourage students to stay on task for 25 minutes, followed by a 5 minute stretch/water break. The student then starts the second 25-minute cycle of uninterrupted, focus time. After 2-3 cycles, students can take a longer break as a reward for their focused studying.

Cognitive scientists explain that procrastination strikes when the brain associates ‘pain’ with a particular task – which then causes us to defer the unpleasant task to the future. And while this may offer temporary relief in the present moment, the nagging pain always looms on the horizon. If instead, we jump right into the unpleasant task, research indicates that the strong neuro discomfort often recedes. And that is why the Pomodoro Technique is one of the most powerful tools to combat procrastination.

I often encourage my students to add a little ‘twist’ to the Pomodoro technique by combining resources 1 & 2 outlined above. So, after the 25-minute focused studying, it’s a good idea to spend 5 minutes actively recalling what they have just learnt and then take the 5-minute break to complete one full cycle.

Tools required: You can either use a physical timer or an app like: Forest – stay focused.

Resource #3: Smiling Mind, a mindfulness app

This is best suited for: the overwhelmed or anxious student.

The pressures surrounding online classes, assignments, standardized tests and extra curriculars can build up rapidly and sometimes it helps to take a step back and cut off completely for a few minutes. Especially if your mind is racing in a hundred different directions and you can’t seem to focus on what is in front of you. There are several mindfulness apps available, but what I love about Smiling Mind is that you can meditate in bite-size pieces. Some sessions are as short as 4-7 minutes. And while I recommend this for my students, I often use this myself too – as does my 9-year old!

There are several other study tools available – some good, some not as great – but the above 3 resources have been thoroughly vetted by my students. In fact, many of them have continued to embrace these techniques even in college. I hope you find them equally useful. Happy studying!

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