Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Organizing your studies when you are overwhelmed

Okay, so you're back from Spring Break (or will be next week) and the rest of the semester is looming. My classes still have 7 weeks remaining, and this is a good time to buckle down for a successful end to the semester.

Last semester I wrote about what to do if you are impossibly behind at the end of the semester. This semester I want to write earlier about how to prevent being overwhelmed when lots of due dates and comprehensive exams loom.

How to organize your workload:
To start, figure out the work you need to do to finish out your course. Whether you are impossibly behind or caught up, you will have work to do to prepare for your final exams and the end of the semester.  If you are impossibly behind, use your syllabus to figure out work you may have missed, and talk to your instructor about possibilities for late submission. If you are "caught up", your syllabus can still help you go into finals with an effective study plan.

Every class is different, so it is hard for me to give specific advice about your plan. Make sure that you know the requirements that you have left to fulfill for your class, and how you plan to meet them. The important thing is to put your plan in writing. Don't just keep it in your head. When writing it down, break it down as much as possible - this will help when it comes time for 20 minute chunks. 

There are many posts about to-do lists and productivity. Much of that advice is applicable to a written study plan. Write study tasks that are specific, that have an end point, and that are reasonable for you to accomplish. Don't just write "work on bone paper" or "study bones". Instead make your listed items specific: try "find  references on osteoporosis" or "study bone markings of the skull". Phrasing your work items in a specific way will help you avoid the "gloss over" when you look through your list.

How to organize your materials:
Armed with your written plan, move on to organizing your study materials. If your final isn't cumulative, remove any notes from your binder that won't apply to this exam. Put in lots of blank paper for making your study guides that you will use. Don't try to start getting all fancy with color-coded sticky notes and gel pens - make sure you have the essential items you need but don't start an entirely new note taking system at this point.

It is important to keep all of your study materials in your bag or backpack, and keep it with you. You never know when you're going to end up with 20 minutes of time to kill, and you definitely have something that could kill it!

What to do first?
Okay, we have a plan, we have our materials organized, now what? We sit down to study and we still procrastinate not by organizing or stressing about what to do, but now we don't know what to do first. If your instructor has indicated that all topics are equal on your final, then it won't matter if you start in the order the topics were presented in class or go in reverse chronological order. If you are impossibly behind and getting caught up, you might want to go in the order that topics were presented so you make sure to get the background for the current topics. If half of your exam is on a certain topic, however, it might be better to start putting some time toward that topic, and going back to others as they start to relate.

So you know what work to do, you have the supplies to do it, and you have decided where to start. Take a deep breath - doesn't that feel better?

Readers - what do you do to get organized when you feel overwhelmed this time of the semester?

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

What Can You Do With 20 Minutes?

There is a popular Tumblr called UnF**k Your Habitat. They advocate a process called "20/10s". This is 20 minutes of work (cleaning, organizing, or just generally unf**king) followed by a 10 minute break. Repeat as needed to accomplish what you need to.

There is power in taking things "20 minutes" at a time. It seems manageable, particularly if what you are working on seems daunting or overwhelming in the least. If you are gearing up for finals and the last few weeks of classes, studying in 20 minute chunks will often help you more than unending hours of cramming.

Make a "single sheet":
Pretend that your instructor is allowing you to bring a single sheet of notes to your final exam. What will you put on it? Instructors that I know who employ this technique say it helps students organize the information ahead of the exam, and that writing down some of the information helps them to remember. Take it one topic at a time, and make notes you can use to study.

Do the "blank page" exercise:
Unfortunately you likely have a final exam where a page of notes won't be allowed. Help to prepare for this scenario by doing what I call the Blank Page Exercise. At the top, put a topic or a question ("how" questions are good for this). Then without looking at anything - books, notes, internet - write down everything that you can recall on your own.  This will give you confidence in what you do recall, and help you identify what you need to study more. You can use what you have written as an outline to fill in the details when you turn again to your notes, books, and other resources to study.

Use technology:
What if you are caught with an extra 20 minutes but don't have paper in front of you for even the Blank Page Exercise? Most of us keep our phone or other device handy. If you are able, download an app with photos of the human body you can label. Bookmark a website like StudyBlue with ready-made study guides and flash cards that you can use to quiz yourself. Watch a YouTube lecture on a topic or do a Kahn Academy lesson related to a chapter. Studying a topic using a number of different techniques, including technological ones, can have a real impact on your understanding. Yes, even in 20 minutes.

Record yourself:
A variation of the Blank Page Exercise without paper is to use a voice recording app on your phone or device. Putting concepts into words is an important step in preparing for essay exams. You might actually see your confidence increase when talking about the material you are learning.

What about you, readers? Any 20-minute techniques that you rely on?

Monday, March 21, 2016

Coronoid, Trochlea, and learning the "elbow joint"

When studying the bones, we often study them one-at-a-time to learn the markings and attachment points. However, learning them together with adjacent bones can sometimes make the terminology easier to remember.

One great example of this is the humerus and ulna fitting together at the "elbow joint".

First, recall the general terms of "process" and "fossa". A process is a part of bone that "sticks out" and a fossa is a depression, or a part that "sinks in". Often when bones fit together, the process fits into the fossa. The mandibular process on the mandible fits into the mandibular fossa on the temporal bone.

The ulna and humerus are similar. The ulna has an olecranon process - the humerus has an olecranon fossa.  The ulna has a coronoid process - the humerus as a coronoid fossa. As the joint flexes and extends, the ulna rotates around the trochlea (which fits into the trochlear notch!)

If you Google "ulna and radius" you can find several images showing from various angles how the two bones fit together. Once you understand that, the locations of the olecranon fossa, the coronoid fossa, and the trochlear notch will become much easier to recall.

Monday, November 23, 2015

What if I am Impossibly Behind?

So finals are two or three weeks away. And you have no idea what is going on, let alone what you need to be doing.  Some classes have nothing due these last few weeks, with the expectation that you will be studying for a final exam. Other classes have long term projects coming due in these last few weeks.  

Some people feel impossibly behind when they just don't have a good feel for what is going on right now in the class. Others haven't done anything for the class in some period of time and truly may be "impossibly behind". The first step is to determine what is going on, where you are in relation to where you need to be right now.

Dig out your syllabus. Maybe you have a paper copy, or access to an online copy. Find it. Print a new one. Read it.  Here is what to look for:

1. The instructor's withdrawal policy: some instructors give permission for you to drop up until the last day of class. Others only let you drop up until the midterm - they figure if they have put this much effort into you, you should put some effort in at the end. While impossibly behind doesn't necessarily mean that you need to drop, reading this section will let you know if it is at least an option for you at this point.

2. The grading policy: the syllabus should outline how you will be graded. How much of that have you accomplished? How much is left to do? Is that "on track" with the timeline of the course? Or have you missed due dates or exams along the way? Write down specifically what you are missing. The printable linked at the end of this blog post might help you outline this and see how it might affect your grade.

3. The schedule: this will help you with figuring out due dates that you have missed and what might be coming up.

Are you considering a withdrawal? Here are some factors to consider:

1.  Are you on financial aid? Check with your financial aid office about your best course of action. Sometimes students are asked to repay financial aid or lose future eligibility if they withdraw from a course.

2.  Are you planning to repeat the course? In this case, some students stick it out until the end to get the most exposure to the material possible. In the event of a D or failing grade, you can re-take the class and the grade may replace your grade this semester.

3.  Are you applying for a program in the next semester where your GPA or transcript will be considered? In this case you will likely want to withdraw instead of fail the course, since the failing grade will likely be calculated into your GPA.

Can't, or have decided not to, withdraw? Time to buckle down and get serious about what you can accomplish before the end of the semester.

First, block out some time to work. Look at your schedule between now and finals. Thanksgiving is this week (in the US) and many college students have at least part of this week off. Use that to your advantage - this means time that you can work on studying previous material when new material isn't being added. How much time could you take off work? Could you limit other obligations? Can you get someone to watch your kids while you have uninterrupted study time? Get serious here, you will need a lot of time to try to do a semester's worth of work in three weeks. 

Second, make a plan for the work that you need to do. Are you studying for a comprehensive final exam? What's the last chapter you studied in depth? How many chapters does that leave you? Figure out how you are going to review those chapters in the time you are planning. Have a presentation to give, block out time for research, writing, and rehearsing before the big due date.

Third, figure out your reward. Okay, so if you put your nose to the grindstone for three solid weeks, and you pull it out for this class, think about the reward at the end that will help keep you motivated.

Some other advice:

Think about the expectations for the class so far. How have you done on exams up until now? Do you need to step up your study techniques at this point to try to rock the final? 

Try to hook up with others in your class for study groups. It doesn't have to be the "A" student at this point, just working with others who are also getting serious for the end of the class will be beneficial for you. This can also help you wrap your mind around where you are in the course relative to where you need to be.

Talk to your instructor. Yes, some instructors get peeved when a student they haven't seen in months shows up asking "what do I need to do to pass this class?" - that's not what I am suggesting. Make an appointment - you don't ever want to have an important discussion on the fly at the end of class in front of other students. Be sure you are well versed in what you need to do for the course. If you have missed a deadline, ask for an extension. The worse they can say is no, but they may be willing to compromise. Plan what you want to ask for - don't plan excuses. Even it is the truth, and the real reason you fell behind, instructors hear "my grandmother died" or "my kid was really sick" ALL THE TIME. Knowing the reason you fell behind is NOT likely to influence their decision about extending your deadline or giving you another chance on work. What WILL influence that decision is how prepared you are for the conversation, how much you have informed yourself what you need to do, and how well you have planned to do it.

Okay, so you've talked to the instructor, found a group of students to work with, and you know what you need to do in the next three weeks. It's time to buckle down and just do it.

Have any of you had a semester where you fell behind? Were you able to get caught up? Have advice to share with the impossibly behind student? 

Free Printable: Calculating My Grade



Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Does Spelling Count?

When learning new terminology, particularly in Anatomy and Physiology, many students ask "is spelling important?"  Compare these sets of terms to answer that question for yourself!

coxal versus coccygeal:

  • The "hip bone" is the os coxa, so coxal refers to the hip area.
  • The coccyx, or tailbone, is located at the very end of the vertebral column. It helps form part of the pelvis, along with the two os coxa.

peroneal versus perineal:

These two terms only differ by a single letter. How important is that letter? Let's find out.

  • peroneal is another word for fibular, referring to the side of the leg where the fibula is located (the lateral side of each leg). (Look, the link even says don't confuse it with perineal!)
  • perineal is the surface region between the external genitalia and the coccyx.

So what do you think - does that one letter make a difference? Lower leg or genitals - I think it does!

Monday, August 31, 2015

Crural and Sural

One of the most confusing sets of regional terms we learn in the beginning of Anatomy and Physiology is "crural" versus "sural". Most medical dictionaries are pretty clear on "sural" - pertaining to the posterior lower limb. Some people call that the calf area of the leg. The sural nerve travels here.

What some textbooks don't seem to agree on is the use of the word "crural". Most definitions give "pertaining to the leg". However some of those same texts make the not-so-helpful clarification of the words "arm and "leg" into terms for the arm and forearm, and thigh and leg.So if "arm" really means the upper arm, then does "leg" really mean the upper leg?

Some textbooks would say yes, crural includes "pertaining to the leg or thigh" as a more complete definition. But then a figure in those same texts point to the front of the lower leg when using "crural".

Here is my take: If we use the arm analogy, then arm:forearm as crural:sural. In this case, crural refers to the upper leg and sural the lower, specifically the posterior lower area of the leg.  You could get by with using "crural" to describe the entire leg, however, and use "sural" when specifically referring to the calf (posterior lower leg).

Does this all seem like semantics? Probably it does, but isn't all vocabulary semantics?  We want to try to use correct terminology because that is the only way to communicate across distance - like in writing. When a nurse writes notes that a doctor later reads, everyone needs to be on the same page with what the words mean. If you see these particular terms, you might want to ask for clarification. Apparently different textbooks teach this term in different ways!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Section Terms

In Biology, as in Real Life, when we want to look at the inside of something, we usually have to cut it open.  When one person learns the inside "parts" of something and wants to teach someone else, they often draw a representation and label the parts, and that is how they communicate the names of the parts to someone else.

For instance, if you want to know the parts inside an apple:
You can find a figure of the apple cut open, with the parts labeled.  Since we are all familiar with what an apple looks like on the outside, the cross-section image makes sense to us, and we can learn the names of the parts.

This week in lecture and lab we are learning about the terminology related to planes of section.  This is a figure from another lab manual that helps to correlate some of the terms, and how they would affect a slice of a structure on a slide.


Next week we are going to start learning how to use the microscope to look at slices of tissue.  We will need to use some of the information learned about sections and apply it to microscopic images. This can be a confusing step sometimes - we understand from experience what an apple looks like, but we don't always have a good idea what a "duct" or a "gland" looks like.


So we use artists drawings of the three-dimensional structure to try to understand what we are looking at a slice of under the microscope.

We will take time in lab to understand more about the microscope slides we are studying.  The first step, though, is thinking about the planes of section and learning the terms.  Good luck!