Thursday, August 30, 2012

The "Blank Page" Exercise

Usually this time of semester, right before the first lecture exam, I often make a short diversion in lecture to talk about ways to study.  This semester was no different.  I talked in class last week about the Learning Styles Inventory and how to use those results.  I talked about Bloom's Taxonomy and how it helps us understand developing higher levels of critical thinking skills - and being able to answer questions at those higher levels.  I talked about Mind Mapping (which will be the subject of the next post).  And I also talked about what I call the Blank Page Exercise.

I had two favorite techniques for studying at home when I was in graduate school.  The first was to stop periodically when reading or reviewing to explain what I was reading to my dog.  I had an adorable pup named Darby who was a cocker spaniel/golden retriever mix.  She didn't care what I was saying to her as long as I was talking.  But the process of putting what I was reading into words was a very helpful step.

Then my next technique was a bit of a self-quiz.  After I felt like I had mastered a topic, and thought I was ready to take a test on it, I gave myself a test.  I would write a question, or even a topic, at the top of a blank sheet of paper.  Then I would see how much I could fill in without looking.

Because really, isn't that what the test experience is?  You think you are ready, you get your test, and you are asked to explain the concepts without looking at books or notes.

So does it make sense to have that experience for the very first time at the actual test?  Or does it make more sense to have that experience for the first time while you are still in the studying process? 

No one else has to see your blank page.  It doesn't have to be perfect.  It is simply a tool to help you figure out what material you already have mastered enough to write about it on paper - and what material you still need to work on in order to get to that point.

The first lecture exam in both BIO 137 and BIO 139 are next week after the Labor Day holiday.  Yes, reviewing your handmade flashcards will be helpful.  Yes, creating outlines to help you mentally organize the information will be helpful.  But taking a moment to test yourself, to see where you are, using a blank page ... that can be a very powerful technique.

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