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.