Oh, academia. It has become a religion of our times. College admissions, internship opportunities, salary raises– it all seems so contingent on this thing that we let become the core of our identity. So many research studies are published about topics such as the impact of a good education, the varying effects of the amount of time spent in education, education’s impact on human development, etc., etc. It is true that one’s experience with education can naturally engrain itself in one’s personality, confidence, and self-perception without even knowing it. Education cannot be a god, but it does seem to influence many important decisions made over a lifetime.
In high school, I was in a rigorous college preparatory program, and once actually in the program itself, it was still very competitive amongst my classmates too. I struggled to keep the pace at which my teachers were moving, and I wasn’t used to the grades I started receiving. I was amazed that my classmates could effortlessly remember and recite information we learned the previous day, or juggle six intense courses at a time while simultaneously volunteering at a hospital, varsity fencing, and competing in piano competitions on weekends. I am not over exaggerating when I say that during every single one of the Mass Intentions, when the priest would say “And for the intentions that we hold in our hearts,” my prayer would be, “That I may barely pass my exams to receive my program diploma,” without a fail. That is how seriously in jeopardy I thought I was. It affected all my emotions and every part of my life.
Here’s the thing, most students I know who are struggling in school, are not struggling because of a question of intelligence or inability to understand the material. The root of the problem stems from something very prominent in society today: the side effects of modern media consumption. Think about it—when your child or you are casually perusing your cell phone, iPad, or computer, what happens? The modern day person will have multiple windows and applications open. (You can check out this article for some statistics.) For example, when I am on my phone, I usually have Instagram, Facebook, iMessage, Snapchat, and my iPhoto all open at the same time. I constantly switch between them, spending only a couple minutes, or sometimes even seconds on them. Attention is quickly shifting from one place to another, based on the user’s preference. It is fast paced, entertaining, and instantly gratifying. Once one application starts to get boring, you can just switch the next. Then in the middle of scrolling through a Pinterest feed, in comes a text message, so you switch over to that immediately.
There is constant movement. Even movies in the past ten years have had an average shot length of anywhere in between 4- 16 seconds before it jumps to the next shot all in one scene! Now compare that to reading a book, studying a textbook, or even having a long conversation with someone, which can make any of those seem impossible to focus on for even five minutes before getting restless. It is no wonder people can hardly pray anymore.
We have forgotten, or in some cases, never learned, how to keep our attention on one thing for an extended amount of time. I would say that the key to studying is absorbing as much information about key concepts as possible, to help understand the bigger picture of the world that God created. Here are some tips for you or your child that can transform studying:
- Technology Can Go. You can finally live out that childhood dream of becoming a magician by making your media disappear for some time. Turn the phone on silent, flip it over, and get it out of sight (and out of mind). Whether it is in another room, behind your laptop, or under a pillow, just get it out of your line of vision. This way, there are fewer chances for distraction during that power-through mode.
- Rule Out Media. Set a concrete goal to not open any social media while on your laptop. No Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, MySpace (rest in peace), or whatever. There will be a time and place for it again, but not while studying.
- Treat Yourself. A silly yet extremely effective way to power through school work is by incrementally treating yourself to your favorite snack. For example, if I were writing a paper, then after every 100 words written, I would reward myself with a Nutella dipped pretzel. You bet I finished that paper faster than the sugar went to my blood. I was like a hamster on a spinning wheel hammering away on the keyboard.
- Okay Fine, You Can Respond. It is wise to set a scheduled time to check your phone and respond to any text messages. The risk that can come with completely diminishing a habit (like checking your phone every 30 seconds—don’t lie), is starving and then bingeing to make up for it. This exercise in planning out your technology usage is another form of positive reinforcement. For example, you can plan to check your phone at the top of every hour or half an hour, just in case of any emergency or text from bae (same thing).
- Actually Read the Textbook. I frequently tried getting away with not reading the oh-so-daunting textbook. But many questions on tests are those buried sentences in the gigantic paragraphs that teachers may not get to cover in class. Simply reading over it at least once can stimulate your memory when it shows up on the test. It can be the difference between two letter grades.
- Review the Class Notes. This is something that my college professors have always stressed at the beginning of new semesters. The material taught in class tends to stick better when it is reviewed once or twice sometime after class. Then it takes less time to relearn the material when it comes time for the test.
- Visit Teachers’ Office Hours. This is so underrated. But teachers secretly (or not so secretly) love when students ask questions on their own time. I have learned so much information during the times I would stay after class or visit office hours. Not everything can get covered in class, but the important information can often be revealed during times like these.
If I had studied like this in high school, it would have drastically changed the way I viewed school. Studying can sometimes seem like a secret formula that only a select few are lucky to know. But I truly believe that once students have a healthy routine, they can more efficiently navigate the waters of education and have more confidence in choosing what God has called them to do. Ultimately, education should be a way to glorify God by choosing to serve Him and His people by discovering who He made you to be.