Andrew Mower explains how you can study at home effectively
during these difficult, problematic times.
Given the vast numbers of PQ readers now studying from home, here are some suggestions as to how to make sure you are making the most of your time.
Prepare a timetable
Without the discipline of the classroom you will need something to help manage your time. You
should be preparing a timetable using your study guides, which detail which topics/chapters you should be covering on each day of the course.
You need to build in time to cover all-important learning activities and tests that need completing. Don’t underestimate how long something will take – learning is not an exact
science, so don’t forget to build in a buffer. Also make sure you include breaks and non-study
Create a learning space
Most students prepare a quiet place to study. Contrary to popular student culture, multitasking doesn’t work. What you are in fact doing is swapping attention between two or three competing activities, which from a learning perspective is tiring and reduces concentration.
The easiest thing to do is avoid distractions – and that means putting your mobile phone away. Also turn off any alerts, the noise is enough to create a ‘dopamine bump’ – a short pleasurable
sensation making it almost impossible not to check your messages.
Spread out the learning
Don’t study for too long or cram too much – cramming can work, but it effectively overloads
short-term memory, resulting in you forgetting something that was only learned the day before.
Little and often is the secret to effective study.
Get others involved
One of the best ways of checking your understanding of a topic is to explain it to someone else. If you have other people (or animals!) with you at home, take a few minutes
to talk them through a tricky concept. By talking through it out loud you will see how well you
know it – if you find yourself struggling to explain, go back through it and try again later.
It doesn’t matter if the recipient of your homeschooling is accountancy-minded or not – just
the process of talking through it is a really powerful learning tool.
Question your understanding/approach
Here are some examples as to how you might do this:
• Talk to yourself. Ask questions at each stage: “Does this make sense? I have read it several
times. Maybe I should try writing it down.”
• Ask whether you’ve set yourself sensible and realistic goals? Don’t set yourself up to fail.
• Shake things up and try a different approach, for example mind mapping. But remember to
reflect on how effective it was (or wasn’t).
• Do you need help from anyone? This could be a fellow student, your Online Learning Platform
(e.g. MyKaplan) or a tutor.
Question practice is key
Although attempting questions can seem a little disheartening, especially if you get something
wrong, it is one of the most effective methods of learning.
The process of answering a question involves what we call ‘retrieval practice’, forcing the brain
to think back over what has previously been learned and in so doing transferring knowledge
into long term memory.
Develop a positive mind-set
Working alone can result in moments of self-doubt which can turn to worry and/or stress. The important point is that both of these are perfectly natural reactions to a challenging situation.
There is a view that worry is simply the way in which the brain moves something up in your list of priorities. To help ease this, simply write down what you are worried about and turn it into an action. A certain amount of stress can also be good, it is continual long-term stress that can cause problems.
Ensure you schedule some time for exercise throughout the day. A nice walk or jog out in the fresh air is a great time to reflect about what you’ve been learning, and think about what you’ll be doing later in the day. ‘Thinking about learning’ is part of a process called metacognition, another powerful learning tool.
Eat and drink
Regularly drinking water is really important – not just the caffeine-filled drinks that students tend to choose around study time.
Some great snacks while studying include:
• Blueberries help with oxygen flow to the brain and so increase focus, concentration and performance.
• Dark chocolate stimulates neural activity in areas of the brain associated with pleasure and reward, which in turn decreases stress and improves your mood.
• Apples slices with peanut butter are a great blend of vitamins and protein.
• Andrew Mower is National ICAEW Product Manager at Kaplan Financial.