Monday, April 12, 2010

Get Some Sleep!

There has been a substantial amount of research done on the connection between sleep and learning demonstrating that proper sleep habits can improve memory functioning. One recent study at UC Berkeley shows that memory functioning seems to be better for people who have had a nap between learning sessions when compared to people who have not had a nap. Some theorists believe that sleep prevents interference from taking place; however, others maintain that sleep actually helps to move newly acquire information from short-term memory into long-term storage (Martin, 1991). The verdict is still out on exactly why sleep is helpful, but it does seem to be important when it comes to learning.

Considering the results of the Berkeley study, some might argue that we should all take a nap after each study session, but it also depends somewhat on the person. Personally, long naps make me groggy and can be counter-productive if I have other work to do. Another possibility might be to study before going to bed, but again if you aren’t alert or able to concentrate late at night, this might not be the best strategy.

Instead, it might be just as useful to take breaks more regularly. Some people spend so much energy trying to cram information into their brains that they never stop to reflect on the information. If people spend a lot of time studying and then try to do other activities that are mentally taxing, there is a strong possibility of interference. Instead, maybe it is better to do something that isn’t going to compete for that valuable memory space even if that something doesn’t involve sleep. According to Nesca and Koulack (1994), it is believed that any type of linguistic activity (talking, reading, or listening) can cause interference. If this is true, then going for a walk after studying might be a good way to take a break, or it might be simply a matter of having some quiet time, so that some of the new ideas can sink in.

There has also been some research on the negative effects of sleep deprivation on brain functioning. One study at the UC San Diego Medical Centre concludes that sleep deprived subjects perform more poorly on arithmetic problems. The brain can do a lot of things when it is tired, but this suggests that it is not a good idea to study all night before a math exam. Writing a test requires a lot of mental processing skills (ex: reading, writing, problem solving, and creative thinking). All of these skills require an alert and well rested mind, so it makes sense that getting a good night sleep before an exam is important. Cramming might be necessary at times, but for the most part it just creates fatigue.

Consider an athlete who is training for an important competition. Does it help that athlete to stay up all night practicing or reviewing video footage of past performances? If the athlete isn’t ready to compete at that point, it is probably too late. In my mind, the same principles apply to the learning process. Prepare as much as possible beforehand by following a regular study routine, but try to get a good night sleep before the exam, so that when the exam starts, you are ready to perform.


Martin, D. G. (2001). Psychology: Principles and Applications. Scarborough: Prentice-Hall Inc.

Nesca, M. & Koulack, D. (1994). Recognition memory, sleep and circadian rhythms. Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology, 48(3), 1-15. Retrieved from

-- Tim Podolsky

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Thinking about how we learn

Jennifer Livingston’s overview of metacognition is an interesting and insightful read if you have been wondering what the word means: She points out that metacognitive activities are what enable us to be successful as learners. Metacognition is frequently defined as “thinking about thinking”, but according to her it refers to knowledge that can be used to control our thinking and learning. Here are three examples of how we might use metacognition:
  1. Knowledge of personal variables (ex: I know that I will be able to get more work done at the library than I will if I study at home)
  2. Knowledge of task variables (ex: I know that it will be harder for me to study a Math textbook than it will be for me to read a Psychology textbook)
  3. Knowledge of strategy variables (ex: I have a sense of when I should be using a particular study strategy for a particular task)
The key is to actually utilize metacognitive information in order to oversee and manage your own learning. If you aren’t currently thinking about your own learning, and you find that you aren’t getting the marks that you would like, it could be time to get some help. Livingston emphasizes that self-questioning, self-regulation, and self-monitoring are all important ways to use metacognitive strategies. Learners who use these techniques tend to be more successful at comprehending new information. Try asking yourself some basic questions. Is your study location full of distractions? Are you spending enough time on your courses? Would making note cards be a useful way to learn the information? Is it time to start using a highlighter? You can always visit a study skills specialist if you aren’t sure where to start.


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Upcoming Workshops

Reassessing Your Study Strategies:

Did you have a difficult first term? Are you hoping to improve your marks? This workshop will focus on assessing your current study strategies, learning from your mistakes, and recognizing alternative approaches in order to adapt to the demands of different courses. Come and learn about the resources that are available to support you.

The workshop will be offered on the following dates:

Thursday, January 28th from 9:00-9:50 a.m. (215 Tier)

Thursday, February 4th from 4:00-4:50 p.m. (105 Drake)

Friday, February 5th from 12:30-1:20 p.m. (215 Tier)

Wednesday, February 10th from 2:30-3:20 p.m. (206 Tier)

Thursday, February 11th from 9:00-9:50 a.m. (206 Tier)

Monday, January 11, 2010

If all the year were playing holidays

If all the year were playing holidays,
To sport would be as tedious as to work.
Henry IV, Part 1, 1. 2

This line from Shakespeare always reminds me of why holidays are so well deserved after having worked hard. It is important to enjoy our holidays, but unfortunately there always comes a time when we do have to go back to work. Hard work is what makes holidays so much fun in the first place. However, for many people at this time of year it is especially difficult to transition out of holiday mode and back into study mode, and they soon find themselves struggling to catch up with their classes and work load.

As a new year presents itself, it might then be a good time to set some goals for the upcoming term in order to stay motivated and focused. Some academic resolutions are a good way of forcing yourself to improve simple study habits, in order to get better marks.

This year, I sat down to make some personal New Year’s resolutions and quickly found that I had violated a very important principle of goals setting: be realistic. I looked at my list of ten resolutions and quickly narrowed it down to three important areas of my life that needed improvement. When we set unrealistic expectations for ourselves, we doom ourselves to failure because our expectations are so high that there is no chance of meeting them, let alone getting started. The key is to start small. Set small but specific goals for yourself that you stand a chance of accomplishing, and then build from there.

One other strategy that has worked well for me in the past has been to find ways to remind myself of my goals. Some people tell a friend, so that their friend will remind them when they slip up. You can also write them down and post them in a visible place, so that you can see them on a regular basis. Last year, I put my New Year’s resolutions in an envelope and taped them to the calendar month of March. As time passed, I eventually found a reminder for myself, so that my resolutions didn’t slip away after the first week of January. I took stock of my progress and then taped the resolutions to the month of June, so that I could find them again a little further on down the road. The resolutions that I set in January stayed with me for a good portion of the year, because I kept coming back to them.

Related LAC handout:

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Fish or Cut Bait

I've let this blog lie fallow for over a year now, and it's time to either end the project or post on a regular basis. So, no New Year's resolution, but we're (LAC staff and tutors) going to try to post at least once a week. My desire is to have a variety of posts on the writing and study strategies we find useful (including tips from our tutors), as well as information on web and or mobile applications that you can use for writing, thinking, communicating, organizing and studying.

The LAC is open this week with one tutor available on Thursday. Next week we tutor/s working Monday through Friday in 201 Tier, but no tutors working in the library. Starting January 18 tutors will be available in both 201 Tier and Elizabeth Dafoe Library.

Our schedule is available here:

Monday, May 26, 2008

Spring Workshops

The LAC is offering some Spring workshops on writing academic papers.

The workshops start this week.

The Thesis Statement
Thursday, May 29 - 10:30 - 11:45 in 405 Tier Building
A strong thesis statement articulates the unifying theme of an academic paper. It may present an argument or opinion, describe an idea, or provoke an analysis. Different disciplines and types of essays require varied forms of thesis statements. Learn how to organize your key ideas, narrow your focus, and clearly direct your paper through writing a strong thesis statement.

Organizing Your Paper
Tuesday, June 3 - 1:30-2:45 in 405 Tier Building
Organizing is an integral part of a well-written paper and helps the reader to recognize key ideas. Organizing can happen when narrowing down the research question and creating an outline and can happen again at the paragraph and sentence level as you decide in which order to present your information. This workshop will focus on the many different ways to approach organizing papers, which will also help writers feel more controlled as they write their papers.

Revising Your Paper
Thursday, June 5 - 2:30-3:45 in 405 Tier
A strong paper is seldom written in one draft. Changing content, sequence of sentences or sections, as well as editing for the finer details enhances a paper’s readability and improves its strength. Gain control of the revision process: learn to revise for common problems with unsubstantiated statements, poorly integrated quotes, faulty structure, weak content, and basic grammar. This workshop offers guidelines on making decisions about what to look at when revising and editing and tips on how to improve your writing.

No registration is necessary and the workshops are free. If you have any questions please call us at 480-1481.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

More Web tidbits
I have been using for a couple of years now and grown used to web bookmarks that are easily accessible from whichever computer I'm using. Check out this blog (while you are there take some time to explore it - there are lots of useful tips on studying, learning and time management) on the advantages of, and then check out itself!

Visual Dictionaries
Visual dictionaries provide illustrations of words and concepts. Do you want to know what mesocarp* is and what is looks like? Use a visual dictionary. Merriam Webster has a glitzy one. Another Visual Dictionary (copyright by Bernard Dery, but no other information about the hosts of this site except that they are partnered with Wikipedia) has a simpler, but relatively deep dictionary. And then there's the quirkier, artier, visually satisfying Visual Dictionary which is a "collection of words in the real world. Photographs of signage, graffiti, advertising, tattoos, you name it." You couldn't find mesocarp in this dictionary, but you'd find a great illustration of "teenage"

Writer's Block and DarkCopy
Most writers, at some point, have a hard time putting words on a page. When we face that moment, distractions can further interfere with the writing process. DarkCopy has created an online 'distraction free' site where writers can enter text (which is saved automatically) without worrying about format, word count and all those other niggling details that can sometimes derail us. You can even make the writing box full-screen to further that writing immersion.


* it's the pulp of a fruit