Archive for the ‘How to pass exams – tips’ Category

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Sleep is for wimps – oh and successful students

July 31, 2014

Get some restAlthough I am sure someone is preparing for an exam this very minute, July/August are the traditional months to take a holiday and get some well earned rest. A holiday can be exactly what you need especially if you have just come to the end of a long period of study followed by in some instances, weeks of exams.  

I have to express a personal bias in so much that I believe holidays are essential if you are to be at your best. For me this years holiday has to provide some degree of relaxation after what has been a particularly busy 6 months. I am looking forward to a change of scene, meeting different people and the freedom to wake naturally, feeling rested after a good nights sleep. Holidays are of course very personal and for some an adventure holiday, travelling to new places every day, might be far more desirable.  

But one thing that all holidays should provide is the ability to relax and catch up on sleep, even if that means you climb two mountains, swim for three hours before crashing out in a state of satisfied exhaustion on the evening.  

Sleep is essential for learning 

Of course sleep is something you should do “properly” every day, it’s just that we don’t. Modern life steals that vital rest time, this is acutely the case when trying to balance both work and study. Studying is often undertaken on an evening and sometimes late into the night as you effectively try to do, too much in too little time.   We now sleep less than we did 50 years ago, it used to be around 8.5 hours, it’s now only 6.5. The sleep should also be of high quality, yet our sleep is interrupted by the lights of mobile phones, and sounds made when texts arrive late into the night. In order to sleep better it is a good idea to avoid light approximately 30 minutes before going to sleep, yet how many read in bed from iPads or equivalent with the bright light emitted from the screen telling your brain to stay awake.  

 Why sleep is important 

We have known that sleep has been important for many years but we didn’t know why, cognitive scientists now have some of the answers. There are three views as to why sleep is beneficial:

One restoration – some of our genes only turn on when we sleep, their role being to make essential repairs. 

Two conservation – we sleep to conserve energy, and

Three consolidation – our brain revisit events and experiences, and begins to make sense of them, moving data into long term memory and solving complex problems.  

Susanne Diekelmann at the University of Tubingen in Germany says “sleep helps stabilise the memories and integrate them into a network of long-term memory, it also helps us to generalise what we’ve learnt, giving us the flexibility to apply the skills to new situations. So although you can’t soak up new material, you might instead be able to cement the facts or skills learned throughout the day.”  Bodies need rest – the brain needs sleep Sometimes you may find yourself having to push sleep to one side and in specific situations thats fine.

It’s when lack of sleep becomes the norm that problems arise, the result is greater stress, poor judgement and ineffective learning.   So now the exams are over, take a break, get some quality sleep and try and make a few simple adjustments in you life so that sleep takes more of a priority.

It is a common experience that a problem difficult at night is resolved in the morning after the committee of sleep has worked on it.

John Steinbeck  

Music to help you sleep and two video to watch but not just before you go to sleep

TED neuroscientist Russell foster  explains more about why we sleep  

Arianna Huffington talks about the importance of sleep

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Twas the night before ………..the exam – but what to do?

May 31, 2014
keep-calm-and-study-all-night-5

Well not exactly all night

For students May and June are the main exam months. Studying and learning can be enjoyable…. honestly, but the fun has to come to an end and it does, with the exam. It cannot be avoided and so is best embraced, treat the exam as a game and you the player. What you need to do is give yourself the very best chance of winning.

Become a professional exam taker, someone who follows a process of preparation, very much like a top sportsperson. This means you personally need to be in the best physical and mental shape and have a series of exercises that will get you match fit.

Below is your training regime from the night before the exam – good luck

The night before

You should by now have:

  • Read through and reduced your class/tuition notes down to approximately 10 pages (20 max) of revision notes, see March Blog on how to prepare notes. You may have some professionally produced revision notes, but it is still best to make your own.
  • Practiced past questions on the key examinable areas both under exam and non exam conditions.
  • Started the process of memorising the revision notes.

Be realistic – The key to the night before the exam is to be realistic. You don’t have much time, so don’t think you can cover everything. Let’s assume you have 3/4 hours, 6.00pm – 10.00pm maybe.

Put to one side the large folder that contains all your notes taken throughout the term/year, and concentrate only on the 10-20 page revision notes.

Focus and memorise – In the 3/4 hours that you have you want to get an overview of the subject and focus on the areas that need memorising. These should be the key examinable areas and are most likely to be standard formats, definitions, lists, formulas s not given in the exam etc.  Memorising should include some rewriting of notes, but very little, talking out loud, drawing pictures, writing out mnemonics etc. See my blogs on memory, in particular: Thanks for the memories  and To pass an exam do and exam.

Admin – make sure you have set to one side everything you will need the next day. This includes your exam entry documents, calculator, gum, mints etc. You don’t want to be thinking of these in the morning. And of course make sure you know exactly what time you need to leave to get to the exam with about 1 hour to spare.

Physical and mental preparation – Drink lots of water, avoid tea, coffee etc as you will need to get a good night’s sleep. Exercise is an incredibly effective method of reducing tension and stress. So you may want to build into your 4 hours, 30 minutes for a run or brisk walk. This could be at the half way point of your evening, combining a well earned break with the exercise maximises your time.

Getting sleep is important, so avoid reading your notes and then going straight to sleep. Pack you notes away, put them ready for the morning, then physically go into another room if possible or even outside, watch TV for 10 minutes, something trivial or read a book. You need to break the state of mind from that of studying, relaxation leads to sleep not stress.

And finally keep a positive attitude, think about what you know and are good at and not what you don’t know and are bad at. Keep telling yourself that you have done everything possible, and if you follow these steps you will have. Thinking you know nothing and should have done more will not help at this stage, it’s a pointless thought strategy and not what the professional exam taker does.

The morning before

Set your alarm sufficiently early to give you at least another hour of revision. You don’t need to get out of bed, just continue memorising your notes. This is now about little and often, short 10 minute intervals. Don’t worry about falling to sleep in the exam; the adrenalin won’t let you.

1 hour before

What you do after arriving at the exam centre/School etc  is personal. Some will prefer to sit on their own going over the revision notes; don’t bother taking your folder of course notes. This is still very much about short term memory. Others will prefer to talk, chatting about nothing, just to stop them worrying. Both are fine.

After the examExam post it!

Afterwards is also a little personal, most will go home, but some will want to talk through what was in the exam, looking perhaps for some conformation they have not made a complete mess of it. Most importantly, if you have another exam, go home, put your old revision notes to one side, forget everything and start on your next subject.

The American basket ball player Art Williams had a good saying that I will leave you with. I’m not telling you it is going to be easy — I’m telling you it’s going to be worth it”

And although personally I found exams difficult I have never regretted the hard work, it was for me worth it.

And something to watch

How to: Cram the night before a test and PASS

Or you could try this

This blog is for Beth – good luck xx

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Eureka – I Understand Understanding!

April 29, 2014

I Understand!If you understand the subject you are studying your chances of passing the exam must be good.

A simple and perhaps obvious statement but what does understand mean and what do you have to do to truly understand something? Of course understanding is a key part of passing but it is not enough on its own, you can understand something yet fail because you run out of time, misinterpret the question, thought you understood but didn’t! etc.

To understand

The dictionary defines to understand as, to know what someone or something means, to grasp the meaning, to be familiar with, make sense of etc. Understanding is clearly different to knowing, for example, you may know that gravity is a force that pulls objects to earth but that does not mean you understand what gravity is or how it works. Of course you need both knowledge and understanding, the one is no good without the other. Examiners try to test for understanding by asking questions that require you to compare, contrast, explain, interpret etc.

Understanding is not a Eureka moment, it has different levels. It might seem that there is a point where you didn’t understand and then suddenly you did, a Eureka moment. In reality what you have done is move closer to gaining a better and fuller understanding. Ask any lecturer or teacher, often they will tell you they never fully understood something until they had to teach it, they just thought they did.

Proving you understand – The 6 facets of understanding

Understanding by design, Wiggins and McTighe (1998) is one part of an instructional design process that provides a very helpful framework we can use to explore the depth of understanding and perhaps more importantly what you can do to develop a deeper understanding. Think of it as a hierarchy with the easiest one first, the greater you’re understanding the higher the number.

1. Explain, the classic exam question – Explain to someone what the concept/idea means and say why. Explaining out loud to yourself or making a recording can be just as effective.

2. Interpretation – Relate the concept/idea to your own experiences, tell a meaningful story. Try to add something personal into your explanation. To do this you will need to reflect on past events, whilst attempting to find parallels with the concept/idea.

3. Application – Use the concept/idea in a different context. The ability to apply knowledge in different contexts (transfer) is a key milestone in learning as well as understanding. It should result in you never being caught out by a difficult exam question. Understand to this level and it doesn’t matter what the examiner asks.

4. Perspective - Read around the concept/idea, get other people’s views, and see the big picture. If your struggling with understanding, read another text book or my favourite is to go onto you tube and watch a video. The internet is great for discovering alternative views.

5. Empathy – Try to get inside another person’s feelings about the concept/idea. This is difficult as it requires you to put aside your feelings about the concept/idea and accept that it is not the only way of thinking about it.

6. Self Knowledge – Ask questions about your understanding, ask what are the limits of your understanding, what are your prejudices, become aware of what you don’t understand. Often called metacognition, the ability to think about thinking.

The Eureka moment

Understanding, like Eureka moments are not of course the result of sitting in a bath and suddenly finding you understand something you had previously found confusing. It is the gift of hard work and long hours of study, hopefully by trying some of the techniques above your depth of understanding will only improve.

Ps apparently the jeweller was trying to cheat the king….

Understanding by Design

Want to know more about understanding by design, watch this. 

 

 

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Carrots and sticks – Motivation and the thinking Donkey

January 31, 2014

Donkey carrot and stickMotivation is one of those topics that is so important to learning and passing exams that we will constantly keep coming back to it.

If you are motivated when studying then you will study for longer, more frequently and be more focused.

As a result I have written about motivation in the past Motivation – How to want to study, Rocky boxing No – it’s about motivation to name but two.

I have always liked the simple idea that if you want to motivate someone to do something then you give them a reward (carrot) or a punishment (stick). You will probably have used carrot and stick techniques on yourself. If I answer these exam questions by the weekend I will have Sunday off or if I don’t answer these exam questions by the weekend then I won’t have Sunday off.

But are we more complicated?

In his book Drive – the surprising truth about what motivates us, Daniel H Pink (a former Al Gore speech writer) argues that there are in fact three motivational systems. One survival , motivated to eat, drink and reproduce. Two, seek reward and avoid punishment, the so called carrot and stick and three, intrinsic  motivation, the idea that motivation comes from within not from external stimuli.

These are not mutually exclusive, you are still motivated to eat, drink and reproduce, equally carrots and sticks do work, but what are these intrinsic motivators.

Type X and Type I

Type X behaviour is fuelled more by extrinsic desire, how much money will I get, I don’t want to have to work Sunday, this fits with carrot and stick. Type I behaviour requires intrinsic motivation and is concerned with the satisfaction gained from an activity. Pink argues that extrinsic motivation works better for algorithmic/routine tasks that require little cognitive processing. But if you have to think, understand, create then intrinsic motivation is more effective. Got it……

And the point is……

Studying and learning require a huge amount of cognitive processing (It is a type I behaviour) and so rather than using carrot and stick motivators you would be better using intrinsic ones. Pink explains that intrinsic motivators can be broken into Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose.

  • Autonomy – This can be achieved by making your own decisions as to how you study when you study, rather than listening to others or being rewarded for doing it. It’s about taking ownership.
  • Mastery -This is a mind set and involves you believing that what you are learning is not something in isolation but contributing to a greater and longer term skill set.
  • Purpose – This links nicely back to goals, which has been the topic of previous blogs. You must feel that what you are learning has some value and purpose possibly beyond simply passing the exam. Will it help you do your job better etc

Motivation can be difficult to understand, personally I feel that it does come from within (intrinsic), it’s my desire to do something not someone else’s and so the argument that you should not use carrot and stick (extrinsic ) type rewards makes a whole lot of sense.

Let me know what you think….?

Listen to Daniel H Pink at TED And an RSA animated lecture 

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Just answer the question!!! – but how?

October 31, 2013

Last month I looked at the best way to tackle a case study, but case study is only one type of exam, what about the more traditional style of exam question?

The world is full of great advice, lose weight, exercise more, stop smoking, just answer the question ….all these statements are very clear with regard to WHAT you should do but terribly unhelpful as HOW to do it.

The reason that students fail exams is simple, every examiner since the beginning of time will have made some of these comments.

Students fail exams because?

  • They don’t know the subject – inexcusable and the only reason you should fail
  • They don’t read the questions properly – and as a result  misunderstand what was being asked
  • They don’t  manage their time – so only complete 50% of the paper
  • They don’t write good answers – true this might be due to lack of knowledge but could also be the result of not knowing how much to write

The last three of these can be overcome with the use of good exam techniques. In this blog I want to share with you two simple techniques that I think will help.

How to read questions properly – Tip one, the rule of AND

Below is an exam question worth 12 marks. You don’t need to know anything about the subject so don’t worry.

Using the information given for DT Co, calculate the adjusted present value of the investment and the adjusted discount rate, and explain the circumstances in which this adjusted discount rate may be used to evaluate future investments. (12 marks)

The rule of AND is simple, where there is an AND in the question simply put a line through the AND then make the next statement the start of a new question.

Now read the question

1. Using the information given for DT Co, calculate the adjusted present value of the investment. and

2. (calculate) The adjusted discount rate, and

3. Explain the circumstances in which this adjusted discount rate may be used to evaluate future investments.                                                                                  

There are now three questions and because we have broken it up, it is so much clearer what you have to do.  If we were really clever we might be able to guess how many marks out of 12 relate to those three questions, a tip for another day perhaps.

How to write a good answer – Tip two, Define. Explain and Illustrate

Define Explain and Illustrate is a technique to help you write more using a simple structure.

Read this question

Discuss the proposal to repurchase some of the company’s shares in the coming year using the forecast surplus cash. Other implications of share repurchase for the company’s financial strategy should also be considered. (10 marks)

Firstly Define the technical words. In this example the technical word is repurchase, so firstly we need to say what a share repurchase is.

E.g.  a share repurchase is where a company buys back its own shares and as a result reduces the number of shares available on the market.

Secondly Explain in more detail.

E.g. the share buy back has to be financed in some way so one implication is that it will result in a reduction in the company’s cash balance. It also means that because there are fewer shares, earnings per share (eps) will increase.

And lastly and in many questions most importantly, Illustrate. This could be by way of a diagram an example or by referencing to the question in more detail. The reason this is so important is that this is how you will demonstrate to the examiner that you can apply the knowledge. If you don’t understand something you will not be able to apply it. The application section of the answer will often carry the most marks.

E.g. in the example above it is clear that the company is forecasting surplus cash, i.e. they have more money in the future than they need. Leaving this money in the bank is not considered sensible partly because the level of return that can be earned from the bank will be less than the shareholders require, it can also be interpreted as a lack of ambition on the part of the Directors. Blah blah blah

Depending on the detail provided in the question this final illustration section can go on and on. How much you write will depend on the marks available.

I hope you have found these two tips helpful, if you want more in the coming months just add a comment to this blog and I will oblige.

Epic exam failure – what not to put on your exam paper

And finally a short video showing students real exam answers – funny

Click here

 

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Thinking in box’s – Cracking case study

September 30, 2013

Put it in a boxExaminations come in many shapes and sizes, short form, multiple choice, essay, case study etc. I know there are other methods of assessment but I am thinking here of the most common. Of these one stands out as being very different, the case study. Developed by Harvard in the 1920s the  case study involves giving the student a  real life, normally business situation and asking relatively broad Socratic type questions e.g. what do you think, why etc.

It not only puts the student in a realistic situation but also requires them to think far more deeply.  The cognitive process involved in answering a question such as what is the capital of France or can you add 2+2, on the whole is very simple and may need little more than memory. However giving student a real life business to analyse and asking them to give an opinion as to what the company should do next requires higher level thinking as well as effective communication skills.

Too much to read

One other aspect of a case study is that it often involves large amounts of narrative, all will need reading digesting and putting into context. On the face of it this can seem daunting, but it can be done and as with so many aspects of learning there is a process that can help. I have written about, having too much to read and the benefits of chunking before but I want to bring these together with another powerful technique “thinking in box’s”.

Thinking in box’s 

Volume and lack of direction is the main problem here, so we need to find our own direction and reduce the volume. Thinking in box’s refers to the natural process we have in compartmentalising thoughts. In order to make sense of the world we often put “stuff” into box’s, work, study, relationships etc. We can then open the box’s when we are best able to deal with them. The  point being that  we can’t deal with everything all at once. If this whole idea sounds a bit odd, then just consider the saying “Thinking outside the box”. This refers to the imaginary frame we put around something that restricts our ability to solve a problem and think more creatively. Strange isn’t it…..

Case study

Imagine that you have 10 pages of narrative to read based on a particular industry, a case study. There are a few sub headings and some paragraphing. You are required to provide guidance to the board of Directors as to what the companies strategy should be in the next five years.

The process 

In order to give the advice required by this question, you need to fully grasp the current situation, which means you have to  read, understand and comprehend what is written on the 10 pages. To add structure to the case firstly take chunks of content and put a frame around it, this will help focus just on this chunk of information, it also reduces the volume. A chunk will often be information under a heading or specific paragraphs. Once you have the content in a box, sift through it looking for the “key words” and underline them.  Focusing only on the key words but taking into account the context, ask yourself, what do I think about this? What does it mean, what is it telling me etc. Then write down your thoughts. Do this for every chunk of information, then number each chunk.

At the end of this process you should have read and thought about each chunk, captured those thoughts and have a numerical reference by which to structure them. The final part of the process is to read each of those chunks again and produce a SWOT. This brings all 10 pages down to just one. And by using the SWOT supported by your detailed analysis you should be able to give the advice required by the question.

watch_this_videoIn this short video I demonstrate the thinking in box’s approach.

      Thinking in box’s

And finally – A few words from Terry Pratchet

I will be more enthusiastic about thinking outside the box when there is some evidence of thinking inside it!

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Thank you for the music – listening to music when revising

May 31, 2013

May and June are the traditional months when students around the world lock themselves away to revise for their exams.

In China for example over 9 million students will be sitting the university entrance exams.

Last May (2012) Teenagers at Xiaogang school in Hubei province were pictured hooked up to bags of intravenous fluids hanging from the classroom ceiling to boost energy levels during the revision period. An extreme action by anyone’s standards, but perhaps an example of how much pressure students feel this time of year.

As I mentioned in last month’s blog my daughter is currently caught up in this May/June exam frenzy. So once again I found myself looking to her for inspiration. What was she doing, how did she revise? This is not because she is a perfect example of a revision student, in many ways she is not, but I do think she is typical of many.

What does Beth do?

  • Makes notes from her notes – This is a standard exam skill, reducing content down into measurable and personal chunks. She does use mind maps (possibly my influence) but not exclusively.
  • Prepares as if she has to teach someone else – this I find interesting and has certainly not come from me. She writes on a white board the key points as if she was going to teach that subject. I like this idea, as many teachers and lecturers will tell you nothing focuses the mind nor motivates you more than having to teach it to others.
  • Practices past exam questions…of course!
  • Studies while listening to music – now this is the one that intrigued me and as a result I have devoted the rest of the blog to answering the question …..

Is it a good idea to revise whilst listening to music?

As ever the science needs much interpretation.

It’s a bad idea

Researchers from the University of Wales, tasked 25 students with memorising lists of consonants. Some were shown the letters while sitting in silence, others while listening to music by their favourite bands or by groups they had a strong aversion to. The conclusion was that listening to music, hampered their recall.

So it’s good then

Scientists at Stanford University, in California, believe there is a molecular basis for music known as the “Mozart Effect“. It was discovered that rats, like humans, perform better on learning and memory tests after listening to a specific Mozart Sonata in D.

But then there is the evidence that suggests that switching attention when trying to learn as might be the case with listening to music slows down the cognitive process.

Yet you cannot ignore the research that clearly shows music has the ability to alter your brain and induce relaxation which in turn helps create an ideal state for learning.

Watch what happens to your brain when you listen to music.

Hopefully you get the idea.

Conclusions

  • Listening to music puts you into a more relaxed frame of mind and that is of course good for learning. So listening to music before or after revising can help.
  • If you do want to listen to music, avoid music that requires you to shift your attention. This would suggest you should not listen to  music with lyrics  as it can mean you need to think about what is being said nor should you listen to something new that you may not have heard before. This is one of the reasons classical, in particular baroque music is the preferred choice of many students. Also don’t play the music too loud, keep it as background noise.
  • If there are specific facts that you simply need to know, then avoid listening to music completely, give it your full attention. But you can’t concentrate at this level all day, only for short periods.
  • On the whole be consistent don’t keep changing the type of music, you need familiarity.

Music to help you study

The internet has many websites that offer relaxing and helpful music, here are a few that might help.

 

 

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You have to be joking – learning fun!

April 29, 2013

A famous scientist was on his way to a lecture in yet another university when his chauffeur offered an idea. “Hey, boss, I’ve heard your speech so many times I bet I could deliver it and give you the night off.” “Sounds great,” the scientist said. When they got to the auditorium, the scientist put on the chauffeur’s hat and settled into the back row. The chauffeur walked to the lectern and delivered the speech. Afterward he asked if there were any questions. “Yes,” said one professor. Then he launched into a highly technical question. The chauffeur was panic stricken for a moment but quickly recovered. “That’s an easy one,” he replied. “In fact, it’s so easy, I’m going to let my chauffeur answer it!”

Okay it might have made you smile rather than laugh out loud and it may not be the best joke you have ever heard, but it will have changed your mood and as a result made you more receptive to learning.

The facts

But how does this work? Dopamine is the chemical neurotransmitter most associated with attention, memory storage, comprehension, and executive function. Research indicates that the brain releases more dopamine when you play, laugh, exercise and listen to stories. (Depue and Collins 1999).

Interestingly making learning fun also reduces stress which can impede the learning process.

During periods of high stress or anxiety, functional MRI studies show increased blood flow to the “emotional” portion of the limbic system. When the amygdala (part of the limbic system) is in this state, neural activity in the rest of the brain is profoundly reduced (Xiao and Barbas 2002; Pawlak et al. 2003).

But learning is not fun!

Of course something that is fun to one person may not be fun to someone else. And what do people do to have fun? One answer to this is they play games, in fact there is a whole industry built around playing games to learn, unsurprisingly and somewhat disappointingly its called game based learning (GBL)

A game is said to have several key elements.

1. Competition – The score keeping element and/or winning conditions motivate the players and provide an assessment of their performance. Note that players are not necessarily competing against each other. In fact, a lot of games have players working as a team to overcome some obstacle or opponent.

2. Engagement - Once the learner starts, he or she does not want to stop before the game is over. This engagement is thought to come from four sources: challenge, curiosity, control, and fantasy.

3. Immediate Rewards - Players receive victory or points, sometimes even descriptive feedback, as soon as goals are accomplished

Can learning be fun, yes of course and making it into a game is a great way of doing it. It might be as simple as writing the questions for a quiz based on a subject to be examined and testing a group of friends. Setting the quiz from a learning perspective is probably better than answering the question. Keep to the rules above though, so make sure you offer a reward.

Also it might be American football, which I have to admit I don’t understand, but if you do you will love Financial Football click here to play, its a free online game with cool graphics that aims to teach money management skills.

Have a revision party

Okay the idea might sound a little of the wall but watch this short video, it looks like fun to me…

Ps the loud one is my daughter.

And the outtakes 

Want to find out more then read this article by Dr. Judy Willis who is an authority in brain research and learning.

And just for fun Dawn French and the accounting joke.

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There’s no such thing as a stupid question – Learning by questions

February 28, 2013

Ask questionsThe Greek philosopher Socrates was born 469 B.C in Athens, and died in 399 B.C. He is considered by many to be one of the world’s greatest thinkers. He is known for the Socratic Method and the pursuit of knowledge. The Socratic Method involves asking a series of questions until a contradiction emerges invalidating the initial assumption.

Socratic questioning does not seek to find THE answer, there are often many answers. The primary goal is to explore the contours of often difficult issues and to teach critical thinking skills. This method encourages you to go beyond the simple memorising of facts, enabling you to develop a higher level of understanding.

Socratic questions

1. Questions for clarification – Why do you say that?
2. Questions that probe assumptions – What could we assume instead?
3. Questions that probe reasons and evidence – What would be an example?
4. Questions about Viewpoints and Perspectives – What is another way to look at it?
5. Questions that probe implications and consequences – What are you implying?
6. Questions about the question – What was the point of this question?

If you can formulate a question – you have 60% of the answer
When you pass one exam the bad news is you are often faced with another. Exams at times can seem endless. But as you progress, what you are asked to do will change. When you first start studying a subject you will be asked relatively simple questions such as, what is the capital of FranceChildren are good at asking questions. To answer questions like this you need little more than a good memory. However when you get to the final level, examiners are more interested in understanding and application, not simply knowledge. What they really want you to do is think….

And so you may need to form an opinion, a view of your own. I am sure that you have many opinions now, but how informed are they, what facts support your view and how much have you thought around this view sufficient that you can deal with challenge.

This is where asking good questions can really help. When studying on your own, if you can formulate the right question you are more than half way to answering it yourself. Because to even get to this question, you will have had to think deeply about what you are trying to do, how it might work, what resources you might need, why has no one done this before etc. And only when you have thought this deeply will you be able to ask your question.

The next step is to post your question on the internet, someone will have the answer, the interesting thing is, by the time you come to do this, you may have the answer yourself!

Questions really are a great way of learning.

Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers.
Voltaire

The last word will go to Scott Adams
If there are no stupid questions, then what kind of questions do stupid people ask? Do they get smart just in time to ask questions?

Or should it!

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Appy Christmas – Apps for learning

December 29, 2012

appsIt’s always interesting writing a Blog in the holidays, maybe it’s because you have more time than normal so think you should come up with something different, dare I say original. The reality is that when you have such a large canvas on which to think, you can’t think of anything!
The answer is to narrow it down, give yourself something specific to think about. So whilst staring at my ipad for inspiration, I stopped thinking about “everything”, focused on what was on my ipad and then it happened, an idea… ..Why not write about the apps I use most and how you might use them to improve your studying, so here goes.

It’s not about the technology stupid
First a disclaimer, although technology can be all absorbing, learning is a human quality, technology in many circumstances only makes learning more convenient, you still have to work at it. What it does do is provide you with the ability to study when you want and where you want. Time that would be wasted waiting for or actually on a train/bus etc can be much more effectively used learning. How good would it be if you had finished studying before you got home?

Google CalendarGoogle calendar – Helps plan your studies
I have written before about the importance of timetables and calendars. Sitting down and planning what you will study and when not only helps you become more organised it is essential for setting targets and challenges. And remember target setting is key to motivation.

Evernote Evernote – Organise and store notes
I am finding that I am using Evernote more and more. It is in effect a cloud based folder system. Consider setting up a folder for each subject you are studying. Then within each subject folder you can type notes, attach PDF’s, photos, maybe of places/objects/people relevant to that subject. You can even attach video. And if you want to collaborate with others just share the link. Maybe have a folder for revision with the questions you want to attempt linked via PDF, comment on what you found difficult and share with your friends. Evernote has so many uses.

PenultimatePenultimate – for making hand written notes and drawing mind maps
If you prefer to write rather than type, penultimate is for you, although I don’t think there is an android version at the moment. It is part of the Evernote family and links with Evernote so is easy to use. It is just like a paper based note book with a front cover showing the subject, page numbers and has a nice page turning feel. Unlike a paper based note book however, you can change the paper, plain/lined etc, save your work, add photos, and share with others. It also has a very clever way of making sure your hand when resting on the screen does not interfere with what you are writing.

Put simply it’s the best handwriting software I have come across, and comes close to replacing paper, close but not just yet….

DropboxDropbox – for file storage, back up and file sharing
Many of you will already be familiar with dropbox, it is free simple to use cloud based storage. Dropbox is great for saving/backing up all your files. This means that as long as you can get electronic versions of your text books and question banks you will be able to have them with you anywhere…

And you can share folders with friends.

Adobe ReaderAdobe reader – keep all PDF notes in one place and you can write on them!
This is just for Adobe PDF’s but as most documents can be turned into a PDF format that should not be a problem. Imagine having your notes in a PDF file, opening them up wherever you are and then updating them either by typing or writing on top of the PDF. You can also make margin notes that open up in a speech bubble, little reminders of what you were thinking, or additional work you need to look at.

Explain-EverythingExplain everything – become a teacher and teach yourself
Explain everything is a white board that you can add in pictures, shapes etc, and then the really clever part, record what you are doing in a high quality video. What makes this so good is how easy it is to use.

This would be ideal for working through a question, talking out loud explaining your thoughts (Explain everything will record your voice and your white board actions) and then when you get to the part that is difficult or simply don’t understand, ask your question out loud….? Then send the Mp4 file to your tutor/teacher or study colleagues for an answer. Unfortunately as with Penultimate I don t think there is an android version just yet.

twitterTwitter – limitless knowledge and support
Twitter can get a bad press when it comes to studying, it can be very distracting! But if used properly it can be great. The key is to follow people that have answers to your problems or are like you. If you are studying accountancy for example you will find lots of tweets from experts providing you with up to date news and information often linking to more in depth guidance, websites/PDF’s etc. Twitter is the most up to date text book you can get.

Okay a word of warning; just make sure you are not too far ahead of you teachers and the exam. Also that the people you are following are credible.
The other use is to follow fellow students who are studying the same subjects as you, it can be very reassuring that you are not the only ones who doesn’t understand something.

The big secret to twitter is is very selective who you follow, delete people that are not helping and keep the list down to about 200.

Mobile
Most of these are accessible on all mobile devises and for me that is the real benefit of the technology.

Happy 2013 and more apps
Hope you are all having a good Xmas and here’s to 2013, what will be new this time next year I wonder?

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