Studying Effectively During the Holidays
Holiday season is rolling around, and if you're anything like me, you've already dusted off the Christmas ornament boxes and begun the decorating process. There's nothing like the weather cooling down to get you into the festive spirit!
If you are preparing for an exam during this time, however, it could get challenging. Your holiday spirit could become dampened. Beware procrastinating with attractive yet time-consuming holiday traditions like baking and decorating cookies or socializing around a cozy fire with friends that could distract you from accomplishing your study goals. Don't get me wrong, you should not miss out on doing these things, but it's important to ensure that you manage your time properly so that you have time to both work and play.
In this blog post, you'll learn some of our suggestions for balancing your study time with the holidays, like:
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Setting expectations and goals
The first suggestion we have for managing study time with holiday time is to sit down and make a list of the expectations and goals you have for yourself. It is also sometimes beneficial to write out potential consequences of not meeting these expectations. For example, if you are wanting to take your PMP® exam, your list might say something like:
- Study thirty minutes a day during weekdays
- Study an hour a day during the weekends
- Review "quick" materials like flash cards before bed
- Take a practice exam once every two weeks
Earning professional licensure will be almost impossible without trying. Take into consideration what accomplishing these goals will mean for you in the long term as well as the consequences of not reaching them. It takes considerable time, money, and energy to pursue continuing education. If you don't study, review, or practice your course materials regularly, you could be wasting these precious resources for little to no return.
- Creating a study map
Our next suggestion is to create what we call a study map or study plan. This resource will provide guidance and structure to your study sessions, helping you keep track of what you have studied and what concepts still need review. A study plan will not only help you stay on top of the exam topics, but also the period in which you need to complete your review. Have fun with it: if you're someone who handwrites their study plan, add some festive fun with holiday doodles of snowmen, reindeer, and the like. If you prefer to type your study plan, spice up your design with playful or colorful clipart to pay homage to the holiday while still working towards your goal. You'll want to make sure that you provide time for breaks, meals, and other activities (like making snow angels or shoveling the driveway).
- Scheduling short study sessions
Have you ever heard the phrase, "short and sweet?" This phrase is particularly applicable regarding exam prep: long, drawn out study sessions will do nothing but exhaust and bore you. If you have ever crammed for an exam the night before, you will be aware of this phenomenon. None of the information will stick when you have only read or reviewed it the night before the exam. It is much better to schedule short study sessions where you will be highly focused for minute periods of time. For example, instead of studying for one consecutive hour on Saturday, break your sessions into ten- to fifteen-minute chunks. Keeping things in bite sized portions will help keep you from burning out.
- Practicing content retrieval with tests, quizzes, and flash cards
Revisiting the topics that you are already comfortable with increases retention. In fact, research in long-term content retention corroborates the importance of taking memory tests that encompass not only topics on which you have less confidence but also concepts you are already familiar with. A 2006 study by Washington University in St. Louis found that "taking a memory test not only assesses what one knows, but also enhances later retention."1 This concept is known as the testing effect and has been used to explain how testing is a powerful means of improving learning, not just assessing it. Just because you feel confident on something doesn't mean you shouldn't revisit it in your studies. Instead, you should be focusing on concepts you are having difficulty understanding with an occasional review of known concepts.
Taking breaks and rewarding good behavior
After all that arduous work, sometimes it's just good to sit back and take a breath. Taking breaks and giving yourself time to rest are critical when it comes to test prep. Physical and mental breaks are both important-a mental break could involve watching a holiday-themed episode of your favorite show, whereas a physical break could mean eating some holiday leftovers and taking a nap. When you succeed in meeting your goals, reward yourself by doing something you like, such as building a snowman or making a cup of hot cocoa. Don't forget to take care of yourself and be kind to yourself. You're endeavoring on a significant adventure and deserve a reward for your efforts.
The holidays can be both a blessing and a curse for exam prep. In a lot of ways, you might be wishing you didn't have this commitment, because if you didn't, you could just relax and enjoy the time socializing with your friends and family. But you are committed to furthering and optimizing your career, which is why you will be studying diligently despite the festivities. Try to reach an equilibrium where you feel as though you are being productive with your study efforts while managing to appreciate the holidays as well. These five tips should help you get on the right track to achieving a balance with your exam prep and personal life!
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1 Karpicke, Jeffrey D., and Henry L. Roediger III. "Test-Enhanced Learning: Taking Memory Tests Improves Long-Term Retention." Cognition and Learning Lab. Purdue University, 2006. http://learninglab.psych.purdue.edu/downloads/2006_Roediger_Karpicke_PsychSci.pdf.