19 March 2014

Tips for more effective studying -- ALL genealogists DO Study! guest post by Shannon Combs-Bennett, NGGN

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/scubasteveo/296747958/
Used under Create Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/ 
“You know, if you just studied, you would get better grades.”  If I had a nickel for every time this was said to me growing up, let’s just say I would not be worrying about how to pay for my genealogy habit.  This phrase was said so many times, by so many people, I just tuned everyone out.  Why?  Well, no one ever sat down and actually explained to me what “studying” was.  They all assumed I understood.

My first week of high school, we were tortured by our Honors English teachers with 3 days of videos.  I can’t even recall what the name of the video was, but I do remember being bored out of my mind and trying not to sleep most of the time.  The video was a middle-aged man, with a sweater vest and khaki pants, pacing around on a stage, telling me how to be a better student.  His technique had worked for thousands of students and it would work for us, too—guaranteed!  It obviously made an impact from the snores heard around the room.  For the next year our teacher would remind us that if we just followed those principles we would have done better in her class.

It’s not that I was a recalcitrant kid. I just had a mixture of “I don’t care” and cluelessness that was a real point of frustration for the adults in my life.  Simply put, I was bored to tears, even with Advanced Placement and Honors classes.  Year after year a concerned teacher would pull me aside and tell me that if I just studied, or tried harder, I would easily make honor roll.  It’s not like I wasn’t trying, or at least that is what I thought.  I excelled in subjects that I was enthralled with and struggled to pass those that didn’t catch my attention.  The perplexed looks on my parents’ faces at report card time, when their daughter who could barely pull a C math brought home A’s in analytical geometry, was priceless.

“If you would just study.”  “You are so smart, we hate to see you struggle.”  “Your potential is just lying there, you really need to tap into it.”  Do you see a trend here?  I had adults talking at me about studying, but because I was so smart no one took the time to actually try and help me learn how I should study.  It took until my junior year of college to figure out what studying meant, for me. 

When I was in middle school I came home with an assignment to study for my first world history test.  I didn’t know what to do.  After staring at my books I walked into the basement where my dad was folding the laundry.  Down there on the cold concrete slab, with the whop, whop, whop of the dryer tumbling, I asked my dad, “I’m supposed to study, what do I do?” 

Whop, whop, whop. 

“Well, did you read the book?”


“Did you pay attention in class?’

Whop, whop, whop.


“Well it sounds like you studied to me.”

And that was it.  I put my shoes on and went outside to play with the other neighborhood kids.  Today, I can’t remember what I received on the test, but it doesn’t matter.  That piece of advice stuck with me for the next decade. 

The point is, I didn’t get it.  More importantly, neither did anyone else in my life.  It seems that people just assumed that I would get it, eventually, or that I was just being lazy, which actually was a fair conclusion in a lot of circumstances.

The key is everyone studies and learns differently.  While our tricks may work for other people, I honestly don’t believe that there is ever a 100% foolproof way that will work for everyone out there.  What is key is that you develop a way that works for you and stick with it.

For the field of genealogy this is important.  We are a group of adults, many of whom are coming to it later in life, and we must self-educate ourselves.  If you are lucky, you already know what works for you and what doesn’t.  If you aren’t, well how are you going to buckle down and fast-track your education?

Here are a few tips to keep in mind the next time you to need to “Study” a new technique for your genealogy pursuits.  Maybe one of them will help you figure out the right way for you to study and learn information to make you a better genealogist.

·    Highlight doesn’t mean color the page.
Highlight is just that, calling out a key point.  It doesn’t even have to be a full sentence.  You could highlight a few phrases in a paragraph so that when you come back later those are the first things your eyes are drawn too.  This works well for visual learners who take cues from the images they see.

·    Notes are not transcriptions, they are actually more like abstracts.
Once again, focus on the key points.  These could be definitions, diagrams, important steps, etc.  Draw out the concepts that you need to remember and put them down on paper.  This works well for kinetic learners who take cues from doing things.

·    Ambience, or study music, shouldn’t be heard two tables away.
A lot of people can’t work in absolute silence.  Some need a TV on, others like listening to music.  The important thing to remember is that it should not compete in your head with what you are trying to do.  If you find that you are pausing to listen to the music or watch the TV, then it is a distraction you don’t need.  This works well for audio learners who can remember things when they put it to sound or music.

·    Patterns are all around us, use them to your advantage.
Connecting the dots in our research comes naturally to many genealogists, but what about connecting the dots in the manuals we are learning from or the lectures we attend?  Find the patterns imbedded in the ideas coming at you.  Do they cross subjects making a larger pattern that can connect puzzle pieces over a number of topics?  As you learn you should be able to connect new information to something you already know.  Once you make connections to past experiences (or research you are doing) it is less likely you will forget it.  This technique works well for visual learners who can see what they read and associate images with words. 

·    It’s true, if you don’t use it you will lose it.
A great way to retain information you learned is to teach it to someone else.  Teaching makes you think about what you read, put it into new terms, digest it, then turn it into something that another person can learn from.  The questions your listeners come up with will also help you.  Even if you don’t know the answer and have to get back to them after you look it up, it was a learning experience.  Just another way for you to remember and build on the subject you already know.  This is a great technique for people who are audio learners since talking will reinforce the ideas in their heads as well as kinetic learners who like to do things.

·    Don’t do too much, just focus on the task at hand.
Yes, I am guilty of multi-tasking.  One of my favorite things is to listen to podcasts while I am exercising or driving in the car.  However, if it is something I really want to buckle down and learn I have to give it my full attention.  Even the act of driving takes away from the act of learning.  When you set out to read, write, listen, or learn something new give it your full attention.  Set aside learning times if you need to.  Create do not disturb signs for your office if it gets your family to leave you alone.  Learning is serious business and you should treat it seriously. 

If you would like to read more on the subject, make sure to read my past guest posts on the NGS blog. 

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