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Four tips for academic success

Self-study, project groups, exam registration and proper planning. In the coming four years it will be entirely up to you to decide at what point you should have mastered the course material and when to do your assignments. Self-study can be tricky. ‘Brein & Leren’ (‘Brain & Learning’) is an Avans project group that has studied the relationship between the brain and the ability to study. The group has come up with four useful study tips:

A better understanding of the way your brain works will help you to influence the choices you make and, by extension, the extent of your academic success. Between the ages of 17 and 25 the brain is still under construction. Not all parts of the brain develop at the same speed or to the same extent. The emotional region, deep inside the brain, develops relatively quickly. This part is also highly active during adolescence. The prefrontal cortex, i.e. the rational side of the brain, is relatively slow to develop. This part of the brain is, however, crucial for things such as:
• the planning of study activities
• anticipating the consequences of your own actions
• correcting your own behaviour

The average student’s brain has a highly developed reward system. This means that short-term rewards will generally make these students feel great, potentially leading to procrastination. They don’t really have a clear picture of their long-term rewards as the more rational part of the brain is still in development. This imbalance can easily persuade them to spend more time on What’s App with friends than getting stuck into a textbook. But luckily, the ‘Brein & Leren’ study does more than offer an explanation, it also provides a few tips on how to tackle these problems.

Tip 1 Define your objectives and plan your activities
The best way of meeting your short-term needs, is by dividing your long-term goals into subgoals. This will create a certain amount of structure and, just as importantly, it will produce short-term successes which in turn will keep you motivated.

Tip 2 Maintain a positive attitude
In order to achieve your goals and reduce procrastination, you should try and convert limiting and unrealistic thoughts into opportunities and positive thinking. Perfectionism: ‘it has to be perfect’, or self-doubt in the form of: ‘this is too hard for me, I simply can’t do this’, may be causes for procrastination, but also thoughts such as: ‘what’s the point’ or ‘I’ll fail this subject anyway’.
Define your thoughts and convert them into positive ones.

Tip 3 Practise, on your own and with others
Should you still doubt your abilities, take the neuroscientific approach to the manner in which connections are made: by practising and stimulating the brain. This approach is based on the belief that capabilities are shapeable and not fixed. For example: the more often you repeat the course material – in different ways – the stronger the connections. So in addition to going over the theory and recapping the subject matter to yourself, you can also try and explain the text to yourself or your fellow students. You’ll be surprised at how effective this is. Think up questions that you can answer based on the course material, and check whether your answers are correct. This requires a little more effort, but you will really remember the material better, which will ultimately only be to your benefit. After all, by doing so you’ll be developing your ability to deploy your knowledge in different situations.

Tip 4 Reward yourself
Rewards are a great way to achieve your goals while reducing procrastination. Just remember a few important points:
• Reward yourself for your efforts.
• Plan something nice to look forward to. Study, do something fun, and then back to the books. In other words, have the occasional break to let off steam. Studying for prolonged periods of time has been proven to be less effective. You’re better off taking regular study breaks than studying for hours and hours on end. At some point your brain just can’t take anything in anymore.
• Another positive award is getting a breath of fresh air or exercising, two ways that are literally good for the brain and a good diversion. Exercise increases a number of brain chemicals that are beneficial to our alertness, concentration and brain capacity.

Interested in more information?
Next year, Punt and ‘Brein & Leren’ will give you even more tips on how a better understanding of your brain can increase your academic success.

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