Transitioning from Online Learning (Part 1)
After several long semesters of logging onto Zoom and watching recorded lectures, transitioning from online learning has not been easy for anyone. But don’t worry, we’re here to help! Here are some tips and tricks that we’ve dusted off from our past in-person college experiences that we’re glad to share!
Maximizing your learning during class:
You may have heard this one before but sitting close to the front of your lectures is one way that many students have found helpful in eliminating distractions and maintaining focus on what is in front of you. By sitting close to the front, students often pay attention to their professors more and find it hard to doze off. Another way to encourage learning is to participate during discussion (and/or lectures, if you’re up for it!). Oftentimes, discussions are one of the only ways to get a more individualized rundown of the course material, so definitely take advantage of it by asking your GSI questions and engaging with others, if you feel comfortable in doing so! If you don’t yet feel too comfortable, test the limits of your boundaries. Ask a question here and there, respond to someone else– be as involved with your learning as you can be.
Now, attending lectures is only half of the story; although going to class is important, it is also important to be able to recall, and even more importantly apply, what you just sat through at some point later in time. When you go home after a long day of classes, having a good summary of each of your lectures is important to effectively understand and keep up with all of the content you learn throughout the day. This is why taking efficient notes is the first step you can take in studying your course material. There are two different strategies that students will generally use in college: 1) taking notes by hand (either on a tablet or on paper) or 2) taking notes digitally (by typing on a computer).
One of the ways many students have found in promoting learning during class and/or when reading assignments is to take notes by hand. This is supported by research, which has suggested that physically writing down the words requires more mental processing than typing, which promotes retention of the material. This is not to say that taking notes by typing on a computer is not effective for some people, but rather that if you find yourself struggling to retain information from your classes, switching to handwritten notes may be in your best interest. Some classes may be better suited for handwritten notes than others, so it is truly up to you to decide which strategy you would prefer for each of your classes. For instance, in classes where memorization is not required such as some writing classes, typing notes might be easier and quicker. On the other hand, if a course is memorization-heavy, physically writing out the words may be a way to help you to memorize what you’ve learned in class more efficiently.
Another important thing to remember is that you will often not be able to take note of everything that your professor says, which is totally normal! So, it is important to use abbreviations, write short-hand, and focus on main ideas rather than writing/typing what the professor says verbatim. Having concise notes will also be beneficial to you when you look back at them so you can efficiently remember the most relevant information.
Now once you have your notes, it is also equally important to make sure that you organize them in a way that is easily accessible to you. Most students that handwrite their notes have a notebook (or a section in their notebook) for each class, or they use loose-leaf paper and organize these notes into separate folders/binders for each class. On the other hand, students who use tablets to take notes often use apps such as Noteworthy or OneNote and create folders within these apps for each class, and students who prefer to type their notes often find it useful to use Google Docs or Microsoft Word and create digital folders for their classes.
Everyone is unique!
As much of a cliche as it is, everyone’s preferences are different. In other words, the note-taking process your peer uses may not be the one that is best for you, which is totally okay! Some students love to use stationary, colorful highlighters and pens, and aesthetically pleasing notes. Others would rather write out the content as quickly as they can or type it out. Exploring different methods of note-taking is personal, so I would encourage you to not feel intimidated by others’ studying habits. This also applies to learning strategies; some people feel best when they participate more in class and are sitting at the front of the room, while others like to process the information on their own. Your learning preferences are independent of those of your friends and peers, so I would encourage you to remain open to possibly making adjustments and most importantly to be patient with yourself as you try out different study strategies!
Don’t worry, you are not alone if you have found in-person and closed note exams to be a bit more nerve-racking than normal. It can be challenging to transition back to in-person and timed exams when you have spent more than a year taking tests remotely. Science classes that are required and recommended for pre-med students tend to weigh exams heavily in their grading scale, which means it is important that we remind ourselves how to prepare for exams effectively so we feel prepared and confident on test day!
You have heard this one before: avoid cramming at all costs.
Yes, we all know the people who claim to “work well under pressure”. However, research has found time and time again that cramming the night before, or even a couple of days before an exam is not the most effective way to study. In-person exams mean you are going to have to be able to recall more information on your own, instead of having to just vaguely remember where an answer may be found in your notes. Try to begin studying at least a week before the exam, even if it is just reviewing a little material each day. This not only helps you more effectively retain the information long-term (because chances are, you will need it for the MCAT eventually!), but you will also have time to go to office hours to ask questions about topics you are unsure about, talk through concepts with classmates, do plenty of practice problems/exams, and generally avoid unnecessary panic. Remember, you can no longer rely on your notes, only your brain.
Focus on topics that you are struggling most with.
Sometimes we feel better about our understanding of a subject if we focus our study-time on a topic area we already understand well. However, your time is more efficiently spent if you identify the areas that you are unsure about and work to further your understanding. During online/open note exams, if there was a topic you didn’t understand too well you could refer back to similar practice problems/notes fairly easily. During in-person exams, this option is not available. Instead, take a practice exam and/or look back on notes to identify problems/areas that you got wrong or spent quite a bit of time on. Then, rewatch a part of a lecture, read from the book, ask a GSI/classmate/professor, or do some more practice problems that relate to this topic. This is a good strategy if you are in a bit of a time crunch and only have time to study a little bit of the material.
Use practice exams wisely.
Usually, in biology and chemistry courses, professors will provide one or more practice exams from previous years of the material. When taking these exams, do so in a simulated test environment. No matter how big the temptation is to look at your notes or google a question–don’t! Becoming reacquainted with the traditional testing environment is essential. You will not be able to use outside materials during the actual exam and training your brain to realize this is important. By looking at your notes during an exam, you put yourself at risk of creating a false sense of understanding.
Collaborate with classmates, and don’t be afraid to ask for help.
“Teaching” someone material is a great way to practice active recall and strengthen your conceptual understanding of a topic. Find a friend and talk through the main concepts on the exam. Don’t be afraid to elaborate on each other’s reasoning, make corrections, and ask questions. If there are multiple practice exams available, it may be helpful to take one of those with one or a group of classmates (but remember to save one exam for yourself to sit down and take in a timed, quiet, test-like environment!). This way you can talk through the answers and have topics explained in ways that work for your classmates. Sometimes all it takes for a topic to “click” is hearing it explained in a slightly different way.
Most of all, remember that test grades do not define you. You are smart and more than capable! This year has been a challenge for everyone, and chances are it may take a while to get back into the groove of in-person learning. The Pre-Med Hub is here to support you!
Part 2 (discussing office hours and self-care) is linked here!