Taking Breaks

Unless you’re some sort of academic superhuman, you can’t study 24/7. At some point, your head will start hurting, your focus will peter out, your blank wall will become incessantly fascinating, and you’re going to take a break. Guaranteed. Now, that break could be spent aimlessly scrolling through Tumblr, checking your phone “just for five minutes”, or giving in to any other vices that you know you’ll regret later. Or, your break could be carefully scheduled ahead of time and actually increase your productivity and be rejuvenating for your mind/body. This post will teach you how to take breaks that fall under the latter category. You could say these tips could make or break your study session. (*ba dum tss*)

SHORT BREAKS

These are the small breaks you would take within one study session or one day. This includes the popular Pomodoro technique, in which you work for 25 minutes, break for 5 minutes (1 Pomodoro), and take a longer 15-minute break every 4 Pomodoros. Other variants include work for 50 minutes, break for 10 and even the somewhat random work for 52 minutes, break for 17 method. I suggest starting out with shorter work sessions if you’re having difficulty focusing for an extended period of time. Over time, your focus will increase and you may find that, say, working for 90 minutes and breaking for 30 is ideal for you. But whichever work:break ratio you choose, the gist is the same– take frequent breaks to recharge yourself so you can do better work.

If you don’t know what to do during your short breaks, try mixing and matching the activities below to suit the length of your breaks and your personal preferences:

  • stand up and stretch!
  • open up a window to get some fresh air
  • if you’ve been staring at a digital screen, spend about 30 seconds looking out the window or another faraway object to give your eyes a rest
  • refill your water bottle
  • eat a healthy snack (fruit, yogurt, veggies with hummus) for more fuel
  • perform simple bodyweight exercises (squats, push ups, jumping jacks) to raise energy + get your blood flowing
  • take a 10-15 minute power nap
  • meditate
  • listen to music
  • read a book
  • do something fun and creative, like solving a Sudoku puzzle, doodling, sketching, working on a Rubik’s cube, coloring, or playing an instrument
  • update your to-do list by crossing off things you’ve completed and adding new tasks

Avoid Tumblr/Instagram/YouTube/Twitter/Snapchat if you can help yourself! It’s really, really easy to get quickly sucked into the Internet. And if used excessively, social media will only harm the quality of your focus and attention. You can catch up with your friends later, but focus on taking care of yourself and your health during these short breaks.

LONG BREAKS

Long breaks are breaks that last an entire day or more, such as weekends, holidays, and summer/winter break. These provide the perfect opportunity to get in some serious rest and fun. Here are some tips for how to spend this time.

Automate your schedule.

If you tend to maintain a relatively consistent schedule throughout the week, consider dedicating certain times to the same repeating tasks. For example, I do all of my tedious, mindless tasks, such as making flashcards, updating my planner, and organizing my workspace, on Friday evenings when I’m too tired to concentrate on more challenging assignments. I try to complete most of my readings/textbook notes for the upcoming week on Saturday afternoons. On Wednesdays, when I don’t have any after school activities, I use the extra time to finish the math problem sets I’m assigned every Monday/Tuesday. Having an “automatic” schedule like this is helpful because it gets me in the habit of doing the same things at the same times. Buckling down to finish your essay on Saturday is much easier when you’ve been devoting Saturday to be your writing day for the past few months.

Maintain a consistent sleep schedule.

I talk more in-depth about sleep in this post, but basically, don’t become nocturnal during an extended break. Try to sleep and rise at around the same time each day, and catch up on whatever sleep you missed during your normal hectic school schedule.

Have fun!

Obviously you’ll want to work on your assignments so you’re in good shape when returning to school, but don’t go overboard and stress too much about studying for next year’s classes and all that. Hang out with friends, go on outdoor adventures, read lots of books, binge-watch OITNB, do that thing you’ve always wanted to do but never had time for, and just let loose, because burnout is very real and very serious. Play hard so you’re ready to work hard!

Thanks for reading! All of my reader interactions and personalized advice can be found on my Tumblr. If you have questions, feedback, or post requests, feel free to drop a Tumblr ask or contact me.:)

—Sophia

Mind Maps

Mind maps are a great tool for visual learners. They are much less rigid and more customizable than other note-taking methods. Not only can mind maps be used for taking notes, they also come in handy for studying, brainstorming, and planning. Here’s how to use this intuitive technique for all areas of your life.

HOW TO MIND MAP

Mind maps start with the main topic in the middle of the page. That central idea then branches off into several subtopics. Those subtopics then branch off into smaller subtopics and additional points and elaboration, and so on, until you have as many branches and as much detail as you need. The best thing about this method is its flexibility. You can draw clouds or boxes around your text, doodle, add color, and change the structure as you wish. You can also keep your map simple and clean and black-and-white, and it’ll work just as fine. To give you a better idea of what I’m talking about, here are some great examples of mind maps.

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A mind map about how to mind map? That’s super meta.
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You can make mind maps with pen + paper or with digital apps. My favorite digital mind map maker is a website called Coggle.

NOTE-TAKING

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Start with the topic or chapter you’re studying in the middle of the page. Branch off into smaller subtopics– these would usually be the bolded headers in your textbook. Here are some ways the topics and subtopics could be applied in various classes:
  • “Communist Russia” as a main topic; “Government”, “Economy”, and “Society” as subtopics
  • “Romeo and Juliet” as a main topic; “Characters”, “Themes”, and “Symbols” as subtopics
  • “American Government” as a main topic; “Legislative”, “Judicial”, and “Executive” as subtopics
  • “Sustainable Energy Sources” as a main topic; “Solar Power”, “Wind Power”, and “Water Power” as subtopics

Although mind maps can work for any class, they are usually best suited for non-technical, conceptual classes such as history and English. They’re great for getting the big picture, but they might not be the best for writing lots of nitty gritty little details. Here’s the mind map I made based off of traditional outline notes from the Cornell notes post:

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made using Coggle

More mind map notes examples can be found here, here, and here!

STUDYING

This is my personal favorite way to use mind maps. My classes tend to be very detail-oriented and there’s simply too much information to use mind maps as my daily note-taking system. However, I still love the broad overview that they provide, so I use them as part of my active learning process to study for exams.

All I do is close my textbook, put away my notes, take out a blank sheet of paper, and try to create a mind map of the chapter/topic from memory. I use a ton of branches and arrows because I attempt to include every last fact I can remember. This forces me to recall all the information, reinforcing it in my memory. It also helps me organize everything I’ve learned into a cohesive structure inside my head. I usually do this process a couple days before a big test and again the night before, and it’s worked wonders for me!

BRAINSTORMING & PLANNING

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You can also use mind-maps to generate ideas and create a plan of action for both academic and non-academic areas of your life. Some ideas include:

  • “Goals” as a main topic; “Family/Friends”, “School”, and “Health” as subtopics
  • “Business Ideas” as a main topic; “Babysitting”, “Lemonade Stand”, “Walking Dogs” as subtopics
  • “Things to Do” as a main topic; “Academics”, “Events”, and “Errands” as subtopics
  • “Birthday Party” as a main topic; “Guests”, “Refreshments”, and “Games” as subtopics
  • “English Essay” as a main topic; “Introduction”, “Body Paragraphs”, and “Conclusion” as subtopics
  • “Places to Travel” as a main topic; “Europe”, “South American”, and “Asia” as subtopics

The possibilities are truly endless. Go nuts and have fun with your mind maps, because they’re meant to be a reflection of you, your crazy ideas, and the unique way you think. Best of luck!

Thanks for reading! All of my reader interactions and personalized advice can be found on my Tumblr. If you have questions, feedback, or post requests, feel free to drop a Tumblr ask or contact me.:)

—Sophia

Cornell Notes

Cornell notes were invented in the 1950s by a professor at Cornell University. The system allows you to quiz yourself directly from your notes and to quickly reference your lectures in the future. It’s comprised of three sections: the main notes, the cue column, and the summary. The diagram below shows how the three parts fit together:

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SETTING IT UP

Split your paper into three sections according to the diagram above. I’d recommend setting up the system on several sheets of paper before class so you don’t have to worry about drawing straight lines in the middle of a lecture. Alternatively, you could print out a template or buy a Cornell notes notebook.

MAIN SECTION

This is the largest section of your notes. Here, you’ll write the contents of your lesson just as you would normally. I usually structure this in a bulleted outline format, with a hierarchy of broad topics and little details, although you don’t need to make it so rigid. Feel free to space things out, draw boxes, connect things with arrows, etc. Put the teacher’s lecture into your own words. Use straightforward language and lots of abbreviations to write more quickly.

CUE COLUMN

At the end of class or later that day, fill in the left column with some questions and cues. Reword important concepts into question form (6CO2 + 6H2O + sunlight energy = C6H12O6 + 6O2 becomes What is the formula for photosynthesis?) Formulate the types of questions your teacher would ask on an exam. Write down vocab words, big events, influential people, and key facts.

When you’re studying, cover up the right side of the page and quiz yourself with the cue column. Don’t simply read each question, think “Oh, I know that”, and move on. Instead, force yourself to say the answer/definition/explanation out loud, and elaborate on your response as much as you would if this were a test question. This quiz-and-recall is an active learning technique that’ll strengthen your memory more than passively reading your notes over and over.

SUMMARY

Either at the very end of class or within a day or two of the lecture, write a brief 2-3 sentence summary at the bottom of the page that includes the most important points from your notes. You can write a summary for every page of notes or for every lecture, depending on how specific you’d like to get. Finding the big ideas in what you’ve learned and seeing how they tie into the big picture will reinforce them in your mind. The summaries will also help you find a particular topic when you’re flipping through your notes.

EXAMPLE

Lastly, here’s a sample notes page I made to show you what a finished product might look like!

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Thanks for reading! All of my reader interactions and personalized advice can be found on my Tumblr. If you have questions, feedback, or post requests, feel free to drop a Tumblr ask or contact me.:)

—Sophia