Why Students Should Turn the Internet Off When They Study

By Stefanie Weisman

[Editor’s note: This article was originally posted on the Freedom website and has been re-posted with their permission.]

Okay, I admit it.  I’ve been having a little problem in the self-control department lately.  No matter what I tried to do – write an article, do research, read a book, etc. – I found myself typing the url of some distracting, time-wasting website, with Facebook being the worst offender.  It was a rather bizarre feeling, as if my fingers had acquired a mind of their own.  Before I knew it, I had been sucked into an internet black hole of silly videos and mindless trivia, which used up a good chunk of my time and energy.

My situation is hardly unique.  In my experience as a high school and college study skills expert, I’m constantly reminded of the problems caused by excessive internet usage.  On average, teens spend nine hours a day using media for entertainment – that’s more time than they spend sleeping and far more time than they spend studying.  Many students use social media and other “fun” sites while they’re studying or doing homework.  They may think such media multi-tasking doesn’t hurt their concentration, but study after study has shown this not to be the case.  According to a pioneer in this field, the late Stanford professor Clifford Nass, “people who chronically multitask show an enormous range of deficits. They’re basically terrible at all sorts of cognitive tasks, including multitasking.”  In a 2012 study, researchers found that using Facebook and texting in particular were associated with lower GPA.

But as we all know, it can be hard to give up things that are bad for us.  The instant gratification we feel from sending a Tweet or getting a Like on our Facebook post creates a dopamine loop in our brains that makes us hungry for more.  We can all use a little help in the fight against bad habits.  Which is why, when I was given the chance to try Freedom, a program designed to eliminate distractions on the web, I jumped at the opportunity.

After downloading Freedom, the first thing I did was set up a recurring block of Facebook and other sites I have a weakness for, such as YouTube and Netflix, during the work day.  I was struck by how freeing it was to know these sites were off-limits.  My need to check on my friends seemed to evaporate, and my productivity increased.  At times when I needed complete concentration, I chose to block all websites – easily done on Freedom by checking a box.

freedom_full_view_cropped

A view of what the Freedom dashboard looks like on my computer.

I quickly discovered that Freedom has many features that make it superior to, say, disabling the wi-fi on your computer.  While shutting down wi-fi is an all-or-nothing solution, Freedom helps you fine-tune your internet consumption.  You can create multiple Blocklists, allowing you to block as many or as few websites as you want with the click of a button.  Freedom conveniently lets you choose from a list of the most commonly used (or should I say abused) social media sites, and you can manually enter any other sites you find distracting.  You can put these Blocklists into effect at any time or schedule them for recurring Sessions, which is great if you know you want to avoid certain sites at the same time every day, and sync your Sessions across multiple devices.  Perhaps most importantly, Freedom can keep you from giving in to temptation.  The problem with disabling your wi-fi is that you can easily turn it back on again.  With Freedom, you can select Locked Mode, which makes it virtually impossible to access the internet (or specific sites) for up to 8 hours.

This software would clearly be a great tool for students.  Those who use their PCs to take notes could set up a recurring block of all websites during class time, thus avoiding the distractions associated with in-class laptop use.  Similar blocks could be set up when studying for exams or writing papers.  And when students need the internet to do research, they can block social sites that would keep them from their work.

I used Freedom on a Windows PC and an iPhone.  Here are a few tricks I learned on how to use Freedom most effectively on these devices:

  • When I had a Session going in Locked Mode, I realized I was still able to end the Session by selecting “Quit” on the Freedom desktop icon. To fully enable Locked Mode, go to Options on the desktop icon and select “Disable Quit During Sessions.”  Developers will be syncing this to Locked Mode to eliminate confusion.
  • Having multiple Sessions going at the same time may cause unintended consequences. At one point, I had to restart my computer to regain access to the internet after a Session had ended.  To avoid this, select “Sync Freedom” on the desktop icon.
  • You may still be able to access the Facebook app on your mobile device during Sessions that are supposed to block the site. Developers are working on a way to block the app, but in the meantime, use this work-around.

I’m especially looking forward to the time when Freedom has a whitelisting feature, which developers are hard at work on.  This means that users will be able to block all websites except the ones they specify.  I would love to be able to access my email and a few other sites while blocking the rest of the internet.

I’ll leave you with one last thought, which in my view is pretty amazing: I haven’t checked Facebook once while writing this article.


Want more study tips?  Check out The Secrets of Top Students.

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Music and Learning: Why Is It Worth Integrating Music into the Classroom?

By Carol Williams 

Many research studies have already shown us that music brings about a range of psychosomatic effects to our bodies. It’s proven to be helpful in dealing with chronic pain. Music also reduces blood pressure or boosts our immunity. It was inevitable that at some point it caught the eye of cognitive psychologists interested in human learning capabilities. Consequently, music emerged as a significant factor for improving the learning process among students of all ages. Here are some reasons why introducing music to the classroom is worth the effort.

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Going to School with PTSD: Online Education and Anxiety

By James Hinton

I was an older student with an anxiety issue. After spending time in the Army, including several combat tours, I had been diagnosed with PTSD. Being around large numbers of strangers worried me. Noisy settings where I was not completely in control gave me the need to run for it. I would even feel a touch agoraphobic if I was not close to something I could bunker up within.

When I made the decision to obtain a college degree after getting out, these all presented me with significant problems. While some of the university classes I participated in had relatively small class sizes that enabled me to learn faces fairly quickly and find a certain degree of comfort with, large classes were a daily struggle. I would have to position myself close to doors so I could bolt outside for relief if needed. More boisterous classes could result in frequent, embarrassing episodes where I just plain had to get out.

Eventually I made it through and obtained my Bachelors, but it was not a particularly easy or enjoyable process. My struggles had frequently led to my considering quitting, which had only caused the depression that comes with PTSD to get worse. Preparing for class had been an anxiety inducing process that involved my wondering whether I’d make it through to the end, or have to make a dash for the door yet again.

I still wonder sometimes how I made it to graduation.

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Memory Retention and the Forgetting Curve Infographic

The importance of reviewing what you learn…
Memory-Retention-and-the-Forgetting-Curve-Infographic
Find more education infographics on e-Learning Infographics


For more tips on studying, memory, and much more, order your copy of The Secrets of Top Students today!

Tips for Reducing Academic Anxiety

By Anne Davies

Study and exam-related stress is a problem for many students, whether or not they’re focused on achieving academic excellence, and it’s something that can affect students of any age. Nobody is immune to academic stress, but there are plenty of things you can do to reduce anxiety that centers on studying and exams.

Meditation can help you do better on exams. (Photo courtesy of Grand Velas Puerto Vallarta via Flickr.)

Meditation can help you do better on exams. (Photo courtesy of Grand Velas Puerto Vallarta via Flickr.)

Preparation and Organization

There are several key skills that go a long way towards reducing anxiety, just because they form a solid base of preparation and organization that help you stay focused and stay on top of your workload. Having a comprehensive study system is crucial, and it’s also important that whatever system you develop is one that works for you.

For example, having a good note-taking system is essential for college lectures, but the same system won’t necessarily work for everyone. Some people prefer to write notes by hand, others prefer to use a laptop, and some like to take audio recordings of lectures and write up notes at their leisure. It’s just a matter of trying different methods to find out what works best for you. It’s also useful to determine what your learning style is; some people learn best by listening, some by doing, some by reading or writing, and if you’re trying to force yourself into a style that isn’t optimal, studying instantly becomes less effective and more stressful.

One of the most important skills to have is that of time management: being able to organize your time and use it effectively, prioritizing tasks based on how urgent they are, and sticking to whatever schedule you create for yourself. Without good time management, you’re likely to end up completing assignments at the last minute, losing sleep studying the night before exams, putting yourself through a considerable amount of unnecessary stress, and impairing your academic performance. Study and exam anxiety is often related to lack of preparation, so the key way to reduce that anxiety is simply to create a study schedule and stick with it.

And finally, take advantage of the wealth of apps and programs that have been created for time management and study organization. There are some incredibly useful tools available—many of which are free—that can help you improve your study habits and manage your time more effectively.

Of course, for some people, no amount of preparation can help reduce academic anxiety to a manageable level, so it’s also useful to consider other methods of coping with study-related stress.

Relaxation Techniques

The second aspect is learning how to relax and control your anxiety; and while to some this might seem like the easy part, it’s very difficult for many people. It’s especially difficult when study anxiety isn’t rooted in tangible problems like lack of organization, because when anxiety develops for no apparent reason, it’s harder to manage because there are no concrete ways to solve the root cause. Regardless of the cause of the anxiety, however, there are some techniques that can definitely help reduce anxiety and stress, and all of the problems and symptoms they cause. One of these is meditation—a technique that has become widely used all over the world by all kinds of people, is easy to start, and when practiced regularly, is very effective. There’s more than one kind of meditation, however; for example, there’s mindfulness meditation, guided meditation, Taoist Qi gong, and transcendental meditation. While none are specifically aimed at managing stress, the general consensus is that mindfulness meditation, or Vipassana, is the most effective in this regard. Recent studies show that this kind of meditation can improve cognitive function as well as reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, so it’s perfect for students.

Meditation isn’t going to be possible during a test situation, of course, but there are some related techniques that are perfect for reducing anxiety when it hits. Simply spending thirty seconds or a minute engaging in deep breathing—long, slow breaths in and out—can be very calming. Another useful technique is “mindfulness moments,” in which you take a few seconds to engage with your surroundings by taking note of what you can see, hear, smell, and feel. Engaging your senses helps you feel more grounded, and helps you link back to the calming sensations you feel during mindfulness meditation exercises.


For more tips on relaxation and other study skills, order your copy of The Secrets of Top Students today!

Facebook Depression: Is It A Real Diagnosis? (Guest Post)

Tara Heath is a journalist who lives in California. She loves to write about health and wellness and parenting. She knows there are many dangers that come with social media and wants to help share her tips and thoughts on staying healthy and safe.

Almost everybody with access to a computer knows about the social media site Facebook. If you’re a parent, chances are your children use it, and more than likely, you use it yourself.

While social media sites are basically part of the culture for anybody under the age of 40, they tend to have more of an impact on high school and college-age teens. They are the ones most likely to be regularly active on Facebook, and they’re also the ones most likely to visit the site more than 10 times per day according to a study conducted by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Unfortunately, this relatively new technology may be taking a toll on some teens and young adults in the form of something controversially known as Facebook depression.

signs

What is Facebook Depression?

Facebook depression is a relatively new term designed specifically to reference feelings of depression and anxiety that many teens feel due to social media sites, much like the depression teens experience on the playground when they aren’t accepted by their peers. Only, in the digital age, Facebook depression relates more to friend requests and friends unfollowing them on the web than face to face interaction.

In some cases, teens may do things that could be considered risky in order to feel accepted, and then brag about their activities. This has led some researchers to believe that kids who don’t feel accepted on social media sites may be more likely to engage in risk-taking activities like doing drugs or having unsafe sex. Some teens even engage in self-destructive behavior like posting pornographic images of themselves or sending them to others at their school in a misguided attempt to be accepted.

Is Facebook Depression Real?

Facebook depression might sound like a strange term to some parents who may not understand the role social media really has in their child’s life. However, 22-percent of teens check their Facebook profile and information 10 times or more per day and 77-percent have cellular devices capable of giving them this access no matter where they are.

That’s why Facebook depression is a real thing. However, it may not really be any different than the feelings commonly associated with not being accepted by peers – the same feelings children had on the playground long before tools like social media sites were available.

depression

With social media becoming more and more a part of the culture each day, it’s important that parents realize how it can negatively affect their children. The internet can be an excellent tool for children to learn and grow emotionally, but it can also be problematic if parents ignore its growing role.

As a general rule, you should be monitoring your child’s Facebook account until they are older teens – children under 13 likely shouldn’t have their own Facebook account at all. By being vigilant as a parent you can make sure your children stay safe and don’t experience any of the depression that can come with sites like Facebook.


Give your child the gift of great grades.  Order a copy of The Secrets of Top Students today!

 

How to get rid of test anxiety

Do you do great on homework and essays, but freeze up on exams?  Do you have nightmares about the SAT?  Two recent articles in The New York Times and Time magazine address this common malady, and they have some interesting advice on how to bring your nerves under control.

Thinking about test anxiety.

Thinking about test anxiety.

Advice from the Time magazine article “Relax, It’s Only A Test,” by Annie Murphy Paul (Feb. 11, 2013)

1.  Engage in “expressive writing.”  Spend ten minutes before the exam writing about your thoughts and feelings.  This helps you cast off your anxiety and focus on the task at hand.

2.  Do a “values-affirmation exercise.”  Choose something that’s important to you – for example, music, family, religion, anything – and write about why it matters to you.  Research has found that minority and female students who did this improved their test-day performance.

3.  Write down positive statements, self-affirmations or mantras and keep them in a handy place.  The article describes how girls at the Laurel School in Ohio were given “special test-day pencil[s],” which were wrapped in pieces of paper that contained encouraging (and true) statements such as, “Girls get higher grades than boys.”

4.  Make sure you’ve prepared for the test the right way!  It may not be enough to read and re-read your notes and books – you should also take practice tests, ask yourself questions about the material, and try to predict what’s going to be on the exam.

5.  Do relaxation exercises, such as yoga.  The article describes how third-graders who were taught breathing and relaxation exercises showed a significant reduction in test anxiety.

Advice from The New York Times article, “Why Can Some Kids Handle Pressure While Others Fall Apart?” by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman (Feb. 6, 2013)

This article’s a bit more scientific and complex.  Its basic premise is:

Understanding their propensity to become stressed and how to deal with it can help children compete. Stress turns out to be far more complicated than we’ve assumed, and far more under our control than we imagine. Unlike long-term stress, short-term stress can actually help people perform, and viewing it that way changes its effect. Even for those genetically predisposed to anxiety, the antidote isn’t necessarily less competition — it’s more competition. It just needs to be the right kind.

The article talks about the COMT gene, which has two variants: one that slowly removes dopamine from the brain, and another that clears it quickly.  People carry one variant or the other, or a combination of the two.  Studies have found that under normal conditions, those with the slow-acting variant have a cognitive advantage.  However, in stressful situations – e.g., test time – the people with the slower enzyme can’t remove dopamine fast enough, and those with the speedier kind take the lead.  They’re often the ones who do better on tests.

Some researchers have labeled those with the fast-acting enzyme “Warriors” and those with the slower variant “Worriers.”  One isn’t necessarily better than the other, it’s just that the Warriors may have an advantage in situations such as tests.  About half of us are a mix between Warrior and Worrier, while a quarter carry Warrior-only genes, and a quarter are Worrier-only.

So are we all predestined to be good or bad test takers, based on our genes?  Researchers say it’s not that simple.  People who are Worriers can significantly improve their performance if they are exposed to stress the right way and allowed to acclimate to it.  Based on their research, here are some more ways you can become a grade-A test-taker:

1.  Tell yourself that stress is beneficial.  It may sound weird, but it works!  Here’s an interesting tidbit from the article:

The first experiment was at Harvard University with undergraduates who were studying for the Graduate Record Examination. Before taking a practice test, the students read a short note explaining that the study’s purpose was to examine the effects of stress on cognition. Half of the students, however, were also given a statement declaring that recent research suggests “people who feel anxious during a test might actually do better.” Therefore, if the students felt anxious during the practice test, it said, “you shouldn’t feel concerned. . . simply remind yourself that your arousal could be helping you do well.”

Just reading this statement significantly improved students’ performance. They scored 50 points higher in the quantitative section (out of a possible 800) than the control group on the practice test. Remarkable as that seemed, it is relatively easy to get a result in a lab. Would it affect their actual G.R.E. results? A couple of months later, the students turned in their real G.R.E. scores. Jamieson calculated that the group taught to see anxiety as beneficial in the lab experiment scored 65 points higher than the controls. In ongoing work, Jamieson is replicating the experiment with remedial math students at a Midwestern community college: after they were told to think of stress as beneficial, their grades improved.

The study found that the students were still stressed, but that “it had different physiological manifestations and had somehow been transformed into a positive force that drove performance.”  The researcher also found that “the people told to feel positive about being anxious had their blood flow increase by an average of more than half a liter per minute, with more oxygen and energy coursing throughout the body and brain. Some had up to two liters per minute extra.”  Amazingly, hearing that stress is beneficial can improve your cognitive function!

2.  “Inoculate” yourself to stress by engaging in competitive activities you might actually enjoy, such as math competitions, trivia contests, spelling bees, science fairs, chess teams, etc.  Although these things can be stressful, they can also be fun and rewarding.  And getting used to competition will make it easier to take tests.

Good luck!


 

For more tips on studying and much more, order your copy of The Secrets of Top Students today!