10 Ways to Think Outside The Book

Education is not the learning of facts, but the training of the mind to think — Albert Einstein

To “think outside the book” is to approach your studies with the full force and drive that you have for the career you are looking to pursue after graduation. You have to brace yourself and take a dive head first in the deep sea of information that is necessary to your future profession. That means, if you want to be a Nurse, or Respiratory/ Physical/ Occupational Therapist or any other profession in the Allied Health arena, you must pour yourself over the related Math, Chemistry, and Biology concepts with the same careful, dedicated attention you’d give your future patients.

I have been helping college students since 2011. During my experience, I have helped hundreds of students successfully navigate the courses that are required for Nursing and other Allied Health Programs:  Math, Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, Anatomy and Physiology, Microbiology, Genetics, and Pathophysiology. These classes are quite rigorous and play a significant role in the occupational programs. In my experience, the students who entered the program with working knowledge of the scientific material from their pre-requisites were stronger students who led study groups in their programs. 

If this sounds like a strengthening process you are interested in engaging in, keep reading. Below are ten ways you can begin to Think Outside The Book.

1. Strengthen time management skills

This tip will never go out of style. Time management can make or break you in college. Everything within a college is scheduled with fixed deadlines. The semester starts and ends on specific dates, your professors plan their entire semester with dedicated “grading days” for their various classes, therefore, accepting late assignments is usually not accepted. Also, note that most exams and definitely finals are scheduled months in advance – so there is absolutely little to no wiggle room in college. This means you must be very aware of when and where your classes are; when exams and projects are due; when drop dates are;  when financial aid payments are processed and more. Managing your time means harnessing the 168 hours we are given every week and using them to your benefit. If you are interested in learning more about how to make the most of your week, leave a comment down below. 

2. Take ownership of your education

I remember reading somewhere that high school is a teaching institution and college is a learning institution. College is where you are free to learn in the ways that are best for you and to sort yourself out accordingly. Education is a two-way street. The professor plays a role, in delivering information, explaining concepts, answering questions and more. But you as the scholar, have a responsibility to put everything you have into it. Show up to every class. Ask all the questions. Engage with the text. Recognize your weaknesses and improve there. Source out your strength and grow it. If you are seeing that you are crushing it in history and psychology and not doing well in chemistry and biology but you want to be a nurse, you either have to adjust your approach to your studies or change your major.

3. Set boundaries

Boundaries are helpful to keep areas of your life organized. There is school time, work time, personal time and family time. Depending on the season of your life, some areas might need more attention than others. In order to put in quality time in any of those areas, you must place boundaries between you and instant gratification, Netflix binge-watching, spontaneous dinners out with friends, wasting time scrolling through nonsense social media, all of that. Hit the pause button on time-sucking distractions until you have taken your finals.

Create a plan with the people that you live with. Whether it is just you and your partner or you have children, make a deal with all of those who are old enough to shake hands in agreement to honor the time you need to carve out for studying, tutoring, leaving you alone while you study and in exchange, you set your schedule up so that there is dedicated time for them. Helping make sure the people you surround yourself with are supportive of your goals and respectful of your time will be the most beneficial decision you make in your academic career.

4. Create an aerial view of your course

If you run into a semester without mapping it out, you will feel like you are always reacting to a schedule change, an upcoming lab quiz, or something that is approaching. Plotting out your semester before school starts or as soon as you finish reading this blog post is the best way to get a handle on what life is going to look like over the course of four months. What you will need is a copy of every syllabus, the school’s academic calendar and your planner or calendar that you use. First, use your academic calendar to find out what days you have off, when you are allowed to drop a class (this is important!), some schools schedule certain classes on different days of the week, ie: Monday classes will be held on a Thursday — note those changes throughout the semester. If any of the changes occur on days that you have classes or work, contact your employer immediately and let them know of days you cannot work. If it is not possible for you to take time off of work, contact the professor immediately and ask what their policy is for absences and see if missing that lecture could be made up in any way.

Next, go through each syllabus and write down week by week the expected pages to be read, papers that are due, exam dates if they are listed – just fill your calendar with all the information that you are given ahead of schedule. Professors generally map out the greater concepts and topics they are going to cover in a semester. Plug all that information into your calendar.

Consider any other appointments you will have during the term. Fall semesters usually become challenging around the holidays, with Thanksgiving and Christmas, so plan accordingly. If you have children, check their school calendars to see when Parent-Teacher Conferences are so you can account for any schedule changes you may need to make.

You should start the semester with a filled in calendar, with guidelines for you to be proactive about instead of being caught unaware and reacting to whatever is thrown at you. By building this aerial view of your semester, you are more likely able to handle shifts in plans and have the awareness to say “no” to distractions.

5. Begin Concept-Mapping/Take over a wall in your house

Basic-Mind-Map-Structure

Once the semester begins, do not wait for an upcoming exam to start studying. Begin building your connections immediately by creating concept maps. Concept Maps are an awesome way to take all the seemingly random piece of information that you are given and create a chart that connects it all. Above is a template for concept mapping. You can use software like imindmap.com or mindmup.com. I personally like taking over a wall in my room and using post its. It allows me to freely move the post its and create various connections.

6. Use your own words. Draw your own diagrams/charts

When rewriting information from your textbook, slides or notes, USE YOUR OWN WORDS. Never copy the words from the book or write down exactly what the professor says. This is crucial. Copying down someone else’s words, or even just rewriting what you wrote earlier is a waste of time. Spending the extra time rephrasing the information will help learn the information, not just memorize it.

Similarly, you should spend time drawing. Do not worry that you aren’t an artist. It’s a method to help strengthen your memory as well as help you interact with diagrams more effectively. A helpful way to study diagrams and charts is to draw them yourself from memory. Then, compare your drawing to the one in the book and you’ll see what you missed, what you remembered and what you got wrong. Draw and label again until you have created a similar rendering with all the important areas accurately labeled.

7. Discover Greek and Latin

This is particular for students taking Biology classes. Many scientific words are derived from Greek and Latin. Flip to the back of your textbook to find the lexicon including these root words as well as prefixes and suffixes to help you immensely in learning the language of biology. Oligodendrocyte might be difficult to understand, but Oligo-dendro-cyte can be translated. Oligo means “a few”, dendro means “branches” and cyte means “cell”. From there you can say that an oligodendrocyte is a cell with a few branches. These are specialized cells with about 8 cytoplasmic extensions; they kind of looks like an octopus. Oligodendrocytes form the myelin sheath in the Central Nervous System.  Using the Greek & Latin lexicon (usually found in the back of your textbook near the glossary or by clicking here) you will be able to decode most of the scientific words and not just memorize, but truly understand their meaning.

8. Gather multiple resources

It is helpful to have more than one resource for information for each class you are taking. Your professor is the most valuable resource that you have. Develop a relationship early on to get the most out of the course and your college experience. Your required text is the next most valuable resource. Definitions, diagrams, processes, practice questions, insightful stories  – all can be found within the front and back covers of your textbook. Additionally, you may find a few websites that are helpful, a youtube channel, a tutor, a study group or another kind of resource. Gather your resources and use them throughout the semester. Being able to extrapolate information, clarity, and direction from various resources helps you become more resourceful. 

9. Prepare your notes and questions before a lecture

Never walk into a class without a clue. That is such a bad look! You should be well aware of what is going to be covered, or at the very least, have a clue. Your professor provides at a minimum, a syllabus that has a list of topics that will be covered every week. Prior to walking into class, you should review the chapter and all diagrams, make a list of all bold-faced vocabulary words and write down three questions.  Doing this makes sitting through a lecture that much more meaningful. You will not be confused as to what words your professor is saying because you would have at least read it before she or he said it in class and you will be able to ask a question at the right time when the professor is discussing a topic. Asking GOOD questions at the RIGHT time is key to inspiring your professor to flesh out information.

10. Visit your professor

Your professor is hands down the most valuable resource. Make a connection with this person who is laying out a semester’s worth of content for you. Ask them about their academic journey, how they started teaching. Ask how to best prepare for their class. You would be surprised at how much a professor will reveal about what to expect from their course. They are hoping you will grasp the wonder of the subject and dive in, just like they did.

Visit regularly, but at the very least, visit after exams. Many professors will review the answers to an exam, but it is always helpful to make an appointment with your professor during their office hours to review the exam with a professor. Find out what questions you got wrong and why. Learn how your professor approaches a topic so that you can better prepare for your exams. Use this opportunity to deepen your relationship with a professor and ask about how to engage with the content for the rest of the semester.

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