Study Tips

My Biggest Regret in College & How You Can Avoid the Same Mistake

Ah, summer. The sunny skies, the green green grass. Beach time if you're lucky, study time if you're ... well, study time. Period.

Some of you are heading back to high school in the fall for another year, inching (or, from your parents' perspectives, hurtling) toward the Great Launch to College. And some of you are making the Great Launch even as we speak, preparing to enter a brand new world, surrounded by exciting new people and exciting new opportunities. Either way, in the short term or the (not very) long term, you are looking toward a time of choices -- what to learn, whom to hang out with -- and in many cases, it will be hard to make a truly wrong choice. You're going to learn a lot, no matter what you do, and learning is the whole point, and the joy.

Dr. Seuss quote Mind Gym.jpg

I have exactly one regret about my choices in college. In order to fulfill a curriculum requirement one semester, I was choosing between two science classes: one, a notoriously EASY course in electrical engineering, where the main assignment was to create a rudimentary website by the end of the course; the other, a notoriously HARD class on the physics and acoustics of musical instruments. Now, I'm a musician, and I love everything having to do with music. The acoustics class looked so intriguing ... but I thought to myself, "Do I really want to do hard calculus problems again? Wouldn't I enjoy myself more if I gave myself a break and coasted through the semester this time?" And so, like many others, I chose the website class ... and it nags at me to this day. 

 Sound waves from Pink Floyd's "The Wall"

Sound waves from Pink Floyd's "The Wall"

I got nothing from that easy class. (Well, I guess I got a lousy website, but even that is long gone.) But I still think about what it might have been like to explore the science of how music, my life's greatest passion, is actually physically made. I look at a rock band, or an orchestra, and think, "I could have learned how all those magical things are happening. How the strings vibrate the air, how the overtones color the sounds of the oboe and the electric guitar, how changing the length of the air column in the flute changes the pitch ..." But I didn't. I ... I chose the road MORE traveled by ... and that has made, if not all the difference, at least enough difference that I still look back at where those roads diverged.

So what I'm saying is: when it comes to the choices between the hard and the easy, remember to push yourself. Don't just float down the river; choose the course where there are rapids to navigate, because the rapids are thrilling and exhilarating, and even if you come out exhausted and bedraggled on the other side, you will remember it with joy and pride.

And you know what else? It's never too late to pick the challenge. We live in a world where we can go back and find those textbooks on musical instruments, and learn what we never pushed ourselves to learn back then. So I think I'm gonna go do that ... gonna head down the rapids I steered myself away from so long ago. See you on the other side.

How to Reduce Your Testing Anxiety

What if I told you that you can improve your performance on any test and reduce test-related stress and anxiety in as little as 30 seconds? Fortunately, this is possible and goes by the name of mindfulness. Mindfulness simply refers to the level at which you are present in a given moment. In other words, mindfulness reflects how well your attention is harnessed to experience the world. Studies have shown that those who practice mindfulness exercises can expect marked improvements to their cognitive and physical performance as well as health benefits associated with stress and anxiety reduction. 

Almost every mindfulness exercise contains some sort of meditative element. When you first think about meditation, you might imagine that you need to sit with your legs crossed in a lotus pose isolated on top of a mountain or in the wilderness somewhere. Although that sounds like a great locale for some mindfulness practice, the conditions for meditation aren’t nearly that prohibitive. Mindfulness exercises can be practiced pretty much anywhere and take a wide variety of different forms. 

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Things like going for a walk, eating, and even breathing all fall under the meditative umbrella. The key element is a focus on allocating as much mental bandwidth as possible to the task at hand. If you are going for a walk, try your best to orient your thoughts towards what is happening around you. What colors can you pick out in the world around you? What do you smell and see? How does the ground feel beneath your feet? Allow the stimuli of the outside world to encompass you and override your thoughts about that upcoming test or interview or what notifications you have on your phone. If you can detach from those routine stresses and mental processes for 1 second, 30 seconds, 5 minutes, or an hour and hone in on your current surroundings you will have actively practiced mindfulness.

It doesn’t matter if you are 3 months away from a test, trying to cram information the night before, or even sitting at a desk with the test in front of you. There are definitive benefits to dropping what you are doing, closing your eyes, and taking a few measured breaths. In through the nose, hold, out through the mouth.  Chances are you will feel calmer and be better prepared to tackle the task at hand than you did before you closed your eyes. Not a bad trade-off for 30 seconds of your time.

If you are interested in learning more about mindfulness or mindfulness exercises, there are a plethora of resources available online. YouTube has tons of guided meditations if you have a little bit of time to invest. Google searches will yield step-by-step instructions for a seemingly endless number of exercises. Alternatively, I’m always available at the front desk here in Armonk to chat!

Here’s a Novel Idea: Check Out the Library

I recently discovered this thing called a “library” where they just let you borrow books for
free, and let me tell you, it’s amazing.

For real, though, I’ve been on a library kick recently and can’t recommend it highly enough.
There are lots of books I’ve heard good things about, but sometimes I’m just not sure I want to
commit to buying them and setting aside shelf space for them. Enter the library.

 LogicPrep São Paulo's library

LogicPrep São Paulo's library

I’ve read about two dozen library books in the past year -- novels, short story collections, non-fiction -- that I probably never would have read otherwise. Some of them I’ve researched on
“Best Of” lists, some of them have been staff picks, and some of them have just had interesting
or eye-catching covers. Some of them have been amazing, and some underwhelming. But all of
them have been worthwhile.

We often stress the importance of reading to our students -- it expands vocabularies, highlights effective communication of ideas, and introduces new perspectives. And these are all true! But you can’t read if you don’t have a book, and what I’ve found is that swinging by the library and grabbing something off the shelves increases the chances that in my downtime, I’ll read a few pages of whatever’s on hand rather than scroll through my phone.

So whether it’s your school’s library or your local public library (or even the LogicPrep Library-- available in São Paulo and coming soon to Miami!), I encourage you to stop by and grab whatever catches your eye. It makes it much more likely that you’ll reap the benefits of
reading.

Plus, they don’t even charge you!

Pro Tip: Organization is Key

Have you ever woke up abruptly in the middle of the night with the terrible realization that you have a paper due in 5 hours that you forgot to finish? Somewhere between a group project and your laundry, you neglected to actually write your history paper, even though the research has been done for weeks. It’s in this moment while you’re furiously typing, stealing quick glances at your pillow, that you realize with just a little more organization, this situation could have been avoided.

 

Clear your desk of clutter

That pile of papers on your desk that has been growing taller for weeks is doing more harm than you realize. Besides making it more likely that you will misplace an important paper, physical clutter can actually affect your mental state. Your mind is subconsciously processing the mess making it harder for you to remain focused when it really counts. When you are not focused, you run the risk of forgetting something important. So before you even open a book, make sure your surroundings are clean!

 

Write everything down

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Even with the best of intentions, something will slip your mind. To avoid this, write down everything you need to accomplish the moment it is assigned to you. Your phone can be a helpful tool when it comes to keeping an up-to-date list. Creating a list in your Notes App will ensure you won’t misplace it (or add to the clutter on your desk).

 

Relax

Before you go to bed, take a few minutes to reflect on the day’s events. Quickly review everything you accomplished, upcoming due dates, and look at what is on the agenda for tomorrow.  These brief moments of reflection will help ensure you finished everything you needed to so you can always get a good night's rest.