As a course assessor for ILSPA, I am often asked by students studying for the Legal Secretaries Diploma what the best way to study is when they are finding a particular concept difficult to grasp. I always respond that there is no set answer, as people study and retain information differently.
Have you ever noticed how minutes before you fall asleep your mind seems like an overactive machine filled with knowledge? This can happen after a study session during the day when the knowledge you have retained reveals itself at night. You may find yourself pondering certain aspects of the course and thinking of questions you need to check when you go back to your course material. Yet sometimes when the alarm goes off in the morning, you’ve completely forgotten what you were thinking of hours before which seemed very important or fascinating. This can result in your going to bed on a high but waking up on a low, which isn’t a good start to the day. I actually had the idea for this article at 10.42pm whilst lying in bed! I therefore followed advice given to me by a colleague of mine and wrote down my thoughts and queries on a notepad on my bedside table, thus giving me the satisfaction that I knew I wouldn’t forget and a peaceful night’s sleep. In fact, a lawyer friend of mine told me only a few weeks ago that she had helped a colleague out on a troublesome case after thinking of a solution at 3am!
Your own personal circumstances and preferences will depend upon what time of day you are able to study and are most likely to retain information. However, to make the best of your study session, some paper and a pen next to your bed could be very beneficial.
Another good piece of advice is to check what type of learner you are. There are various different studies and models developed by researchers to assess how people identify, interact with, take in and process information. One of the most common and widely used is Fleming’s VARK model. This indicates that we learn through visual, aural, reading/writing and kinaesthetic methods. It may be that you are dominant in one area in particular, or you could be multimodal and your preference therefore varied. As a guide, the methods contain the following strategies:
- Visual: You prefer to see pictures, posters, slides, books with diagrams, flow charts, graphs, etc. If you have printed your course material, you may find that underlining text or using a highlighter pen assists.
- Aural: You prefer to attend classes and to discuss topics with tutors and other people. If you are studying by distance learning and are unable to do this, then you could use a digital recorder or remember the interesting examples, stories, etc. and tell them to friends or relatives. As you prefer to listen, do not worry if any notes you have made are poor, as you have probably retained the information from hearing it.
- Read/Write: To take in information you like to use lists, headings, dictionaries, notes, textbooks, etc. You may find that writing text out and organising the information will assist.
- Kinaesthetic: All of your senses, including sight, touch, taste, hearing, etc. can help you. This requires more of a hands-on approach, and visiting your local courts or undertaking some work experience or voluntary work could assist. You are more likely to remember the ‘real’ things that have occurred.
- Multimodal: This is where you have multiple and varied preferences which may be two or more of the above.
To find out how you learn best, you can visit the VARK website: www.vark-learn.com, to complete a questionnaire.
Whatever time of day you study or style you use, the most important thing is to have fun whilst doing it and enjoy the course. Here are some top tips:
- Study in a suitable area which is comfortable and homely. Not only do you want to ensure that you don’t end up with an aching back and shoulders, you also don’t want to feel isolated. Have a couple of pictures, notes from friends, postcards, etc. but don’t make it too distracting. The less clutter the better.
- Schedule times for study and times for play. As a teacher I have seen one extreme to the other with the amount of effort students put into their work. Whilst it is good to be eager and keen, don’t overexert yourself and do reward yourself with time for hobbies and interests after a suitable study session.
- Take regular breaks. Frequent short breaks assist your thinking process.
- If in doubt about a particular part of the course, email ILSPA for advice!
Just try your best and don’t overstress yourself, and you will do well.