Studying for a Big Exam
Highlighting a Skill
How can I use what I know about learning to study for a big exam?
Staying focused and on task is a challenge for everyone. This can be especially true when we need to study for a big exam or a certification test. Regardless of what you are studying for, you can use the learning principles of operant conditioning to help you stay on task and get the job done. Understanding how to reinforce our behaviors so that we accomplish our goals is a valuable skill to have.
You can help yourself stay on task by using rewards to increase your studying behavior and help you achieve your goals. First, set your goals by breaking your studying into small segments. For example, perhaps you decide to chunk your studying by focusing on key concepts from each chapter. Next, break the content into manageable sections, like working on the first 10 concepts in a particular chapter.
Keeping your deadline in mind, create a calendar for yourself with all the due dates for each of the chunked pieces of information. Each time you complete one of your goals, reward yourself for staying on task. The reward needs to be something that will encourage you to continue your behavior, which in this case is studying. Have the reward (go for a walk, eat a cookie, play a video game, browse social media) be commensurate with the size of the goal and remember the point here is to make sure that the reward helps lead to an increase in desired behavior.
Being rewarded for staying on task and accomplishing a goal increases the likelihood that you will stay on task next time, but it will usually only work if the reward is something that you really want. Therefore, do not indulge in the reward outside of studying or it will not help you to stay on task when you are studying. Keep in mind that what serves as reward for one person, may not work for another. And of course, not all rewards will reinforce behavior.
What happens if you start to procrastinate and miss your self-imposed deadline? You could “punish” yourself by using consequences to decrease your lack of studying, but it may be better to think about your goals, the rewards you are setting for yourself, and how and why you are not staying on task. Are the goals not realistic for you? Is the reward not “strong” enough to reinforce your behavior? Is the reward’s effectiveness less because you don’t really want it or already have access to it outside of studying? Use this information to design a better way to reinforce your studying behavior.
The principles of learning can apply to many aspects of your life, such as being on time, eating healthy, and even being in a successful relationship. How could you use this information to help you every day so that you reinforce the behavior that you want to see in yourself (and others)?
Think about how you have used learning principles in your life. Have you set up a reward system for yourself in the past?
Now, think about times you were rewarded or punished in the past at school, work, in relationships, etc. What worked to keep you on track? What didn’t?
Think about how you can segment your studying for an upcoming exam. Break the studying into 3-5 chunks or small tasks and list them here:
Then, think about your daily schedule and life demands. What is a reasonable schedule for studying the segments you identified? Use the spaces below to map out a typical week, and add studying to your calendar on days that are reasonable for you. Remember that you will likely want to study each segment more than once.
There are a number of different frameworks for career or job skills. The American Psychological Association (APA) has one and all of the Applying Psychology to Life Modules are aligned to the APA Guidelines for the Undergraduate Psychology Major.
There are other entities, such as the U.S. Department of Education, that have put together lists of employability skills. Which skills from this list from the U.S. Department of Education list are you working to develop? Please type at least three of these skills in the text box shown.
Makes sound decisions
Understands teamwork and works with others
Responds to customer needs
Negotiates to resolve conflict
Respects individual differences
Demonstrates responsibility and self-discipline
Adapts and shows flexibility
Demonstrates a willingness to learn
Displays a positive attitude and sense of self-worth
Takes responsibility for professional growth
Step 12 – 1
Check My Work
Demonstration of Skills
Many employers are looking for employees who have good interpersonal skills, which include being able to manage one’s time and to plan accordingly. Take a look at the job descriptions below from the Bureau of Labor Statistics for Registered Nurses and for Bookkeeping, Accounting, and Auditing Clerks.
Identify where the skills of time management apply to one or more of the duties listed below.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Web site, registered nurses typically do the following:
Assess patients’ conditions
Record patients’ medical histories and symptoms
Observe patients and record the observations
Administer patients’ medicines and treatments
Set up plans for patients’ care or contribute information to existing plans
Consult and collaborate with doctors and other healthcare professionals
Operate and monitor medical equipment
Help perform diagnostic tests and analyze the results
Teach patients and their families how to manage illnesses or injuries
Explain what to do at home after treatment
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Web site, Bookkeeping, Accounting, and Auditing Clerks typically do the following:
Use bookkeeping software, spreadsheets, and databases
Enter (post) financial transactions into the appropriate computer software
Receive and record cash, checks, and vouchers
Put costs (debits) and income (credits) into the software, assigning each to an appropriate account
Produce reports, such as balance sheets (costs compared with income), income statements, and totals by account
Check for accuracy in figures, postings, and reports
Reconcile or note and report any differences they find in the records
We can always work to apply learning strategies in our lives. Think about how you currently reward yourself for staying on task and a job well done.
What is working?
What areas would you like to manage better?
What can you do to help hold yourself accountable?
What rewards can you use to successfully reinforce behaviors?