Your Own Study Style
I’m no study or learning expert, these are just my ideas and what works for me. Possibly, I will do things differently in the future. But take time to think what might work for you and find you r own study style.
Sitting still causes health problems, the human body evolved to use movement and needs to keep moving. Even simple things in your body like bowels and blood flow needs exercise to work correctly. Sick people get sicker partly because they are unable to move around.
Therefore some type of exercise keeps you brain in good working order. From my reading it needs to be aerobic exercise like riding a bike, or running – something that get the heart rate above 100 beats per minute for thirty minutes and you should plan to do that three times a week. More is better. I’m not an exercise junkie, I’m middle aged, tubby and ten kilos overweight, but I still exercise to be improve stamina and sleep better. No more than that really.
Also, treat your exercise as a break. Ask yourself: Can you make two hours of study followed by a fitness session of an hour or so, followed by two hours of study ? Good use of time.
I am pretty sure that I have ADD((attention deficit disorder)) behaviour caused by the Internet. I find it hard to concentrate on a single issue for extended periods of time. Think about turning off or blocking your Internet when you start studying until you learn or relearn to concentrate.
To help me with this, I use a timer on my computer that is set for 20 minutes of reading, 20 minutes of Flash card review and 10 minutes of break. A break is a drink, or some music or a walk around. It took me some time to be able to get to a twenty minute concentration span and I am working hard to keep it.
This also means closing your email client, twitter, facebook etc etc, since they will interrupt your concentration.
It’s not easy.
Don’t watch TV
First, Evidence shows that more than two hours of television per day causes dysfunction of the brain, causing demotivation and loss of cognisance functions in the brain. Specifically, the research suggests that it causes the learning and processing part of your brain to be suppressed. The effect lasts while you watch television regularly.
Second, TV is a HUGE time suck. 2 hours watching crap, means two of your life lost. And nothing worthwhile achieved.
That’s pretty grim
So that sounds bad to a lot of people. For me, not watching television has been a great, brilliant, awesome decision. Firstly, I have a better sleeping pattern since I go to bed about the same time during the week. I don’t “stay up for the wotsit show”. I go to bed when I am tired and/or can’t get any more useful stuff done.
Second, I have much more time for family and our family outing and friends are not organised around TV scheduling. We schedule our lives, not the television.
Thirdly, I find that television is boring. If I do watch something, I get border after ten or fifteen minutes because it isn’t very stimulating. I have lost the habit of sitting there waiting for something else to watch. This started to happen after a year or so. Now I just don’t bother.
Sport. Frankly, who cares about a bunch of jocks/beefheads chasing a piece of pigskin. It’s the lowest form of entertainment on TV. I love going in person to experience the whole atmosphere but otherwise, … meh. I would rather participate in geek sports and then the jocks can find new ways to move up the food chain.
That said, its good fun watching the final of whatever sport (soccer, rugby, etc) with a bunch of friends. Reminder: It’s the bunch of friends that makes it fun, not the sport itself.
I like watching movies, and this gives me common ground with other people. So, yes I think a movie now and then is OK. But not one every night instead of TV.
Learn Focus, Train to Focus – use Earplugs
OK, so no TV and no music. Now buy some earplugs (I use Moldex and buy them from eBay) and put them in your ears to block out all noise. Weird at first, but soon you will teach your body and mind that when the earplugs are in, you are in ‘concentration mode’. I use them at all times, even when there is no noise around me. I have earplugs at work and will use them to learn something new, or implement something difficult.
You might want to think about the movie Karate Kid, who spent weeks learning how to concentrate before he learned any Martial Art. Its not a bad paradigm.
Yeah, that’s a bit weird too but people respect an engineer who is working. It has been good for my career because I get things done, and because I look like I’m getting it done. Never underestimate both items.
Part of learning to concentrate means concentrating. I use music breaks in my study time to rest my mind, but not when studying. Music breaks the focus you need to achieve cognition and learning.
Studying is both a marathon and a sprint. The networking industry will require you to spend the rest of your life studying – its a marathon. But make your study sessions short, say no longer than two hours in the early days. Walk away after the two hours and treat your mind to the rest. Soon, your subconscious will know that two hours of work will get a reward.
Does this sound like a training program ? Well, yes, that’s how it turned out.
Just like an athlete who is approaching race day you should consider your final preparation for an exam or test.
- Don’t read the news or catch up on events.
- Don’t read your RSS feed, or Twitter. Most of it is useless data, fun but pointless.
- Use blogging to focus your planning and what you have achieved, but don’t read the comments or get involved in a discussion.
- Consider shutting down your social and personal life – athletes do this when preparing for the race for the same reason.
- Don’t let yourself lose focus
- Don’t stay up all night, go to bed, get some sleep and you will learn better. Staying up all night makes it worse not better.
Flashcards are tedious and hard to get used to. But that exam your are studying for will need to be done again in two or three years, then the flashcards are the perfect place to start revision. Refresh is easier than loading it again.
When I first tried flash cards, I didn’t like them. Couldn’t get to grips with it at all. But all the evidence shows that they work.
Use Spaced Learning
This is a newer concept. The idea is that you need to review a piece of data about eight times to memorise or absorb a fact or datum. But you need to see it four or five times in quick succcession with a longer and longer break between subsequent revision before it remain with you for life.
I use a software package Mental Case which is a flashcard creation package (including graphics), plus a scheduling system that will prepare “lessons” of cards on the schedule.
Start easy, don’t block your early successes, hard stuff in the middle
Start with something you know best. I have managed to block myself by starting with my least favourite or hardest subject and then having confidence problems and not being able to study. And don’t leave the toughest sections until last, save some easier or strong areas to keep your confidence up just before your go for your test.
Plan for the harder material, if you know it, in the middle of your program so that you have enough time to overcome it and adapt your schedule of you need to.
Make a Plan, Make a Deadline
So many people say, “I’m working towards that this year”, and at the end of the year have done nothing. A good thing about studying CCxP, is that you can book the exam 12 weeks ahead. That gives you a deadline and a goal. Sure, if you get sick or family pressures change, you can move that date, but don’t let that happen.
I have let myself do this too many times, and then never achieved what I wanted. I get lost, move onto something else, or let work tasks consume my personal study time.
Well, this is what works for me. It might work for you, choose the bits that suit your style. I have been studying networking for about thirteen years now. There are new areas constantly coming through, and I need to keep working on them. I am working on Enterprise Security this year, but I still need to be reviewing my MPLS and IPv6 knowledge. And a some research into applications has been useful in working on WAN Acceleration, Proxy / Caching and Load Balancing.
Remember, learning in networking will always be a requirement. I know now that I have to have a plan or method to keep that learning going. After nearly twenty years of University, job learning, Cisco and other vendor education and self prepared learning, I need to remind myself that there is another ten years before I retire to a management role, and there is much technical learning to happen before then.
PS : Lucky ?
Learning isn’t about luck, it’s about being prepared, memorised and comprehending the topics. Don’t plan on being lucky, plan on knowing it.