Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Don't forget to breathe!

Exam time is just around the corner!  I have some advice for you:

Don't forget to breathe!

Well, duh-uh, of course you are going to breathe.  What I'm referring to is a proven, effective way to quickly and easily reduce test anxiety during a final exam.  We all suffer from some degree of text anxiety, right?  So I think we can all benefit from this technique.

It's simple: when you start to feel anxious or stressed during an exam simply stop focusing on the exam and start focusing on your breathing.  Breathe slowly and  try to soften your focus, so that you're not really concentrating on anything in particular.  But you are vaguely aware of the slow inhalation and exhalation of quiet breathing.

As a recent report on National Public Radio reminds us, this seems to trigger our parasympathetic "quiet breathing" response . . . thus counteracting the sympathetic "stress response" that is often characterized by rapid breaths.  This "trick" gets the body to reduce the stress response all around.

Because we know that stress can reduce test performance outcomes, it's a good idea to do what you can to reduce test anxiety during an exam right?

By the way, it seems to work better if you practice it frequently . . . so why not start right now?

Listen to (or read) the story at Just Breathe: The Body Has a Built-in Stress Reliever.

To help you get ready, look at some of my previous blog articles for tips, tricks, and videos on various other exam strategies.

Top: used by permission

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Concept Mapping

In a previous post I outlined some of the benefits of using concept maps.  Also known as mind maps, they are simply charts that sketch out how you understand a particular concept.  This helps you map out for yourself how the pieces of a complex topic relate to one another . . .and perhaps also how they relate to other concepts.

You've seen concept maps before.  They are scattered throughout your A&P textbook.  They can take the form of flow charts, tables, circle diagrams, sketches, and so on.  When you make your own concept map, you help yourself to learn how it all fits together.

If you struggle with putting together a concept map, that's great!  That means that you've identified a specific hole in your understanding.  You can't complete a concept map unless you understand where to place all the bits into the picture, right?  Once you stumble, you know what parts of your understanding are weak.  And that means you know what sections of the textbook you need to explore further.  Or what questions you need to ask your study group, your professor, or your tutor.

When you've finished the concept map, you've learned quite a bit.  Your understanding of the concept is deeper.

And the finished concept map serves as a handy reference for future study and review.  If you keep it for the long term, which I recommend, it becomes part of your own personal encyclopedia that never stops growing.  And which, I hope, you continue to update as your learning expands.

I recently ran across a FREE online tool that creates concepts maps in a simple chart style.  It's called and it's really easy to use.  You just cut and paste (or type in) and outline of a concept and the tool will automatically generate a concept map! 

You can then tweak the layout, the levels, the colors, the fonts, etc.   Then with a single click you can save your concept map as a graphics file.  You then have the option of printing out your concept map or sharing it with a friend or embedding it in your class notes.

Want to know more about concept mapping?  Visit my page on Concept Maps in the Lion Den.