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Don’t Be Satisfied With Scraping By: Teach Your Brain New Tricks

There’s always that one subject we swear we’ll never excel at. Whether it’s the impending doom brought by calculus, English, biology, or the whole lot, we’ll do whatever we can to avoid it. And if we can’t avoid it (shout out to all of the Liberal Arts schools requiring Gen Ed courses) we’ll manage to scrape by. But this doesn’t always have to be the case, according to Dr. Barbara Oakley, a professor at the Oakland University. Dr. Oakley teaches techniques on how to rewire your brain so that students may develop skills they can use to succeed at learning. The brain’s ability to rewire or reorganize itself is called neuroplasticity, which occurs when new neural connections are formed. The following are a couple techniques Dr. Oakley recommends for students wanting to re-train their brains:

Brief Breaks Pay Off Dr. Oakley puts it simply by saying our brain works in two modes: ‘focused’ for when you’re concentrating, and ‘diffuse’ for when you’re resting. The neural connections that form and reorganize your brain occur in ‘diffuse’ mode, so taking small breaks after intense periods of concentration can be helpful. It’s especially helpful to have a set time for studying followed by a brief break where reflection may take place. This could mean engaging in intense-focused activity for 30 minutes followed by a five minute reward, such as taking a short walk or listening to your favorite song.

The Chunking Technique This technique help improves memory and creates identifiable patterns in the brain. Many of us have used chunking in school to remember vocabulary words or math equations. For example, “Please Excuse My Dear Aunty Sally” is a creative technique frequently used to remember PEMDAS—parentheses, exponents, multiplication, division, addition, and subtraction. When patterns like these are created and built upon, it allows knowledge to expand in a particular area.

The benefits of neuroplasticity don’t just stop with learning and memory. Many neuroscientists have said that neurogenesis and neuroplasticity can potentially help heal patients suffering from anxiety or post traumatic stress syndrome. So, the next time you tell yourself you’ll never pass one of Dr. Wood’s history exams, recognize your brain’s flexibility and try a couple techniques that will help those neural connections form.


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Grace Liestman

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