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Organisational strategies - How to manage your workload

Organisational strategies
Organisational strategies come under the umbrella of cognitive learning strategies. These organisational strategies include all the methods which can help you allocate your time, structure the material you need to cover, and learn more efficiently and easily. Planning ahead is essential to manage this successfully!

Time and content planning

Organising your time and the material you need to cover is essential to be successful when studying. Only beginning to study at the last minute makes no sense and only creates unnecessary pressure and stress. Therefore, you should organise in advance both the material you need to study, and time you have available. You can make a study or revision plan by dividing the material into smaller units so that you can plan them better and retain the information longer.

The internal structure of the learning material

To make the content you need to study more understandable, ordered and easier to learn, you should:
Limit the amount of information to what is essential: Concentrate on the information you really need to master in the exam. Consult your teacher's learning objectives to make sure you're studying the most important content.
Establish links and relationships between the content and create a structured network which enables you to get an overview and understand the context of what you're studying.

Typical forms of organising material

  • Mind maps: To better understand the complex relationships, ideas or thought processes related to a particular theme or concept, a mind map is the ideal solution. In a mind map you write the central concept, usually a generic term or a key word, in the middle of a piece of paper and work out from the general to the detailed. This means that from your central, generic term you create three to five sub-categories with branches to divide the topic. You can then add further information and ideas branching out from each of these sub-categories.
  • Drawings and sketches: Drawings and sketches can help you understand subjects better. For example, in biology, you can draw out the human body or the cardiovascular system to make them easier to understand. This method can also be used for subjects such as history, geography, chemistry, physics or even languages.
  • Diagrams: In addition to mind maps and drawings, you can also represent certain learning content in diagrams to help you remember the data. Especially in maths and the sciences, diagrams can help to present certain information in a simplified way. For example, you can better understand the age of a country's population if you represent a population pyramid in an axis diagram.
  • Notes: Notes can help you to structure material in different ways. On one hand, you can write notes in the margin of a text to highlight generic terms or the most important aspects of a text. On the other hand, you can also use notes to make a list of your knowledge gaps. This consists of writing down a list of everything that you haven't yet understood about a topic and anything which you still need to work on in more detail. It can also be useful to create a list of different key terms and definitions in order to get an overview of a topic.
  • Posters: To make an effective learning poster, take a large piece of paper and write down the material you need to remember as simply and clearly as you can and in a well-structured manner. You can also use different diagrams, mind maps or drawings to differentiate the material. Then put the poster up in a place where you often pass by and will see it often. Each time you pass the poster, you will read the information and revise it.
  • Summaries: One of the most popular methods of organising material to study is writing summaries. Summarising means rewriting the text you have in front of you in your own words and shortening it so its easily digestible. The idea is that when you read the summary again, you will get the gist of the topic or text. Attempting to rephrase a concept in your own words lets you know immediately whether you have understood the topic or whether you need to go over it again in more depth.

Advice: It is recommended to write summaries by hand, as it has been proven that writing by hand stimulates your brain to focus more intensely on the content than typing does. In this way, the brain has to actively think, select and organise the information in order to transcribe it in your own words. Writing something out by hand combines motor skills, touch and perception, which facilitates the learning process.

If you want to know more about how to write a good summary or about methods to improve understanding and retention, read the article on the SQ3R Method.
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