Engage your brain…use it or lose it!

Rosanna Montalbano, OSC’s IB expert, has been finding out some fascinating realities about the adolescent brain. Below she has summarised her findings, giving you four interesting facts and six tips to ensure your brain is engaged during studying.

  • The adolescent brain has enormous amounts of grey matter in the pre-frontal cortex, the area just behind your forehead.  What this means is that the teenage years are an ideal time for learning. You will never have this much grey matter again!
  • It seems to work on the principal of “use it, or lose it.”  The areas of grey matter that you don’t use will be eventually “pruned off.”  So it seems that the more you use, the better it is for you in the long run.
  • The brain develops from the back to the front and the connections to the front are not terribly good at this time, they are a work in progress. The myelin (fatty tissue that covers the synapses) is developing at a great pace.
  • The pre-frontal cortex is known as the CEO of the brain – it is the area that is associated with planning, inhibition, emotion regulation, and integration of new stimuli. Since the connections to this area are still developing, the result is that you may indulge in high risk or impulsive behaviour.  The way Harvard Magazine explains this is by suggesting that you may have top marks in school, captain the debate team and volunteer at a shelter for homeless people.  And then one day you text your friend as you are driving home from school and rear end another car!

Six Tips for studying, taking into account that marvellous organ: the brain!

  • Take short breaks every 20 minutes or so.  The brain cannot concentrate fully for much longer than that.
  • Studying should be fun.  The adolescent brain is a “social organ”.  This means that you will learn better if you are discussing the material you need to learn with friends. Organize study groups.
  • Making links helps you to remember material, and you can learn more from a picture than five pages of text.  So, when you are studying, make mind maps, diagrams and designs that you will remember, linking different bits of information together so that they are all relevant.
  • Reduce your notes.  Start by reducing a lot of text to an A3 sheet of paper – a diagram, perhaps.  Then re-format this to notes on an A4 sheet, perhaps with bullet points.  From the A4 try and get it down to an index card that you can look at a week before the exam and that will take you all the way back to remembering the original text.
  • Write, instead of using your keyboard. You learn more effectively by writing because the brain’s filtering system processes what you are focusing on. Your brain knows it needs to pay attention when you are writing.
  • Teach yourself. Pretend you are a teacher and teach yourself the material – this will help you to recall the necessary information and will help you to avoid making mistakes. You can act, sing, dance, teach a group, anything that will get you to express the content.

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