Perfecting Your Study Skills: GED Language Arts, Reading (page 3)
Thomas Edison said, "Genius is 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration." Here is our take on that: "GED exam success is 1% inspiration, 99% preparation." As with so many other things in life, the more prepared you are, the more you are likely to succeed. Whether that preparation involves practicing skills, researching information, memorizing lines, or developing a presentation, you make success possible by doing whatever you can to be ready for the situation.
Where Do I Start?
Chances are that you already have a crowded to do list, and you may be wondering how you will fit in the time you need to prepare for the GED exam. You have a schedule that may include work and family obligations, so you don't have an unlimited amount of time to prepare. The key is to maximize the study time that you do have.
To study means "to give one's attention to learning a subject; to look at with careful attention." Notice that the word attention comes up twice in this definition. How you study is as important as how much time you spend studying. To study effectively, you need to focus all your attention on the material, so your preparation time must be quality time. This section of the book will help you determine the study strategies that are right for you. It also will provide you with techniques for overcoming the two most common roadblocks to successful studying: anxiety and distraction.
Visualize Your Future
If you are ready to prepare for the GED exam, you probably have a specific goal in mind—to improve your career, perhaps, or to get into a college or a technical school. It will be helpful to your studying and determination if you can keep your goal in mind at all times.
Let's say, for example, that you want to continue your education in college. Spend an afternoon on the campus of a nearby college and get a feel for student life there. Sit in on a class; attend a sporting event; chat with some students over coffee at the student union. This will help you visualize what it will be like when you get into a college program—which can only happen after you have passed your GED.
Perhaps you want to become qualified for a better job at your present place of employment. Spend time thinking what that job would be like on a daily basis; how a better salary will help you; where you'd like to travel on vacations. These desires will become a driving goal which will help you to stay focused and determined in studying for the GED.
Visualization is a powerful tool that motivates you to make your dreams a reality. Once you know where you want to be, spend a little time envisioning yourself there. What are you doing? Giving a presentation? Engaging in a conversation with an admired professor? Listening to an inspired lecture? Go over your vision, keep it in your mind, and use it to reinforce your resolution to study. Sticking to a study plan can be a real challenge. You would often rather be doing other things, and unforeseen obstacles may present themselves. You may be overwhelmed at times with the size of the task, or you may be anxious about your chances for success. These are all common problems. This book will show you how you can overcome them.
I Need a Study Plan
The following pages will help you fine tune your study methods so that you can make the most efficient use of your time. The key to success in this endeavor, as in so many, is to take things one step at a time. Break this giant task down into manageable pieces. Your first step in successful studying is to create a study plan.
What Should I Study?
First, you must decide what you need to study. The pretest at the beginning of this book is designed to help you assess your strengths and weaknesses. If you haven't taken that test, do so now. Once you have completed it, review your answers, making a note of any that you answered incorrectly. Then refer to the chart which follows the pretest; this chart will show you what areas you need to concentrate on in your studies.
What kinds of questions did you miss? What patterns do you see? Do you need to work on understanding poetry? interpreting an author's message? Do nonfiction news articles leave you confused? Can you identify different types of figurative language that is used in literature? Once you are aware of what you know and what you still need to work on, you can effectively prioritize whatever study time you have available. Remember, no matter how you scored on the pretest and no matter what your weaknesses are, you will get better with practice. The more you study and the more effectively you work, the higher you will score on the actual exam.
How Do I Find the Time to Study?
Now is the time to create a realistic study schedule. You might be thinking that your life is too full without cramming in study time, too. But maybe you have more time available than you think. Consider your typical daily and weekly activities and determine when you have free time to devote to studying. Do not forget the short stretches—the 10 minutes here, the 15 minutes there. Sometimes you can do your best studying in short bursts. Make a special study calendar or mark up the calendar you use every day with specified study times to keep yourself on schedule. You might not feel like studying, but if you have it already written down as an obligation, you might be more likely to do it. If you cannot seem to find the time, ask yourself what is more important to you in the long run than achieving your goals. Your life may seem quite full, but you are bound to spend some time at less productive activities, such as watching television. You could use this time to help make your dreams a reality.
I Deserve a Reward
One excellent way to keep motivated is to set up a system of rewards. Write down a list of things that you enjoy; they will be the rewards to give yourself when you reach certain study goals. For example, if you keep your commitment to study for an hour in the evening, you can reward yourself by watching your favorite television show. If you stay on track all week, you can indulge in a Sunday afternoon banana split. Think carefully about what truly motivates you—only you know what will keep you on task—and use this strategy throughout your preparation time.
What's My Style?
Another way to make your study time more effective is to think about how you learn the best. We all have certain modes that we employ to make it easier to learn and remember information. Are you a visual learner, an auditory learner, a kinesthetic learner, or a combination of two or all three? Here are some questions to help you determine your dominant learning style(s):
- If you have to remember an unusual word, you most likely
- picture the word in your mind.
- repeat the word aloud several times.
- trace out the letters with your finger.
- When you meet new people, you remember them mostly by
- their actions and mannerisms.
- their names (faces are hard to remember).
- their faces (names are hard to remember).
- In class, you like to
- take notes, even if you do not reread them.
- listen intently to every word.
- sit up close and watch the instructor.
A visual learner would answer a, c, and c. An auditory learner would answer b, b, and b. A kinesthetic learner would answer c, a, and a.
Visual learners like to read and are often good spellers. They may find it hard to follow oral instructions, or even to listen, unless there is something interesting to watch. When visual learners study, they often benefit from graphic organizers such as charts and graphs. Flash cards often appeal to them and help them learn, especially if they use colored markers, which will help them form images in their mind as they learn words or concepts.
Auditory learners, by contrast, like oral directions and may find written materials confusing or boring. They often talk to themselves and may even whisper aloud when they read. They like being read aloud to. Auditory learners will benefit by saying things aloud as they study and by making tapes for themselves and listening to them later. Oral repetition is also an important study tool. Making up rhymes or other oral mnemonic devices will also help them study, and they may like to listen to music as they work.
Kinesthetic learners like to stay on the move. They often find it difficult to sit still for a long time and will often tap their feet and gesticulate a lot while speaking. They tend to learn best by doing rather than observing. Kinesthetic learners may want to walk around as they practice what they are learning, because using their body helps them remember things. Taking notes and making flash cards are important ways of reinforcing knowledge for the kinesthetic learner.
It is important to note that most people learn using a mixture of styles, although they may have a distinct preference for one style over the others. Determine which is your dominant style, but be open to strategies for all types of learners.
I Need a Study Place
So far, you have gathered information about the GED exam, taken a pretest to determine what you need to learn, and thought about techniques that will help you better absorb what you are learning. Now it is time to think about where you are going to work and what kinds of things will enhance your learning experience.
You know that in order to do your best work, especially when you are studying, you need to be focused, alert, and calm. Your undivided attention must be on the task at hand. That means that you have to use a lot of forethought when setting up your study time and environment.
Five Questions about Setting
Ask yourself the following questions to determine the study environment that will be most effective for you.
- Where do I like to work? Where do I feel comfortable and free from distractions?
If you have a desk in your living space, you may be used to studying there, or maybe you usually work at the dining room table or the kitchen counter. If your usual spot is well lit and set up for your comfort and convenience, with all your study materials at hand, then it is an obvious choice for you. However, sometimes it can be hard to avoid distractions in shared living areas.
If you share a living space, you may find it best to study away from home, perhaps at the local library or coffee shop, or to schedule your study time when you know that your study area will be quiet. Remember that you are adding your GED exam preparation time to your usual daily schedule. Will this create any scheduling conflicts with your normal study space?
- What time of day is best for me to study? When am I most alert and focused? Are there potential conflicts with other duties or family members that need to be addressed?
If you are a morning person, it might make sense for you to get up an hour or so earlier than normal while you are preparing for the GED exam. Early mornings are often a time of relative quiet, when you can work without interruptions.
If you do not think so well in the early morning, you can schedule another time of the day as your GED exam study time. Just be sure not to push yourself to stay up extra late in order to study. Studying is only productive if you are focused, and it is difficult to focus when you are tired. (Do not count on caffeine to keep you alert. Caffeine is only a temporary solution that can increase the problem.)
It is wise to establish a consistent time for study if possible (such as Monday through Friday from 7:00 A.M. to 7:30 A.M. and Saturday from 9:00 A.M. to 12:00 noon). Make sure that the people around you are aware that this is your study time. You can expect more support for your efforts if you let family members and friends know that you are working to achieve a goal and that you need to stay focused. Be sure to let them know that you appreciate their support when you receive it.
Set aside a time to study on the same day of the week and time of day that you have scheduled to take the exam. This is the very best time to prepare for the GED exam, especially in the weeks leading up to the test. If you practice taking the test and work on improving your skills on that day and at that time, your mind and your body will be ready to operate at peak efficiency when you really need them. For example, if you are scheduled to take the GED exam on Saturday morning, get into the habit of studying for the test during the actual testing hours.
- How do sounds affect my ability to concentrate? Do I prefer silence? Does music enhance my concentration?
Some people need relative quiet in order to study because most noises distract them. If you are one of these people, you know it by now, and you have strategies that help you achieve the level of silence that you need. Earplugs can be a real blessing. Make sure that your study place and time can accommodate your need for quiet.
Maybe you do not mind a little noise; perhaps you even like music playing in the background while you study. Research has shown that the music of Mozart enhances math performance. Similar results have not been shown for other kinds of music, but if you have music that helps you relax and focus, then make sure that music is on hand when you study. If you have never tried studying to classical music, especially Mozart, now is a good time to try. If you do not think it enhances your concentration, then go back to techniques that work for you. The important thing is to be aware of the effect that sound has on your ability to concentrate. It does not do any good to sit in front of the books and sing along with your favorite CD.
- Is the light right? Does my study space have adequate lighting?
Study lighting needs to be bright enough to read by comfortably. Lighting that is too dim can cause eyestrain and headaches, and can make you sleepy. Lighting that is too bright, though, can make you uncomfortable and make it difficult to relax and focus. You can't control the lighting in many situations, including the exam room itself, but you can create a lighting situation that's right for you when you study.
Experts say that the best light for reading comes from behind, falling over your shoulder onto your book. If that isn't a possibility for you, then at least make sure the light falls onto your books, not into your eyes.
- What about food? Should I snack while I study? If so, on what?
Only you can answer these questions. Does food energize you, or does it slow you down while you digest? If you are not sure, pay attention to how your brain and body feel after eating. After a big meal, many people feel sluggish and sleepy as the blood from their brain and muscles goes to the stomach to aid in digestion. If the only time you have to study is right after dinner, you may want to pass on the second helpings and even on dessert so that you will be more alert.
On the other hand, it is also difficult to concentrate when you are hungry. If it has been a while since your last meal, you may want to snack before or as you study. Generally speaking, snacks are fine. However, you want to avoid two categories of foods: sugary snacks (candy, cookies, and ice cream) and caffeinated drinks (coffee, colas, and non-herbal teas).
Sugar surges into your bloodstream quickly, making you feel temporarily energized, but it leaves your bloodstream just as quickly and you experience a rebound effect of feeling more tired than ever. Try keeping track of this effect sometime. See if you can determine how long it takes you to crash after a dose of sugar.
Caffeine is another trickster. In moderation, it produces an effect of alertness, but it is easy to cross the line into being jittery, which makes it hard to focus and be productive. Also, consuming caffeine in the evening can interfere with a good night's sleep, leaving you feeling tired instead of well rested in the morning. It is best to stay away from caffeinated drinks after lunchtime.
The Right Tools
You can spend hours trying to put a nail through a piece of wood with a rock, or you can get the job done in a few minutes with a hammer. The right tools can make all the difference, especially if your time is limited. Fortunately, you already have one of the most important tools for the GED exam: this book, which tells you all about the GED and the information and skills you need to be successful on the exam. You should also assemble some other important study tools and keep them in your GED exam study area:
- a good dictionary, such as Merriam-Webster's Collegiate® Dictionary, Eleventh Edition
- a notebook or legal pad dedicated to your GED exam notes
- pencils (and a pencil sharpener) or pens
- a highlighter, or several in different colors
- index or other note cards
- paper clips or sticky note pads for marking pages
- a calendar or PDA (personal digital assistant)
Take the time to choose tools that you will enjoy using; they can be a small daily reward for doing your work. Buy the type of pens that you like the most and select items in your favorite colors.
As you gather your tangible tools, you also need to gather your intangible tools: the information that you need about the exam so that you can study the right material in the right way at the right time. If you have not already done so, read the Introduction of this book to learn about the GED exam and specifically about the Language Arts, Reading section of the test. The Introduction discusses what kind of test it is and what your scores mean, and where you need to go to get the most up-to-date information on what you need to do to register, when you can take the test, and what the testing center will be like.
Before you begin to work out a study schedule, spend some time going through this book and familiarize yourself with the specific types of literature and reading that you will find on the test. For example, Chapter 3 introduces you to fiction, while Chapter 5 deals with poetry. Perhaps you enjoy reading novels, but poetry has never been of much interest. You might, therefore, want to spend more time on Chapter 5, familiarizing yourself with the various literary techniques involved in poetry, while Chapter 3 would provide more of a brush-up on fiction.
The pretest at the beginning of this book is also a vital tool in this process, as it will show you what areas are your weakest. If you missed questions that deal with the theme of a piece of writing, for example, then Chapter 3 can help you strengthen that weakness.
The Study Plan
You have thought about how, when, and where you will study; you have collected your tools and gathered essential information about the GED exam. Now, you are ready to flesh out your study plan. Here are the steps:
- If you have not done so already, take a practice test. You can use the pretest at the beginning of this book, or take one or more of the tests in LearningExpress's GED Test Prep. To create an effective study plan, you need to have a good sense of exactly what you need to study.
- Analyze your test results. How did you do? What areas seem to be your strengths? Your weaknesses? Remember that these are just diagnostic tests, so if your results are not as good as you had hoped, do not be discouraged. You are committing to this study plan because you are going to improve your score. Fear and worry are your enemies here; let go of them. Just look at each question as you score it. Why did you answer that question correctly? Did you know the answer or were you guessing? Why did you miss that question? Was there something that you needed to know that you did not know? If so, what was it? Make a list of the things that you need to know and how many questions you missed because you didn't know them. Think of how your score will improve as you learn these things.
- Make a list of your strengths and weaknesses. This will point you in the right direction. Use your analysis from Step 2 of why you missed questions. Now you know what specific reading skills you need to work on, and you know what test-taking skills you need to improve. Do not forget to congratulate yourself for the areas in which you did well.
- Determine your time frame. Decide how much time you can devote each day and each week to your GED exam preparation. How many weeks are there until the exam? Be realistic about how much time you have available—life will go on, with all its other demands—but do not forget to note when you have a few extra minutes. You will learn how to make good use of small windows of opportunity.
Once you know how much time you have, estimate how long you need to work on each specific task. You may find it useful to break it down by question type (fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and so forth). You may have to prioritize your work in various areas, depending on how much time you have to prepare and in which areas you can most improve your score.
Break it down. Plan your studying week by week with specific interim goals. For example, "learn everything by April 1" is not a useful plan. But if you plot specific learning goals for each type of literature throughout the month, then your study plan will be a truly useful study guide.
Let's say, for example, that you have eight weeks until your test date. One way to set up your study schedule is shown below.
- Week One: Learn about and practice reading comprehension skills.
- Week Two: Learn about and read fiction.
- Week Three: Continue with reading comprehension.
- Week Four: Learn about and read poetry.
- Week Five: Learn about and read nonfiction.
- Week Six: Learn about and read drama. Review all reading comprehension skills.
- Week Seven: Do two practice tests from LearningExpress's GED Test Prep.
- Week Eight: Review any question types that you do not understand. Get lots of rest!
Naturally, if you have longer than eight weeks to prepare, your weekly schedule will be broken up differently. (And good for you for starting ahead of time!) You may want to work on all your skills each week, making progress simultaneously on all fronts. That is fine too. Adjust the schedule accordingly.
You Are Worth It: Motivational and Relaxation Techniques That Work
Whenever you find yourself tempted to give up your hard work for an hour or two of entertainment, remind yourself that many people never reach their goals because they seem so far away and difficult to achieve. It is important that you break down your preparation for the GED exam into small, manageable steps. It's also important to keep in mind why you are working so hard.
Remember your visualization about getting into college or landing a better job? The more often you practice that visualization, the more real it becomes to you. The more real it is, the more clearly you will see that your goal is within your grasp. Just stick to your plan, and take things one day at a time.
Sometimes your study plans are derailed for legitimate reasons. You get sick; a family member needs your help; your teacher or boss assigns a project that takes more time than you expected. Life happens, but don't let it discourage you; just pick up where you left off. Maybe you can squeeze in a little extra study time later. Keep working toward your goal.
One Step at a Time
Many people get discouraged when the task seems too big; they feel that they will never get to the end. That's why it's a good idea to break down all big undertakings, such as this one, into smaller, manageable tasks. Set small goals for yourself, such as "this week I will learn more about drama." "Learning more about drama" is a much more manageable task than "preparing for the GED exam"—even though it moves you in the same direction. Establish positive momentum and maintain it, one step at a time. That is how you get where you want to go.
Because You Deserve It
Don't forget to reward yourself for your progress. Your daily reward can be a small one, such as sending off a few chatty e-mails or paging through your favorite magazine. Your weekly reward might be something larger, such as buying a CD that you have wanted or renting a favorite film. Your biggest reward, of course, is being able to live out the dreams that you have visualized.
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