COVID-19 basics for the H2 Biology student Coronavirus whose origins in the city of Wuhan, Hubei province of China is now COVID-19. This virus have quite the profile that spread mass panic all over the world in a very short time. As such, I hope to educate all on the COVID-19 basics so that all my students can see how it relates to their syllabus. More importantly gain knowledge of this virus so as to make sense of the a barrage of news articles and different fallacies from fact. COVID-19 basics: What is it? This is the viral disease that is a result of infection with the novel coronavirus originating from Wuhan. Some scientists are also referring to the same virus as 2019-nCoV or SARS-CoV-2. The virus belongs to the family of viruses which we refer to as Coronaviridae. This virus, like all other viruses contradict the cell theory, which is also why the viral name do not follow the standard binomial naming conventions. Generally, viruses falling into this family have an envelope as well as a positive sense, ssRNA genome. Let me explain the structures and in addition, show you how they look like under the electron microscope. The envelope is the membrane that originates from the host as new virus particles buds out of the host in a bid to release themselves to infect other hosts. They do so because they cannot replicate independently and require the host cell’s replicative machinery. And this method of reproduction is also why disease arise. This is because the target cells of the the novel coronavirus are respiratory cells. Consequently the host respiratory cells can be overcome by virus reproduction resulting in the death of the cells. Remember, these cells play an important role in respiration. Consequently the lost of which would mean they cannot breath properly. Severe lost of the function can then lead to death. Let’s go on to talk about the genome so that we can begin to understand the behavior of this virus. COVID-19 basics: Genome behavior We describe the genome of the virus as positive sense, ssRNA. This means that the genetic material this virus carries is single strand RNA, which is a template for conversion to viral proteins directly. In contrast, the negative sense means that the RNA have to first undergo an additional step of conversion before the RNA can be a template to convert to viral proteins. Unfortunately, this has significant implications when it comes to the potential severity of COVID-19, as we discuss the COVID-19 basics. Firstly, this may explain the speed at which the virus spreads since the synthesis of viral proteins is much faster even though there is no signs of infection yet. Secondly, all RNA viruses have a viral gene that codes for an enzyme RNA-dependent RNA polymerase. This is because that is one enzyme the host do not have since the host do not depend on RNA as genetic material (hosts use DNA instead). The problem with the viral RNA-dependent RNA polymerase is that is lacks the ability to do proof reading. Proof-reading is the mechanism that corrects any errors arising from the replication of genetic material. Errors gives rise to mutations. This ensures a low incidence of mutations that can potentially arise from replication in humans. Increases in mutation results in cancer and other genetic diseases. Consequently this will mean that the novel coronavirus has the ability to change over time leading to a slightly different version of viral proteins. Scientists call this antigenic drift. COVID-19 basics: antigenic drift and human immunology Immunology is the study of an immune response against foreign bodies. In this case, the human immune response can eliminate the novel coronavirus by recognizing specific structures on the virus envelope. This is because viruses have specific structures on them that makes them unique much like we and our fingerprints. The problem arises due to antigenic drift. If the virus changes the specific structures on their envelope, the immune response may not kick in or be less effective recognizing the viruses. In order for them to regain the recognition, the cells of the immune response (specifically T and B cells), has to take time to learn. Since the viral replication continues unabated, it can overwhelm the host before we can fight back by producing the new version of the immune response to the new version of the novel coronavirus. This may likely be the reason why it seems that Wuhan, Hubei has such severe cases not seen elsewhere in the world. At the time of writing, there are only 1 death outside of China (not including 1 death in Hong Kong). The viruses there have undergone antigenic drift. The 1st version of the viruses is the one that the is being spread outside of China. And many are worried the moment antigenic drift occurs that can potentially lead to a wave of deaths we see in China. COVID-19 basics: how do we compare this to Influenza virus Even though there is similar behaviors between the novel coronavirus and Influenza virus, these are 2 very different viruses. Influenza virus has segmented, negative sense, ssRNA genomes. They belong to another family of viruses known as Orthomyxoviridae. It is because they infect the same target host cells and are spread in the same way that’s why it leads to confusion about these viruses. However, there are some differences in the disease though the discussion will be outside the scope here. Influenza viruses too have in the past led to devastating pandemics the last of which was around 1918 killing tens of millions of people. This has been repeating every 100 years and many are wondering if this time the novel coronavirus is it. Influenza virus genome in contrast have segmentation meaning their genes are on 8 different pieces of ssRNA. This unique feature means that if 2 different strains of virus co-infects a human then they can produce a new hybrid of the 2 virus (a swine and a human virus for example). This new hybrid virus may be so different the immune system completely loses the ability to detect and eradicate it leading to disease and spread. Scientist refer to the phenomenon as antigenic shift. In theory this makes Influenza viruses an even more potent pathogen. But it is also a sobering fact that we are living in a time where we have to monitor the ever evolving and increasing number of viral threats. COVID-19 basics: how it spreads Since we have an immediate threat of the novel coronavirus I will focus on the discussion of this virus instead. The respiratory virus can jump from one host to the next easily. This can be via direct contact transmission of which there are 3 ways. Direct (touch, kissing), indirect (touching fomites containing the virus) and droplet (result of talking, sneezing, coughing). At the moment we do not know much about this virus and some scientists suggest there may be other ways of spreading. The discussion of them is outside the scope of this article. As such if one practices personal hygiene and employing protective measures they may reduce chances of becoming infected. The natural next question is why don’t we know about this virus? novel coronavirus The most straight forward answer is that these viruses do not originate from nor use humans as host. Recently, China scientists who have samples of the virus have subject it to phylogenetic analysis revealing that it may have come from Pangolins. Please note, I cannot confirm the validity of this observation as no other scientist outside of China currently have access to the data to confirm this. If true, this differs from the SARS virus which is another related virus from the same family originating from bats. It is likely however that the passing of these viruses from the original animals is due to the close human contact. Which in this case is the hunting, trading as well as slaughtering of this animals for eventual consumption. By chance, this interaction is successful allowing the virus to replicate. As they do so, antigenic drift may occur allowing new viruses to be even more successful at infecting humans. This follows natural selection where the more successful progeny viruses are advantaged since as they increase in numbers faster than those other viruses that have not undergone the same antigenic drift. Consequently, this leads to human to human transmission which we are currently observing. Bottom-line I hope you have a much better idea of COVID-19 basics and the many areas that relate to H2 biology syllabus. Although we are experiencing this epidemic in Singapore, my hope is that it can be curtailed so that our lives can return back to normal finally. Do you have any questions pertaining to this virus? If so, let me know!

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Foods that boost learning or exam preparations Many students focus on cramming content in the hopes of boosting their scores for assessments without realising that they can get a bit of help from foods that boost learning or exam preparations. Why use foods that boost learning or exam preparations You are already eating everyday, why not fine tune what you consume with foods that boost learning or exam preparations in order to get yourself that bit of edge versus your compatriots? This can also be in addition to many of these foods having other positive effects on the body. Foods I am going to list contains certain chemicals, which correlates with increase in cognitive performance. Since these are natural components of food, it has little side effects and are also affordable. However, please consult your doctor or dietitian especially to determine if you have any allergies before incorporating any of them. Foods that boost learning: caffeine Caffeine is one of the most important chemicals in foods that boost learning by increasing cognitive and physical performance. Drinks rich in caffeine such as coffee is not surprisingly most commonly drunk for students seeking that increase in cognitive performance. Let me simplify the biology for your understanding to see when and how you can indulge on this performance enhancing food chemical. As you can see below, caffeine competes with adenosine for its receptors. This action is therefore one of the reasons why caffeine exerts its effects. However, this chemical does not behave equally for all people. This is because of the version of the gene (CYP1A2) one has, whose product is an enzyme that metabolizes it. This gene has 2 versions known as A and C. A person with AA are fast metabolizers whilst AC and CC are slow metabolizers. According to this study, AA genotypes interestingly tends to reap the performance benefits the most. If you are one of them, you should consume it 1hr prior to starting you study sessions preferrably in your biological peak performance period in the day. And if you are to drink coffee know that the concentration of caffeine may vary, although one generally gets the higher concentrations from cold brew versions. Foods that boost learning: theacrine Theacrine is an extract from bitter tea (苦茶) that one can commonly find in traditional Chinese medicine shops. This chemical comes from and is synergistic with caffeine. Since this molecule is very similar to caffeine, it also competes for the same receptor as above. However, due to the slightly different structure of this molecule, it does not result in post-caffeine jitters that slow metabolizers experience. As such this may make simultaneous use of caffeine more efficacious. Foods that boost learning: tumeric and cocoa One of the most important neuro boosters is a protein; Brain-derived neurotrophic factor BDNF. Scientists say that this compound contributes to memory development and learning which is particularly pertinent for students. As such, the hunt began to find what food induces BDNF production. 2 of them have been worked on in animals to show the increase in the neuro booster levels in the blood. These are tumeric and cocoa. My suggestion is to sprinkle tumeric powder into salads and cocoa into the hot coffee/bitter tea you are drinking (without adding sugar!). Non-foods that boost learning: nootropics The list above are easily avaliable on the supermarket isles as well as safe for consumption generally. However, depending on the genetics of the person or concentration of the beneficial chemicals, they may or may not derive any boost in learning. On the other hand, it may take some time before one experiences the positive effects. As such, a small handful of more adventurous students have gone further than food in seeking chemicals that boost learning and exam preparations instead. Many refer to these chemicals as nootropics or smart drugs. These are often only avaliable with a prescription and are synthetic. However, I do not encourage exploration in this area. Since one cannot easily reverse the consumption of these chemicals which may have adverse effects. Worse still, some of the chemicals like ritalin can be addictive! Also, since many doctors are cautious and will not prescribe these drugs some turn to online pharmacies. Since these manufacturing outfits are not regulated, one cannot trust the quality and quantity promises as well as whether they will contain impurities that may even be poisonous! In addition, students who seek these out do not usually come under medical supervision and consequently may not be sensitive enough to know when things are going side ways. So as promising as they sound, I think it is not worth the effort and the risk to indulge in nootropics. Bottom-line Whilst the foods above can be eaten or drunk to boost learning and exam preparations. Its most important not to overdose. Too much of anything is never a goood thing. For example, if caffeine is drunk round the clock, the drinker will build resistance to the chemical requiring larger doses as the adenosine receptors down regulate in response. The same chemical can also affect sleep. And I talk about the importance of sleep to learning in the past. Finally, let me know if this has been useful.
Morning routine for A students (5 tips) Singaporean students frequently start the day as early as 5-6am. This is followed by a mad rush to school. As such, the day begins in a daze so its no wonder students are not learning effectively nor getting great grades. Here’s 5 tips for a morning routine for A students. Why develop a morning routine for A students In my previous article helping students to get more time, I have a point about developing keystone habits. The gist in this context is that students reap the benefits from great morning routines by having more effective learning in school as well as better test taking during exams. It is not usual to see students wake up in shock and subsequently rush off to school which in most cases starts 7:30am. So they rush through cleaning up, pull up their school uniforms and are out of the house not fully woken. The problem however, is that the mind is not in the right frame and heading into the class/exams leaves the student tired and overwhelmed. When the student tries to tap on the brain for problem solving, nothing turns up. Consequently, the student feels worse afterwards. And so, negativity begets negativity causing the student to dislike school as well as themselves. To counter this, morning routines prime the mind to counter the negative effects. Which is why it is not uncommon to see highly successful people with morning routines. These morning routines help prime the mind so that it is ready to tackle all the challenges of the day. And most importantly allow the student to feel good about it afterwards. Morning routine for A students: first task of the day Following the moment after waking, make your bed as the first task you complete for the day. Doing this has several advantages. Firstly, it gives a subconscious message to the brain that, the first task of the day is already done easy peasy. This allows the student to build positivity and help look forward to more challenging ones coming up. Secondly, it also soothes and calms the mind. Ever did a room reorganisation experience the sense of peace that comes afterwards? Why not experience it first thing in the day, everyday through this keystone habit as part of the morning routine? In addition, it doesn’t take much effort. For the lazy, all you need to do is to pull the blanket or duvet and then smooth it out over the bed. However, you don’t need to fold it hotel style as well as steam it to perfection unless that is your thing. Drink water The next important part of the morning routine for A students is to drink at least 500ml of plain water. Most of us sleep in the air con environment and it is really dry, in addition, in the close 7-8 hours of sleep we don’t drink. The body can be dehydrated as a result. The neurons in the brain send neurotransmitters to each other allowing us to think as well as move. As such the neurons are bathed in fluid to allow the neurotransmitters to access the next neuron. Without which, there is neurotransmitters do not function optimally obstructing thinking processes unfortunately. This is why drinking water is essential to prepping the physiology for optimal performance. Morning routine for A students: cold showers Many students love the warmth of the heater when showering and shudder at the thought of cold showers. Well, me too. However, cold showers have some benefits. Biologically, I theorize that breaking the homeostatic range biologically induces a response that can be both healing and life sustaining. Look at exercising, it is basically stressing the muscles to the point of micro-damage which is followed by healing and adaptation to the point of which increases the size and performance. That’s the whole point behind those who go to the gym training for the hot bod. In terms of healing from the cold showers there are a number of studies (1,2) that support this and I shortlist 2 of them. Then there is the famous Wim Hof who brought this mainstream. Before I end this section, let me point you to Nathaniel Drew, a YouTuber who experimented with cold showers and his conclusion from it. Morning routine for A students: gratitude ritual I have a previous article where I detail the daily gratitude ritual. As such, I suggest students spend a bit of time between 10 to 15 minutes to think about the 3 things one is grateful for. Sometimes I am so thankful that it stirs my heart and fires me up for the day. Subsequently the day becomes more productive and ends better. Bottom-line Above all, these 4 activities are really simple and they take up very little time each. If one is in a hurry, the 4 things will most importantly not exceed half an hour. Here’s my final tip for those who want a morning routine for A students. Some of my students have asked me about breakfast. Personally I do not think it is important and I practice intermittent fasting so as to reap the benefits of longevity. More importantly, the body spends a lot of energy processing the food we eat as such causing us to feel drained after a meal. Therefore, I skip breakfast to ensure that I have the clarity of mind so that I can focus on the most important tasks during my biological prime time. Which is exactly what you want as a student isn’t it? That does not mean however, I am eating less. To clarify, I eat a lot but start in the evening when most of my to-dos are done. If however, you have a habit of eating breakfast then make sure you eat something that is less sugary (cereals!!! / fruits) including drinks. A chicken/salmon salad tossed with some macadamia nuts as well as extra-virgin coconut and olive oil with some Himalayan salts is the perfect pick me up.
How to remember everything for exams?!! [Tips] As you progress through the education system, its not surprising you will need to memorize more and more material. As such, I can almost hear you and your compatriots screaming in agony, asking how to remember everything for exams?!! This is especially pertinent in some subjects that are concept heavy like H2 Biology. Having seen many batches of students through the H2 Bio A levels exams successfully, I have a collection of tools to help my students do just that. Let’s first talk about the concept of memory before we dive into the tools. How to remember everything for exams: some facts about memory There are 2 major types of memory. Short and long term memory. From the education perspective, short term memory is the temporary placeholder as information flows in when a student studies. In contrast, long term memory is when some of these information final passes through a conduit into the part of the brain that stores these information with more permanence. The major problem is that when students study, they expect that the information will flow into long term memory automatically. Unfortunately, they don’t! Which is why many exasperated students complain about having spent time studying but coming off the exercise retaining little if any information. This can be a frustrating experience! So why is that the case? Recognition is not the same as knowing If you stare at your notes long enough you will begin to RECOGNIZE the sequence of occurrences of text. Recognition gives a false send that you know the material. However, recognizing is not the same as knowing. Knowing is the understanding of source material in all dimensions. One thus have the ability to easily answer questions relating to or cover the particular area without referring back. A lot of students when they try to memorize facts, do not spend time knowing what they are studying. As such, they recognize the string of words but do not truly know the material. And hence cannot recall even after spending time ‘studying’. Distraction during studying sessions I have written in the past about how handphone use can be distracting and counter-productive to learning. You know why that is the case? Let me try to explain it. There is a connection between short and long term memory all the conduit between them is very ‘narrow’. This is logical because it doesn’t make sense to remember every single detail every single second in our lives. Otherwise we will run out of memory space in which we fill in memories for the long term. Therefore the longer we ponder over things the more likely they will be successfully go pass the conduit from short to long term memory. Ever seen unhappy spouses bring up obscure events in the past in arguments? Now you know the answer!! The problem therefore with the handphone is that when one is constantly distracted that academic information is replaced by the tweet or news or text message. What information you are trying to process is now lost because there was no chance for it to squeeze through the narrow conduit to long term memory. So if you want to really learn, put away that phone! If you want to check for more information using the phone, make sure you don’t let to irrelevant apps or news articles distract you along the way. How to remember everything for exams: first step Once you understand what prevents you from knowing and how does it relate to long term memory, it’s time to go through the actual process of studying. At this stage, you have to read actively through your source material. Meaning, thinking, asking questions and forming opinions during this time. For example, where does this link from a previous chapter? Do I agree? Can I cite a relevant fact to support this current material etc. Then, look for people for other sources of knowledge including youtube videos, friends, tutors and see if the information corroborates. And if they don’t why? This is the part that takes up most of the time which is why the last minute cramming is futile because one will skip through this process. An important reminder, many students end up re-writing notes instead. This is another futile exercise because no actual learning is taking place. The brain is just recognizing a series of text from one and copying it to another. I show my students that is the case by asking the same questions week after week. In most cases, they write it down somewhere only to again be stuck by the same question again the following week. Especially when they miss out on the actual studying after writing the notes. How to remember everything for exams: recall Once a chunk of the learning is done, put aside the source material do a quick recall for at least 30 seconds. Can you recall the key points of what you have just read? After the next chunk, can you recall the previous recall session? The study by Karpicke and Roediger show that students who repeat the routine of learning and spend time recalling afterwards are more likely to correctly answer questions afterwards. If one cannot complete this with ease, that means the knowing part is lacking. Then proceed to the next tool before revisiting recall. How to remember everything for exams: Feynman technique This technique was first referenced by Richard Feynman, a Nobel prize physicist who tried to make hard concepts easier in the university classes he taught in Caltech. First identify what you don’t know and then re-learn this. The easiest way is to seek a consult session and directly clarify. If not look for YouTube or Khan academy videos that cover the topic. Although they are instant and valuable sometimes the scope may be below or above what is required for the syllabus. In which case, it make sense to look for a tutor for help, here’s a checklist for you to narrow down your search. Once past the first step, imagine a friend who needs help and simulate the explaining to him/her. If you can’t do it, go back to the previous step looking for another source of material. If you are able to, then try to simplify your understanding further so that you can explain to an imaginary junior who has yet to contact this syllabus. Try using analogies, funny stories or real life events etc. The success of this ensures that you are now in a competent level and can return back to the recall exercise of the previous section. Spaced repetition Since the first few steps take a lot of time and work, attempt them way before the exams so that you can build on your skill. However, how to remember everything for exams which are a few months down the road? This is where a technique I talked about previously: spaced repetitions can work to help you. In essence, the revisiting of the same content periodically to reinforce their presence in the long term memory. Tutors who does so in the classroom will further contribute to developing the long term memory of subject content. Attitude matters To really become subject masters and ace the exams. It is just as important to think that we are not perfect and there is still much more to learn. In fact after spending the better part of my life living, thinking and teaching biology, I still discover areas of inadequacy. Having a teachable heart means that you are open to soaking in related information to extend your existing knowledge. This allows you to tap on your existing knowledge and further reinforcing their long term memory placement. Also, it prepares you for all kinds of permutations of questions that may come out for exams. In fact a good way to build this humility is to go to 10 year series questions to check if you are able to tackle the questions successfully. In addition, even explain why the other options are incorrect. On the other hand, if you are not able to tackle the question successfully then identify where are the knowledge gaps and fill them up using the formats I suggest above. Bottomline I hope these tips on how to remember everything for exams will channel your efforts more effectively.

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Foods that boost learning or exam preparations Many students focus on cramming content in the hopes of boosting their scores for assessments without realising that they can get a bit of help from foods that boost learning or exam preparations. Why use foods that boost learning or exam preparations You are already eating everyday, why not fine tune what you consume with foods that boost learning or exam preparations in order to get yourself that bit of edge versus your compatriots? This can also be in addition to many of these foods having other positive effects on the body. Foods I am going to list contains certain chemicals, which correlates with increase in cognitive performance. Since these are natural components of food, it has little side effects and are also affordable. However, please consult your doctor or dietitian especially to determine if you have any allergies before incorporating any of them. Foods that boost learning: caffeine Caffeine is one of the most important chemicals in foods that boost learning by increasing cognitive and physical performance. Drinks rich in caffeine such as coffee is not surprisingly most commonly drunk for students seeking that increase in cognitive performance. Let me simplify the biology for your understanding to see when and how you can indulge on this performance enhancing food chemical. As you can see below, caffeine competes with adenosine for its receptors. This action is therefore one of the reasons why caffeine exerts its effects. However, this chemical does not behave equally for all people. This is because of the version of the gene (CYP1A2) one has, whose product is an enzyme that metabolizes it. This gene has 2 versions known as A and C. A person with AA are fast metabolizers whilst AC and CC are slow metabolizers. According to this study, AA genotypes interestingly tends to reap the performance benefits the most. If you are one of them, you should consume it 1hr prior to starting you study sessions preferrably in your biological peak performance period in the day. And if you are to drink coffee know that the concentration of caffeine may vary, although one generally gets the higher concentrations from cold brew versions. Foods that boost learning: theacrine Theacrine is an extract from bitter tea (苦茶) that one can commonly find in traditional Chinese medicine shops. This chemical comes from and is synergistic with caffeine. Since this molecule is very similar to caffeine, it also competes for the same receptor as above. However, due to the slightly different structure of this molecule, it does not result in post-caffeine jitters that slow metabolizers experience. As such this may make simultaneous use of caffeine more efficacious. Foods that boost learning: tumeric and cocoa One of the most important neuro boosters is a protein; Brain-derived neurotrophic factor BDNF. Scientists say that this compound contributes to memory development and learning which is particularly pertinent for students. As such, the hunt began to find what food induces BDNF production. 2 of them have been worked on in animals to show the increase in the neuro booster levels in the blood. These are tumeric and cocoa. My suggestion is to sprinkle tumeric powder into salads and cocoa into the hot coffee/bitter tea you are drinking (without adding sugar!). Non-foods that boost learning: nootropics The list above are easily avaliable on the supermarket isles as well as safe for consumption generally. However, depending on the genetics of the person or concentration of the beneficial chemicals, they may or may not derive any boost in learning. On the other hand, it may take some time before one experiences the positive effects. As such, a small handful of more adventurous students have gone further than food in seeking chemicals that boost learning and exam preparations instead. Many refer to these chemicals as nootropics or smart drugs. These are often only avaliable with a prescription and are synthetic. However, I do not encourage exploration in this area. Since one cannot easily reverse the consumption of these chemicals which may have adverse effects. Worse still, some of the chemicals like ritalin can be addictive! Also, since many doctors are cautious and will not prescribe these drugs some turn to online pharmacies. Since these manufacturing outfits are not regulated, one cannot trust the quality and quantity promises as well as whether they will contain impurities that may even be poisonous! In addition, students who seek these out do not usually come under medical supervision and consequently may not be sensitive enough to know when things are going side ways. So as promising as they sound, I think it is not worth the effort and the risk to indulge in nootropics. Bottom-line Whilst the foods above can be eaten or drunk to boost learning and exam preparations. Its most important not to overdose. Too much of anything is never a goood thing. For example, if caffeine is drunk round the clock, the drinker will build resistance to the chemical requiring larger doses as the adenosine receptors down regulate in response. The same chemical can also affect sleep. And I talk about the importance of sleep to learning in the past. Finally, let me know if this has been useful.
Morning routine for A students (5 tips) Singaporean students frequently start the day as early as 5-6am. This is followed by a mad rush to school. As such, the day begins in a daze so its no wonder students are not learning effectively nor getting great grades. Here’s 5 tips for a morning routine for A students. Why develop a morning routine for A students In my previous article helping students to get more time, I have a point about developing keystone habits. The gist in this context is that students reap the benefits from great morning routines by having more effective learning in school as well as better test taking during exams. It is not usual to see students wake up in shock and subsequently rush off to school which in most cases starts 7:30am. So they rush through cleaning up, pull up their school uniforms and are out of the house not fully woken. The problem however, is that the mind is not in the right frame and heading into the class/exams leaves the student tired and overwhelmed. When the student tries to tap on the brain for problem solving, nothing turns up. Consequently, the student feels worse afterwards. And so, negativity begets negativity causing the student to dislike school as well as themselves. To counter this, morning routines prime the mind to counter the negative effects. Which is why it is not uncommon to see highly successful people with morning routines. These morning routines help prime the mind so that it is ready to tackle all the challenges of the day. And most importantly allow the student to feel good about it afterwards. Morning routine for A students: first task of the day Following the moment after waking, make your bed as the first task you complete for the day. Doing this has several advantages. Firstly, it gives a subconscious message to the brain that, the first task of the day is already done easy peasy. This allows the student to build positivity and help look forward to more challenging ones coming up. Secondly, it also soothes and calms the mind. Ever did a room reorganisation experience the sense of peace that comes afterwards? Why not experience it first thing in the day, everyday through this keystone habit as part of the morning routine? In addition, it doesn’t take much effort. For the lazy, all you need to do is to pull the blanket or duvet and then smooth it out over the bed. However, you don’t need to fold it hotel style as well as steam it to perfection unless that is your thing. Drink water The next important part of the morning routine for A students is to drink at least 500ml of plain water. Most of us sleep in the air con environment and it is really dry, in addition, in the close 7-8 hours of sleep we don’t drink. The body can be dehydrated as a result. The neurons in the brain send neurotransmitters to each other allowing us to think as well as move. As such the neurons are bathed in fluid to allow the neurotransmitters to access the next neuron. Without which, there is neurotransmitters do not function optimally obstructing thinking processes unfortunately. This is why drinking water is essential to prepping the physiology for optimal performance. Morning routine for A students: cold showers Many students love the warmth of the heater when showering and shudder at the thought of cold showers. Well, me too. However, cold showers have some benefits. Biologically, I theorize that breaking the homeostatic range biologically induces a response that can be both healing and life sustaining. Look at exercising, it is basically stressing the muscles to the point of micro-damage which is followed by healing and adaptation to the point of which increases the size and performance. That’s the whole point behind those who go to the gym training for the hot bod. In terms of healing from the cold showers there are a number of studies (1,2) that support this and I shortlist 2 of them. Then there is the famous Wim Hof who brought this mainstream. Before I end this section, let me point you to Nathaniel Drew, a YouTuber who experimented with cold showers and his conclusion from it. Morning routine for A students: gratitude ritual I have a previous article where I detail the daily gratitude ritual. As such, I suggest students spend a bit of time between 10 to 15 minutes to think about the 3 things one is grateful for. Sometimes I am so thankful that it stirs my heart and fires me up for the day. Subsequently the day becomes more productive and ends better. Bottom-line Above all, these 4 activities are really simple and they take up very little time each. If one is in a hurry, the 4 things will most importantly not exceed half an hour. Here’s my final tip for those who want a morning routine for A students. Some of my students have asked me about breakfast. Personally I do not think it is important and I practice intermittent fasting so as to reap the benefits of longevity. More importantly, the body spends a lot of energy processing the food we eat as such causing us to feel drained after a meal. Therefore, I skip breakfast to ensure that I have the clarity of mind so that I can focus on the most important tasks during my biological prime time. Which is exactly what you want as a student isn’t it? That does not mean however, I am eating less. To clarify, I eat a lot but start in the evening when most of my to-dos are done. If however, you have a habit of eating breakfast then make sure you eat something that is less sugary (cereals!!! / fruits) including drinks. A chicken/salmon salad tossed with some macadamia nuts as well as extra-virgin coconut and olive oil with some Himalayan salts is the perfect pick me up.
How to remember everything for exams?!! [Tips] As you progress through the education system, its not surprising you will need to memorize more and more material. As such, I can almost hear you and your compatriots screaming in agony, asking how to remember everything for exams?!! This is especially pertinent in some subjects that are concept heavy like H2 Biology. Having seen many batches of students through the H2 Bio A levels exams successfully, I have a collection of tools to help my students do just that. Let’s first talk about the concept of memory before we dive into the tools. How to remember everything for exams: some facts about memory There are 2 major types of memory. Short and long term memory. From the education perspective, short term memory is the temporary placeholder as information flows in when a student studies. In contrast, long term memory is when some of these information final passes through a conduit into the part of the brain that stores these information with more permanence. The major problem is that when students study, they expect that the information will flow into long term memory automatically. Unfortunately, they don’t! Which is why many exasperated students complain about having spent time studying but coming off the exercise retaining little if any information. This can be a frustrating experience! So why is that the case? Recognition is not the same as knowing If you stare at your notes long enough you will begin to RECOGNIZE the sequence of occurrences of text. Recognition gives a false send that you know the material. However, recognizing is not the same as knowing. Knowing is the understanding of source material in all dimensions. One thus have the ability to easily answer questions relating to or cover the particular area without referring back. A lot of students when they try to memorize facts, do not spend time knowing what they are studying. As such, they recognize the string of words but do not truly know the material. And hence cannot recall even after spending time ‘studying’. Distraction during studying sessions I have written in the past about how handphone use can be distracting and counter-productive to learning. You know why that is the case? Let me try to explain it. There is a connection between short and long term memory all the conduit between them is very ‘narrow’. This is logical because it doesn’t make sense to remember every single detail every single second in our lives. Otherwise we will run out of memory space in which we fill in memories for the long term. Therefore the longer we ponder over things the more likely they will be successfully go pass the conduit from short to long term memory. Ever seen unhappy spouses bring up obscure events in the past in arguments? Now you know the answer!! The problem therefore with the handphone is that when one is constantly distracted that academic information is replaced by the tweet or news or text message. What information you are trying to process is now lost because there was no chance for it to squeeze through the narrow conduit to long term memory. So if you want to really learn, put away that phone! If you want to check for more information using the phone, make sure you don’t let to irrelevant apps or news articles distract you along the way. How to remember everything for exams: first step Once you understand what prevents you from knowing and how does it relate to long term memory, it’s time to go through the actual process of studying. At this stage, you have to read actively through your source material. Meaning, thinking, asking questions and forming opinions during this time. For example, where does this link from a previous chapter? Do I agree? Can I cite a relevant fact to support this current material etc. Then, look for people for other sources of knowledge including youtube videos, friends, tutors and see if the information corroborates. And if they don’t why? This is the part that takes up most of the time which is why the last minute cramming is futile because one will skip through this process. An important reminder, many students end up re-writing notes instead. This is another futile exercise because no actual learning is taking place. The brain is just recognizing a series of text from one and copying it to another. I show my students that is the case by asking the same questions week after week. In most cases, they write it down somewhere only to again be stuck by the same question again the following week. Especially when they miss out on the actual studying after writing the notes. How to remember everything for exams: recall Once a chunk of the learning is done, put aside the source material do a quick recall for at least 30 seconds. Can you recall the key points of what you have just read? After the next chunk, can you recall the previous recall session? The study by Karpicke and Roediger show that students who repeat the routine of learning and spend time recalling afterwards are more likely to correctly answer questions afterwards. If one cannot complete this with ease, that means the knowing part is lacking. Then proceed to the next tool before revisiting recall. How to remember everything for exams: Feynman technique This technique was first referenced by Richard Feynman, a Nobel prize physicist who tried to make hard concepts easier in the university classes he taught in Caltech. First identify what you don’t know and then re-learn this. The easiest way is to seek a consult session and directly clarify. If not look for YouTube or Khan academy videos that cover the topic. Although they are instant and valuable sometimes the scope may be below or above what is required for the syllabus. In which case, it make sense to look for a tutor for help, here’s a checklist for you to narrow down your search. Once past the first step, imagine a friend who needs help and simulate the explaining to him/her. If you can’t do it, go back to the previous step looking for another source of material. If you are able to, then try to simplify your understanding further so that you can explain to an imaginary junior who has yet to contact this syllabus. Try using analogies, funny stories or real life events etc. The success of this ensures that you are now in a competent level and can return back to the recall exercise of the previous section. Spaced repetition Since the first few steps take a lot of time and work, attempt them way before the exams so that you can build on your skill. However, how to remember everything for exams which are a few months down the road? This is where a technique I talked about previously: spaced repetitions can work to help you. In essence, the revisiting of the same content periodically to reinforce their presence in the long term memory. Tutors who does so in the classroom will further contribute to developing the long term memory of subject content. Attitude matters To really become subject masters and ace the exams. It is just as important to think that we are not perfect and there is still much more to learn. In fact after spending the better part of my life living, thinking and teaching biology, I still discover areas of inadequacy. Having a teachable heart means that you are open to soaking in related information to extend your existing knowledge. This allows you to tap on your existing knowledge and further reinforcing their long term memory placement. Also, it prepares you for all kinds of permutations of questions that may come out for exams. In fact a good way to build this humility is to go to 10 year series questions to check if you are able to tackle the questions successfully. In addition, even explain why the other options are incorrect. On the other hand, if you are not able to tackle the question successfully then identify where are the knowledge gaps and fill them up using the formats I suggest above. Bottomline I hope these tips on how to remember everything for exams will channel your efforts more effectively.
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