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Breaking Winter Break Habits

By: Ahmed Mahmood

Studies have shown that breaks between semesters can be detrimental when it comes to students retaining information they’ve learned in school. Students may not forget much information after returning from three-day weekends and even week-long breaks, but it can be surprising how much students forget after returning from long breaks like winter break. “Learning loss,” described by the Glossary of Educational Reform, “ refers to any specific or general loss of knowledge and skills or to reversals in academic progress, most commonly due to extended gaps or discontinuities in a student’s education.” In children, the long summer break yields the greatest decrease in knowledge. According to the National Summer Learning Association, summer learning loss, or the “summer slide,” results in children losing approximately two months of mathematical computation skills and a general decrease in reading skills.

College students have already developed computational and reading comprehension skills, so losing them over long breaks is not a real threat. However, the main problem is that professors expect students to retain specific information and skills that were taught to them before break in the previous class. After fall semester finals, students are eager to abandon the stresses of college during winter break. The following tips should help students avoid falling behind their classes before the next semester begins:

1. Math is a Must

Depending on your major, you will be expected to remember certain concepts of math. Professors of hard sciences like physics and chemistry, engineering and math expect students to remember the mechanics of trigonometry and calculus and why they used them in the first place. Even if you are not majoring in a hard science, engineering or math, certain math skills will always follow you and you are responsible for knowing the concepts behind them. PreMed Magazine interviewed Mike Dailey, a marketing major, and asked what topics should students remember for classes in his major. He noted that students should remember any concepts taught in marketing research classes and analytics. He also mentioned that students should brush up on their statistics. “The hardest thing for me is remembering when to use each test when a test is appropriate like do I use a z-distribution or a t-distribution,” he said. Brushing up doesn’t have to mean doing math problems all break. Making a concept cheat sheet in the beginning of break and looking at it throughout the holidays is a better alternative.

Photo credit: Dvortygirl / / CC BY-SA

Photo credit: Dvortygirl / / CC BY-SA

2. Reading is Required

Reading is beneficial to everyone, and there’s scientific evidence to prove it. Researchers at Stanford were researching ways to increase literary attention and noticed that subjects who read leisurely and then shifted to critical reading had greater brain blood flow than just “work and play.” Every student can use a critical thinking boost even if they do not fear learning loss over the break. PreMed Magazine asked Mairah Teli, an English Education and Speech/Language Pathology major, if winter break was a threat to students in her major. She admitted that there isn’t significant winter break learning loss associated with her major as there might be with formula/calculation-heavy sciences. “English Ed,” she elaborated, “is more geared towards critical thinking, shaping your experiences and opinions to coherently express yourself, and reading strategies.” She believes that these skills are not generally lost in a period of one month. “I guess I would recommend students read a nonfiction novel and grapple with the ideas presented,” Mairah added. Although watching a movie, playing video games and socializing with friends is a good way to blow off some steam, reading a book for leisure and thinking about the concepts presented is just as relaxing, and it will be productive in the long run.

3. Science is Successive

Every science student knows that science builds upon itself. The concepts taught in science classes will also build on each other, so winter break learning loss can be a great threat to science majors. PreMed Magazine interviewed Anna Statler, a biology major, and asked for her opinion on winter break. She responded, “Winter break is a threat if you let it be.” She believes that students who work hard during the semester are less likely to forget information over the break compared to students who just memorize before a test. When asked what advice can she give to science students, she replied, “[I] think it wouldn’t hurt to maybe skim through your class notes and note cards when you get a chance over the break in order to refresh your memory. For classes like organic chemistry, general chemistry and biology, a quick review is never a bad idea.”

Whether we are children or adults, students of all disciplines submit to the “use it or lose it” principle. Long periods of academic idleness will start to dissolve information or skills that are critical to our learning of certain subjects. Making study guides, reading and analyzing books and reviewing notes and note cards are good ways to help avoid wasting away all the precious knowledge that we learned during fall semester.