Study tips for natural health students

Written by Chelsey Costa | 9 June, 2020

Study Tips

Exam time can be a very daunting part of the semester! Each semester gets easier as you get used to the process and hopefully you have implemented strategies each time to better help cope with these times. These are some of the strategies Endeavour alumna, Chelsey Costa found most useful in getting her through her degree and the many exams along the way.

Study timetable

I always found it best to organise my time in the two weeks prior to exam time and the two weeks of the exam period. It can be useful to print off a calendar, or weekly tables broken down into the hours of the days. First, block off commitments like work times, then block off the actual exam hours you will be doing the exams. Also block off time for exercise and self-care. Then, depending on how many exams you have, using a different colour for each unit, I would block off half days or full days around my schedule dedicated to studying for a particular subject. Ensure you are allocating roughly an even amount of hours for each unit, or more for some if they are more challenging or are a double unit as opposed to single. Having this in your study area on the wall helps you to stay focussed each day on what you need to study, otherwise it can be overwhelming on where to start and then move through the various units.

Notes

Everyone is different in how they learn best and retain information. I personally found my own handwritten notes with lots of colour (highlighters) to be the best way to absorb and retain information. From my computer notes taken from lecture slides, I would summarise the most important information neatly on lined paper, as you are much more likely to be able to visualise your own handwriting, than a million words from a computer screen or even printed notes.

Colour

Highlighters were my saviour during my studies. I probably went through countless packs of highlighters but for me it was worth it. The key is not to go too crazy on highlighting everything but rather just the key points in each section of notes. I found it useful, especially for herbal medicine, using a different colour for each herb in a system.

Diagrams

Add in as many diagrams in your notes instead of large bodies of text. Your brain is more likely to recall this information. Mind maps and flow diagrams for body processes and systems can also be really useful for this reason too.

White board

Many of the subjects in the earlier parts of the courses require a lot of rote learning, because human biology and chemistry for example, are factual subjects that don’t require as much interpretation or personal experience as say clinical subjects do. So many of the subjects require a level of memorisation of information, and directly recalling that information in an exam question. The most useful way I found to solidify information into my memory was to write out information on a large (roughly A2) white board that you can buy from red dot stores, Kmart or Officeworks. I would use different coloured whiteboard markers that matched my highlighter colours and literally just write out information over and over from my summary notes. This really helped to memorise the information – especially in the few days prior to an exam. They are also great for practicing to draw flow diagrams and mind maps too.

Teach others about what you are learning

There is no better way to solidify information than by teaching it to someone else. Your friends, family or partner may not want to hear all about the menstrual cycle or the actions of herbs but get them on board to listen and allow you to teach them about the trickier topics you might be struggling with. They might be surprised by what you can teach them and it will significantly help you retain information. You can also get them to quiz you on your notes as well.

Practice on yourself

One of the best things I decided to do from the beginning of my degree, was to practice what I was learning on myself. Examples of this include:

  • Taking a herb we were learning about to experience its effects
  • Naming key nutrients in a particular food when I was cooking or preparing food
  • Trialling certain therapeutical diets or practices for a few days/weeks/months so I could speak from experience when I was recommending them to patients
  • Seeing a naturopath (or nutritionist/acupuncturist/myotherapist) in either the student clinic or elsewhere to really understand the processes and practices of the consultation, treatment process and running of a clinic.

Enhancing concentration and cognition

Rosemary

Rosemary is a well-known cognition enhancer. The aroma in particular has been found in studies to improve cognitive performance(1). When studying, diffuse rosemary essential oil (all day if you need to) and then take your rosemary oil with you to the exam (or diffuse it again at home for online exams in this time), and dab a small amount on your collar, or on your hand. This will help you recall the information that you studied whilst diffusing the essential oil.

Green tea

Green tea undeniably has many health benefits, but an added bonus is that a 2017 systematic review has found it beneficial for working memory, concentration and brain function, largely due to the combination of caffeine and L-theanine(2). I would recommend drinking three to four cups per day and trying to avoid having any later than 2pm due to the caffeine content.

Stable blood sugar levels

Eating regular and balanced meals is really important for a number of things in the body, with one of these being brain function. The brain cannot store its own fuel and as such, relies on what is in our blood stream at any given moment. If your blood sugar levels drop, the brain is not being fed properly and you are never going to recall the information you are trying to learn in this stage. To ensure your brain is well fed, it is important to eat regular meals that are balanced with adequate protein, healthy fats, veggies and complex carbohydrates. Avoid excess sugar that will spike blood sugars temporarily and leave you with a rebound crash.

This also goes for the meal you have before each exam. Make sure it is balanced and is going to keep you full for the duration of the exam. There is nothing worse than a grumbling stomach in the middle of an exam!

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Herbal support

Cognition enhancers

Herbal medicine has amazing tools to help support many aspects of health and functioning. See the students in the student clinic to get your hands on a prescription with cognition enhancing herbs. Some of these herbs include(3):

  • Bacopa
  • Ginkgo
  • Korean Ginseng
  • Peony
  • Rosemary

Adaptogens and adrenal tonics

We all know studying in general, and particularly exam time, can be quite stressful! This is why it is so important to support your body through these times. Adaptogens are a class of herbal medicine that better able your body to adapt and cope with stress. Adrenal tonics specifically help to nourish the adrenals and support their function. The right adaptogens for you can help to regulate cortisol levels, improve energy and help keep your body well and nourished during the stressful times. Examples include(3):

Adaptogens

  • American Ginseng
  • Astragalus
  • Siberian Ginseng
  • Gotu Kola
  • Korean Ginseng
  • Rhodiola (this also helps to lower cortisol levels)
  • Schisandra
  • Shatavari (also great for hormonal regulation)
  • Withania

Adrenal tonics

  • Liquorice (be careful as liquorice is cortisol-sparing which means to prolongs the half-life of cortisol – which is not ideal if you make too much cortisol already)
  • Rehmannia

Nutritional support

There are so many important nutrients that I would love to talk about but I will keep it to my top two.

Magnesium

When you are stressed, your body urinates out more magnesium, making you feel wired and tense. This is why it is so important to take magnesium to replenish what you are excreting.

You want to ensure you are having a bioavailable form such as citrate or amino acid chelate – as opposed to magnesium oxide or orotate. It will also help with energy production, sleep quality, reducing anxiety, muscle health and so much more!

L-theanine

As mentioned before, L-theanine is a constituent in green tea that contributes to the cognition enhancing effects. L-theanine as a supplement is well research to be beneficial for the following as well: stress, anxiety, anti-cancer, improving sleep and behaviour(4).

It helps to bring a sense of calm without sedation and this is why it is great for stressful times. I never used this during my studies but only wish I had known about it then!

Don’t forget about B vitamins, zinc and vitamin C to name a few!

Lifestyle

It is important to maintain a healthy life balance during exam time and ensure you are keeping the fundamentals of health in check:

  • Sleep: ensure you are getting around eight hours each night, and try avoid staying up too late. The sleep we get from about 10pm to 1am is the most valuable sleep time where your memories are consolidated and your body processes are most active. Rather go to sleep earlier and wake up earlier to study, than staying up studying until midnight.
  • Exercise daily.
  • Take regular breaks to walk around, stretch, eat and give your brain a break.
  • Schedule time off from studying to do things you enjoy, catch up with friends and have some time for self-care.
  • Don’t be too hard on yourself: many of you will be type A personalities and perfectionists (I am speaking from experience) and will try to push yourself to do the very best you can. I’m not saying that you should not do this! But in the grand scheme of things, you need to make sure that you are looking after yourself without putting yourself under too much pressure or burning out. Your health and mental health should always be the priority!

References

  1. Moss, M., & Oliver, L. (2012). Plasma 1,8-cineole correlates with cognitive performance following exposure to rosemary essential oil aroma. Therapeutic Advances in Psychopharmacology, 2(3), 103–113. https://doi.org/10.1177/2045125312436573
  2. Mancini, E., Beglinger, C., Drewe, J., Zanchi, D., Lang, U. E., & Borgwardt, S. (2017, October 15). Green tea effects on cognition, mood and human brain function: A systematic review. Phytomedicine. Elsevier GmbH. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.phymed.2017.07.008
  3. Bone, K. (2007). The Ultimate Herbal Compendium. Warick: Phytotherapy Press.
  4. Hidese, S., Ogawa, S., Ota, M., Ishida, I., Yasukawa, Z., Ozeki, M., & Kunugi, H. (2019). Effects of L-Theanine administration on stress- related symptoms and cognitive functions in healthy adults: A randomized controlled trial. Nutrients, 11(10). https://doi.org/10.3390/nu11102362

Chelsey Costa

Chelsey is an Endeavour College Alumni and qualified naturopath practicing at Perth Health & Fertility in City Beach, Perth. She is passionate about all things women’s health and specialises in, among general naturopathic medicine, treating hormonal conditions such as PCOS, cycle irregularities, endometriosis, PMS and acne.
In Chelsey’s graduating year, she graduated with the Naturopathy Academic Excellence Award and Dux Medal Award. Her goals are to continue her studies alongside clinical practice with hopes to one day complete a PhD and help contribute to the naturopathic research field.

She is one half of @peppermintandsage_ on Instagram and has interests in health education and regularly conducts public based health education talks in the community.

Read more by Chelsey Costa

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