10 Study Tips for All Public Safety Students

Post-it note with 10 Top Tips written on it for 10 tips for public safety students.

Public Safety Careers Have Rigorous Educational Standards. These study tips will help dispatchers, EMT’s, firefighters, law enforcement, and military students.

Years ago, when I was just a recruit starting out my career, I was hesitant to take on the rigorous training. I didn’t leave high school feeling like I knew how to study and it took me time to find the best way for me to study. I hope you gain more confidence in training to be a local hero. Lord knows we desperately need more like you and I. Here are some tips for note-taking, no matter what style or method you use. 

Colorful pencils and sticky note paper. Colorful set of stationery. Flat lay composition.
Image: stockfilmstudio@envato
  1. The tip to rule them all: All of the recommendations below focus on maximizing the amount of your brain, or neurons, involved in your study tactics. The larger the area of your brain that is excited by your studying, the easier it will be to forge memories of it. Use as many senses as possible to activate more regions of your brain when studying to increase the number of neurons formed around the concepts. 
  2. Take colorful notes, and use symbols and images to represent objects of study like the human body, firefighting tactics, MPDS Codes, or combat tactics. Which colors and how you use them are open to your style. 
  3. Try to write your notes in your own words; rewording the material to your voice is vital to making information last. 
  4. Rewrite notes as you go, especially to prepare for exams, quizzes, or other assessments. Your notes should start broad. As you memorize concepts, trim the notes down to the briefest info for items already learned and longer in areas still requiring attention.
  5. As silly as it sounds, read and review your notes aloud whenever possible. This tactic is crucial if you are an auditory learner, but everyone can benefit. 
  6. To maximize brain cell recruitment around a concept, try this:
    1. When writing and rewriting notes, write and simultaneously say the words out loud. While you write, the motor neurons excite, your sight sees the words while writing them, processing visual neurons, and hearing, one of the strongest organs for memory, hears the words and stimulates neurons all around one concept. 
  7. Don’t be afraid to try new things, and let go of the old. You might have a study skill that doesn’t serve you well now or never has, but you were taught to use it. Critically evaluate your study tactics and determine if they are the best way to study for you. If not, try a new study tactic and assess if it works better. Measure it against a performance, like a quiz attempt. Try one new thing at a time to know what is working and what is not. Let go of the old study habits and try new things. 
  8. Not all study skills will work for all content types. Here are some suggestions:
    1. Low-level information like terms, dosages, rules, and unambiguous values can be tackled with repetition, both verbal, written, and in your head. 
    2. Concepts need more understanding and have nuances that are not easily memorized. Try rewording/rewriting the ideas in your voice. Or find a way to use the information in the context of your field. Imagine how a procedure may go in the lab or real-life situations. 
    3. More complex concepts relate or are in contrast with other difficult topics. After learning about the core concept individually:
      1. Begin relating the concepts to one another, or describe how they differ.
      2. For compare and contrast, use tables and charts to highlight similar and different points of knowledge.
      3. Use mind-maps, flow charts, and other branched note-taking for comparing and relating. 
    4. Once you have enough training or experience to imagine your fieldwork environment, for example, how a 911 call might unfold for a car accident, you are at one of the highest levels of learning. Use the different concepts learned in a lecture and lab course to begin formulating scenarios, either written or in your mind, that anticipate how a situation might unfold according to the textbook and how you will respond. Life and scenarios often don’t follow the book. Still, imaging at this level prepares you for your real-time job performance. The more variables you imagine, the better prepared for different situations you will be. 
  9. Study in increments. Cops, dispatchers, EMTs, firefighters, and military personnel have to absorb lots of information quickly, like drinking from a fire hose. Give your brain time to process and make your effort stick with brain- or study breaks. Set a timer or use an app to break your focused study sessions into chunks of time with breaks between them. Like working out, you have different levels of rest to strategize with. Active breaks give you time to summarize the information you just learned. Step back from the book or assignment to stretch, and while stretching, try to recall or summarize the information you covered. Full breaks, where you don’t focus on work or anything, are also needed in your strategy. Some recommend the Promodor method with 25-minute blocks of focused study separated by 5-minute breaks. 
  10. Build time for review. Virtually all training in the first responder world leads to comprehensive exams and certification. Make time in your study schedule to review older material as you progress. Reviewing will help you find connections between older material and newer concepts that may not have been obvious. 
Time management and best productivity with tomato/ promodoro timer.
Image: alessandroco@ Envato

With these tips, you can explore our other tactics and strategies based on your learning style and other factors. 

What tips do you have for our public safety students? Did we miss some from our list? Drop them in the comments below!

Wishing you the best of luck in your studies!

-Sean Haaverson

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