Regardless of where you are in your journey as a massage therapist, learning never stops. The ability to study effectively is perhaps most important while you are still in school.
Massage school can be demanding, especially since learning takes place on multiple levels simultaneously. There are verbal lectures, visual presentations and kinesthetic demonstrations. Incorporating all of these into your experience and making it relevant to working with clients can be challenging.
The first thing you want to do to hone your study skills is to figure out which learning style is central for you. Everyone learns through all three avenues, but typically one of the three is dominant.
If you are an auditory learner, consider recording your classes. If this is not possible, make a recording of yourself reading your lecture notes, key phrases or concepts from your textbooks. If you get a digital audio recorder, you can copy the recording to a computer and burn it to a CD.
Visual learners need pictures. Whether you draw your own, color in a coloring book or study diagrams and images from your textbooks, get or construct the best and most vivid pictures you can. Visual learners have the ability to vividly recall the images they see, so the better the picture, the more accurate the memory of the information contained in it.
Another trick is to use 3-inch by 5-inch index cards. Write one or two facts on each card, or write a term on one side and the associated information on the other. For example, you can write the name of a muscle on one side and the origin, insertion and action on the other. This method aided me through classes when I was in school. I kept a few cards with me at all times and referred to them as often as possible.
Kinesthetic learners receive information mainly through the sense of touch. If this is how you learn, be sure to make physical contact with the specific tissue during the learning process. Having a study partner who is also a kinesthetic learner will help immensely.
Since you're learning on all three levels, another tactic is to study on all three levels at the same time. Let's say you're studying bones. To learn simultaneously, you have to do a little multitasking. You do this by saying the name of the bone out loud (auditory), feeling the bone and tracing its outline (kinesthetic) and, lastly, seeing the shape of it as you trace it with your finger (visual). This combination of techniques also works well with a study partner.
Another important aspect to your academic success in massage school is to make sure you are engaged in the learning process. Don't study just enough to pass your tests. You are learning lifelong skills, and you will need to understand them thoroughly in order to become proficient as a bodyworker.
One of the best ways to become engaged in the learning process is to help others learn the same material. Author Richard Bach once said, "You teach best what you most need to learn." I think the reverse of that is also true; you learn best what you teach.
For this reason, above all others, I highly encourage you to join or start a study group. By teaching each other in this setting, you reinforce the material by hearing it again. And more importantly, your comprehension will improve dramatically because you're actively accessing stored memory, which signals the brain to convert what you're learning to long-term memory. This is why cramming the night before a test doesn't work; it doesn't give your brain enough time to assimilate the material.
Another powerful, yet underrated, study technique is to review class material before going to class. If class topics are not printed in your syllabus, ask your instructor what the next class will cover. Be sure to read that section in your text prior to your next class, even if you don't fully understand it. Getting familiar with the terminology and concepts will prime your mind to be more receptive to the information. It will also allow you to ask great questions once you're in class to help fill in all the details.
Finally, make sure to get plenty of sleep on a regular basis. It may seem unrelated to your studying habits, but it is essential. Poor sleep habits can result in sleep debt, which can interfere with the brain's ability to assimilate new information.
Whatever your learning style is, use it to your advantage as best you can. Become engaged in your learning by joining a study group, and review material before class. And above all, get plenty of sleep.