Monthly Archives: February 2017

Study Smart and Save Time

I recently got my marks back from University. My grade point average was a 4.2 out of a possible 4.5, resting between an A and a perfect A+. In itself, this isn’t an incredible achievement. But I managed to do this while spending only a fraction of the time studying than many of the people I knew.

Is it just natural talent? Perhaps. I’ve always had a knack for understanding concepts and learning new ideas. But I also believe the way I learned the information played a role. Instead of cramming last minute or memorizing details, I try to organize information in a way that makes it easier to recall.

This strategy of organization I label holistic learning. Holistic learning is simply the process of organizing information into webs, that interconnect ideas. Instead of forcing ideas into your skull, you focus on the relationships between information. Linking ideas together to see the whole, instead of just the parts.

Building an Understanding

Learning is a process similar to building a house. You aren’t fed the complete picture. Limitations on communication prevent the instantaneous transmission of knowledge. Instead you listen to lectures, read textbooks and take painstaking notes to try and comprehend a subject.

You are fed building supplies, bricks, mortar and glass. It is up to you to assemble the building. Unfortunately, most learning strategies fall into two basic types:

  1. Memorization – Instead of building anything you simply stare at each brick for several minutes trying to record its position.
  2. Formulas – This is the equivalent to being blind, fumbling around a new house. You can’t see the building itself but you learn to come up with simple rules to avoid walking into walls.

There is nothing particularly wrong with either of these strategies, assuming they aren’t your entire strategy. The human brain isn’t a computer so it can’t memorize infinite sums of knowledge without some form of structure. And formulas no longer work if the questions they are designed to solve change scope.

Learning Holistically

  1. Metaphor – Metaphors can allow you to quickly organize information by comparing a complex idea to a simple one. When you find relationships between information, come up with analogies to increase your understanding. Compare neurons with waves on a string. Make metaphors comparing parts of a brain with sections of your computer.
  2. Use All Your Senses – Abstract ideas are difficult to memorize because they are far removed from our senses. Shift them closer by coming up with vivid pictures, feelings and images that relate information together. When I learned how to do a determinant of a matrix, I remembered the pattern by visualizing my hands moving through the numbers, one adding and one subtracting.
  3. Teach It – Find someone who doesn’t understand the topic and teach it to them. This exercise forces you to organize. Spending five minutes explaining a concept can save you an hour of combined studying for the same effect.
  4. Leave No Islands – When you read through a textbook, every piece of information should connect with something else you have learned. Fast learners do this automatically, but if you leave islands of information, you won’t be able to reach them during a test.
  5. Test Your Mobility – A good way to know you haven’t linked enough is that you can’t move between concepts. Open up a word document and start explaining the subject you are working with. If you can’t jump between sections, referencing one idea to help explain another, you won’t be able to think through the connections during a test.
  6. Find Patterns – Look for patterns in information. Information becomes easier to organize if you can identify broader patterns that are similar across different topics. The way a neuron fires has similarities to “if” statements in programming languages.
  7. Build a Large Foundation – Reading lots and having a general understanding of many topics gives you a lot more flexibility in finding patterns and metaphors in new topics. The more you already know, the easier it is to learn.
  8. Don’t Force – I don’t spend much time studying before exams. Forcing information during the last few days is incredibly inefficient. Instead try to slowly interlink ideas as they come to you so studying becomes a quick recap rather than a first attempt at learning.
  9. Build Models – Models are simple concepts that aren’t true by themselves, but are useful for describing abstract ideas. Crystallizing one particular mental image or experience can create a model you can reference when trying to understand. When I was trying to tackle the concept of subspaces, I visualized a blue background with a red plane going through it. This isn’t an entirely accurate representation of what a subspace is, but it created a workable image for future ideas.
  10. Learning is in Your Head – Having beautiful notes and a perfectly highlighted textbook doesn’t matter if you don’t understand the information in it. Your only goal is to understand the information so it will stick with you for assignments, tests and life. Don’t be afraid to get messy when scrawling out ideas on paper and connecting them in your head. Use notes and books as a medium for learning rather than an end result.

Know Your Procrastinator Kind

Procrastination is a scary topic, right? Especially when you are in the middle of your study and you have been bombarded with assignments in each subject.

Whether you are at university, at school or even completing an external study, there is no doubt that you will find yourself procrastinating in some way or another at some point. And I am here to help you; not to help you stop, mind you, but to help you discover what sort of procrastinator you are.

#1: The YouTube Diver

This is the most common kind of procrastinator. You have opened your laptop or sat down at the computer desk to start writing that essay you have been putting off. You decide you need some information, so you search and unexpectedly end up on YouTube for hours on end looking up anything and everything. It’s like a black hole that you can’t get out of. You may begin with a video on the subject relating to your work, but three hours later you have been through fail videos, grandmas on waterslides, chimpanzees hugging dogs and dogs licking ducks. And even though you promised yourself “only one more video”, you always end up finding yourself watching Shane Dawson’s Conspiracy Theory clips. Always.

Hot Tip: Although this is a bad habit, there is a way to get through these clips a bit quicker. On the video, click the settings icon and change the speed to 1.25x, 1.5x or even 2x (if you can still understand it enough). This is especially useful when you find yourself somehow watching 30-minute long Sims walk-throughs.

#2: The Room Re-Decorator

After you have watched literally all the videos on YouTube, you look around and see that your room is in pitch black darkness, so you get up to turn the lights on but trip over 10 separate objects on your way to the switch. Now, you decide to do the unspeakable: actually clean your room! Unfortunately, this doesn’t last longer than putting your washing into the basket because you find that ‘thing’ you liked. You know that ‘thing’, right? Yeah, that. It was so much fun when you were a kid and now it’s even more interesting. You find a treasure box of things you decide to save for your own children, as well as a box of dead Tamagotchis, leaving them aside to remind yourself to buy new batteries.

#3: The Creative

Rummaging through your room and finding your old diaries has inspired you. Then and there, you decide to make a scrapbook of all your favourite memories. You collect all the creative things you have—pens, pencils, sticky tape and paper—and set them aside on your desk. You log onto your laptop to find those precious photos to print. Yet the cycle only starts again. You find yourself back on YouTube watching Justin Bieber’s “Baby” video. And at this stage, it’s too late to start anything because its 3am in the morning and you’re too tired to do any essay writing. Plus, you have class in five hours

Solutions When You Feel Like Studying Isn’t For You

Do you feel like studying is the worst possible pastime? We might just have something for you to make it a whole lot more effective.

It’s about four days from your exam and your text books are still sitting in the corner of your room, dusty, and balancing on a stack of random papers you’ve collected. You’ve done it again. You’ve left your studying to the last minute.

It’s understandable though. And you’re certainly not alone.

Many people feel that some styles of studying (like writing the same thing a million times) just don’t work for them; they can also be time-consuming when you’ve only got a finite number of hours left before your potential (academic) doom.

Homer studying

But maybe you’re just doing it wrong. There are actually many different ways to study and most people’s study style preferences can be broken up into a few key groups. This means writing out the same equation or key fact multiple times until it’s permanently seared into your memory (aka ‘rote learning’) might not actually be the best way for you to study.

We spoke to Steve Moreschini, the principal psychologist at Mind Scholar, to see what unique styles are available. However, take heed: He cautioned that it isn’t “one size fits all”.

Visual: For those who like all the pretty things.

its beautiful

What is it? Visual learning, as the name suggests, is a style of learning that involves visualising the concept or information. “If you’re a visual learner, you probably learn by drawing mind maps; some kind of visual representation of what you’re trying to write,” Steve said.

What can I do to study like this? There is a myriad of ways to work like this. The most simple option is to use coloured highlighters when reviewing information, but could extend to drawing more elaborate representations such as pretty diagrams. The key part to remember is that the information needs to be presented in an aesthetically appealing way.

Read-write: For those with their heads in books while their fingers scribble away.

remember

What is it? This is a style that is quite often considered the main method of studying. Steve explains that students who like this method “would just remember things by writing things down in sentences and paragraphs.” Generally, this style is suited towards people who love to read.

What can I do to study like this? Chances are you’ve probably already tested this style out when you’ve copied down notes that the teacher or lecturer has put up on the board. You could write out lists for the main areas you are studying or write out the same information multiple times. This helps with memorising key facts during the exam.

Analytical/sequential: For those who just get order and logic.

pilgrim gets it

What is it? This approach sees a more systematic way of dealing with learning. People who prefer this method tend to like order and structured learning, and excel when things are sequential and logical. Steve said they preferred when “there’s an underlying method, [or] a ‘step one through to two to three to four’ approach.”

What can I do to study like this? Lists. Lists. So many lists. You could also create a logic puzzle or game with the information.

Kinesthetic: For those who just like to get it done by jumping straight into it.

shia do it

What is it? This is a more physical learning style, which can be best described as ‘learning-by-doing’. “These are the kinds of students who probably learn best by demonstrations such as a practical [experiment] in a chemistry class,” Steve explained.

What can I do to study like this? This one’s a bit tricky to use unless you have a specific exam like a chemistry test where you could maybe do an experiment to see how it works. Or, you could do mathematical equations over and over again. In terms of remembering historical facts, this could be a little tricky, but you could still do something creative, like re-enact the scenarios or mix in a lil’ bit of visual studying and draw a comic strip with real quotes for those major events.

Auditory/Musical: For those who just feel the music, man.

peraltas jam

What is it? This is a style where listening is the best way to understand a concept or fact. A lot of auditory learners tend to be musicians or prefer listening to music while studying or working. “They might video record or audio record their notes and play it out and listen to it that way,” Steve said.

What can I do to study like this? You could read the facts out loud, record yourself and then listen back to it like Steve suggested. If you’re not a big fan of listening to yourself, you could turn the notes into a song or a poem. Even simple things such as listening to certain music (without lyrics, preferably) while reading out the information might help jog your memory when you’re trying to recall those important facts.

You ready now?

schmidt

Steve thinks the best way to minimise the stress of studying at the last minute is, shockingly, to space it out in the future. He also said that being an active learner will mean you might not have to study so laboriously in the lead up to an exam. “The worst thing you can do it sit back and be passive and expect the teacher to fill your mind with knowledge,” he said.

At the end of the day, the best option is to mix all of these styles together. Steve thinks this is the best way to ensure that you’re not limiting the intake of information. “The science actually says if you’re a so-called visual learner, you shouldn’t just learn by visual methods,” he explained. “You should recognise that visual learning is a strength, or a preference, but be mindful of all the other ways you can learn information and leverage off a variety [of them].”