Answer these few questions and if you feel like they apply, follow the directions to make sure your eyes and visual skills are working perfectly, so you can zip through your reading materials. When writing tutorials or coaching others you will naturally dive deeper into the topic and test your own understanding as you put concepts into your own words. The process also forces you to reflect on your own learning journey and identify what you perceive as hard and do my homework gain insight into your progress. Tip number eight is to read around whatever you are learning and understand the underlying principles to help you learn faster. When I learned a new operation or technique as a surgeon a superficial way to learn would be to simply rote learn the steps involved. For surgery this might be memorising a step-by-step guide which would mean I technically knew how to do the procedure but I didn’t necessarily know why I was doing it.
The idea behind active recall is that we learn best when we are actively pulling information out of our brain. When studying for exams as a doctor I would routinely close my text book and try and recall specific facts from the book and I would also practise as many mock exam questions as possible. Interleaving is the idea of mixing or alternating skills or concepts that you want to memorize. For example, spend some time memorizing vocabulary words for your science class and then immediately switch to studying historical dates and names for your history class. Follow that up with practicing a few math problems, and then jump back to the science definitions. This method may seem confusing at first, but yields better results in the end than simply spending long periods of time on the same concept.
This can be as simple as going over your notes (see, they’re useful!), or even scanning the headlines/sub-headlines in the textbook. However, the most effective strategy is to put your learning into practice ASAP. If you have a purpose to your learning, set clear learning goals. Long-term goals should be aligned with your long-term personal growth or professional development plans. Writing appears to help us more deeply encode information that we’re trying to learn because there is a direct connection between our hand and our brain. Try writing your notes by hand during a lecture or rewriting and reorganizing notes or information by hand after a lecture.
Tip number two is to block out protected time for learning so that you avoid distractions and set yourself daily learning goals. Ensure that you learn productively and effectively in an environment that helps you to focus. If this is at home make sure that your study area is tidy, you know what you are going to be learning using a study schedule and you remove any distractions by switching off the TV and your phone. However research has shown that varying your study location – at home in a different room, at school, in a library- can improve learning. In a similar way occasionally changing the time of day you study and the materials you use – laptop, pen and paper, speaking into a voice recorder – also boost learning. Keep practicing these strategies, and with time, you’ll see what difference the right tools can make.
In so doing, your brain will have more time to consolidate your learning. Kids can and should practice the skill of learning if they want a fighting chance at fulfilling all those lofty goals their parents set for them. But some people keep studying – and thinking – the same way all their lives without improving their methods.