How many of us have learned something by reading a book or watching a lecture but then couldn't remember it when we needed it the most? I am pretty sure the answers will mostly be above 90% of all the people who tried answering this question. In this article, I will be summarizing the basics of how to study less and in a smart manner rather than wasting hours with no results. This article is in itself an example of the very same techniques outlined within it borrowed from the lecture given by Marty Lobdell.
The Correct Way of Studying Effectively
The correct format to study in an effective manner is to study less in a periodic fashion rather than prolonged hours of studying in one continuous streak. Why? It is because your normal attention spans up to 25 minutes at one go. After that, your brain starts to slog. Therefore, it is better to study not more than 25 minutes in one sitting with adequate breaks of 5 minutes to recharge by doing some fun stuff and come back to learning again.
If you look closely into the structure of what constitutes a study, you will realize that it has two main components: facts and concepts.
1. Facts: Facts are just basic truth statements about a particular knowledge domain. For example, "Water is wet". This is a simple fact about the nature of water.
2. Concepts: Concept is the understanding of the knowledge domain as to why or how a certain thing is the way it is. The rule of concepts is to understand it in one's own inner language, in other words, any natural language in which you think.
In a sense, concepts become more important than facts in a relative sense.
The Importance of Environment
There are many external factors that affect your brain while you do any task. In the same manner, your environment plays a crucial role in how you absorb content or learn things.
As per the state-dependent learning mechanism, you are more capable of recalling information in a similar state of well-being, in which you have learned that information. I remember, during my second-year end in B.TECH under-graduation in Computer Science & Engineering, I became seriously depressed, angry, and felt as if I am stuck! At that state of mind, I read a lot of criminal psychology classics, like "The Sadist" for example, and finally wrote an unfinished novel with a very dark tone. When I look back at that novel today in my drafts, I cannot get to the state of mind to continue it from where I left. I am no longer in sync with that person I was before so I cannot remember anything that my past self was thinking. However, sometimes during the year when I wander to that mind state occasionally and remember who that person was, the words start flowing again.
This state-dependent learning is dependent on the state-dependent memory which applies to every phase of life. Let me give another example. What is the state of your mind during exams? Stressed? Intense focus? For most people, that's the case. Now remember something for me, "Is that the state of your mind when you studied?". Most probably, the answer is no. So, it's no wonder that you don't remember most things during that intense and stressful three hours exam duration. Now answer this, "How many of us read just one-two hours before the exam in the name of revision and mostly remember all of that information during the exam?".
This situation also explains one key disconnect in our way of studying and exams. Time boundedness as an external factor. Mostly we all study without any time boundedness on normal days and in complete relax mode. However, both these conditions go into the memory black hole during the exams. However, that intense time-bounded stressed two hours of study before exam always comes to save the day. In similar conditions, memory works fine or at least to help us not fail.
Always take notes
Note-taking is an important aspect of learning. Here's what I recently started doing. I listen to lectures for 15 minutes or read for 15 minutes. Then I take notes in the next 10 minutes by recalling from memory. When I am done reading the chapter in a book or done watching the full lecture, I am now with all my notes. It's now time to summarize the notes in my own words first in writing and finally inside my head using my "inner voice".
One mistake you might make is to highlight the book with a marker while you read the book or article. This doesn't aid in remembering or learning anything. It is a process that depends on recognition, not recollection. Studying depends on recollection. Often people confused recognition with recollection and then at crucial times where information is urgently needed, they "forget". Well, the truth is that they never memorized anything in the first place.
Few other things to remember
An important method of studying could be to utilize 20/80 rule. Spend 20% of the time reading the material and 80% time reciting it.
Have a dialogue with your own self, or other people in the study group, or teach others or even chairs if you are afraid. Basically, teach what you know. The most important aspect of learning is to teach. Learning is acquiring knowledge. The best way to preserve knowledge is to share it. This increases your own knowledge as a bonus.
Mnemonics are a crucial element of learning anything new. They can be of many types like acronyms, interactive imagery, and coined saying. SQRRR: Survey, Question, Read, Review, and Recite, is an excellent technique to adopt during any learning process. Survey and question go hand in hand. For example, say you are reading a book and you come across some words you don't know. Ask the question of what it is and do the survey to find out. Read the information that you found out, then review it, and finally recite.
And finally, don't' forget to sleep. Sleep is the long-forgotten aspect of health and memory in our modern age but it is an important factor of the learning. It turns out that consolidated memories are formed during rem sleep. So if you are skipping your sleep hours, you are damaging your memory and health. Thus, making all the work put into studying goes to waste.
Source Lecture: Study Less Study Smart by Marty Lobdell