Learn in Short Bursts of Time
Experts at the Louisiana State University’s Center for Academic Success suggest dedicating 30-50 minutes to learning new material. “Anything less than 30 is just not enough, but anything more than 50 is too much information for your brain to take in at one time,” writes learning strategies graduate assistant Ellen Dunn. Once you’re done, take a five to 10 minute break before you start another session.
Brief, frequent learning sessions are much better than longer, infrequent ones, agrees Neil Starr, a course mentor at Western Governors University, an online nonprofit university where the average student earns a bachelor’s degree in two and a half years.
Changing the way you practice a new motor skill can help you master it faster.
He recommends preparing for micro learning sessions. “Make note cards by hand for the more difficult concepts you are trying to master,” he says. “You never know when you’ll have some in-between time to take advantage of.”
Take Notes by Hand
While it’s faster to take notes on a laptop, using a pen and paper will help you learn and comprehend better. Researchers at Princeton University and UCLA found that when students took notes by hand, they listened more actively and were able to identify important concepts. Taking notes on a laptop, however, leads to mindless transcription, as well as an opportunity for distraction, such as email.
“In three studies, we found that students who took notes on laptops performed worse on conceptual questions than students who took notes longhand,” writes coauthor and Princeton University psychology professor Pam Mueller. “We show that whereas taking more notes can be beneficial, laptop note takers’ tendency to transcribe lectures verbatim rather than processing information and reframing it in their own words is detrimental to learning.”
Unless you want to become less productive and more distracted, don’t multitask in anything you do. Your studies will take less time if you focus only on what you’re currently learning
Set up a study space. You’ll be able to study more efficiently if you work in a comfortable space without distractions. Set up a desk or table in a quiet area of your home. A corner of your bedroom might be a good spot. Let other people in your household know that you are studying and don’t want to be disturbed.
- Choose an area without a TV. If you like to work with noise, try listening to soft music.
- You might find that you work well in a corner of the library or in a nearby coffee shop.
- Bring everything you need with you to your study area so that you don’t have to get back up. This might include books, notes, water, or snacks.
- If you’re tempted to check your phone frequently, leave it outside of your study space.
Use the Power of Mental Spacing
While it sounds counterintuitive, you can learn faster when you practice distributed learning, or “spacing.” In an interview with The New York Times, Benedict Carey, author of How We Learn: The Surprising Truth About When, Where, and Why It Happens, says learning is like watering a lawn. “You can water a lawn once a week for 90 minutes or three times a week for 30 minutes,” he said. “Spacing out the watering during the week will keep the lawn greener over time.”
To retain material, Carey said it’s best to review the information one to two days after first studying it. “One theory is that the brain actually pays less attention during short learning intervals,” he said in the interview. “So repeating the information over a longer interval–say a few days or a week later, rather than in rapid succession–sends a stronger signal to the brain that it needs to retain the information.”
Highlight and Take Notes
1. Get some highlighters and decide what they represent. Don’t just go about turning your notes into a coloring book and put a predetermined system in place instead.
For example, a pink highlighter stands for important concepts that you should know at any time, yellow for additional elaborations, and green for fun facts. Don’t paint the whole page, only highlight keywords, and read the rest multiple times.
When you get back to your notes, your color-coding will alert you to the crucial facts.
When you’re done with reading, consider what you’ve just learned. Revisit key concepts, try to think of your own examples, and answer practice questions that are usually found at the end of each chapter.
Exactly as it sounds, you should read with your brain on the topic underline and highlight only keywords, take some notes always paraphrase, and try to retell what you’ve just read at the end of the section. Divide the materials into sensible units.
You should go through the chapter, check out headings, indented paragraphs, keywords, and indicated definitions. This helps you prime your brain and grasp what the main topic of the chapter is.
When you do get tired, stop. Nothing good will come from forcing yourself to go through your books if you’re exhausted. When your focus drops, take a break do something fun or a nap or simply go to bed. The world does not stop over this one exam, and your mental well-being should always come first.
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