Non-Generic Study Tips Nobody Wants to Tell You!
When it comes to study tips, you’ve probably gone through a list of things like exercise regurly, eat healthy foods and sleep well. Now, all three of these things are absolutely vital to our studying and learning processes but they just seem too generic.
Assuming you have all the basic stuff covered, let’s look at study tips that are more focused on the art of studying rather than external factors (sleep, exercise and eating).
1. Always know what your doing and for how long
I know a lot students (including myself) who start their study session but don’t precisely know what they’re going achieve in the next hour or so. Yes, you may have some idea like “I need to finish off that maths assignment” but you may see yourself being a victim of the Parkinson’s law.
“Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”
-Cyril Northcote Parkinson
Parkinson’s law states that work expands to fill up the time we give to a particular task. For example, if we set ourselves a reasonable amount of time to do a task like 1 hour and 30 minutes to finish off that maths assignment, our task will take up just around that 1.5 hour mark.
If we set ourselves 2 hours to do that same maths assignment, it could take us an extra 30 minutes just to do the same task.
The whole idea here is about setting deadlines and actually making effective use of them. Let’s get back to studying. When you start a session and don’t actually set any deadline what happens? A task will take us an innefectively long time to complete whereas a deadline could have made that task completed in a shorter amount of time.
When you don’t set yourself a deadline, you’ll just take up all the time in the world to complete that task. But time is your enemy. You want to study as effectively and efficiently as possible so make sure you plan ahead and set yourself a strict deadline.
2. Try teaching your topic to others
“To teach is to learn twice” – Joseph Joubert
Teaching other people is a highly effective study technique that can boost your learning speed as according to this study done in the University of California.
In the first study, there were three groups of participants who would learn about the Doppler Effect. These groups included: people not expecting to teach, people preparing to teach and people who would actually go on and teach (through a video-recorded lecture). The participants would then take a test on this topic.
Now on the immediate test, the teaching and preparation group outperformed the people not-teaching convincingly. However, another test done (1 week later) showed significantly higher scores for the teaching and preparing-to-teach groups.
In summary of the study, it’s beneficial for using teaching as a study technique. The study claims “Overall, these findings suggest that when students actually teach the content of a lesson, they develop a deeper and more persistent understanding of the material than from solely preparing to teach”.
It’s often said that, “if you can’t explain it to others, you don’t know it well enough”. A lot of the time when we study a particular topic or chapter, we struggle to explain it to other people. You’ve probably heard someone say “I know this but I can’t explain it” which really makes you question their belief in the first place.
When you teach other people a topic, you have the ability to find gaps in your knowledge so you know where you can address your focus. Furthermore, when you teach someone a topic, they have the ability to ask you questions (which can sometimes be very challenging to answer), this can further consolidate your learning.
When it comes to the benefits of teaching, you can either utilise this effectively or quite poorly. If you’re going to just read of a piece of paper (your notes or page of the textbook) then teaching isn’t going to improve those connections in your head.
Conversely, the best way to reap the benefits of teaching is to teach without any material. This technique is called ‘active recall’ or ‘retrieval practivce’. This is probably the most important and useful study/learning technique there is to be known (keep reading to find out more).
How would you go about teaching during a study session? Well, you could either organise a study session with your classmates or perhaps you could record yourself doing a lecture so you can receive feedback from your other classmates. If you can’t get hold of another person at a certain time, the closest thing you could do is to prepare a lesson.
When it comes to preparing a lesson to teach, you have to think about the process and structure of your lesson. Whenever you teach, try to use as basic vocabulary as possible. Imagine as if you were teaching a 7-year old child, how would you begin? What are the basics? What are the key ideas?
Teaching is an excellent study tip and as I just said, you don’t necessarily need another person. You could after all, pretend as if you were teaching or actually record a quick video lecture.
3. Utilise ‘active recall’ or ‘retrieval practice’
Whenever you study, you have to use ‘active recall’ or ‘retrieval practice’ as some would call it. In all it’s essence, this can simply be described as ‘testing yourself’.
Active recall is where you force your brain to take out information that you know is already there because you already covered and learned a certain topic. Active recall is an extremely easy yet effective way in order to maximize your retention on a topic which will significantly improve your studying abilities.
There are several ways to ‘test yourself’ when it comes to studying. But the most important thing to remember is that you can’t use any material to help you.
Using the Feynman technique
Richard Feynman was a great theoretical physicist who worked in the fields of quantum electrodynamics, particle physics and superfluidity of certain materials. However, Richard Feynman was called “the Great Explainer”. He was given this nickname because of his ability to take a very complicated topic and break it down into easy principles consequently making him an excellent teacher and explainer.
This technique can be used for learning, reviewing and studying information.
The Feynman technique is very straightforward. You get out a fresh piece of paper and just write down everything you know about a certain topic. You should break the information down and try to use very basic language so even a person who doesn’t study that subject (or like mentioned above: a 7-year old kid) can understand it. It’s important to do all of this without any notes or materials.
Once you are satisfied with your explanations, you can then review your notes or material to check where you went wrong. Did you miss out a key idea? Well, you need to make sure you establish a memory method so you don’t forget next time.
You should repeat this cycle of testing yourself (as if you were teaching it to another person) and reviewing the information that you forgot to write down. You should be able to explain the ideas much quicker and smoothly once you grasp the language.
This technique works because it absolutely gets you to test yourself. You have to get out a fresh sheet of paper and explain a whole topic from your head! If that’s not using your brain, I don’t know what is!
Other ways to utilise active recall
Remember active recall is just testing yourself. It’s all about making your brain think and getting information out of your brain. There are various ways to do this other then the teaching and using the Feynman techniques, this includes:
- Practice questions/past papers- Doing problems and questions are probably the best way to test your brain, so long as you don’t use any material to help you. Keep reading to find out more about this.
- Flashcards- Flashcards are a go-to study method for many students. As long as you’re testing yourself with your flashcards, you will be able to study effectively and remember more.
- Mind mapping from scratch- Creating mind maps is not only wonderful for making notes, but it’s superb for testing how much you know as well. When it comes to your study session, try to make a mind map completely from scratch and then compare it with a fully prepared one. You can check out the full guide to mind-mapping here.
- The ‘blank page method’ (very similar to Feynman technique)- You start off by getting a fresh piece of paper. Then you decide on the topic heading and title. Once you have your topic, just scribble down information and diagram on that particular topic (not using any notes to help you).
4. Use memory techniques
Every student comes across content and material and says “how am I going to memorise all this stuff?”. Well don’t worry, because you can use memory techniques to boost your memory so that you will not forget any information for your exam or test.
The exact opposite of using memory techniques would be something like rote memorisation. Rote memorisation should only come into play when you can’t use any memory techniques in your learning. You should try to use memory techniques as much as possible because they will make memorising information less miserable and much quicker.
You’ve probably heard of using mnemonics to help you when it comes to memorising content. While mnemonics are an effective and quick way to memorising information, this isn’t the only method and it doesn’t help with memorising things like numbers for example.
How would you go about memorising numbers? If you had to memorise numbers for your test/exam then you could actually use a memory technique rather than rote memorisation.
How to memorise numbers
Memorising numbers can be difficult because we can’t really visualise numbers the same way we visualise some words.
In order to memorise numbers, we first need to see what we can associate numbers to. I will be sharing one method in this article, you can check out the full method on this other article on memorising numbers here.
In order to memorise numbers, we can think about each number representing a word or object. The following method creates verbal associations for each number. The words sound similar to the numbers, for example, the number 1 sounds like ‘bun’, the number 2 sounds like ‘screw’.
The list of verbal associations are:
Now that we have words to represent numbers, it’s time to create images in our head.
Using the ‘Memory Palace technique’
This is highly effective memory method you can use to memorise any information for your exams. Some people have used this to memorise entire novels, textbooks and dictionaries. The technique itself relies on creating a journey (which is why it’s sometimes called the ‘journey method’).
In order to use this method, you need to first decide on a location like your TV lounge or bedroom for example. Then, you need to go around this room and create ‘markers’ for each specific item or furniture you see. These ‘markers’ are going to create a list or journey.
For example, the things in the room I choose could be: TV, sofa, painting, shelf, carpet (note that the order is significant here). Now what you have to do is link each part of journey (each individual marker) with information you need to memorise.
Let’s say you needed to memorise what factors contribute to globalisation in Economics, these are: improved transport infrastructure, technology and IT (Wifi), reduced trade barriers and firms going international.
Now in order to memorise these things, you could just go over them, again and again (rote memorisation). But using a memory palace technique is going to be more reliable and there will be less chances of forgetting something (the memory palace technique can be really helpful when there’s a lot more than 4 things to remember).
How do we link the marker to the information? We use simple associations and images in our brain. It’s super important to make these images stand out so we can actually remember them. So for the journey:
- Starting with the TV, we need to link it to ‘improved transport infrastructure’. You must think creatively here and use your imagination to link these two together. So think about a television screen using a chariot and horse, you need to imagine the television acting as a human, so he would probably have a whip as well to keep the horse going. Now imagine the horse turns into an aeroplane and starts flying.
- In order to link a sofa and ‘technology and IT’ think about people visiting your house and sitting down on wifi routers, mobile phones and laptops instead of your sofas. Imagine how you would feel if you sat down on these. How does the cold surface of the devices feel?
You can continue the memory palace in order to link all the remaining information with the rest of the markers. If you want to read more about how to use this technique, check out this article I wrote.
When it comes to using memory techniques, you will need some practice at first but when you are fully set, you can memorise things as fast you can possibly imagine. It’s common for people to think that they’re just wasting their time but this will surely pay off in the long-run, everything in life is difficult at the beginning, you just need to stick with it and get better.
Memorising content for an exam can be difficult especially if you can’t really understand the information. Concepts might be vague and hard to visualise, but you can’t give up without trying. Rote memorising can sometimes be the last hope- rote memorizing with spaced repetition and active recall can get you over the line but always try to use memory methods where possible.
5. Create a study routine that has no distractions
When it comes to studying, you need to make sure you put in effort consistently; every single day. It’s no good to study for hours on one day and then do no work the next day. What you do need is a study routine.
By creating a study routine, you should be able to study everyday. This will ensure that you are putting in the effort- even if you don’t feel particularly motivated to study.
If you want to keep studying a consistent habit then you can check out the full guide here.
If you’ve already read my article about creating study habits, you will understand that a habit consists of three components: triggers, routines and a reward. When it comes to studying, we need to somehow make it rewarding in order to keep the habit going.
However, the reward doesn’t have to come from the actual studying, the reward can come from activities you do after you finish a good study session.
Creating a study routine can be very difficult because of the environment around us. With all the distractions we have around ourselves, it’s really difficult to just sit down and focus without checking our mobile phones every other minute.
My solution to eliminating distractions is from using application and website blockers. I would use an application on my phone or laptop to ban distracting websites like YouTube so I can fully focus on my task ahead.
Through completely removing these limiting distractions, I am able to study without checking my phone constantly and I believe that you can do the same. Check out the list of application and website blocking software here and get productive.
6. Practice, practice, practice and reflect
When it comes down to studying, you have to absolutely make sure you spend time doing practice questions. Practice questions are an essential part for preparing for an exam or test. Think about it, the best way to enter a test/exam is to go in knowing that you have already done similar style questions (or even the same questions) previously.
Although you might not expect to see the exact same questions on your exam, the key principle is getting sufficient practice so that you can answer any questions, regardless of the context. This is especially the case for subjects like physics, maths and chemistry where exam questions are less to do with simply memorising and more to with applications to a certain scenario.
It’s common to see excellent students messing on relatively straightforward questions because the context was quite different or it was not something they really came across before. The only way to solve this is through practicing and getting the full range of questions that could be thrown at you. Only then can you figure out how to think and approach these unique questions.
Plus, you need to make sure that you have exam technique covered as well as content. It’s unfortunate to see people who know all the information but fail to get through in their answers because they didn’t word their answers correctly, didn’t structure their essays or maybe even ran out of time in the exam! You need to know exactly how to approach the exam paper and the structure of it, inside-out.
Making a question database- Learn from those mistakes
When we do past papers- we have to make mistakes. Because this is where we learn from. However, sometimes we don’t learn from our mistakes at all. I remember a few times when we did poorly on a question (in a class test) and that same question came in the mock exam and nobody in class scored higher marks! Some people even did worse. Why?
It’s simple. We didn’t give enough time to go through our mistakes and actually re-do the question. That’s why whenever you do past papers, take screenshots of the question you got wrong and then attach the markscheme to it as well.
You can easily store questions you got wrong on your device so when it comes to revision, you know what mistakes you made in the past. You could also make flashcards for the questions you got wrong or what I did was used a spreadsheet software (Google Sheets or Excel) to write the question I got wrong in one column and the answer in the next column- I would then just blank out the answer and test myself.
However, it’s important to note that not all your revision should just be on past papers because if you are doing a new specification or syllabus, then perhaps there are no questions on a specific topic. It all comes back to how well you cover the syllabus.
Sometimes there are topics which just come out all the time- for these topics and questions you should just be able to whizz through them because they are so familiar.
Reflection is really important
We as students, don’t really take the time out to reflect on what we have done properly. After each past paper you do, it’s really important to reflect on what you have accomplished and see exactly where you went wrong.
It’s really important to analyse a mistake critically. Ask yourself, why did I make this mistake? And what can I do to overcome this mistake next time?
You will usually make a mistake that falls into one of these categories:
- Careless mistakes
- Lack of memory (couldn’t remember the information)
- Lack of application to question (you couldn’t apply what you learned to the question)
- Did not study/put no effort into revising content
If you want to know more about how you can reflect on mistakes then check out this article here.
Specific topic practice
When it comes to revision, you want to focus down on what topics really worry you. There is little point in practicing a topic that you know really well if you are struggling with another topic.
Before going into the exam, you should feel that you are prepared for just about anything the examiners can throw at you instead of saying “I hope that topic doesn’t come up”.
This is why when you are revising, you need to plan. Planning is essential. Make sure you start revising the hardest topics first because you are most likely going to need the most time to go through them. Also, some topics will have lots of content or memorization and so you will need to start revising those as quickly as you can so you can get several re-visits to that topic.