How To Be A Great Learner

How does hearing, reading, seeing or doing something turn into useful information you can recall at will?  The fact is, hearing, reading, seeing or doing anything just once, or only a few times, doesn’t provide you with the best results.

We now know that your brain needs to do several things in order for new information to really  “stick”. The old stay-up-all-night-cramming method is absolutely the least effective thing you can do.

Here are 5 tips that will rev up your ability to learn:

Space It Out

Studying a topic regularly over a few weeks, instead of studying in just one sitting, helps you remember 10% more, and helps you remember for a lot longer. 

Each time you recall something you have learned, that memory becomes harder to forget.  So give yourself enough time to space out your learning sessions.

Test Yourself

There are lots of ways you can test yourself so that you are forcing yourself to recall something you have learned.

Answer Questions

Book chapters often offer study questions that can help you “put the pieces together” and make sure you understood everything.  Online quizzes and previous years’ tests can also help you make sure you understand.

Use Flashcards

Make your own flashcards, with a picture or word on the front, and the correct answer or explanation on the back.  When you see the front, you will actively recall the information, and when you check the back to see how you did, you will ingrain the memory even deeper.  You’ll also be leveraging the power of association, so that when you see the word or image in the future, that memory will be easily accessed.

Self-testing uses your brain more comprehensively than merely reviewing notes or rereading the textbook.  It forces our mind to think about the answer.

Take A Wholistic Approach

The wholistic process of “interleaving” means studying related concepts or skills alternately during the same study session.

For example, if you’re studying a language, rather than spending an entire hour only focusing on vocabulary or reading, you could mix up your study session by spending 10 minutes memorizing vocabulary, 10 minutes reading or writing, 10 minutes practising your pronunciation and then circling back to one of the previous skills. 

By frequently changing how you are approaching the subject, the various streams come together so you gain understanding at a deeper level.

Explain It

When you have to explain something to someone else, you hear your own voice saying the information, which engages a different part of the brain, and when you’re teaching someone else, you organize the information in a way that makes sense, for them and for you.  Anyone who has to teach must first understand, so teaching someone else helps you ensure you ‘know your stuff’.

Sleep On It

Sleep is when most of the “memory consolidation process” occurs. While you are sleeping, the neural connections that form your memories are being strengthened, so the memory becomes more stable.

Having too little sleep can decrease your ability to strengthen and stabilize your memories, so staying up late cramming is definitely not the way to learn. 

One study showed that students who studied then took a 40-minute nap retained over 30% more than students who studied than just took a 40-minute break without sleeping.

We know you love to sleep, and now you have the best excuse in the world – you’re actually making yourself a better student.

These 5 tips alone will help you to become a confident learner.  In future posts, we’ll share even more.

young woman studying at a desk

February 26, 2020


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