I’m not a fan of studying. I never liked it, don’t think I ever will. But, ever since I discovered my “internal barriers” to studying, I quickly began to search for hacks to overcome them, because… exams. Ugh.

Let’s face it, exam time is the time when many students rush to “cram” work into their minds within the final few hours before they’re about to take a test. While this can actually work (as it has for me many times), you find that, beyond some days after the examination, you can’t really remember squat!

Lawrence Clement (2016) reported that “students who report internal barriers lack motivation as well as cognitive and metacognitive skills“; and “study time is correlated with retention, motivation, and study effectiveness, but not with performance” (p. 357).
Source: (Clement, 2016)

Don’t feel to badly if this is your issue. I’m about to share some effective ways to study; and you’ll remember what you’ve learned.

Here we go!

#1 Fast Revision Technique – FRT

It’s frequent revision, really.
The same day you learn something, revise it once more at the end of the day and then go it over at the end of the week. At the end of the month, review it again and then continue looking it over on a monthly basis.
This will work as a proactive approach to studying. What does this mean? You won’t have cram!

#2 SQ3R

SQ3R consists of 5 steps:

  1. Survey – speed read the material with intention and the mindset that you have to absorb information. This creates a good foundation for the next step.
  2. Question – ask questions that you think are important about the subject and write them down. Set a goal to answer every one of them as best as you can.
  3. Read – after listing your questions, read over the material again. Approach the material with a mission to answer the questions you’ve come up with. Take notes if you have to.
  4. Recite/recall – speak out the points you’ve learnt, aloud. Hearing the material doubles up on the effectiveness of the technique.
  5. Revise – Use the FRT technique (#1) for maximum effect.

#3 Dual Coding

So this worked for me. A lot!
Use combinations of words and visual aids to concretize what you’ve learned.
I used acronyms, songs or counted steps to remember my material. Let me explain:

  • Acronyms – this is a rather common technique. You can simply find ways to create succinct phrases to remember important points that you can then elaborate on. Choose letters that make up a word (it doesn’t have to be real) that you can remember easily. Then assign a line or phrase to each letter.
  • Songs – I once helped my brother learn the planets that revolve around the sun by, drawing them, writing their names underneath and then composing a song for us to sing together. It was catchy! To this day, a couple decades later, we still sing it as a childhood memory. I just may have dated myself there. Oops!
  • Counted steps – so my brother developed this one for himself. He came up with the idea when he had to go to the grocery for my mother. I asked him once, “how do you remember everything mom tells you to get, without writing anything down?” He replied, “I count how many things she said, I repeat what I heard, and then I say them over with a number like #1 – butter, #2 – bread, #3 – sugar, and so on. When I get to the grocery, I start to count. If I fell short, I knew I left out a number”. Mind blown. I applied the same thing to my work, specifically things that had stages or steps. It worked!

#4 Explanations

As simple as it sounds, it’s very effective.

Find someone that you can have a discussion with about the subject you have to learn and ask them to let you explain it to them.

May I propose a script? Start like this.
“Hi George, do you know about effective learning techniques?” George may say no. So tell George ahead of time that this isn’t for him, it’s for you; but he could learn too. Perhaps you may have to give George an incentive. $1 maybe (ha!).

What you would find happening is that, if George is a good participant, he could ask you questions that can help you further break down the topic. You may even have to use relatable examples for him to understand. There you go! You’re now a student and an educator!

#5 Retrieval

So, this is similar to what my brother did. But this is more focused on recalling what you’ve been taught, without a hack.

With this technique, you remove (from your sight) anything that reminds you about the subject matter and try to write down or recite the material you were taught. When you’re done calling out or writing down what you remember, you check the material for accuracy.

Here’s a trick. I find this to be especially useful right before sitting an exam. If you speed read the questions and use the retrieval technique, you can quickly jot down everything that comes to mind so that you won’t forget when you come upon the question during the test. You’re welcome!

#6 Timed study sessions

So here’s a nifty idea I used often for my harder exams.

Break up your study time into short periods for focused concentration and take even shorter breaks. For example, study for 20 minutes, take a break for 5 minutes. For each study period go hard, set a goal of what you need to remember, make sure you’ve met it.
You may, at times, adjust the time frame, but always learn one thing. If you need to, also, you can break up the topic over a few periods.
It’s a good technique, I promise; but you have to get rid of distractions to use it effectively.

#7 Online resources

Of course I couldn’t NOT mention that YouTube and Google have helped me with almost EVERY challenging topic I encountered. It’s also wonderful that it’s $free-99!

I’ve used Khan Academy and TED Talks regularly. For other types of information, I just search for engaging content on various channels. This alternative was specifically effective when I just could not grasp the understanding of the topic in class. I did not want to be left behind and have to stress out myself having to “catch up” before the next class. Digital platforms offer you the flexibility of choosing how you want to learn.

Final thoughts

So, Now What?

Does this feel like 7 more things you need to absorb and remember? Well I hope not. These techniques are a buffet, so choose what you like and leave what you don’t. (Unless of course you are like me and the word buffet just means YES!)

It would be remiss of me if I did not say that you should also combine the techniques you are comfortable with and use them repeatedly for the best results.

Not everyone learns in the same way, so again, decide what suits you and your personal style. There is diversity in everything, even in the way we absorb, understand and communicate information. So let’s celebrate this, because ultimately, the goal is that we all win!

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