When you’re studying right, it shouldn’t take more than a few minutes.
If you’re studying effectively then you don’t need to spend a long time doing it.
The problem most students have is that they’re taught the wrong way to study their whole life. They spend years of their life practicing inefficient study strategies that end up causing more harm than good.
Have you ever had someone tell you that you need to “study more?” Or something like that?
If there is one thing that I’ve learned over the years, the amount of time a student spends studying isn’t the problem. The problem is how students spend that time.
If you spend hours reading your textbook you’ll have dramatically different results than if you spend hours studying flashcards.
There have been hundreds of studies proving this.
Reading Your Textbook Is Busy Work
I’m going out on a limb here and assuming that you don’t love reading your textbook. It’s probably not something that you’d ever stop to do for fun. (Other than maybe in that one subject you’re weird about. I have one too.)
Reading your textbook is slow.
Textbooks aren’t written to be entertaining. They’re written to be accurate.
That means you’re going to be given all kinds of precise words, details, and clarifications that make sure you can’t misunderstand a bit of it (or at least your teacher can’t.)
Your textbook is a utility. It has a very specific purpose to provide accurate information. It’s not perfect at that but it’s certainly closer to that goal then it ever will be to being fun.
Textbooks drop information in front of you to learn.
Learning comes in different forms though.
Part of learning is familiarizing yourself with the information. This can help you link together seemingly disparate concepts and create a map of the subject. This map is your own internal understanding of what is going on.
That’s important but there is a another important part.
Not all of your tests are open book.
That means, you’re going to have to know the precise words without looking them up.
You can’t afford to just be familiar with the subject. You need to be able to remember the precise language to make your point.
You can’t just say “Newtonian physics is kind of a like an idea that stuff like drops. You know?” because it’s not.
Maybe you know what you’re talking about inside your skull but if you can’t throw in some specific language, you’re still going to fail that test.
Understanding doesn’t matter if you can’t prove it with memorization.
Familiarization Kills Your Chances Of Memorization
Reading is a great familiarization study strategy.
It can help you understand the class material better by introducing you to how the different concepts connect to one another.
That being said, it is a horrible strategy to use exclusively for most tests because it will only familiarize you with the material.
You might recognize the old familiarization faux paus:
“I know that I know the answer to this question but I can’t quite remember it…”
You know what I’m talking about?
Familiarization leaves things on the tip of your tongue.
If you’re lucky you might be able to remember the correct term but most of the time it will just leave you stressed out and disappointed.
Memorization is what you need for most of your tests.
It is knowing the word on the tip of your tongue.
Your understanding of the subject will help you remember the specific trigger for the memorized term but the memorized term needs to be remembered to make that work.
There have been quite a few studies on learning strategies and there is one strategy that almost always takes the top spot as the most effective way to remember.
Active Recall Is The Bomb
Active recall is practicing remembering stuff.
So you think you remember something?
Say it to yourself without looking it up.
If you succeed at remembering it then you’ve used active recall.
This is just like using a flashcard. On the first side you see a cue. That cue should make you remember the fact. If you remember the fact then you’ve used active recall. If you didn’t then you’d fail to remember it on an actual test. You need to keep practicing.
Active recall is simple.
It is straightforward.
There is no ifs, ands or buts about it because you either know the answer or you don’t.
If you don’t know the answer then you need to keep practicing it.
Active Recall The Crap Out Of Stuff
Use this to your advantage.
Understanding is a hard to achieve state. One of the fastest ways to develop an understanding of a subject is to memorize the major concepts related to it.
The key to understanding is to be able to link the stuff you know to other stuff you know. The better you know that stuff, the faster you’re going to be able to create those links.
For example, reading a textbook is a whole lot easier when you’ve already memorized the vocabulary about it. You’ll be reading the textbook and saying, “I know that… I know that… Oh… Well… that’s how those things connect.”
If you don’t know the words you’re going to be reading stuff you don’t understand to try to find the link to other stuff that you just read about and couldn’t even remember if you tried.
Dealing with this is a key to studying effectively.
If you’re not using active recall then don’t even consider it studying.
It’s easier that way.
But This Is The Next Way Your Teachers Are Wrong…
Don’t study more.
Studying better is the first part.
The second part is studying the right stuff.
It would amaze you how few facts you need to learn to pass most of your classes. If you could go through every test you take through the semester then you could probably create a study guide answering every single question in a single page.
The reason you struggle is this: how the hell do you know what those specific questions are going to be before you’re asked them?
Answer that and you can cut your study time to a fraction of what it is now.
You don’t need to study more and more you need to study with a better and better focus.
In some classes, this process is as easy as reading the teacher’s study guide.
In some classes, you’ll need to take some notes about the subjects the teacher focuses on.
In most classes, you’ll want to ignore most of the insights of the textbook until your teacher brings them up.
The question you should be asking is:
What is the bare minimum I could study and still score near perfect?
The better you get at answering that, the less you’re going to need to study, and the easier it’s going to be to learn the stuff that you need to study.
This is productive studying.
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