“How many hours should I study every day?” is a common question that you might have asked at some point in your life.
While we shall not evaluate the usefulness (or lack of it) of this question, this question fails to address your capability to consume information per unit time.
Why is it that some students study less and still manage to score higher?
Why do you get stuck on the same paragraph even after reading it two or three times over?
And what are some optimal ways to manage our time in a manner such that we do not have to miss out on life itself?
Let’s find out.
With advancements in psychology, sociology, and brain physiology, we have started to learn more about how learning takes place. Some key research from the study of cognitive sciences suggests that any new learning is done by building on our pre-existing knowledge of the world around us. Any recent memory is associated with the linking of neurons in the brain.
These links are known as neural synapses. As you recollect the same information more frequently, the neural synapses become stronger, thus reinforcing that particular memory in your brain. The consumption of excessive information in a significantly short span of time leads to a lack of clarity in building and strengthening the right connections.
Another key idea to keep in mind is that just because you want to learn about a topic does not increase the likelihood of you understanding that topic well. Understanding and memory depend on your ability to process information efficiently and not on your level of interest in the prescribed subject matter.
But what are some practical ways that can help you learn faster and in a more efficient manner?
Before proceeding with these tips, we must keep in mind that not all ideas work for every student. Every child is unique, and therefore, you need to see what works the best for you. Don’t take any of these ideas with blind faith and expect immediate results.
Sit with them. Explore. Innovate. Discover the optimal strategies for yourself and see the difference in your academic output.
Increase the number of senses you involve while consuming information
The average student relies on reading the subject matter in order to understand it. While doing that is not exactly wrong, it is scientifically proven that the more sensory organs you involve, the better you understand that piece of information. Therefore, a more efficient way of learning could be to say the words aloud while reading. An even better idea could be to find an audio file for the same content that you are reading and listen to it simultaneously.
The chronological order of learning efficiency is as follows: Silent reading < Reading out aloud < Reading + Audio Input < Reading + Audio + Visual/Graphic inputs
Using your peripheral vision
Speed reading is an art. And while not all speed reading techniques are efficient ways to deeply understand any topic, the usage of peripheral vision while reading is fairly simple and effective.
Peripheral vision is that part of your vision which you see outside of your main or macular vision.
The basic idea is to not move your head from left to right while reading an entire sentence. Instead, focus on the central part of the text and use the width of your vision to scan the entire sentence. With regular practice, you will be able to see more words in the horizontal space at a single time while fully being able to comprehend each of the individual words.
The Feynman learning technique
Ideated by the legendary Nobel Prize-winning physicist - Dr Richard Feynman, the Feynman learning technique involves four simple steps that help you understand any topic in-depth:
Step-1: Pretend to teach a concept that you want to learn about to a sixth-grade student. You don't actually have to teach it if you don't feel comfortable just yet. You can have an inanimate object in front of you and pretend to teach it to that object, thinking of him as a sixth-grade student.
Step-2: As you practice this exercise, you may observe some gaps in your knowledge. Identify these gaps, and then go back to the source material to understand those sub-topics in a greater depth.
Step-3: Organize your thoughts and create short written notes that can fully summarize the concepts that you have learned.
Step-4: Transmit your knowledge to other people, and see how they respond to it. Their questions can help you find deeper points worth introspection.
Creating a conducive study environment
A lot of students often fail to appreciate the importance of an ideal learning environment and the kind of impact that it has on your quality of learning. Creating an ideal learning environment includes setting up a clean room, organizing your notes, creating colour codes and flashcards if necessary, and finding creative ways to increase the appeal of your study material.
Sure, this in itself would take up a significant portion of your time, but this exercise is similar to a woodcutter sharpening the axe before cutting down a tree. It demands a certain time investment but gives you a more than a satisfactory return on your investment. Not only will these factors enable you to study for longer and more frequently, but they’ll also enhance your ability to understand the subject significantly.
Optimizing your study times and patterns
Memory building is a 3 step process that includes: Acquisition, Recall, and Consolidation.
While the acquisition and recollection of memory occur when your brain is active, consolidation of information happens when you are in a state of rest or sleeping. Therefore, it is usually a good idea to eat healthily and maintain optimal sleep patterns to maximize your learning efficiency. Studying right before going to bed can also be a good idea, especially if you wish to study a theoretical subject. Organizing your study schedule so that you can revisit the same topics every few days since first encountering a particular topic will ensure that you never forget that idea for the rest of your life!
The difference between studying and efficient learning is what determines your holistic development as a student. You can find sufficient time to pursue your creative hobbies and physical sports if you are able to manage your time successfully.
Therefore, incorporating efficient learning methods into your daily academic routine is essential.
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