Have you ever read through a textbook, finished a chapter, only to realize on exam day you really haven’t learned anything at all?
I had the same experience, too. But then I learned that the problem wasn’t that I was “forgetful”, no. My strategies were just ineffective.
I didn’t actually LEARN the material in the first place.
So, I spent a TON of time researching; I saw it as an investment that would make things easier. Finally, I came up with these simple strategies. Here’s the answer:
Learning faster requires using simple study techniques like Active Recall (self-testing) and the Feynman Technique, that facilitate deep understanding and combat the illusion of knowledge. By using these strategies, you can study better and more quickly.
Here’s what you’ll get after reading this post:
- Resourcefulness strategies that will FOREVER change the way you study
- How to attain MASTERY, not familiarity, by using 3 SIMPLE STEPS
- BONUS: The many studying LIES that hinder our potential (That most students believe!)
Let’s get started.
Exam Preparation: Preparing Study Materials 101
Textbooks are the best sources of information in a subject. That said—you can’t always afford to spend time reading textbooks for every subject; reading summaries and watching lectures can be fine for some, especially in procedural subjects like Math and Physics.
For subjects like these, I’ll also recommend where to get better problem sets later.
This is how you get the BEST textbooks
Common sense tells us that you should be getting the one that’s recommended in your syllabus. However, this is a rather narrow way of thinking about references.
Unless you come up with a really, really great and well-written textbook that’s easily understandable (while not compromising information), you still have to find another reference book for that subject.
I like to get recommendations from Quora. Quora is a question and answer website that allows people from all over the world answer any question that you may have.
Just type in “best book on *topic* quora” on Google and you should be able to see multiple results.
I scroll through each question and I just choose the one with a lot of upvotes.
When you see the answer, just google “title of book* *author* pdf download” and you should be able to find one instantly.
Be cautious of other sites, though. They’ll just show fake PDFs and will ask you to click a fake download link with ads and surveys they set up (dirty money-making strategy, but it works).
Anyway, if you didn’t find any book available for download, you could search on Library Genesis (look it up!) to see if they have the book there. Hint: Most books are available here
Why do we need to find more than one reference?
When you read your textbooks, you may find that other chapters are especially hard to comprehend—this is where the other books come in handy.
Some authors provide information in an easier-to-understand way, done through analogies, more common vocabulary, and easier examples.
However, I highly encourage that you actually buy textbooks especially if you are going to use it for a very long time (>1 year) as it will be worth your investment.
Why should we buy them?
Because books are like virtual teachers; for a relatively small amount of money, your knowledge base gets to a WHOLE NEW LEVEL just like taking a course in school. You’ll be supporting the authors, too!
What about studying Problem Solving subjects?
For these subjects, I recommend that you download “Solved Problems” types of books.
Bonus: Some professors use these as references because it’s easier to get challenging problem ideas here.
This way, you’ll avoid getting stuck on problems that have higher difficulty.
In addition, if you have topics that are still kinda difficult for you after class, check on YouTube for short lectures.
When I studied Integrals and Differential Equations for my board exams, this dude was my BEST friend (Check him out at Blackpenredpen on YouTube):
Combining the two approaches gives you the BEST possible understanding of procedures and practice material. You can never go wrong with these two.
One SIMPLE study hack: Use Schaum’s Outlines for Problem-Solving subjects. It’s available for almost every subject, especially Mathematics, Chemistry, and Physics subjects. Heck, it’s even available in Electronic Communications and Electromagnetics.
Also, it’s highly likely that it’s available in your school library, too.
For the most part, Google is still your best friend in finding resources. The Internet is a vast ocean of information, make use of it!
How to Learn Faster: 3 EASY Steps
When I was in college, I had absolutely NO idea how to study textbooks or how to absorb information from them. What did I do? Of course, I Googled it to death.
I searched for solutions, tried and tested them myself—until I found the methods that work. I organized them into a single system that is easy to follow, but brings AMAZING results. By doing these three simple
Step #1: Getting the Big Picture
Note: If you’re not getting information from a textbook, skip this step.
Reading a textbook is different from reading a fiction book; you don’t necessarily have to “anticipate” what’s going to happen.
For textbooks, it’s better if you know the BIG picture first.
By knowing the big picture first, new information is easily organized in your brain as they “hook” onto the main ideas.
There are 3 ways of doing this:
Read a summary
Reading a summary before reading is THE best way to get a clear picture of a whole chapter. It already has the main points, discusses them briefly, and perhaps the largest benefit—you save a ton of time.
Just like textbooks, you can find summaries of other people online and just go from there.
After reading a summary, you may find that you already have what you’re looking for and you may actually skip reading through the whole chapter altogether because it has been discussed pretty well in class.
Try to answer review questions or chapter objectives
If review questions are available at the end of your book’s chapter, then consider yourself lucky.
Why? It’s because the author thinks that these are the important stuff that you must learn.
He just saved you a ton of time filtering for important information while reading.
Here’s a relevant scientific fact: Psychologists have discovered that better learning takes place when you try to think of the answer before being shown the solution. This is called the Generation Effect. (study, study)
If both of the above is not available, you can just skim through the page one by one, looking at subheadings, bolded text, italicized text, and figures to get a rather clear picture of the whole chapter.
It also helps to ask questions to invoke curiosity before reading—which then again helps build “hooks” for new information to go into.
Step #2: Make your own questions while reading
Your own questions should not be just about what’s confusing or unclear. But, why should you create your own questions while reading? Can’t we just use Mock exams?
Sure you could.
But, by creating your own questions while reading, you reinforce a more active approach to reading. You’ll start to think of similar questions that may come out in an upcoming exam. You’ll DEEPEN your curiosity while reading.
And the best part is: you’re avoiding the Illusion of Knowledge.
The Illusion of Knowledge is subtle, so you might have already encountered it unknowingly during the past years of your studying career.
Ever re-read your notes 3 times for a test and forgot everything?
Highlighted or underlined important terms/phrases but ended up forgetting them?
That’s the Illusion of Knowledge at play. At ALL costs—avoid it.
There’s no knowing that you’ve actually learned the material until you can actually retrieve it from memory through testing. If information isn’t there, you won’t be able to recall it. Dead simple.
Now, on a piece of paper folded in half, create questions that test you about the material you’ve just learned on one side, with the answer on the other side. Here’s what it looks like:
If you’re gonna study using your computer, you can use Google Sheets to create questions and answers for yourself. I learned this technique from Ali Abdaal, a Junior Doctor in Cambridge.
Let me tell you: using this technique allowed me to review just FIVE MINUTES for a WHOLE book chapter. It’s insane!
His video explains this method in detail:
Lastly, the method that I prefer the most is by putting the questions and answers directly to a free app called Anki.
Anki is a flashcard app that utilizes the MOST EFFECTIVE study strategies: Active Recall, Spaced Repetition, Leitner System, Interleaving, and much more. I’ll talk about it in a future post 🙂
For now, here’s a screenshot from my personal deck.
Personally, I think it’s best to ALWAYS add “re-learning” material and make it appear after the correct answer, as shown in the image.
Just to be clear, I’m not at all affiliated with Anki (it’s free, duh), I just swear by it because it helped me land a top spot in my board exams.
I’ll be doing a FREE guide for everyone on how to use Anki. Also, let me know in the comments if you want content related to Anki (Anki vs Quizlet, perhaps?)
Step #3: Use the Feynman Technique
It’s basically “Explain the whole concept to a grade schooler” technique. (There, I just did it)
The Feynman Technique is an absolutely cool method of condensing information and understanding through analogies and simplification—by no other than Nobel Prize Physicist Richard Feynman.
Scientifically, psychologists refer to this as Elaboration. (study)Elaboration is the process of giving meaning to new material by connecting something that you already know. -Make it Stick: Science of Successful Learning Click To Tweet
If you had been searching for study techniques for a while, you may have encountered the Feynman Technique already.
Thomas Frank at College Info Geek made an excellent video about the Feynman Technique, here’s the video for your convenience:
Myths and Limiting Beliefs about Studying:
Intelligence is fixed at birth
This is absolutely the #1 limiting belief of everyone—and it hinders their potential BIG TIME.
This fixed mindset leads people into “accepting their fate” and turns off all their motivation to even try. Worse, some people with this mindset feel a constant need to prove themselves—they want others to think they’re “smart”, too.
While there’s nothing wrong with wanting to be smart, just know that there are better ways that it can be done—by ACTUALLY becoming smarter through learning strategies.
Heck, if you’ll just apply what you’ve learned in this post, you’d see results literally OVERNIGHT.
In her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Dr. Carol Dweck states that there are two mindsets that people have: A fixed mindset, and a growth mindset.The fixed mindset says, “If it’s going to be, it will be.” but the growth mindset says, “If it’s going to be, it is UP TO ME.” Click To Tweet
Adopting a growth mindset allows you to unlock your full potential. The growth mindset is about believing that growth and improvement can be cultivated through hard work and continuous learning.
Related Post: How to Motivate Yourself to Study
We only use 10% of our brain
This is a modern urban legend, and I think this came from the two Hollywood movies—Limitless and Lucy.
Limitless has this “smart pill” that allows the one who takes it to access 100% of their brain and unlock superhuman thinking powers; this implies that humans don’t use 100% of their brains. Also, Lucy has a similar concept to this one, but it’s weirder because as she got smarter, she got turned into a flash drive.
…Idk about you but it really creeps me out.
But that’s not all—another Neuroscientist Barry Beyerstein presented 7 pieces of evidence in his 1999 study “Whence Cometh the Myth that We Only Use 10% of our Brains?” that clearly shows the 10% notion is false.
The Learning Pyramid, aka Dale’s Cone of Experience
When I first heard of the learning pyramid, I started to hate reading.
“Really? Why on earth should we even read books if we can only remember 10% of it?”
On the contrary, I was able to explain every concept in the chapters I studied, so how the hell is the 10% retention true?
Well, I just found out it is indeed false.
It was actually a corrupted version of Edgar Dale’s Cone of Experience—a combination of the Mythical Retention Chart (left) and Dale’s Cone (right) that someone put into a single image.
Being simple, it actually spread out on the internet and moved on to become an urban myth.
Visual, Auditory, Verbal, Kinesthetic etc. Learning Styles
These myths just go on and on and on, and the worst part is—it’s widespread. In fact, a survey says that 90% of people in US believe this.
The notion that our learning should be done such that it fits our “Learning Style” is a myth that needs to stop.
Not only does it produce a limiting belief that “I NEED pictures/visuals, I’m a visual learner”, but it also makes people believe that actually studying based on their preferences will lead to higher test scores–another debunked myth.
A study by Pashler et al. stated that they have been unable to find ANY evidence that clearly meets the standard of validating the use of a learning-style assessment in an instructional setting. (emphasis mine)
Highlighting and Underlining may make your notes and textbook more organized, making information “easier” to see. But a lot of students use this method as their primary way of studying.
According to an article in BBC News, Prof. Dunlovsky says in his research “When students are using a highlighter they often focus on one concept at a time and are less likely to integrate the information they’re reading into a larger whole”
You are either right- or left-brained
“Left-brained people are rational. Right-brained people are creative.”
It’s just not the case. Don’t take my word for it, science said it.
A study done on 1000+ people revealed that brain side dominance was a false belief.
Here’s another proof.
According to the book, “Disorders of the Nervous System: A Primer”, it states that BOTH sides of the brain have “the capacity to express appropriate feelings, appetites and drives; the capacity [for] learning, memory, logic, etc.;”.
This does not state anything about brain side dominance, however, it clearly states that the functions of the brain-sides that widespread pictures claim to be true are entirely FALSE.
Studying smart is all about using the right strategies in learning. Now that you can learn fast, make sure to check out the next part of this series about How to Revise for Exams and Encode Information to Long-Term Memory.
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