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How to Study Less by Learning Things Once

How to Study Less by Learning Things Once
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    You read over your notes. Then you read them over again. Then you read them over a third time. Then you take the test and are surprised at just how much you missed. Despite reading everything three times!

    A lot of study time is wasted because of one problem: you fail to learn things the first time around.

    Repeatedly going over the same information like putting a band-aid over a sieve. It may reduce the water that slips through, but it doesn’t solve the fundamental problem: that you have too many holes.

    The key to reducing the amount of time you study is simple: learn things the first time you see them, instead of after dozens of repetitions.

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    This is all easier said than done. I’m sure if your mind was without holes you could easily capture any information that slipped into it. The real question is how can you do this? I don’t believe it is just a matter of being a genius or chance, but based on how you study.

    Step One: Find the Holes

    If you want to repair a leaky brain, you need to figure out where the holes are. Identify what type of information you have trouble remembering. Recognize when you’ve just gone over information you don’t quite understand. Here’s a few questions to ask yourself after every chunk of ideas to find your holes:

    1. What from this section am I most likely to forget?
    2. What concepts are completely new to me? (Rather than ones that feel familiar)
    3. Which ideas am I having the most difficulty grasping?

    When you identify weak points, you can invest more time in fixing those instead of wasting time with a blanket studying technique of all information.

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    Step Two: Repair Weak Points

    Once you’ve identified potential weak-points, you should immediately seek to fix them. Drop everything your doing and seek out a fix for the problem. Programmers understand that a bug left in the system can create several hundred times the cost to fix it later. As a learner, you need to understand that the same principle of fixing problems quickly also applies.

    There are hundreds of books written on various strategies to fix weak points, which is a bit outside the scope of this quick article. But here are a few starting points:

    1. Memorizing?If you need to store arbitrary information, try using the link method. This is where you visualize an exaggerated image that combines the two things you want to associate. You can memorize formula’s this way by linking vivid pictures to the different symbols. A formula such as F = C/A, could become a scale with hundreds of (F)eathers on side and a giant (C)aterpillar sitting over millions of (A)nts.
    2. Conceptualizing?If you need to understand information try drawing a picture or diagram to combine the ideas.
    3. Retaining?If you need to retain a complicated mass of information try using metaphors and vivid examples to connect the abstract information into something you can easily relate to.

    Repairing weak points in your understanding isn’t that difficult – if you first know where they are. Simply focusing on a piece of information can help you understand it. But if you don’t know which parts you’re missing, it is easy to skim over everything and not realize what you’ve missed.

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    Step Three: Check Your Understanding

    Do you “get” it. Does the information make sense to you at a deeper level, or does it seem arbitrary, meaningless or difficult to derive? Most school tests and virtually all real-life tests are designed to answer a single question: do you understand what you’re studying?

    If you aren’t sure, that’s when you need to start working deeper. Keep asking yourself “why” until you reach a point where the subject makes sense. Here are some tips for improving your understanding:

    1. Look for sensory descriptions.Your brain isn’t a computer. It’s designed to retain emotional, vivid and sensory information better than abstract or dry details. Link a sensation, picture or story to the abstract details. When learning how to do determinants (a form of math using matrices) I imagined my hands moving through the diagonals, one adding and one taking away.
    2. Get the background.A lot of information that seems meaningless makes more sense when given a context. If your stuck on trying to wrap your head around a particular point, do some research into it’s origins. This may take more time up-front, but can save hours as future concepts are built upon it.

    Step Four: Test Yourself

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    Whenever you’re experimenting with new learning methods, you need to measure the results. Check to see whether your new system is actually helping you remember more. Once you get familiar with a system, you can more accurately judge the extent of your knowledge. But until then, test regularly so you can tweak the system to fix errors.

    The best tests are objective ones. If you’re in school, look for past exams, tests or textbook questions to check your understanding. If you’re teaching yourself, come up with short exercises that can prove to you conclusively you know what you’re doing.

    The most important piece of advice I can give is this: treat study time as being sacred. Go in with the expectation that you will either learn everything through the first go, or you will identify areas that need further clarification. Focus and become aware of any potential holes so you can learn things once.

    More by this author

    Scott H Young

    Scott is obsessed with personal development. For the last ten years, he's been experimenting to find out how to learn and think better.

    The Power of Ritual: Conquer Procrastination, Time Wasters and Laziness How to Motivate Yourself: 13 Simple Ways to Try Now How to Cultivate Continuous Learning to Stay Competitive 22 Tips for Effective Deadlines 18 Tricks to Make New Habits Stick

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    Last Updated on March 31, 2020

    Is Procrastination Bad? The Truth About Procrastination Revealed

    Is Procrastination Bad? The Truth About Procrastination Revealed

    Procrastination is very literally the opposite of productivity. To produce something is to pull it forward, while to procrastinate is to push it forward — to tomorrow, to next week, or ultimately to never.

    Procrastination fills us with shame — we curse ourselves for our laziness, our inability to focus on the task at hand, our tendency to be easily led into easier and more immediate gratifications. And with good reason: for the most part, time spent procrastinating is time spent not doing things that are, in some way or other, important to us.

    There is a positive side to procrastination, but it’s important not to confuse procrastination at its best with everyday garden-variety procrastination.

    Sometimes — sometimes! — procrastination gives us the time we need to sort through a thorny issue or to generate ideas. In those rare instances, we should embrace procrastination — even as we push it away the rest of the time.

    Why We Procrastinate After All?

    We procrastinate for a number of reasons, some better than others. One reason we procrastinate is that, while we know what we want to do, we need time to let the ideas “ferment” before we are ready to sit down and put them into action.

    Some might call this “creative faffing”; I call it, following copywriter Ray Del Savio’s lead, “concepting”.[1]

    Whatever you choose to call it, it’s the time spent dreaming up what you want to say or do, weighing ideas in your mind, following false leads and tearing off on mental wild goose chases, and generally thinking things through.

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    To the outside observer, concepting looks like… well, like nothing much at all. Maybe you’re leaning back in your chair, feet up, staring at the wall or ceiling, or laying in bed apparently dozing, or looking out over the skyline or feeding pigeons in the park or fiddling with the Japanese vinyl toys that stand watch over your desk.

    If ideas are the lifeblood of your work, you have to make time for concepting, and you have to overcome the sensation— often overpowering in our work-obsessed culture — that faffing, however creative, is not work.

    Is Procrastination Bad?

    Yes it is.

    Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you’re “concepting” when in fact you’re just not sure what you’re supposed to be doing.

    Spending an hour staring at the wall while thinking up the perfect tagline for a marketing campaign is creative faffing; staring at the wall for an hour because you don’t know how to come up with a tagline, or don’t know the product you’re marketing well enough to come up with one, is just wasting time.

    Lack of definition is perhaps the biggest friend of your procrastination demons. When we’re not sure what to do — whether because we haven’t planned thoroughly enough, we haven’t specified the scope of what we hope to accomplish in the immediate present, or we lack important information, skills, or resources to get the job done.

    It’s easy to get distracted or to trick ourselves into spinning our wheels doing nothing. It takes our mind off the uncomfortable sensation of failing to make progress on something important.

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    The answer to this is in planning and scheduling. Rather than giving yourself an unspecified length of time to perform an unspecified task (“Let’s see, I guess I’ll work on that spreadsheet for a while”) give yourself a limited amount of time to work on a clearly defined task (“Now I’ll enter the figures from last months sales report into the spreadsheet for an hour”).

    Giving yourself a deadline, even an artificial one, helps build a sense of urgency and also offers the promise of time to “screw around” later, once more important things are done.

    For larger projects, planning plays a huge role in whether or not you’ll spend too much time procrastinating to reach the end reasonably quickly.

    A good plan not only lists the steps you have to take to reach the end, but takes into account the resources, knowledge and inputs from other people you’re going to need to perform those steps.

    Instead of futzing around doing nothing because you don’t have last month’s sales report, getting the report should be a step in the project.

    Otherwise, you’ll spend time cooling your heels, justifying your lack of action as necessary: you aren’t wasting time because you want to, but because you have to.

    How Bad Procrastination Can Be

    Our mind can often trick us into procrastinating, often to the point that we don’t realize we’re procrastinating at all.

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    After all, we have lots and lots of things to do; if we’re working on something, aren’t we being productive – even if the one big thing we need to work on doesn’t get done?

    One way this plays out is that we scan our to-do list, skipping over the big challenging projects in favor of the short, easy projects. At the end of the day, we feel very productive: we’ve crossed twelve things off our list!

    That big project we didn’t work on gets put onto the next day’s list, and when the same thing happens, it gets moved forward again. And again.

    Big tasks often present us with the problem above – we aren’t sure what to do exactly, so we look for other ways to occupy ourselves.

    In many cases too, big tasks aren’t really tasks at all; they’re aggregates of many smaller tasks. If something’s sitting on your list for a long time, each day getting skipped over in favor of more immediately doable tasks, it’s probably not very well thought out.

    You’re actively resisting it because you don’t really know what it is. Try to break it down into a set of small tasks, something more like the tasks you are doing in place of the one big task you aren’t doing.

    More consequences of procrastination can be found in this article: 8 Dreadful Effects of Procrastination That Can Destroy Your Life

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    Procrastination, a Technical Failure

    Procrastination is, more often than not, a sign of a technical failure, not a moral failure.

    It’s not because we’re bad people that we procrastinate. Most times, procrastination serves as a symptom of something more fundamentally wrong with the tasks we’ve set ourselves.

    It’s important to keep an eye on our procrastinating tendencies, to ask ourselves whenever we notice ourselves pushing things forward what it is about the task we’ve set ourselves that simply isn’t working for us.

    Learn more about how to fix your procrastination problem here: What Is Procrastination and How to Stop It (The Complete Guide)

    Featured photo credit: chuttersnap via unsplash.com

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