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10 Tips to Study Smart and Save Time

10 Tips to Study Smart and Save Time

I recently got my marks back from University. My grade point average was a 4.2 out of a possible 4.5, resting between an A and a perfect A+. In itself, this isn’t an incredible achievement. But I managed to do this while spending only a fraction of the time studying than many of the people I knew.

Is it just natural talent? Perhaps. I’ve always had a knack for understanding concepts and learning new ideas. But I also believe the way I learned the information played a role. Instead of cramming last minute or memorizing details, I try to organize information in a way that makes it easier to recall.

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This strategy of organization I label holistic learning. Holistic learning is simply the process of organizing information into webs, that interconnect ideas. Instead of forcing ideas into your skull, you focus on the relationships between information. Linking ideas together to see the whole, instead of just the parts.

Building an Understanding

Learning is a process similar to building a house. You aren’t fed the complete picture. Limitations on communication prevent the instantaneous transmission of knowledge. Instead you listen to lectures, read textbooks and take painstaking notes to try and comprehend a subject.

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You are fed building supplies, bricks, mortar and glass. It is up to you to assemble the building. Unfortunately, most learning strategies fall into two basic types:

  1. Memorization – Instead of building anything you simply stare at each brick for several minutes trying to record its position.
  2. Formulas – This is the equivalent to being blind, fumbling around a new house. You can’t see the building itself but you learn to come up with simple rules to avoid walking into walls.

There is nothing particularly wrong with either of these strategies, assuming they aren’t your entire strategy. The human brain isn’t a computer so it can’t memorize infinite sums of knowledge without some form of structure. And formulas no longer work if the questions they are designed to solve change scope.

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Learning Holistically

The alternative strategy is to focus on actually using the information you have to build something. This involves linking concepts together and compressing information so it fits in the bigger picture. Here are some ideas to get started:

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  1. Metaphor – Metaphors can allow you to quickly organize information by comparing a complex idea to a simple one. When you find relationships between information, come up with analogies to increase your understanding. Compare neurons with waves on a string. Make metaphors comparing parts of a brain with sections of your computer.
  2. Use All Your Senses – Abstract ideas are difficult to memorize because they are far removed from our senses. Shift them closer by coming up with vivid pictures, feelings and images that relate information together. When I learned how to do a determinant of a matrix, I remembered the pattern by visualizing my hands moving through the numbers, one adding and one subtracting.
  3. Teach It – Find someone who doesn’t understand the topic and teach it to them. This exercise forces you to organize. Spending five minutes explaining a concept can save you an hour of combined studying for the same effect.
  4. Leave No Islands – When you read through a textbook, every piece of information should connect with something else you have learned. Fast learners do this automatically, but if you leave islands of information, you won’t be able to reach them during a test.
  5. Test Your Mobility – A good way to know you haven’t linked enough is that you can’t move between concepts. Open up a word document and start explaining the subject you are working with. If you can’t jump between sections, referencing one idea to help explain another, you won’t be able to think through the connections during a test.
  6. Find Patterns – Look for patterns in information. Information becomes easier to organize if you can identify broader patterns that are similar across different topics. The way a neuron fires has similarities to “if” statements in programming languages.
  7. Build a Large Foundation – Reading lots and having a general understanding of many topics gives you a lot more flexibility in finding patterns and metaphors in new topics. The more you already know, the easier it is to learn.
  8. Don’t Force – I don’t spend much time studying before exams. Forcing information during the last few days is incredibly inefficient. Instead try to slowly interlink ideas as they come to you so studying becomes a quick recap rather than a first attempt at learning.
  9. Build Models – Models are simple concepts that aren’t true by themselves, but are useful for describing abstract ideas. Crystallizing one particular mental image or experience can create a model you can reference when trying to understand. When I was trying to tackle the concept of subspaces, I visualized a blue background with a red plane going through it. This isn’t an entirely accurate representation of what a subspace is, but it created a workable image for future ideas.
  10. Learning is in Your Head – Having beautiful notes and a perfectly highlighted textbook doesn’t matter if you don’t understand the information in it. Your only goal is to understand the information so it will stick with you for assignments, tests and life. Don’t be afraid to get messy when scrawling out ideas on paper and connecting them in your head. Use notes and books as a medium for learning rather than an end result.

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.

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Last Updated on February 13, 2020

What Is Speed Reading and How to Successfully Learn It

What Is Speed Reading and How to Successfully Learn It

Too much to read, too little time! Don’t you wish you could read faster without compromising your knowledge intake? This is where a valuable learning technique comes to the rescue: speed reading.

Speed reading is the top skill to learn in 2020. Read on to find out all about this amazing technique!

What Is Speed Reading?

On average, an adult can read somewhere between 200 to 300 words per minute. With speed reading, you can read around 1500 words per minute.[1] Yes, that sounds impossible, but it is true.

In order to understand how this skill works, you first need to know how the reading process works inside a human’s brain.

The Reading Process

The first step is for the eyes to look at a word. This “fixation” on every word takes around 0.25 seconds.

Next, the eye moves on to the following word. It takes 0.1 seconds for the brain to move from one word to the next. This is called “saccade.”

Usually, a person reads 4 to 5 words or a sentence at once. After all the fixations and saccades, the brain goes over the entire phrase again in order to process the meaning. This takes around half a second.

All in all, this allows the average person to read 200 to 300 words in a minute.

Speeding up the Process

The concept of speed reading is to speed up this process at least 5 times. Since the saccade period cannot be shortened any further, speed reading emphasizes quicker fixations.

To accomplish this, scientists recommend that the reader skips the subvocalization: when the readers actually say the word in their mind, even when reading silently.

Basically, speed reading is the technique of only seeing the words instead of speaking them silently.

Do not confuse this with skimming. When a reader skims through a text, they skip the parts that their brain considers to be unnecessary.

You may skip important information in this process. Moreover, skimming does not allow the brain to retain what has been read.

Why Speed Read?

Speed reading is not just quick, but also effective. This skill saves a lot of of time without sacrificing information.

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Also, it has been proven to improve memory. The brain’s performance improves during speed reading, which allows the reader to remember more information than before.

Since speed reading stabilizes the brain, the information is processed faster and more efficiently.

Believe it or not, this technique leads to improved focus, too. As the brain receives a lot of information during speed reading, there is far less chance of distraction. The brain focuses solely on the job at hand.

Since the brain is, after all, a muscle, the process of speed reading acts as an exercise. Just like the rest of your muscles, your brain needs exercise to grow stronger, too.

A focused brain means improved logical thinking. As your brain gets used to receiving and organizing so much information so quickly, your thinking process will become faster.

As soon as a problem is thrown at you, your brain will quickly put two and two together. You will be able to retrieve stored information, figure out correlations, and come up with new solutions, all within seconds!

Still not convinced? Read 10 Reasons Why You Should Learn Speed Reading

Greater Benefits

With a healthier brain, you can expect better things in other parts of your life, too. A boost in self-esteem is just one of them.

As you begin to understand information at a faster pace, you will also begin to figure out more opportunities all around you.

With the ability to deeply understand information in a shorter period of time, your confidence levels will quickly grow higher.

Moreover, all the aforementioned benefits will relieve you of stress. You will manage your readings in lesser time, your brain will be healthier, and you will feel so much better about yourself.

With all these advantages, your emotional well-being will be healthier than ever. You’ll feel less stress since your brain will learn to tackle problems efficiently. Speed reading will lead to a relaxed, tension-free lifestyle!

How to Learn to Speed Read

Speed reading is a superpower. Fortunately, unlike other superpowers, this one can be learned!

There are different techniques that can be used to master this skill. Opt for the one that best suits your learning style.

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1. The Pointer Method

The person who is credited for popularizing speed reading, Evelyn Wood, came up with the pointer method. It is a simple technique in which the reader uses their index finger to slide across the text that they’re reading.

As the finger moves, the brain coherently moves along with it. It is an effective technique to keep the eyes focused where the finger goes without causing any distraction.

Readers have a tendency to back-skip. The pointer method prevents this from happening, thereby saving at least half the reading time.

2. The Scanning Method

In this technique, the reader’s eyes move along one part of the page only. This can be the left or right side of the text but is usually the center since that is the most convenient.

Instead of pacing through the entire text from left to right, the vision shifts from top to bottom.

This method involves fixation on keywords such as names, figures, or other specific terms. By doing so, the saccade time is minimized.

3. Perceptual Expansion

Generally, a reader focuses on one word at a time. This technique, on the other hand, encourages the brain to read a chunk of words together. In doing so, this method increases the reader’s peripheral vision.

Here’s the thing: even though the fixation time remains the same with perceptual expansion, the number of words that the eyes fixate on increases.

So basically, the brain receives 5 times more information within the same amount of time.

This technique is the hardest to master and takes the most time to learn. You’ll need help from speed reading tools in order to practice the perceptual expansion method.

However, once you master it, this technique will offer you the fastest reading pace with the maximum knowledge intake.

The Best Speed Reading Apps

The easiest tool to aid any process in any part of life these days is your smartphone.

You can use mobile applications to learn speed reading on the go. It has been proven that regularly practicing speed reading is the fastest way to learn this skill. [2]

Here are a few great options to look into:

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1. Reedy

If you own an Android smartphone, you can download Reedy to your mobile. Otherwise, get the chrome extension on your laptop to enjoy speed reading with Reedy.

This app trains readers to read faster by displaying words one by one on the screen. Instead of having to go through lines or long texts, Reedy prepares the user to focus on one word at a time.

Although this isn’t an effective method to learn speed reading long texts, it is a great way to start.

Once your brain gets used to the idea, you can shift to another app to train speed reading sentences or longer texts.

2. ReadMe!

Whether you’re an android or iOS user, you can take advantage of the ReadMe! application. This app even comes with some e-book options to practice speed reading on.

Start by choosing your desired font size, color, layout, etc. Other than that, there are different reading modes for the user to choose from.

If you want to practice reading sentence by sentence or in short paragraphs, you can choose the focused reading mode.

The beeline reader mode changes the color of the text to guide the eye to read from the beginning to the end at a certain pace.

Lastly, there is the spritz mode in which the app focuses on chunks of words at once. This controls the reader’s peripheral vision. However, this mode is not fully available in the free version of the app.

3. Spreeder

Spreeder is available on both iOS and Android. However, users may also gain benefits from Spreeder’s website. This application lets the reader paste in any text that they would like to speed read.

Starting off at a rather low speed, the app flashes words one by one. Gradually, as the user becomes more comfortable, the speed increases.

Slowly, the user is trained to speed read without having to skip any words.

This app is different from the rest because it tracks the user’s reading improvements, recording the overall reading time and speed.

The progress and improvement are tracked in order to motivate the user to perform even better.

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Adjustable settings, such as the speed of the text, background color, etc. are in the control of the user.

The Controversy Surrounding Speed Reading

Truthfully, speed reading does sound too good to be true. It’s hard to believe that it is humanly possible to attain such a fast pace in reading without compromising the quality of information you receive.

Perhaps as a result, there are people who do not trust the process of speed reading. They believe that when you read through a text at such a high speed, you cannot comprehend the information successfully.

According to these people, your brain is unable to process information at the speed that you’re reading, and so, they regard speed reading as problematic.

It is true that speed reading will be of no use if you do not understand the text you’re reading, no matter how quickly you did it.

Similarly, if you were to read slowly and still not retain or understand the information you read, that would be useless, too.

However, there a few factors to consider here. When reading at a normal pace, there is enough time in between every step of the process for the brain to get distracted.

Conversely, speed reading leaves behind no time for the brain to focus on something else. It is unlike skimming. No part of the text is skipped, which means that the brain receives every single bit of information.

Conclusion

Keeping all of this in mind, speed reading cannot be labeled a hoax or a failure. Science has backed up this technique, and numerous readers have been using this skill to improve their learning ability.

At the end of the day, it is your decision whether or not you want to trust this process.

However, if you decide to take advantage of the opportunities speed reading provides, you will find a world of possibilities opening up to you.

We live in a fast-paced world. Consuming information faster will help you keep up with that pace and find further success.

Speed Read Like a Pro!

Featured photo credit: Blaz Photo via unsplash.com

Reference

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