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Monday, June 29, 2015

How To Memorize Insane Amounts Of Information (Quickly)

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This article is my response to request I received from a student. That student was looking for a way to memorize a list of words for a foreign language. Now, I would normally recommend using my typical study strategies outlined through this blog, one thing changed that. This student didn’t want to memorize the list for class. She wanted to memorize the list for her own personal scholarship. Since grades aren’t the primary concern anymore, a ton of details in learning change. To really memorize a set of information and make it stick, I recommend a different set of strategies.

The basic layout to think about when trying to memorize a large amount of information is as follows. First of all, you need a standard method of memorization. You need to have a strategy that you plan on using through the whole process. Flash cards are going to be used as the example in this articles. There are alternatives but flash cards are usually the most accessible method.

Second, you need to set up a cycle of sessions for studying based on the amount of information you need to remember, the time you have to study them, and the accuracy rate you want to achieve. The faster, the better, and the more, you want to learn, the more sessions and cycles you’re going to want.

Third, you need to adjust the information to be palatable on flash cards. For foreign languages, this should require no work at all. If you’re applying this strategy to biological processes or something complicated, it’s essential that you scale back complex details and only force yourself to memorize the macro details at first.

Throughout this article, I’ll go over how to make sure this basic layout turns into something practical, easy, and quick. Most of the information provided so far can get you into an effective study strategy but without the details you may end up wasting a ton of unrequired study time.

The Method

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If you don’t have any better ideas, don’t feel the slightest bit bad using flash cards as your go to method. I’ve practiced similar strategies for years and they’re my go to method. Sure, flash cards suck but they provide more versatility and effectiveness than 95% of methods.

There are other options if you get creative though. For foreign languages, there has been one particular strategy around for years. To memorize a language just put post it notes on everything that you own and write the foreign languages word for it on the post it note. This is a powerful strategy for languages but unfortunately, you need to combine it with another method to include parts of speech other than nouns.

There are a ton of game methods as well. There are boatloads of websites that create games based on learning. Using those games instead of flashcards is reasonable. Of course, it comes with the risk of not learning the exact words you need. (No game was specifically designed for your learning needs.) Also, you need a computer to use them.

See the complexities I’m talking about? Flash cards are usually way easier.

Cycled Sessions

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Don’t use those flash cards in the typical “study for an hour” style method. Sure, it will work better than some things but that’s one of the least efficient ways to learn.

Use your flash cards in sessions under 15 minutes long. It’s much better to require extra short study sessions than increase the time you sit and study. The human brain learns best early in the study session. By doing multiple study sessions, you learn best for more time than using just a single study session.

If you need to learn a ton of information then increase the number of sessions you use per day. If your motivation is for school then I don’t recommend more than 6 ten minute sessions per day. (Ideally, don’t use this method for school though. Use my other strategies outlined in this blog.) To the student that asked the question: Since your motivation is personal, you can add in virtually as many sessions as you want every single day. (Max perhaps around 1 per hour. You don’t really need that many in most cases though.) If you ever feel drained then just cut back on the sessions.

Lets say you have 1000 words you’re trying to memorize. It would be absolutely insane to try and cycle randomly through 1000 different flash cards. That’s why you should break up the flash cards into sets of 10-30. Then design a schedule to go over all of the different sets of flash cards.

So, if you’re studying 50 sets of 20 flash cards, you may schedule them one after another with 5 sessions per day. That would take 10 days to get through. That comes with some problems though. By day 10, you won’t remember most of the information from day 1. So try to cycle day 1 flashcards in on day 3, then day 2 flashcards on day 4, and so on. Notice how complicated this is getting? Yea. Write down the schedule to make it work. (Also don’t feel bad about combining sets into fewer larger sets of flashcards as you get through memorizing them. So, instead of two sets of 20 you can make one set of forty to be memorized in a couple days.)

You need to be really damn motivated to make this work. I’ve personally done it but I wouldn’t judge anyone that struggles at this. If it’s too much then cut back somewhere until it’s reasonable for you.

Macro VS Micro

Throughout school, I got in the bad habit of studying almost anything with flash cards. I would write one word on one side of the flash card, then on the other side I’d have a wall of text that I’m trying to remember. That doesn’t work too well.

Some information is not designed well for flash cards. That doesn’t mean that you can’t use flash cards though. It means you should probably adjust the information into something that’s more accessible with flash cards. Let’s say you have this monster of information for your flash card:

Required Information:
Metazoa: Heterotrophic and motile multicellular organisms. (Some have adopted a sessile lifestyle.)

Yikes! Do you have any idea what that means? Well… I don’t but that shouldn’t be an issue for my point.

The easiest flash card to make would be “Metazoa” on one side, and then the line after that on the other side. That wouldn’t be a miserable flash card but it’s definitely not an ideal one. There are ways to make this easier though.

First of all, if you have any flash cards explaining what “heterotrophic,” “motile,” and “sessile” mean, then learn those flashcards first. Put this flash card into a set you study after those other words are learned.

Second, don’t be afraid to lop off a semi-essential piece of information like “(Some have adopted a sessile lifestyle.)” At least, be willing to lop it off early in your study session. Maybe write it on your flashcard but don’t force yourself to remember it to get through that flash card until the second or third time through the set of flash cards. (Write it in blue or something to make it obvious.) Using a strategy like that you can include unbelievably complex concepts on a single flash card and not feel like banging your head against a wall.

By using a cycled sessions strategy like this one, you should be able to memorize virtually anything you’re looking to memorize. It requires significantly more motivation than many of my methods but for personal use, it can be absolutely ideal.

Do you want to know how to study in less than fifteen minutes a night? That’s what this blog is all about. Be sure to check out the articles in the archive and follow to learn more. Also, please check out the ebooks in the sidebar.

Monday, June 22, 2015

How To Permanently Improve Your Study Strategies With One Unusual Trick

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“My grades were miserable,” he was telling me. “But that was the time I started playing basketball. The funny thing is that I didn’t really change my studying all that much. I just spent hours and hours a day watching basketball, learning basketball, and even reading books about it. Virtually everything I focused on, for a while at least, was basketball. Somehow though… my grades popped right up.”

This isn’t all that unusual a story. Sure, the specific activities change but it’s actually rather typical. I’m not just talking about sports here though. Sure, study after study has confirmed that students participating in sports tend to get higher grades but it’s more than that. (Also, those studies often just show a strong correlation. Correlations aren’t all that useful alone.) No matter what “growable” activity a student gets themselves caught up into their grades will regularly improve.
What do I mean by growable? I mean they can improve at it. For example, no one person can watch TV better than another person (well, maybe they can but it’s not something people practice and try to get better at.) Basketball, on the other hand, offers tons of options of gaining new skills. That makes it a “growable” activity. Anything that you consciously try to improve at can work.

Once a student finds an activity that they can grow at, they have the chance to learn something about learning that many students never do. Learning is a process that works best at peak levels of focus. Student’s that enjoy learning something can understand that most of all. By getting significant amounts of practice at serious studying and training, every time they study or train anything they end up farther ahead.

Don’t Give A Hoot

Here’s the sad truth. Most students (probably not you because you’re reading this) care only the slightest bit about school. Sure, they’ll show up because they’ll get scolded if they don’t but their minds are consciously focusing on other things in their life. Occasionally their brain drifts back for a while but to call it focus would be exaggerated. They pretty much just show up.

Who can blame them though?

Every person has different interests and skills. It seems impossible for any school to offer enough methods of teaching to stimulate every students interests. Schools these days hardly even try. (Really, so many schools have plenty of duds for teachers that haven’t got fired in over 20 years of poor teaching. It’s one of my major pet peeves.)

Over those years, if a student happens to come in contact with something they actually care about, it’s usually due to dumb luck.   

How To Work This Into Your Life

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For many students, this is a purely lucky coincidence. They never consciously set out to improve themselves by studying something that they care about. It just happens naturally. In some ways that’s a good thing. In other ways it’s much better to consciously focus on it. Using these three steps you can start from zero and end up learning more about studying than you could have ever imagined before.

It’s a slow process, by the way. It could end up taking months to complete every step. It won’t be months of work but it will require a lot of thinking about what you’re doing.

1. Find Something You Love To Study

This can be the most painful part of the process. Or… ideally… it can be the easiest part.

Do you have any activity that you love to do virtually all the time? Next, ask yourself if there is a clear way to get better or worse at it? As offered before, tv is something you might love to do but can never improve all that much at. (If you find a way to improve at it significantly, perhaps it could still work but I won’t be recommending it.) If you can’t improve at the activity then you need to change your approach.

If you find out you don’t have any activity like that, it’s time you invested a significant portion of your time into looking for it. That’s the time to look at things you wish you could do. Look at everything you admire and spend your time on. Then experiment with those things until you find something you love and can improve at. (By love, I don’t mean you want a career for the rest of your life. I mean, you’re genuinely curious enough to waste a few weeks on it.)

One activity that you might not have considered is video games. They often offer a huge amount of improvement potential. Sure, it’s not the most productive hobby in the world but if you enjoy it then perhaps you can spend your time learning the in and outs of a single game. (Heck, look into some video games and you’ll find thousands of pages of strategy and analysis. They’re often more accessible for improvement than sports.)

2. Study It and Keep Track

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Once you find that activity that you can bury yourself in. Bury yourself into it. Start reading books on the subject. Start practicing it. Start listening to podcasts about it. Start trying to plot and scheme your own strategies. All these activities, when focused on improvement, can seriously improve your grades.

Notice the phrase, when focused on improvement. If you just happen to go to the court to shoot hoops with some friends, you can’t say you’re seriously focused on improvement unless your brain is really invested in it. If you’re telling jokes on the court and not thinking about your screw ups then you’re probably not invested in it.

After you start to see yourself get better at the activity you’re doing, you’re likely going to find your learning gravitating towards a single learning activity. Maybe you’ll find yourself reading a ton of books on the subject. Once you find yourself gravitating towards that one activity. Start taking note of all the important factors surrounding that studying.

For example, where do you study? Is there background noise? How long do you need to study before you feel like you got something? How are you studying? This information is preparing you for the third step.

3. Implement What You’ve Learned

Using the strategy you enjoyed learning what you love, start trying to learn school related subjects. So, if you read biographies outside to learn about basketball, perhaps you should read biographies to learn about history? Perhaps not, you will never know unless you try.

Sometimes, implementing a study strategy that school doesn’t approve of will lead you into studying slightly different material than you’d study for school. In most cases, you shouldn’t worry too much about that. (If you’re an A+ student fighting to get into a top university in the country then worry about that. If you’re happy hitting A’s then I wouldn’t be too concerned.) It’s often better to study slightly off track in a way that you enjoy than to study right on track with something you don’t enjoy. (Because you’re more likely to study off track enjoying yourself longer.) Naturally though, it’s ideal to study school materials directly.

Some of these study strategies will easily fit into your study routine. Others won’t really work. The key is to try them and see what clicks. You’ll never know until you try.

More importantly than all that conscious effort. Your brain is going to be learning how to focus more effectively. That extra focus will offer improvements to your studying whether you use a strategy you learned from this exercise or not. That’s the real secret.

Do you want to study faster than ever? That’s what this blog is all about. Be sure to follow and check out the archives to keep up. Also, check out the ebooks in the sidebar.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Busy VS Productive Studying

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This is a concept that’s been noted time and time again through the business world but it’s rarely brought up in a studying context. Even though it’s hardly ever brought up, it’s one of the most common problems that students struggle with. By learning the difference between busy studying and productive studying, you can dramatically reduce the studying time required to get the same grades. It can also be used to seriously increase your grades with little to no extra time investment.

The average student is well trained in busy studying. It’s the kind of studying that most teachers recommend. Busy studying is studying that requires your full attention but doesn’t necessarily give you any good results. One common style of studying that fits this category is reading the textbook. Some students spend hours reading their textbook hoping that the information will stick, usually, hardly any of the information sticks. That just means they have to read the textbook more and more. That’s busy studying.

Productive studying usually requires your full attention but it actually provides you with significant results. It’s not just wasting your time repeating yourself in hopes to get something to stick, it’s actually using a sticky method to go over the information in the first place. This is the kind of studying that most students should do but unfortunately, most students don’t do.

Why Not Study Better

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From a young age, children are encouraged to study like an idiot. Studying isn’t an easy concept for a young child to get their head around. Honestly, scientists have spent careers trying to learn how people can study well. It’s a complicated subject. So… instead of trying to teach young children a complicated study session,  teachers and parents usually just teach children the good old repetition study strategies at first.

The good old repetition study strategy is one of the worst culprits of busy studying. It’s hard to memorize something. You need to be focused. You need to have motivation to learn it. You need to understand it to some extent. These all are complicated study requirements to understand at a young age. That being said, with a repetition study strategy, eventually, you will stumble into the right position to learn information. It will just take a little extra time. (Young children tend to have plenty of that time to invest.)

Good studying doesn’t require short term repetition if you’re doing it right. If you’re trained with a good study strategy, you shouldn’t need to go over the same information more than once (at least most of the information you’re studying.)

Eventually, most students are taught some effective study strategies. They’re taught things like flash cards and mnemonics. Some may be crazy enough to work with mind maps. That being said, they never learn the intimate details that actually make them effective. (Things like focus aren’t treated seriously.) That tends to make students fall back on their old repetitive study strategies.

Why Don’t Students Stay Productive

Productive studying is painful.

Yes… I used the word painful. It requires a large investment of energy. You need to invest focus, motivation, and planning into making productive studying work. It will save you a ton of time but it is not something that comes naturally for school work.

I use flash card examples a lot throughout this blog but I feel like it’s one of the few study strategies that everyone is already familiar with. That means I don’t have to re-explain simple details to make my point.

Flash cards are difficult to use correctly. If you’re working really hard with a set of flash cards, you’ll become completely exhausted mentally. By the 30 or 40th flashcard you’re going to be a little bit stressed out. That’s understandable. That’s to be expected. That’s why most students using productive study strategies quit and decide to use a more simple study strategy like repetition.

Is Productive Studying Worth It?

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Many students decide that productive studying isn’t worth the cost in energy but from my experience, I think the energy is well worth it.

You only have so much time to spend studying. Since you’re limited on the amount of time you can study, you are also limited in the grades you can get using repetitive study strategies. Since they’re so inefficient, you may not even be able to get your grades up to the level you want.

Using productive studying, you can easily reduce your required study time investment by 50%. I’ve personally been able to cut my study time by 80-90% (depending on how you wanted to calculate it.) Since it requires less time investment, your grades aren’t as limited by the time you can invest.

More important than those two point though: You have only so much time in your life. Sure, studying can be good for you but I imagine there are much more enjoyable things you could be doing with your time. For every hour you save on studying, you get to spend an hour doing things that you actually care about.

Productive Studying In A Busy World

Sadly, one of the most common reasons students avoid productive studying is family and teacher pressures. Teachers and parents will assume you’re not studying well if you only spend 20 minutes studying every night. That means, they often pressure students (or downright force them) to study longer.

Considering how painful productive studying can be, it’s hard to blame anyone for not using it if they aren’t allowed to benefit from the extra time. That being said, I don’t think giving up is the right solution here.

There are plenty of other ways you can work with productive study strategies. With a little creativity, all restrictions can provide wonderful loopholes to enjoy. Perhaps if you’re in a really tough situation you can look up some studies done on studying and show the evidence to people restricting you. (The longer someone is studying, the less efficient they get at studying.) Of course, having to beg permission to study effectively is one of the biggest problems with education these days.

Get creative and solve your study problems. It’s difficult at first but it’s well worth it in the long run.

Do you want to study in less than 15 minutes a night while still killing on the tests? That’s what this blog is all about. Be sure to follow and check out the archives for all the details. Oh… and have a kindle? Be sure to check out the books in the sidebar.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Stand Up Studying

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What I’m going to be going over, on the surface, looks an awful lot like a minor point. It, alone, won’t dramatically improve your grades. Yes, it can have a positive impact on them but the real point of this article will come later on. I’m going to be telling this in a bit of a unique way in hopes that it helps the most important concepts sink in.

What if I told you that you could improve your grades by studying while you’re standing up?

It probably sounds a little ridiculous on the surface. It seems like one of those micromanagement things that I’ve discussed in the past. By that I mean, it’s a minor detail that you could waste hours experimenting with just to find a weak correlation with better memory. A weak correlation is hardly worth the extra effort involved.

It might seem that way but I’d make the argument that it’s not.

Study Experiments

I’ve done hundreds of memory and study experiments in my life. I’ve constantly tried to find the most efficient way to learn the things that I had to learn. One of those experiments I did was with standing while studying. Of course, one semi-controlled experiment on an individual doesn’t mean all that much. That being said, considering I wasn’t trying to solve the problem for the world, I was just trying to solve the problem for myself, it was all I really needed.

By standing up while studying I increased by average memory test scores (long term and short term) by 5-10%. That is a relatively dramatic result for my average testing. The vast majority of my testing methods resulted in virtually no discernable data. This was an experiment that I was actually pretty confident in before starting because I had a theory.

I’d done a number of experiments using physical activity while studying. I had the theory that muscle activation helps improve memory.

This wild theory was repeatedly proven in my own experimentation. I hopped on one leg while studying. I used sign language. I did all kinds of bodily triggers for memories. Each one of my experiments showed a small memory increase when muscles were activated. That got me thinking that my theory was right.

Muscle Activation And Memory

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My theory was originally based on wild and unscientific evolutionary theory. I thought, memory was required for hunting, gathering, and running from dinosaurs (okay… I know that last one’s not true,) so perhaps, memory is designed to work better in physical situations. Physical situations were more life and death than non-physical ones.

My experimentation was able to prove (well-enough for my own personal use. It wouldn’t be nearly enough proof for a serious theory,) that unscientific theory. To some extent, science has already proved this theory with it’s on experiments.

Have you ever heard of muscle memory? Muscle memory is “riding a bike.” It’s the idea that, even with decades in between the last time someone rode a bike, they can still remember exactly how they need to move their muscles in order to not fall over. That’s actually an unbelievably complicated muscular movement that takes virtually no time to stick in the permanent memory.

Many experiments have gone even deeper with that memory and muscle connection though. Experiments have been done with subvocalization, sign language, and many other physical activities that show similar results. By activating your muscles while you’re studying, you introduce something else into your memory. Your brain is treating the situation with a higher priority than sitting on the couch with some flash cards.

What I Want You To Take From This

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Studying is a full body experience.

Now, I can’t promise that statement is 100% true. Perhaps there is some part of your body that doesn’t participate in the acquisition of memory. That being said, I recommend you imagine my statement is completely true. Study as if, studying is a full body experience.

What do I mean by a full body experience?

I have a friend that’s an artist. If we were to watch a movie together, he’d always pull out his sketch pad and draw while the movie was playing. At first, I found this awfully irritating. I thought, there is absolutely no way this guy is enjoying this movie. That’s when I tested my theory by quizzing him.

I asked him questions about the movie we were watching. With my first 10 questions, I couldn’t even tell he wasn’t watching the movie with all his energy. He constantly answered my questions right. (That was until I got into downright stupid questions like “what color shirt was this character wearing last scene?” I couldn’t have answered that one despite watching it.)

I asked him about this after that movie. He told me something like, “it may look like I’m not paying attention but I draw with almost none of my attention. It’s just doodling to help me focus.” (Naturally, his doodling makes my 100% focused drawing look like crap but that’s beyond the point.)

Not all things require all your attention to do. You can probably chew gum and walk at the same time. Many students try to treat studying as if it’s chewing gum and walking. Instead of giving their studying all of their attention, they spread their attention between as many things as possible.

Distractions are deadly to focus while studying. This may seem wierd based on how I presented the information so far.

As much as you like to think texting your friend while studying won’t devastate your studyings effectiveness, you’re wrong. Unless you can objectively prove through your own personal experiments, that you’re the exception to the rule, you should not be letting yourself listen to music, talk to friends, or surfing the web while studying. Those offer physical and mental distractions that do miserable things for your studying.

Wouldn’t activating your muscles while studying be a distraction from actually studying? To some extent, I imagine it is. If you were, for example, trying to learn to ride a bike, I have a feeling you would suck at memorizing anything else. What if you’ve already mastered riding a bike? Then I’d think memory would be improved. Instead of being distracted it would be a rhythmic muscle activation that virtually doesn’t distract you at all. (Unless you were, perhaps, in traffic or something.)
Now, throughout this article I drove this train of concepts right off the tracks and brought it down a few different dirt roads. Here is where I’m going to be trying to bring it back onto the tracks I was hoping to introduce you to…

What if mental activity can work similarly to physical activity when it comes to studying? If you had a rhythmic study interruption that didn’t require any focus to deal with, could it offer similar improvements to your ability to study?

What’s the answer? I don’t know.

My point: Studying is an unbelievably complicated subject that no one has even scratched the surface on. Everything I write in this blog is my attempted interpretation of the things I’ve learned and experienced.

Science is a constant tunneling of vision. Newton’s theories allowed scientists to focus their vision better. Despite all the progress made, Newton was proven wrong (or at least not 100% right) by Einstein. Einstein allowed scientists to focus their vision better. Some theorists think they’ve proved Einstein wrong in certain ways. Whether that’s true or not is irrelevant but the idea that a scientific theory can’t be proven wrong is faith and completely unscientific.

Experiment to learn more. Sure, this blog can help you focus better based on what science has discovered but if you ever get the curiosity to test for yourself, that would give me more pleasure than any of the grades you could get from talking this blog as gospel.

Do you want to know how to study faster than ever? That’s what this blog and my books (in the sidebar) are all about. Be sure to follow this blog to keep up with all of the details.

Monday, June 1, 2015

7 Teachers You Don’t Want To Have

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All the studying in the world doesn’t help if you have the wrong set of teachers. Actually… that’s not true. All the studying in the world is what you need if you’re stuck with a miserable teacher teaching the subject. A good teacher makes a huge difference on your final grade for a few different reasons.

The first reason is a reason I’ve mentioned a number of times on this blog. Some teachers give easy A’s and some teachers rarely ever give them. Every teachers makes their class a little bit different in difficulty. Sometimes, you can just switch teachers and see a dramatic improvement in your grades.

The second reason is a bad teacher can kill motivation. It’s tough enough to study most subjects. If you have a teacher that drives you nuts then you’re never going to be able to focus and learn as much during class. That means you’ll need to spend more time outside of class catching up.

The third reason is one that I rarely mention because it’s kind of a given. Some teachers are good at teaching. Others are bad. Some teachers are good at teaching people like you. Others are not. These differences completely change the dynamics of a classroom situation.

Here are 7 teachers you don’t want to have teacher your class:

The Complainer

I can remember a slew of these teachers during high school. There I was getting dragged into a class I didn’t want to have to go to (I hated high school) and some teachers still insisted on sharing how depressing their own life was.

If the class was a little noisy the teacher would go on a massive aggressive or passive aggressive rant about why the students should listen. Sure, the students should listen but when with 9 out of 10 teachers the students do listen, the teacher never considers they might be the one with the problem.

It’s a teachers job to get the student to care about the material. If the students don’t care about the material, of course, they’re not going to listen. This is common sense. Perhaps instead of complaining about how tough your life is, you should learn from the evidence the students are presenting.

Of course, that’s not nearly as bad as the teachers that come into school complaining about their personal lives. “Oh! I don’t get paid enough!’ Then shut up and get a new job. Students don’t control your paycheck. In fact, it’s none of their damn business. “Oh… my wife and I were arguing,” You are paid to educate people; not talk about yourself.

Monotone Lecturer

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It’s like some teachers actively try to be as boring as possible. Really… I can’t talk as boring as a monotone lecturer even when I’m trying really hard. The natural intonations of my voice  end up slipping through as I’m trying to sound as boring as these teachers.

When a teacher goes through his or her lesson with a monotone voice, you can make a few assumptions with a high degree of accuracy. First, they don’t care about the students. Everyone knows that monotone lecturing sucks. Second, they don’t care about the subject. Passion leaks through when you care about something. Third, they are likely bored to death with their own life. I imagine they must go full breaking bad during their free time just to stay sane. Fourth, they don’t update their lessons often. So much for improving the lesson plan every year, these folks tend to teach the same crap, year in and year out, whether it works well or not.

Avoid monotone lecturers.

PowerPoint Pros

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No… Put away that powerpoint. I know how attractive it looks but don’t do it.

The sad truth is that 99% of people blow at powerpoint presentations. Sure, I’ve seen a couple good ones in my life but it’s such a subtle balance that most people would be miles better off by just lecturing the subject.

There are a ton of mistakes that can be made on powerpoints. One of the most common is the walls of text. Really… what is the point of putting a wall of text on a powerpoint and reading it? Most people that read the text off the powerpoint would rather you shut up. Most people don’t actually read the text and just wait for you to finish reading it. So, what is the point of it?

You have one of the most advanced technologies in history. You could build animations, show pictures, show graphs, and all kinds of other things but there you are building a book projected on a screen that’s so brightly lit that it’s a little painful to even read off of.

Sure, pointless animations are another common problem. If it’s not actually related to the subject then you’re just being weird.


Man… teachers should not bring politics into the classroom. People like to pretend classrooms are a place for free and open discussion of the topics but that’s a couple lie in 99% of the cases. For that reason, most teachers shouldn’t even pretend it’s a free open discussion. It’s better if they just stick tightly to the educational information.

If you end up learning the political leanings of a teacher in a classroom during a class that isn’t related to politics heavily (history, political sciences, etc.) then you can almost instantly assume that teacher is an idiot. It doesn’t even matter if they agree or disagree with you. They’re stupid just to bring the subject up.

When a teacher shares certain beliefs with you, it can affect the education in two ways. It can affect their treatment of you and it can affect your treatment of them. Either way, unless both parties are mature (No… they’re not) then this will lead to problems or perceived problems in the classroom.

Center Of Your Universe

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Some teachers seem to think that their class happens to be what you dream about at night. They think that you go home and study the subject for three hours with a huge smile on your face. They think all their student’s lives are going to revolve around their subject in the future. That’s why they insist on giving you so much work on their subject so you have no time to spend on any other subject.

These teachers are absolutely insane. Don’t take classes from them. They will make you waste hundreds of hours on pointless activities on the subject. Sure, you may learn a ton about that subject but you’ll be sacrificing sanity, other grades, and things that are actually important to your life for what will most likely be a relatively pointless grade.

Conform Or D(ie)

Sometimes getting the right answer isn’t enough for a teacher. You have to use their specific methodology to get that answer. Sure, in some subjects like math, that’s actually kind of important. But even in subjects like that teachers can get insane.

I remember having a math teacher deduct points for me not writing down a super easy addition problem that came right after a super tough algebra problem while following her specifications perfectly up to that point. “Oh… well… if you don’t write down the no-brainers then your not showing ALL your work.” Oh please… there is no productive value to excessive writing stuff down when it’s been locked in your brain for 10 years. Sure, it’s a little stupid but at least there is a little sanity to this.

Some teachers go as far as forcing subjective strategies on all of their students work. Despite it being their personal preference they’re willing to knock off points just for doing it the slightest bit differently.

Let’s face it. People don’t think the same way. People aren’t all the exact same. Some people require different strategies than others. A teacher forcing a strategy on you is also forcing you not to use a strategy that works well for you.

Grade Curvers

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I know… I know.... Some students love grading on a curve. Some students hate it. It usually comes down to how much it has helped or hurt them in the past.

If a teacher is insanely difficult then a grade curve can seriously improve the average students grade. If a teacher is easy then it can seriously hurt the average students grade. Of course, it gets more complex than that though.

What about the students? If you have a classroom full of smarter students, you’re going to be in a bad position. You’d suddenly have to compete to get higher grades. If you have a classroom full of lazy students then you don’t have to compete as much.

From most of what I suggested from my piles of articles on this blog, you might be thinking, “this sounds like an exploitable situation.” By getting in classes with grade curving  teachers and a bunch of idiots, you could end up getting straight A’s without much work. In theory that’s wonderful but in practice, that’s impossible (at least as far as I’ve tried. I also caused the school to fix an exploit in their website allowing. Oops…)

Ultimately grading curves just introduce a ton of really hard to control variables into the equation. Avoid them as much as possible.  You can’t control who you’re in a class with. You can only control your own success or failure and which situations you put yourself in.

Sure, some of these teachers may not be your pet peeves but this is a pretty good list of my major ones. It’s mostly to remind you: Don’t take classes without teachers you like. Honestly… it’s a huge factor. In fact, I would pick the hardest teacher of a subject if I truly liked the teacher. It helps during every second of the learning process. In the same respect, I would avoid a teacher I didn’t like even if they were an easy A. Is that productive for my grades? I don’t know but I just think life is too short to waste with people I don’t enjoy being around.

Do you want to know the secrets to studying in less than 15 minutes a night? That’s what this blog teaches. Check out the archives and follow along for all the updates. Also, if ebooks shake your maracas then be sure to check out the three listed in the sidebar on the right.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Getting $50 For An A: On The Floppiness of Stakes

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It’s an education classic hit. Some students are lucky enough to have parents willing to pay them a certain sum of money for each good grade they get. Ultimately, it’s using stakes to, ideally, encourage the student to actually work to earn a better grade.

Since grades are typically considered a longer term investment. It can be difficult for people to discipline themselves into putting in the necessary work in the short term. That parent  offering a payment for the grade is supposed to help the student by shortening up the return on investment. It tends to work well but it comes with some consequences.

As much as I would have loved a system like this through my high school years, my parents would barely say good job for an A. (They weren’t bad but they didn’t make it a big issue.) Getting stakes like this would have definitely encouraged me to focus on my grades even earlier in my education. As a student though, you don’t have control over the offers your parents make to improve your grades. You only have access to yourself.

It’s the sticky world of stakes. Many students believe setting up stakes is one of the better ways to improve their study discipline. By finding a way to make your wins feel better and your losses feel worse, you can bring more options into the pot. Instead of trying to get an A+ because it feels good, you try to get an A+ for some other carnal pleasure (money perhaps.) This is a strategy that works but you need to keep one thing in mind.

Marshmallow Test

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You may have heard of this study before. Children were left alone in a room with a single marshmallow on a plate. Someone then told the child, if the child could wait 5 minutes without eating the marshmallow, they would give the child a second marshmallow. The person then left the room. The poor kids would squirm around in their seat. They’d stare at the marshmallow like a lion staring at a gazelle. They virtually ate their tongues. Some of the children gave up and ate the marshmallow. Some didn’t.

The children were kept track of later in life. The children that didn’t eat that marshmallow ended up significantly more successful than the children that did eat the marshmallow. The implication suggested that delayed gratification is one of the surest signs of success.

If this is true then I like to link this to setting up stakes for school. Schools like to suggest the benefits of school come a long time into the future. The students may not be all that different than before the school year but 20 years later they’re going to be glad they learned this stuff. (I don’t believe it in most cases but let’s assume it’s true for now.)

Using stakes is like throwing an extra marshmallow into the equation. It’s like if the scientists said, “if you make it two and a half minutes in without eating it, I’ll give you a marshmallow to eat.” With that, I can virtually guarantee a much larger percentage of the children would succeed but the correlation with success in life would be less clear between successes and failures.

My point is this: If getting good grades is important for the future then you shouldn’t need a short term incentive to encourage it. Adding the short term incentive may be a benefit in the short term to the individual student but it take the focus off of the long term incentive. It doesn’t teach the student how to look at the long term implications. That could come with long term consequences.

But… I happen to believe that getting good grades isn’t all that important for most students future. Sure, it can theoretically be important. If you get good grades because you love learning, or you know how to suck up well, or you are naturally gifted, or you come from a good family, or any other correlation then it matters. The actual process of getting those grades, seems to me, of minimal importance. (Some of the most successful people I know did horrible in school. Some of the least successful people I know did great. Sure, it’s not scientific but neither are their weak correlations.)

Assuming grades don’t particularly matter (just assume it for a moment, even if you don’t buy it,) then adding prize to the good grades received is a great method. It is the long term marshmallow encouraging students to suffer in the short term for long term benefits.

This makes it a great potential benefit. That being said, many students (and adults in other matters) assume that they can add these same stakes to themselves to improve their own behavior.

Self-Imposed Tyranny

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Assuming you believe that stakes work, you might want to try to implement them in your own study routine. If you can convince your parents to give you cash then good for you. I wouldn’t count on that though. Instead, you might try self-imposed stakes. You might say, “I’m not going to use Facebook again unless I have an A in this class.”

On the surface, this can look similar to the previous stakes. If you get the good grade, you benefit. If you fail to get the good grade you lose out. There are a number of problems with that kind of a stake though.

First of all, you’re not using a purely positive stake. You’re taking something that you care about away. It’s kind of like you’re holding something you love hostage.That’s not exactly the most pleasant way to try and learn discipline. In fact, it’s setting yourself up for a rather painful fall.

The next problem is that it’s completely self imposed and enforced. Your success at following through with your stakes is completely dependent on your remaining discipline. If you’re disciplined enough not to cheat then I’d be willing to bet you’re disciplined enough not to need to take things you love hostage.

Ultimately, you’re just setting yourself up to suffer. The better you set up the stakes, the more you’re going to end up suffering. That means you may not be quite as rational as you should be in your decision making processes. Considering the whole point of this is to learn something, I think forcing yourself into these emotional hostage situations is just going to make it harder.

You may be able to get someone else to enforce these rules on you but ultimately, you’ll always be stuck knowing that you imposed it on yourself. You’re still just delaying the day you learn the amount of discipline you should have. Instead of stakes being a benefit, they become a crutch.

So, I believe stakes can help in school but I wouldn’t waste any time trying to work out the details for a healthy kind of stakes. It seems like an unnecessarily complicated subject.

School Is Important?

What they teach you in school may or may not be important. I personally haven’t found much of it all that useful (until college then I had one or two really good teachers.) School is important for another reason though. There is an old line I heard before that explains why well. It’s from Martin Luther King Jr.

What I’m saying to you this morning, my friends, even if it falls your lot to be a street sweeper, go on out and sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures; sweep streets like Handel and Beethoven composed music; sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry; (Go ahead) sweep streets so well that all the host of heaven and earth will have to pause and say, "Here lived a great street sweeper who swept his job well."

You’re stuck going to high school. There are very few practical occasions that it’s worth fighting that. If you’re stuck going to school then just learn to do what you do well. Sure, what you learn may be unimportant but just learning to control your body and mind in unpleasant situations will do you more good than any stakes could provide you.

Do you want to learn how to study in less time than you’ve ever imagined? (15 minutes a night max.) That’s what this blog is all about. Be sure to follow it and check out the archives. Also, if you enjoy the content then check out the three ebooks in the sidebar.) 

Monday, May 18, 2015

6 Things To Ask Yourself Before Going To College

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Too many students underestimate the importance of the decision to go to college. The vast majority of students (particularly the more gifted ones) are poked and prodded from their childhood with the idea of going to college. Considering the statistics, it’s virtually inevitable that an average or above average student is going to end up in college. Hell, some students are even required to apply to colleges to graduate from high school. It’s hardly even considered a choice anymore.

That being said, college is a choice. The question that’s virtually never asked is, “is it the right choice?” Sure, statistics show a correlation between income and education. That correlation, doesn’t necessarily mean much. It could just mean people “destined” to make more money tend to go to college. (By destined, I mean any of a million possible factors. Students that go to college could be smarter than average. That means they’d probably make more money with or without college. Students that go to college could be richer. That means, again, they’d probably make more money with or without college.) Of course, even considering that correlation matters assumes income is a more important goal than happiness. My point is just that it’s more complicated than it looks.

I think college can be one of the best decisions of a persons life. A college education can open a ton of doors. That being said, you need to think about what’s behind those doors and whether or not you really want to open them. (There are plenty of doors you can open without college too. Maybe you’ll like those better.)

Here are some questions to ask yourself before going to college:

1. Do You Want To Go?

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This is a more important question than most students consider it. Your decision to go to college is going to cause you to spend tens of thousands of dollars. That makes it a pretty big risk to be playing around with.

If a year into college, you change your mind about wanting to go, you’re still going to have to pay for that year of college. More importantly, you’re probably going to have to pay for that year of college with a non-college graduates job. Sure, plenty of students end up surviving that mistake but it could easily take years of your life just to start back at zero again.

That dynamic leads many students into graduating just because of the costs they’ve already lost. They’re committed to four years because they can’t afford to switch to doing what they want to do. That, usually, just leads to the college graduate getting a job he or she hates in the field he or she graduated from (and wanted to leave.)

Going to college when you don’t want to go is a terrible mistake in most cases.

2. Is It An Investment?

Virtually every teacher and parent would tell you college is an investment. No, they won’t ask what degree you’re getting first. They’ll just blindly tell you that college is an investment. Mostly because, they have absolutely no idea what an investment is.

An investment is something that you’re putting money into to, ideally, make more money. When you take out loans for college, you need to make a considerable amount of income more than you would have if you didn’t take out those loans. If you don’t have very clear job prospects that can pay off those loans in a reasonable amount of time then you’re not investing.

Many college degrees are not investments. They’re luxuries. Sure, there is nothing wrong with a luxury but don’t go spending money that you don’t have on luxuries. If it’s not an obvious investment, pay for college in cash. That’s the only way to make play it safe. (If you do happen to get a good job from your luxury degree then consider it a bonus. You never have to pay interest from your loans.)

3. Is It Better To Wait?

For many students, it’s actually a smarter financial decision to wait a few years before going to college.

One of the most obvious reasons a student should consider that is loan favorability. If your parents income disqualifies you from federal loans then it may be smarter to wait a few years until your parents are off your forms. That could save you thousands of dollars and a significant amount of private student loan stress.

I remember being told, “If you don’t go to college right after high school then you’ll never go!” I didn’t listen. I ended up going to college years later. I’d argue that time off schooling taught me more than college ever could. I ended up having no student loans and had plenty of fun. Of course, if I graduated high school started sleeping around, binge drinking, and spending every penny I earned, there would be a real chance I wouldn’t end up in college. It’s all about making smart decisions. If you make smart decisions, you can put college off safely. Even after a few mistakes, it’s usually still reasonable with a little extra work.

Some other advantages of waiting: You don’t end up the average new college student that can’t even do their own laundry. You actually care about schooling because you saw the world without it and chose it rationally instead of emotionally. You have time to learn how to deal with money before taking thousands of dollars in loans.

4. Do you need it for your dreams?

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If you’ve dreamed of being a doctor since you were a child then you damn well should be doing to college for it. Many fields are regulated so that a degree is required. If that degree is absolutely required to do what you want to do (even if it’s not the greatest investment) then it’s usually a good decision.

Sure, bad investments aren’t usually a good idea but if this is about chasing a dream then investing has virtually nothing to do with it.

If you want to be a writer or something, you don’t need a college degree. You can pursue that field and become successful without ever graduating from college. In fact, instead of getting the college required liberal arts education you could spend 9-5 everyday learning how to write. You’ll end up miles ahead of the average student.

5. Do you have a solid career plan?

If your career plan consists of only, get a job, then you’re making a bad mistake. There is so much information that you should consider first.

First of all, what jobs does your degree qualify you for?

Next, which of those jobs pay enough to pay off your debt (unless it’s your dream job?)

Next, how many of those jobs are available?

How many students are going to be graduating and competing for those jobs?

“I’ll become a college professor on the subject!” NO NO NO! Really… that is usually a horrible mistake. In fields where your best job options include teaching the subject you’re getting your degree in, you’re limiting your options significantly. Look at the data. Are there really that many jobs available when considering how many people are graduating? Usually they’re not.

6. Why Are You Going?

This is one of the most important questions to ask yourself.

What is motivating you to go to college? If it’s your dream job then awesome. That’s a good motivation to have.

The sad truth is that most students pretend that it’s for the job. They lie to themselves and say that when the truth is something a bit more embarrassing.

Are you just trying to get away from your parents? Are you trying to get people off your back? Are you scared that you’ll fail outside of college? Do you just want to drink and party (you can do that a lot cheaper outside of college)?

These are all motivations that you need to question the value of. Is it really worth the price it’s going to cost? Are there cheaper alternative ways to do them. Of course, if you have a few million dollars in the bank, perhaps they’re cheap enough to pay for willy nilly but if you’re the average person, you need to seriously worry about that price.

The ideal motivation to go to college is the joy of learning. Of course, if it’s the joy of learning that’s pushing you then you’re stupid to take out student loans for it.

The second best motivation is an investment.

Don’t end up at 25 living in your parents house with a crappy job trying to pay down your student loans. By paying attention to the consequences, and risks, of every option you can make a smarter decision.

Do you want to know how to study faster than ever? That’s what this blog is all about. Be sure to follow and check out the archives if you’d like to learn more. Also, there are some ebooks in the sidebar that you might want to take a look at. 

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