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Thursday, March 13, 2014

Why You Suck At Studying

I'm sorry but if you're like the vast majority of students, you're just plain bad at studying. The average student is taught hundreds of pointless facts throughout their education but it seems like none of the students are taught how to actually study effectively. Effective studying is not reading the textbook or trying to remember all the facts. Effective studying is about doing everything in the most efficient way possible.

When it comes to studying, most students are taught to stay back in the dark ages. Really, most teachers recommend the same awful study advice that was being used hundreds of years ago. Times have changed and our understanding of the brain has increased dramatically. There is no reason to be using the same antiquated advice to learn your material for class. It's time to upgrade to the next level in studying.

Why are you so bad at studying?

You Don't Link The Information

The human brain is not designed to memorize material out of a textbook. I'm sure you know how that goes. One second you're diligently thinking about the material in the textbook, the next second you're imagining how Benjamin Franklin would look at a smart phone. The brain doesn't work through the traditional lens of focusing on a single subject. The brain is more like the internet.

Whenever your brain is thinking about a subject, it's like looking at a page with hundreds of links on it. If you think about Benjamin Franklin, you might see, American history, electricity, printing press, and other links related to him. Every subject that you connect to Benjamin Franklin has a link straight back to him. This might seem a little out there but it helps illustrate the most powerful means of remembering information.

Instead of focusing on remembering random facts, you need to remember the connections between different areas of information. This is actually what your brain does naturally. Where it gets difficult is in controlling the links tightly focused around your study material. You need to do everything you can to not let any of the information you're studying be random. Find the connections and focus on remembering them.

That being said, one of the best ways to hold onto these connections is to change the way you look at studying.

You Study What You Can Do

To Study effectively in the traditional sense, you need to do a bit of “brain gymnastics.” While that's reasonably effective, there is always a significantly better way to learn. While I was comparing your brain to the internet earlier, don't let that thought sink in too deep because it doesn't go farther than the linking. People are powered by emotions and chemical reactions.

Just think about how pointless remembering random facts would be to a prehistoric man. People are designed for survival. Survival doesn't involve remembering when World War 1 started (unless, of course, you're doing some awesome time travel experiments. Note: Please invite me!) Survival involves physical activity like walking, running, and fighting off bears.

Your memory is most effective when you're able to use your body. Everything is like riding a bicycle. You cannot learn to ride a bike effectively without actually climbing on the bike to ride. Sure, you might be able to learn to spin the pedals, turn the handlebars, and understand the physics of staying upright, but you'll always be a little away from being able to do it. That is no different than learning anything else.

If you're studying math then don't study the equations, just use the equations. If you're studying science then do some experiments. If you're studying human anatomy, don't study the textbook, grab a sharpie and draw the muscles and names on someone sleeping. The more you're able to use the information you're learning, the better off you'll be.

This is why many people use the loci method for studying. The loci method is just imagining the information you're studying in a location you recognize. As you walk through that location, you connect more and more information to different landmarks. This works well because you're turning facts into relevant landmarks and imagining physical activity. While the loci method is often significantly overrated, it has some major things working for it. It at least pretends to have value to the brain. It's still better to do.

You Hate Studying

I can't blame you for this one. If you hate studying then you're going to always suck at it. I used to be one of the most guilty people of all when it came to this. I absolutely hated studying. For years of my life I preferred scraping easy c's and d's so I could avoid studying completely. I hated studying. My grades didn't change until I chose to change my perspective on things.

Studying for school is often a pointless task. Really, you're not going to need most of the information your teachers like to shove down your throat. While some of it's absolutely essential, most of it's a complete waste of brain space. Once I was able to accept that I came to realize something. Most of the information in the world is information we don't need to have.

I never need to worry about not knowing anything. The internet has changed the way most information works. Whenever I have a question, all I have to do is search the internet for an answer. Sure, it can't answer everything but it teaches more than I could learn in a lifetime of schooling. What the internet cannot do is put together the knowledge you're learning. That's a skill that needs to be learned and practiced.

Improving your ability to study and learn information will help you for your whole life, even if the actual information they teach you doesn't. Maybe that doesn't work for you..

If you hate studying then you need to find a way to change your perspective. It can be any of a million different things. Maybe you want to make a good living as a doctor or impress your parents. You need to find some reason to want to study. Once you do that, you're going to be able to study faster and more effectively than ever before.

You're Reading And Not Recalling

Reading your textbook is not the same thing as studying. In fact, it's usually one of the least effective ways to remember information. Reading is a method of gathering information but most people have trained their brains to just pull the information and throw it out for good. Are you really remembering all the information that you're reading? There is no way to really know.

Recalling information is the secret to knowing whether or not your remember something. On a test, when you are asked a question, you can't reread a paragraph to find the answer. You need to dig below the sports scores and fashion advice through the depths of your brain to find the answer. That is recall. You need to actively use recall during your study sessions to know that you're actually studying effectively.

Most people avoid using recall because of how stressful it can be. It's painful to try to remember information. It's so stressful that most people just give up and go back to reading. If you want to continue to suck at studying then continue to avoid recall but if you want to study like a pro, you need to push through the pain.

Flashcards are the classic means of using recall during studying. You either know the information on the other side of the flashcard or you don't. Use whatever means of recall that you can train yourself to use effectively but make sure to use it.

Studying with recall can make this last mistake a whole lot easier to solve...

You Study Too Much

What?!? Your teachers will probably hate me for this but it's true. Most students that struggle to learn are spending too much time trying to study. If you're studying effectively, you should not be able to study for hours straight. If you're using recall then you'll start to wear yourself out after 15 minutes.

When you study for too long a period of time, you get in the habit of “half-studying.” You probably have seen “half-studying” at least once in your life. Maybe you've seen someone studying while talking to friends, or searching the internet, or listening to music. If you're using recall then it's going to make “half-studying” absolutely miserable. You want to focus on studying when you study. By reducing your study time, this can become a whole lot easier.

Your brain has serious limitations in its short term capacity. If you're actually using your memory then you're not going to be able to effectively study long without significant rest periods in between. While this might sound like completely good news (less studying! YAY!) it's actually a little troublesome if you don't have the discipline.

Studying needs to become a habit. You can't expect to prepare for major tests by cramming the night before. You need to plan in advance and study a little bit on a regular basis.

Fear your sucking at studying no more. You now know enough about studying to change everything. Link the information that you study to get it to stick better. Don't study stuff that you can do. Find some reasons you'll enjoy studying. Recall the information instead of reading it. And kick back and relax a little bit. Using these simple strategies you'll be out of the dark ages of studying and into the modern world.

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