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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.

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