The Art of Studying1 Apr 2012
Let’s face it—who likes studying when you could be doing something fun? Wouldn’t you rather go out with friends, watch a movie, even tidy the house than hit the books? It’s hard to concentrate when surrounded by distractions, but unfortunately it is something we all need to do throughout our lives.
We need to review important information frequently as we tend to forget if we do not come across it regularly.
Studying may not be very fun, but really, it doesn’t mean that it has to be hard. Even if you have to read and learn something you have no interest in, by finding a study method that works for you, you will be able to remember key information with ease. The easier it is to remember, the less time you need to spend on studying, right?
There are various methods of studying—if one method doesn’t work for you, experiment and find one that does. Some find it helpful to use flashcards, while others prefer to just make notes; others may even use a combination of methods to help them remember information.
At the end of the day, the way you remember the information does not matter; the most important thing is to find one which works best for you. Let’s take a look at some methods and strategies for studying and consider some factors that affect revision.
Mind mapping is a graphical way of organising ideas, concepts and information. Mind mapping starts with a subject (the ‘bigger picture’) which is elaborated on by using smaller links (the details).
Similar to brainstorming—except brainstorming is used to come up with solutions and ideas as opposed to recalling and remembering information—the good thing about using mind maps is that it helps you to visualise and think about how the subject and details are connected.
By forming links, not only can you better make sense of things, but you can also learn how to classify the information appropriately.
You can make a mind map with literally any subject—all it takes is a topic to start drawing information from. Start off with a main subject and put it into a diagram at the centre of a page, the key information relevant to it should be arranged accordingly on the page and in such a way that you can continue to add and make sense of it.
By expanding your mind map and creating a web of information, it helps you understand the relation between each point better. Your mind map can be as big and colourful as you like.
You may also choose to write each key point and subheading in different colours to make it easier to remember (using colours is also part of the mnemonics way of remembering information, which we cover later in this article).
Note taking is not merely copying information from existing notes or textbooks - it involves summarising large chunks of information into clear and concise points.
By picking out important information and rephrasing them into your own words, not only does it make it easier for you to understand, it also makes it easier for you to recall.
When writing or typing notes out, our brain is already actively trying to process and remember the information, however, writing things down once does not mean that it has been inputted into your brain. Reviewing is vital to remembering - you need to review your notes to ensure that you remember them.
Some may find it useful to do active repetition, by writing the notes out over and over again, while others find reading the notes out loud more useful.
Flash cards are small pieces of card or paper which many people use to aid studying. Writing notes on flash cards requires you to use each card’s available space effectively. Not only does this mean that you need to make sure your notes are clear and concise, it also means that you have to organise the information in a way that makes sense on the card and as a series of cards if necessary.
Rather than just writing notes out, the cards can be used interactively. Write questions related to the notes on one side and the answers on the opposite side of the card. When reviewing them, you could first look at the questions and then try to recall the answers, and vice versa.
Asking questions can help you understand and remember information better. Using flash cards is an effective way of studying if you’re always on the go. You can make a huge stack of flash cards and take them along with you; however don’t try to review too many cards at once. Take it slowly and focus your attention on one set of things at a time.
Have about 7–10 cards and review them at set intervals (say every two hours). Test yourself by looking at the topic or question of each card and recalling what was written. Review the card again and then move on to the next card and repeat the process.
Once you have remembered the contents of a card and are able to fully recall it, having repeated this process a few times, you can switch that card with one you haven’t started reviewing from your stack of flash cards.
For those who prefer not to carry flash cards around, there are flash card programs, such as Anki, which you can download onto your computer or cell phone. Some of them even have friendly reminders to tell you when you’re due to review your cards again.
Mnemonics is the art of assisting memory through using artificial aids such as phrases, rhymes, acronyms, diagrams, colours, amongst other things, to remember key information. We use this method without even knowing it sometimes, from remembering shopping lists to the names of planets and the colours of the rainbow.
Mnemonics is essentially using existing cues and linking it to bits of information which we are trying to remember. The way in which you use mnemonics may vary from person to person; it all depends on the way we think.
The phrases ‘My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nachos’ (Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Pluto) and ‘Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain’ (Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet) are just two examples of how mnemonics is used.
Mnemonics is also commonly used when learning different languages. By using words in our own language, for example English, and building an auditory association with the foreign words, it gives us a reference point which can aid our memory. For example, the first four numbers in Japanese can be remembered like this: itchy (ichi), knee (ni), sun (san) and she (shi).
Not only limited to sounds and letters, mnemonics also works with visual cues – it is especially useful when learning certain languages with different scripts like Chinese. An easy way to remember the meaning of Chinese characters is by looking at it and coming up with either a story or image which reflects its appearance and meaning.
With a point of reference memorizing becomes easier, and for this reason mnemonics is considered one of the most effective study techniques—and you’re probably using it already!
Time management and space
So now you know a few methods you could use for studying, but how long should your sessions be and when and where is the best place to study?
Reading notes hours at a time without breaks may give you the impression that you are absorbing a lot of information; however the truth is your brain needs the occasional break.
Think about when you exercise; if you do sit-ups for one hour without resting how does your body feel? In the same way, your brain also gets exhausted from mental workouts and that’s why many classes are taught in 50 minute blocks.
Let your brain warm up first—start with a short block of studying (say 15 minutes), then take a break for a few minutes before starting again. After each break, lengthen the amount of time you spend studying (so now study for 30 minutes) before you take another break for a few minutes.
This should get you into the momentum for studying—just don’t forget to get back to the task at hand after each break! Be disciplined. It is also important to consider when to study. Our period of productivity varies from person to person; while some can only concentrate in the evenings, others may find that they work better in the early mornings.
Find out when you are most alert and try to create a realistic timetable for your study sessions. Having a routine will give you more discipline.
Now think about your study area—are you able to concentrate in the library? Do you have better concentration in your room?
Or do you feel that you can’t always study in the same place? Our environment plays a very important role in effective studying. Studying somewhere with lots of distractions is counter-productive and only you can determine where the best place for you to study is.
Studying is something which we all need to do occasionally—no matter which method you choose to use, it must work for you. Be disciplined about your sessions and if you feel that one technique isn’t working, don’t get bogged down, keep trying until you find one that does.