*Many of the tips in this article can also be taught to middle and high school students.
School was never really a problem for me – until I went to college and hit a brick wall. I didn’t know how to study, and I didn’t know that I didn’t know how to study. I thought you studied by reading the chapter, underlining the important points, and going back and looking at them again. When I tried these methods in college, they just didn’t work for me.
I finally stumbled upon two important tools: how to learn and the forgetting curve. They’re included in the eight tips below.
Let’s assume you’re about to start a course.
1. Get a “kindergarten” book on the subject and read it first. At the least, read about the subject on the internet.
2. To study a book chapter, start by reading all the headings, any vocabulary definitions given, and any summaries or questions at the end of the chapter. Then study the chapter.
3. How to learn – read a page in the book (or your notes) and underline the three most important points on the page. Close the book. From memory, scribble on scratch paper the three points. When you can do that correctly, go on to the next page. When you finish the chapter (or whatever section you’ve chosen to learn), close the book and scribble all the important points. When you can do that correctly, you’re done.
4. The forgetting curve– if you learn something 100%, then you start forgetting it. After three days (for most people) you’ll still remember 50% of it. At that point, learn it 100% again; you’ll do it much quicker than the first time. At 10 days, you’ll remember 50% of it. Learn it all the third time; it won’t take long at all. Months and months later, you’ll still remember about 80% of it, and years later, about 50%. Even more, if you’ve used it occasionally.
So each day, learn the day’s material, the material from three days ago, and the material from 10 days ago. Then you will own it.
5. If you will be tested on a chapter, put yourself in the mind of the teacher and guess what could be three test questions from each page. These will be your three points to learn.
6. It’s much easier to learn if you’re interested in the subject. If not, there are strategies to help you be interested:
- do extra work on one very small area of the subject until you are the expert of the class on that topic
- give yourself a nice reward each time you’ve learned a section, and promise yourself a big reward if you make a good grade
- set a goal for when you will have learned each section, and try to reach that goal (e.g., I will have section 2 down by Friday)
7. Take breaks. Most people can study for an hour, and then your efforts become much less effective. Take a short break and do something pleasant; be sure you have a strategy for keeping it short.
8. Know your learning preferences – we learn by seeing, by hearing, and by doing. Most of us have a preferred method; try to emphasize that. If you scribble the important point, you are seeing and doing, and if you also say it out loud, you’re hearing. Cover all the bases.
Follow these methods and you will be learning the material, not just cramming for a test. If there’s a final, you’ll only need to brush up on it and you’ll have it.
About the Author: Doug Puryear is a psychiatrist who enjoys living in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He discovered at age 64 that he has ADHD. He has written two books about coping with ADHD; Your Life Can Be Better, Using Strategies for Adult ADHD, which has a section on studying and learning and Living Daily With Adult ADHD: 365 Tips o the Day. He also publishes an blog, ADD Tip O the Day. He didn’t learn how to study until his second year of medical school. It made a huge difference. He hopes his strategies will help others.
Books by Doug Puryear
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