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5 rules to help you learn easily without cramming
5 rules to help you learn easily without cramming

Habitual approaches to acquiring knowledge only create the illusion of memorizing the material.

5 rules to help you learn easily without cramming
5 rules to help you learn easily without cramming

1993 year. I am 16 years old, I am completing a secondary education program and taking an exam in geography. I prepared hard, so I am absolutely confident in myself. I take a deep breath, open the assignment form and look at the first page of questions. My stomach instantly cracks with excitement, and my state is perfectly conveyed by the old inscription on the desk: "Oh hell, my college entrance cried, 1992".

Of course, I was not the only student who overestimated my readiness for the exam. However, why this is happening, I understood only 12 years later, when I started teaching psychology.

Why conventional learning methods don't work

Let's start with the most popular way to memorize educational material - by cramming. You have probably resorted to this simple strategy: the evening before the exam, lectures scattered chaotically on the table and several cans of energy drinks or one cup of coffee after another to get through the night.

The second most popular life hack from students is to constantly re-read the theory in the hope of finally remembering it. Of course, there is common sense in this: the more often you repeat the text, the more familiar and understandable it begins to seem. But this is just an illusion. Research has shown that this technique does not account for the changing environment during the exam. It is much easier to answer when you are sitting in a comfortable room, and the correct information is right in front of you. On the exam, the situation will be completely different.

These familiar learning approaches show how misguided we are about how our memory works. We used to think that she looks like an old grandmother's camera. Of course, you have to tinker for half an hour, but in general, you just need to point it at the object, make sure that it does not move, so that the frame is exactly right, click - and you're done! We have the same attitude to memory. To fix something in it, you need to spend a certain amount of time on this and try not to delve into the source, but simply “photograph” it in its original form in your mind.

How to learn more effectively

To prepare for any, even the most difficult exam, it is important to understand how memory works. In fact, it does not passively reproduce the source of information, but recreates it based on our knowledge, experience and expectations.

If we continue the analogy with the camera, then memory is more of the filters that we choose for the photo. To assimilate information, you do not need to spend hours on meaningless cramming. On the contrary, it is necessary to understand how we can use our internal “filters” (knowledge, experience and expectations) to connect the learning material with what we already know.

Perhaps you will disagree with me and say: "Cramming helped me a lot in my studies, so it cannot be completely ineffective." To some extent, you are right: it is not completely ineffective. However, there are much more effective methods of gaining knowledge, especially if you want them to stay in your head, and not fly out of it right after the end of the exam.

We have dealt with useless learning techniques. But which ones should be used then? The approaches I will discuss can be used to prepare for any subject. As a result, you can not only improve the learning process, but also turn it from a boring duty into an interesting pastime.

1. Take breaks between classes

A few short lessons are always better than one endless training marathon, after which you can hardly remember your name. Think about how many sessions per day are optimal for you and what the ideal interval between them would be.

More often than not, the simplest approach to learning is the most effective. For example, the more activities the better. Let's say you have 12 hours to get ready. It is better to split them six times for 2 hours than twice for 6 hours.

With the choice of the interval, everything is much easier. A study by American specialists has shown that long pauses in learning activities help to retain attention. However, given that it takes minutes to prepare for exams, it is better to give preference to more classes than lengthening the breaks.

2. Switch between themes

Usually we try to clearly distinguish between topics in preparation: first, allocate time for one and completely go through it, and only then proceed to another. A study by American scientists proves the opposite: switching between blocks of information leads to better results, especially if the objects are similar to each other.

Let's pretend that you are a psychologist and you need to understand psychotherapy. First, you will study its various types: psychoanalysis, family and others. And here you have a choice: divide them into blocks and consider one by one or alternate.

If you choose the second option, you break each type into simple categories: who is the founder, what kind of therapy it is, and what methods it has. First, you will study the origins of psychoanalysis, then you will understand the origin of family counseling, then, continuing to alternate them among themselves, you will move on to the next category, and so on.

According to one study, changing topics draws your attention to the differences between them. Therefore, the method is especially useful when you study similar subjects, for example, the types of psychotherapy, which we have discussed above, so that you can easily navigate them.

Alternating is also useful when information is difficult to categorize. For example, when you need to understand paintings, sculptures or other objects of art.

Dividing into blocks, on the other hand, draws your attention to similar elements. This method is best used when you are trying to understand subjects that are easily distinguishable from each other, or topics that have clear categories. For example, if you need to study the periodic table, it will be more effective to first consider one chemical element, and then move on to another.

3. Understand the topic, not just memorize it

Constant re-reading of the text puts in the brain the interpretation of the author, not your understanding.

It is very easy to form your own opinion about the information received: ask questions about the material that you want to learn. By answering them, you will explain what you have passed in your own words, using the very "filters" that we talked about, that is, your own knowledge and experience.

You can try the method of clarifications: after each piece of information you read, arrange for yourself a small survey and give detailed answers. Rely on the sources first, and then try to explain the material yourself, without the help of the source text.

The information you have learned should be as meaningful to you as possible. The "Why?" Questions will help with this. or "How?", as well as concrete examples to explain abstract concepts.

Let's try using the refinement method right now. Based on what you already know, tell me how answering questions about what you read helps you remember information. Practice and you will see the result.

4. Memorize and speak the material from memory

It is ironic that, preparing for the exam, we are used to rereading the same information a hundred times, instead of checking whether we can reproduce it from memory. Testing is not only an effective way to find out how well you are learning, but also an independent learning mechanism.

It sounds strange, but any attempt to reproduce information from the head, even an unsuccessful one, helps memory. This allows you to determine if you are ready for the exam. Knowing your gaps, you will be able to study information more effectively, and your answers will be clearer and more intelligible.

Try the three Ps: read, retell, test.

  1. Read a passage of text.
  2. Put the book aside and retell in your own words what you have learned.
  3. Check how correctly you answered.

Repeat these three steps until your knowledge is perfect.

You can not just say the material out loud, but write it down on paper or print it in a file on a computer - this way you will create quick notes with your understanding of the material, which will help you in further preparation.

5. Do not select the text, but work with it

Many pupils and students like to underline text with colored markers. Indeed, it seems like a very convenient way to mark the main thing and focus on it, instead of wading through a bunch of unnecessary details.

However, research shows that this method does not work. Scientists have found that people who often mark certain places in the text get the least benefit from it.

I know it's nice to think that by highlighting the main thing, we automatically remember the underlined one. But, unfortunately, this method does not replace the real work with text. Only studying the material and thinking about it will help you prepare for the exam.

Does technology help in learning

As you prepare, you may want to use dedicated apps on your phone to make learning easier. I advise you to do this very carefully.

Yes, technology can help, but your gadget is also a portal to the world of communication with friends, shopping and the main evil that grabs your attention - funny videos with cats on YouTube and TikTok. This does not mean that the phone or laptop should be completely abandoned. Just turn off reminders from the apps you use most to help you stay focused.

Why you shouldn't go back to old ways of learning

When an important test or session is very close, it is absolutely natural to choose the simplest method of training, which will provide a quick result. This is why ineffective learning approaches are so popular - they give the illusion of memorizing information.

The methods I have suggested will require much more effort and time. Moreover, when using them, it may seem to you that you are not absorbing the information at all. Be prepared for the fact that the first retellings of the material from memory will clearly demonstrate that you do not know the subject as well as you thought. But this does not mean that all efforts are in vain. In fact, you study more efficiently, and the chances that you will memorize the material for a long time are much higher.

In terms of cognitive psychology, studying is a lot like going to the gym: you have to sweat to get good results. The methods that we talked about above create the "desired difficulties" - they change your short-term efforts to a long-term effect.

Research supports my theory. Scientists have found that students do not become excellent students because they spend more time in class. The real reason is simple: they know how to structure information, think it over and reproduce it in their own words. This means that the effectiveness of study does not depend on how much time we spend, but on how we spend it.