Superheroes live among us, and they go by a name—overachievers. Have you ever wondered how these people seem to be able to do everything? They are involved in the student council, play sports three times a week, ace their exams every single time, seem to know everyone and on top of it all, look so fresh that apparently, they are getting their eight hours of sleep every day. How do they do it when like us, they only have 24 hours a day?
The secret is productivity.
Let me give you 3 tips to help you study more productively. When you do that, you free up time to do other things.
1. Recall actively
How do you revise for Maths? Some people read their Maths textbook over and over again. But according to psychologists who observed the “testing effect”, your time can be better used by solving Maths problems.
To quote Francis Bacon, an ancient statesman and philosopher, “If you read a piece of text through twenty times, you will not learn it by heart so easily as if you read it ten times while attempting to recite from time to time and consulting the text when your memory fails.”
2. Revise frequently
Last minute “mugging” probably has saved you countless times, but is it really the most efficient way to do well in exams? The answer is no.
While mugging is the most effective way to stuff a huge amount of facts into your brain in a short amount of time, 40% of what you learn will immediately be forgotten in the next 20 minutes. And after one hour, half of what you have crammed would have disappeared. This exponential decline in memory is named the “Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve”, after the German psychologist who first studied it. This means that if you are depending on last minute revisions to tide you over a two-hour exam, then good luck to you.
However, the good news is that your brain strengthens memories it encounters on a regular basis. When you revise, you are essentially telling your brain, “this piece of information is important! Make sure you store it somewhere that I can retrieve easily.” And done often enough, your brain will commit that piece of information to long term memory. That is the reason why you never forget your own birthday (because lucky you, your parents celebrate it every year.)
Before you revise the same thing every day, bear in mind that memories get stronger every time you try to recall them and that the best time to revise what you have learnt is when you are just about to forget it. That is where the spaced repetition technique comes in. Space out your revision. Wait a few minutes, then a few hours, then a few days, then a few months after each revision. After that, pat yourself on the back, because you probably have committed that topic to your long term memory.
3. Take better notes
You spend the bulk of your waking hours in the classroom so why not learn something while you are in school? Why leave all the learning and questioning to when you do your homework or when you go to tuition class? Cornell notes-taking method is a way of taking down notes that helps you better synthesise the things that you have learnt, and to present it a way that is easy for revision.
How do you go about doing it?
First, you divide your page into 4 sections by drawing a big I. In the uppermost section, you can write the date and the title of the topic.
In the middle right column, which is called the notes section, write down the more specific details that you have learnt, such as definitions, formulas, important dates/ names/ places, examples, and, diagrams and pictures. This should form the bulk of your note taking so make sure you leave enough space for it.
When you are done with the details, write down big ideas, outlines, frameworks, and questions on the left. Ask yourself, “how can I summarise each paragraph that I wrote on the right? What questions will I ask that lead to the specific answers on the right?” By forcing yourself to come up with your own main ideas/subheadings and questions, you will be actively processing what you have just learnt.
The last part is the summary, all the way at the bottom of the page. Here, you summarise the whole topic in your own words. If you can distil it down to a single statement, that would be best!
You may have noticed by now that the Cornell notes-taking method involves streamlining what you know. This is in line with what Einstein once said, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough”.
So here you have it, three ways to help you study more effectively. Stay tuned for the next few blog posts about how to be more productive in other aspects. Maybe one day, equipped with these study-hacks, you will join the ranks of overachievers.