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Good Studying Practices

By Milton Bertrand

Recall Information. After reading a page or a chapter, it is important to glance away to recall main ideas. It is recommended not to highlight, or highlight very little if you have to. It is best not to highlight until you cement the main ideas in your mind first. You can try to recall main ideas while walking to class or to a different location from where you first learned it. Recalling is a good indicator of learning new materials.

Self Test. Every so often use flash cards or similar applications to test you. There are many applications you can use to create your own flash cards for free or for a monthly/yearly subscription.

Chunk your problems. After you solve a problem, be sure to rehearse it. Make sure that you understand every step in that problem so that you can solve similar problem in a flash.

Space your Repetition. Just like you cannot grow muscles in one working out session, your brain works in a similar fashion. You need to spread your learning in a subject daily. It takes time for neural connections.

Alternate problems and use different techniques during your practice. It is highly recommended to solve different types of problems. Alternating is a good practice as it minimizes mimicking the same thing over and over. Unfortunately, many books are not set up this way. It may be best to go back to a previous chapter to solve a few problems then move to the next questions. Use hand writing as much as you can. Hand writing builds better neural structures in memory than typing.

Take Breaks. It is often common that you are not going to solve problems or grasp new concepts in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) the first time you encounter them. As previously mentioned, it is why that you study a little bit daily instead of a lot of studying all at once. If you become frustrated, take a break to recalibrate as another part of your brain is at work in the background.

Focus. Electronic devices are ubiquitous. They are there to distract you. It is recommended to turn off or mute any electronics that may distract you. Try to focus intently on your work and work diligently as much as you can. Set up time and find a place to study without any distraction.

Eat Your Frog First. Always do the hardest, most challenging things first as you are fresh. Eating the frog means to just do it, otherwise the frog will eat you.  As Mark Twain once said “If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.” Once that task is completed, the rest of your day will be easier to navigate through. 

Make a Mental Contrast. Use pictures as reminders. Pictures are great when it comes to recall information. Mental contrasting is a visualization technique that was developed by Gabriele Oettingen, a motivation psychologist who wished to improve the effectiveness of traditional self-control strategies like positive-future visualization. Such technique has strong empirical support. It has been shown to improve academic performance, leading to high quiz grades and significantly more time spent preparing for standardized tests1.

Use Analogy. If you cannot explain it to a ten year old, there is a good chance that you do not really understand the subject matter. Using an analogy brings difficult concepts to a level of understanding.

“If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough.” Albert Einstein


1. http://happierhuman.com/mental-contrasting/

2. A Mind for Numbers: How to Excel in Math and Science (Even if You Flunked Algebra), by Barbara Oakley, Penguin, July, 2014