Tricks and tips: How to be more effective at learning

Happy 2018!! As many of us are starting a new semester and getting excited about all the new classes in the following weeks, I put together some tips for you to become a more effective learner and help you improve your performance in the new year!

Coming to study in the United States after 13 years spent in traditional Chinese school learning Chinese materials, as much as I love the experience and quality of American education, I noticed one thing that is lacking from what I experienced back in China — there is not much taught to students about HOW to study: how to make yourself more efficient at doing work and more effective at learning. So here I will share some of the tips I learned over years.

1.Take not just notes, but well-structured notes

Your brain doesn’t remember floating, unconnected parts well. They memorize things the best when things are categorized and structured.

The wordiest note is not necessarily the best note. You should organize your note the way you visualize how you organize the information. The most common way is using bullet points. I used the Cornell Method a lot back in high school, but you can also try using different diagrams and shapes to organize the keywords and relevant information. Having a structured note can help you revisit how you categorize the information when you learned the material, and it also enhances information retrieval as they are stored connected and around central keywords.

Here is a video explaining the major 5 note-taking methods: Click to watch the video

Using a concept map: click to read more

2. Know your golden time.

I consider myself more efficient at working in the morning and afternoon, while some of my friends are more “nocturnal” – they work faster late at night.

While it’s generally better to follow a regular sleep-work pattern, everyone has a different time period when they feel the most motivated and the most efficient – even later at night. when you close your eyes and picture yourself working for a really hard project under a really tight deadline, what does it look like? Is it at night or during the day? Are you along in a quiet room or in a café? Understanding your preference and knowing the block of time when you feel like the most at working and concentrating can help you manage your time better and completing the work with higher quality.

A little video from ASAp Science about being the early birds and the night owls: click to watch the video

3. Never underestimate what you can learn from your past mistakes.

In high schools in China, we had a lot of quizzes and a lot of tests. What I always have with me is a notebook where I copied down every question I got wrong on a test along with some comments. I often read over them, especially before exams.

This collection of the mistakes I made over time helps me understand what area of a  subject I am lagging behind or what type of behavioral mistakes I am prone to make during an exam, such as not reading the question carefully or spending too much time on one type of questions. This can be applied to not only tackling exams but also perfecting your process of completing a project or writing an essay. Having a good look at your mistakes is a great way to understand your own strengths and weaknesses, as well as to increase the pace of your improvement over time.

4. Try different study methods and track your performance.

One size doesn’t fit all. In preparation for an exam, some people find themselves benefiting from making flashcards, some rewriting their notes, and some talking through the materials with their friends. There are also many other ways to study for a class or working a project, from how you take and organize your notes, to the pace of your process.

If you can, try different methods and combinations of methods to work and study. Then compare the results of your work while using different methods. While exams could have different levels of difficulties, you can always compare how you felt during the exam – was it faster to retrieve the materials you learned? Did the questions feel more familiar? Did you remember where you got it wrong last time? The process of studying could be a matter of trials and errors. Finding the best way that works for you to understand the materials can help you use your time more effectively before the final delivery and increase your mastery of the content.

5. A 10-minute break can be boosting your time efficiency more than harming it.

Your brain is a piece of muscle. Like your legs would get tired after hours of strenuous running exercise, your brain would also get tired after hours of concentrating.

Take a 5-10 minute break after every 1-2 hours of concentrating can relax your brain and your mood if you are under stress. The break will not become a waste of time if you make use of it – walk around, get some refreshment, or talk to some friends. Do something that would boost your mood and therefore motivation. A little break can help you rejuvenate your energy and help lock down another 2 or more hours of focus.

These are some of the tricks and tips I’ve always used to make myself more efficient at studying and more effective at learning materials. I hope you will find some of these tips helpful in making you a better learner and help you deliver better results.

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