Marty Lobdell, after having been a professor of psychology for 40 years, summarizes better methods of studying and common mistakes.
Study in Chunks
Loving to teach by anecdote, Marty begins with a story of an ex-girlfriend that was falling behind in college. To better prepare for exams, she set herself a goal to study non-stop for 6 hours five evenings a week. However, she ended with worse grades than she started with. Turns out, a study of learning effectiveness found that on average a person can effectively study for approximately 25–30 minutes at a time, after which they begin to tune out. Out of the 6 hours she set aside, 5 and a half went at best to waste, at worst kindling a hatred for the subject and its textbook.
The moment you start to slide, you’re shoveling against the tide. Fortunately it doesn’t take much to recharge your batteries — do something fun for 5 minutes. Upon returning, your performance is near its start. At the end of the study period and before reviewing the material, give yourself a big treat. Marty throws in another anecdote of his classmates studying after having spent an evening in the bar and anchoring their memories (state-dependent memory) with their intoxication. Not a good idea due to have to show up to the exam drunk.
To those complaining about lack of time to study, look for breaks at work or at home. 15–20 minutes could be sufficient if applied efficiently. If you plan your day right, you can have plenty of study possibilities. And with general positive reinforcement, you’ll end up extending the study muscle by eventually doubling or tripling the time before you need a break.
Marty goes over problems with various locations for study. The bedroom, used primarily for sleeping, has conditioned people to feel tired. A kitchen will tempt with food. Living rooms, when shared with others, offer or demand distraction, unless you’re by yourself. Background music is fine, but if you’re singing along to a song, you’re not studying.
Hawaii University’s students say the biggest study problem is getting into it. Every dorm room there came with a particular desk lamp. Professors then proposed that lamp be used only for studying, not for regular lighting or during breaks. Doing so for some time will then condition you to automatically switch to study mode when its turned on. With state-dependent memory being mentioned, I wonder how that ties into context-dependent memory. Students who did so were supposedly one grade point higher than the control group.
Marty urges people to try both chunking time and allocating a study area. After all,
if it doesn’t change your behavior, you haven’t learned it.
The more active you are in your learning, the more effective.
We were all taught through rote memorization in elementary schools. While mechanic repetition may work for some, it isn’t the optimal method for the majority. First, you have to distinguish whether you’re learning a fact — a discrete piece of information — or a concept. Fact would be “Sigmund Freud is the father of psychoanalysis”; “What psychoanalysis is” a concept.
Concepts, once grasped, will stay with you for the entire lifetime. Facts you can always look up. The more effort you expend thinking about something and the more meaning found in it, the better it’s remembered. Right after a lecture, Marty suggests expanding your short-hand notes. If you do it hours later, you may have forgotten what you wrote.
Can you put the concept in your own words? If you can’t, you don’t understand it.
People are incredible at confusing recollection with recognition. As an example, Marty brings up highlighting literature. Assuming only important parts are highlighted, a crucial mistake when reviewing highlights later is to confuse recognition of information as confirmation of its knowledge, resulting eventually in knowing exactly none of the important facts. Trying to restate it in your own words helps. Teaching someone else, a friend, a parent or even an imaginary person, is a great way to recapitulate your learning.
People also un-do good studying by not sleeping well. It’s said memory consolidation is dependent on REM sleep, which you may not get enough of when sleeping less than ~8h per night.
Marty suggests working with textbooks through the SQ3R method:
- Survey — Start by browsing through the chapter, spotting interesting things.
- Question — While browsing, formulate questions about unfamiliar and interesting things.
- Read — Later, when reading, questions guide you to seek answers.
In place of rote memorization, Marty proposes mnemonics as a great method to remember facts. He lists various fun examples, from acronyms to fun children’s sayings, as ways to remember calorie contents, to acronyms for rainbow colors and anatomy.
“Study Less, Study Smart” also available as a 37-page book from Amazon (introduced by Marty on YouTube).