Have you ever wanted to study a new topic, learn a new skill, or memorize important information, and no matter how hard you try, you forget everything and fail to see significant progress?
Or maybe you have a presentation or a test to take and can’t concentrate on studying effectively.
Whatever your case, the nine steps I’m going to share with you will help you improve your study habits and practice effectively, so that you can learn faster and master whatever skills you’re trying to improve.
We all need to learn more quickly and effectively to adapt to the changing environment in which we live.
But you don’t have to be a superhuman to develop the ability to learn quickly. In many cases, it is enough to make some small changes to your learning process to achieve remarkable results.
The secret, according to some research, is not to wear yourself out by studying or practicing a skill repeatedly for many hours; but to be smart about the way you practice. One approach that has been studied is to interleave new topics with existing knowledge to get variety and speed up the learning process.
For example, two groups of math students were analyzed, one of them using a traditional method where each topic was thoroughly explored, before approaching new ones. The second group used the interleaving method, where they combined new concepts while continuing to rehearse what they had already studied. In this experiment, it was found that the group that used the interleaving method, obtained on average, a 25% better score on the next day exam. But not only that, a month later, they were given a second test, and the second group did 76% better than the first one, which shows that this technique also helps to better retain knowledge in the long term.
The following steps will allow you to apply this approach to any area of your life where you need to develop your knowledge and skills.
You can study and learn more efficiently if you work in a comfortable space without distractions. You can set up a desk or a table in a quiet place in your home that you can use specifically for reading, reviewing notes, studying, writing, or practicing a new skill. Let the other people in your home know you’re studying when you’re there so you won’t be interrupted. And if you don’t think your home is a good option, you can go to a nearby library or coffee shop.
The important thing is that you have everything you need for learning on hand, such as books, notebooks, a computer, water, etc. And if you’re tempted to check your phone frequently, it may be better to keep it out of your workspace.
In addition to avoiding distractions, another advantage of having a dedicated place to study is that your brain will associate that physical space to the learning activity, allowing you to focus more easily.
Many times there is nothing wrong with you or the way you learn. Maybe your brain can’t retain information because your body isn’t getting something it needs.
One of the most common needs is sleep. You’ll need to make sure you get enough sleep, about seven to eight hours a night if you want your brain to be alert to absorb new information. Drinking an extra cup of coffee is not a substitute for rest. You may find it better to stop doing those late-night study sessions, and instead, go to bed early, get enough sleep, and then get up early to study with a fresh mind.
Another need you should meet is to eat well. Junk food doesn’t give your brain the nutrients it needs to perform at its best. That’s why it’s good to make sure you eat balanced meals at well-defined times and be prepared with some healthy snacks like fruit, vegetables, or some almonds to feel energetic between meals.
And of course, exercising is another need of your body to have well-being. Did you know that exercising helps you learn faster? Several scientific studies have confirmed that moderate cardiovascular exercise helps get enough nutrients and oxygen to your brain. That’s why it’s a good idea to at least walk at a fast pace for 20 minutes every day.
Also, try to keep a bottle of water handy to stay hydrated, even before you feel thirsty since your body and brain need enough water to function well.
What are the specific skills and knowledge you want to acquire? What is your goal in studying?
Look for a clear goal that you can achieve in the short term once you get into the habit of learning. After you define it, you will have to choose a teacher or a reliable source of information. What books will you take as a reference? Will you research the subject on the Internet? What reliable websites will you consult? Which Youtube channels can offer you updated and easy-to-apply tutorials?
Try to combine written information with audiobooks, podcasts, and video tutorials. Just make sure to confirm the relevant information on different sites that are supported by scientific studies. And, as you gather some data, you must define a specific area you want to focus on.
If you feel that the free information on the Internet is not enough or is too disorganized, sign up for an online class. You can also find a mentor who has already done what you want to achieve, and ask him or her to teach you, or at least to guide you on where you can get more specific knowledge.
As you gather more information, I recommend that you design a mind map or outline where you can organize it, from the most general to the most specific. This outline will help you visually represent the context of what you are trying to learn so that you can better understand it. You can also use a blackboard or wall chart to connect ideas in the form of notes, cards, or drawings. This way, when you are taking a test or writing a paper, you will be able to remember the information you need more easily, thanks to this visual representation.
What if a mind map doesn’t work as well for you because you are more of an audible person than a visual one? In this case, it might be a better idea to record your lessons in audio and then listen to them several times.
Not everyone learns the same way. By identifying your learning style, you can find the techniques that work best to help you retain information.
Audible learners capture information by listening to lectures, podcasts, discussion groups, and instructive videos.
Visual learners acquire new learning by viewing graphs, diagrams, images, videos, and written material.
Kinesthetic learners learn best by actively participating in an activity, such as a science lab, discussion group, hands-on workshop, or by following an online tutorial as they apply each step in real-time.
Find your style and enjoy the process. Many people have trouble learning a new language because they see it as a tedious and boring task. But one of the best ways to learn any language is through real interactions. If you want to learn English faster, it helps to spend enough time speaking English with other people, instead of spending too many hours studying grammar and vocabulary written in a book.
Another example is learning math. There are many case studies where you can apply maths to solve real-life problems, instead of just memorizing the equations that come in books.
Active learning is one of the best methods for learning any subject or skill. Just participate, experiment, work in groups, ask lots of questions, and apply what you learn as soon as possible, so your brain can better absorb the information through a multisensory experience.
A lot of research has shown that brain exercises help maintain mental sharpness, improve memory, develop focus, and help keep the brain healthy, no matter your age.
One of the most practical ways to exercise the brain that you can do every day is to solve jigsaw puzzles, crossword puzzles, sudoku, or riddles. It has been shown that doing puzzles requires multiple cognitive skills and is a protective factor against brain aging. No matter how many pieces you have, you can start with some basic puzzles according to your available time and skill level.
Another exercise that can help you increase your brain activity is to try to use your non-dominant hand more. Just switch hands when doing some activities like writing, using the computer mouse, brushing your teeth, or eating. It will probably be challenging and a little frustrating at first, but these kinds of challenges are good for your brain.
An easy way to learn faster is to make sure you’re really paying attention when someone explains a subject, when you watch a tutorial, or when you try something new for the first time. Even the smallest interruption in your focus can cause you to not assimilate information correctly. Try to pay enough attention when you listen, as if you will have to answer a question about the topic immediately. In fact, repeating the information to yourself, in your own words, can help anchor the data in your brain.
Note-taking is another strategy that forces you to think about the material you’re learning and to stay focused while you organize your ideas. Also, having the right notes gives you a chance to review what you’ve learned. You can try writing a general outline of the topic with the whole picture, and add some specific information and keywords. Pay attention to detail and write down the main facts and any relevant information you want to refer to later.
Did you know that asking questions while studying or attending a class helps you to better understand the topic? Asking questions is an excellent way to stay focused while you learn, plus it enables you to make sure you’re truly understanding. They can be questions for yourself that allow you to further analyze an idea; or specific questions that you can express to your teacher.
If you want to further improve your focus and attention, try practicing some meditation and deep breathing before you start studying. Just close your eyes for a couple of minutes, inhale and exhale deeply, and let go of any thoughts, emotions, or concerns that may distract you.
Focus on the present moment, relax your body muscles, and experience a feeling of calm and inner peace. If you do this meditation exercise at the beginning of a study session, rehearsal, or before taking a test, you will notice better performance and a higher mental concentration.
Reviewing your notes every day for at least 10 minutes will help you retain the information you are trying to absorb. But this process doesn’t have to be repetitive and boring. A good idea is to review old information while studying something new. This way, you can experience the excitement of acquiring further information while going over previous knowledge. Also, when you encounter a new concept that you want to assimilate, you can create a connection with some related notion that you have learned before.
Try to involve several of your senses to study more dynamically. For example, try to transform written information or lists into images, like a graph or a map. You can also take notes on paper, then read them and record your voice on audio, and then listen to it in your commutes. You can even create connections between the concepts you were mentioning and the smells or physical locations where you were going by.
After you have been studying for several days, put your mind to the test. Don’t wait until the date of the exam or presentation. Remember that even if you feel very confident about what you have learned, the emotional pressure of a test can make you forget what is not well understood in your mind. That’s why it’s a good idea to take your own tests in advance. Try to write down on a blank page, without any support, all the related concepts you have learned. While taking a shower or driving, check that you have the correct information at hand. You can also request a friend to ask you some questions as a test to make sure you understand the topic.
Mnemonics can help you learn specific facts or lists more quickly by using simple words or phrases that allow you to memorize certain information.
One of the most common examples is the use of acronyms, which are words formed by the initial characters of a phrase or set of words. If you need to remember a set of numbers, divide them into sections of three figures each, and thus it will be easier for you to memorize the sequence. If you require to bring complex information to mind quickly, you can organize data into rhymes or easy-to-learn verses.
An interesting technique used by the Greeks to prepare a speech and remember what to say is the loci technique. This technique consists of visualizing a journey through some physical place that you know very well, such as your home, and associating the different sections and rooms with the ordered concepts that you want to memorize. Then, in your mind, you can take a tour of each place, and thus remember all of the points to be discussed.
When you are reviewing a lot of relevant information, such as vocabulary, fact sheets, or musical notes, it is a good idea to divide the task into several study sessions. Instead of trying to learn the meaning of thirty new words in Spanish at a time, try to study no more than five to eight words each day.
Are you taking enough time to study and practice your new skills? This is often one of the main reasons why many people do not make progress in their goals.
For you to make progress in developing new skills, you will need to mark on your calendar the necessary time to practice on certain days of the week at the same hour. The more time you devote to your growth, the faster you will master any skill you set out to do. You just have to be persistent and evaluate your progress frequently.
Establish specific criteria that will allow you to see your progress and make the necessary corrections. You can use a notebook or a mobile app to keep a record of each practice.
Continually ask yourself if the learning approach you chose worked, and if it did, then move forward with it. If not, choose a different one and keep on experimenting.
In general, these findings suggest that for any hobby, knowledge, or skill you want to master, it is best to practice dynamically, rather than simply to repeat the material over and over again mechanically.
It works better to stay focused while studying for short periods each day and repeat the process over several weeks or months. And if you define a specific place and time, if you maintain a healthy lifestyle, and if you find your best learning style, you will make your brain want to know more and not have a hard time learning.
Develop the habit of continually acquiring new skills and knowledge, and with practice, you’ll teach your mind to learn faster. With the necessary commitment and a good strategy, you will come to enjoy the process. Keep in mind that:
“Education without application is just entertainment.”
— Tim Sanders
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