For the students (or students at heart).
“YESTERDAY I WAS CLEVER, SO I CHANGED THE WORLD. TODAY I AM WISE, SO I AM CHANGING MYSELF.” –RUMI
When I began studying Neuroscience, I took what might be a typical adult-student approach; laptop at hand, late nights on the lounge. I fit study in around my life, frantically copied slides into notes, and re-read certain things 100 times because they weren’t making sense.
Five years later, I’m still studying, but I’ve learned enough (which is a relief, considering what I’m studying) to understand how best to leverage memory and learning centres.
Tonight, I realised I should probably share some of these tips for anyone who’s currently studying, or wants to.
In saying that, these are easily applicable to learning everyday things too!
First of all, I have to start with the importance of understanding your self. We all have slightly unique ‘optimal’ environments, wakefulness periods, and learning methods. Take time to understand when you feel best, most alert, most productive. Often when I talk to people about this, they can easily point out a time of day when they can ‘get things done’. Others might take a bit of discovery, but I think it’s worthwhile. Similarly, some people prefer to read information, others prefer to hear it, or see it visually. Take note of the ways you most enjoy learning.
Secondly, I have a question for you.
If I gave you 12 weeks to become an expert in push-ups, and said you had to do at least 100 by then – how would you achieve this?
Would you wait until 11 weeks and 3 days, and then do 100 the night before in the hopes that you’ll pick it up? No? Then why do we do this with study….
The best way to pick up knowledge and retain it, is to practice it. That means, as rightly argued by neuroscientist and sleep connoisseur Matthew Walker, our education system unjustly encourages students to shift their entire semester of energy into one major event or test. It would be more effective, to spread the learning out across the semester – to encourage smaller, burst-like exams that help us progress our knowledge of a subject in a more productive way.
It’s like saying, you’d do a few push-ups everyday and gradually add more as time goes by. Eventually you’ll do the 100, but your arms will be stronger in the process!
Do not cram. Get plenty of sleep, and leverage the brain’s natural ability to store the day’s learnings appropriately so you can recall them tomorrow when you revise 😉
Finally, pay attention to your environment. A lecture playing in the background while you browse Instagram and send texts is not going to sink in, in case you were wondering. We find it easier to recall memories that are tagged consciously with a ‘please remember me’ sticker. That means, you have to direct your reticular formation toward the subject at hand. We are what we focus on, after all.
Try driving your car whilst watching the curb. Do you think you’ll stay in your lane, or hit the curb?
Last tip as a bonus round: you’ll generally learn better if you’re passionate about something. I don’t have research for this one, it’s purely my own observation after years of being forced to learn certain things, and actively seeking out learning in other things. When we’re excited about what we’re learning, we get that amazing emotional superglue!
Hope someone, somewhere gets use of these tips. If not, I’ll be fine over here just studying daily like a pro.