Study Faster and Retain More Information + Replace Confusion with Confidence
I don’t know a single student who doesn’t want to study faster and retain more at the same time. I usually get a little nervous when trying to use quick fixes to make this happen, but today I have an actual quick tip to help you do just this!
Last year I was studying for a programming certification exam and I was feeling all the feels…only not in a good way. I felt so confused about what to do next, overwhelmed with all of the information, and prone to chase any distraction to keep me from studying. I wasn’t sure how to focus on the material. In essence, I was studying way too slow, making almost no progress, and retaining very little.
Being a problem solver by nature, I dug into the situation and tried a few new approaches. Some worked, and some did not.
One of my best strategies was to sort the information into two categories:
- facts to be memorized
- concepts to be understood
You can use this strategy for any course. No matter the subject, there are things you have to memorize (terminology, dates, names, equations, etc) and concepts you need to master. Identifying this creates a clear, drama-free path, meaning you actually study faster and retain more because you are working on the right information in the right way.
Why Sorting Helps to Study Faster and Retain More
Sorting content out into two very broad categories works for several reasons. Most importantly, it removes all of the #drahmah. I mentioned the confusion, overwhelm, and distractions I was stuck in earlier. All of those things are just drama caused my own mind. It’s how our brain is wired to work, but also super frustrating in situations like this.
By focusing on just sorting the material I wasn’t asking myself to learn anything. Really, my personal expectation was pretty low with the task. It was a basic task to get me to look at the content objectively and take immediate action.
Remove the drama and look at what you need to do objectively.
Another added benefit: it gave me the next steps and two very different approaches to learn and retain different types of information. Once you sort your material, here are some ways you can work on them quickly and efficiently.
How to Memorize facts
I used to hate memorization work. It seemed tedious and hard and I sucked at it. Or so I thought!
Turns out I just didn’t have good skills. now I have some strategies in my toolbox and I love fact work. It’s easy and you can master it quickly. The key to mastering memorization is to:
- Keep a list of what you need to memorize.
- Schedule time every day to work on it. You must have the daily repetition if you want new facts to stick in your short-term memory. Start with just 10-min each day and you will see results.
- Vary your memorization strategies. If you use only one strategy it becomes less effective.
Speaking of memorization tips and strategies, here are a few to get you going:
- Four Steps to Master Memorization (start here, this is powerful)
- Mnemonics for Memorization
- Sketch your way to an A
- Master Terminology Using Quizlet for Memorization
How to Master concepts
How you approach concept mastery is going to vary a lot based on the subject you are studying. There are two strategies to help with every subject:
1. hands-on practice
You will never fully master a concept through reading about it. You learn the concept through reading, but there is a big difference in learning something and mastering it.
I learned how to change the oil in my car. A mechanic works on motors every day and has mastered car maintenance. The mechanic knows things to look and listen for that I’m clueless about.
Who do you want working on your car?
The basics of hands-on practice for any subject is to come up with an applicable problem and solve it. Then come up with another problem and solve it too. Here are a few ideas, by subject, of how you might practice:
- literature – Read a book or short story and write an analysis of whatever focus you are working on.
- computer science – Come up with a problem and solve it with real code.
- graphic design – Imagine a client asked you to design something, and create 3 different solutions for them.
- math – Pick an equation, make up some starting numbers, and solve it.
- science – Define a hypothesis, create a simple experiment, get in the lab and execute it!
If you are completely stuck on how to come up with a practice problem, email your professor and ask for some! I regularly think up coding problems for my software students. It’s quick for me, great for the students, and builds the concept mastery.
Or, leave a comment below and let us know what concept you are stuck on. We’ll help brainstorm ways to practice and master the concept.
2. explain or Teach it to someone else
Want to be certain you have mastered and fully understand a concept? Teach it to someone else.
As a teacher myself, I can tell you there have been plenty of concepts I thought I knew really well until I tried explaining it to someone else. You need a thorough understanding yourself before you can help someone else understand it.
Enlist the help of a friend or family member and try to explain a major concept in a few minutes. If you struggle, make note of the sticky spots. They are exactly what you need to work on next.
If you have no problem explaining it and your friend understood everything, mark it off your list and move on to the next concept.
I hope this quick strategy helps you dig out of confusion and take the right action in order to study faster and retain more.
Try It Yourself: 20-minute Challenge
- Grab your notes, a fresh piece of paper, and a timer.
- Set the timer for 15 minutes.
- Go through your notes and sort every piece of information into one of the two categories: concept or fact
Challenge yourself to do this before the timer goes off. Go with your first instinct if you aren’t sure.
- Spend the next 5 minutes and map out your next steps.
- How and when will you work on the memorization each day?
- How will you approach the first concept?