Stop Studying Hard. Instead Study Less, Study Smart

Once upon a time, there lived a child who was happy and always cheerful. But, one day a monster came hurtling towards the child in the form of an Exam. The child asked everyone around for help and all they could suggest was to “Study Hard”. And the child did study hard for the exam. The child with high hopes enters the exam hall and the moment the question papers appear, everything the child studied is forgotten. The child knew he/she had studied it, and heck read some stuff standing right outside the hall! And yet, all the effort was for nought.

If this has ever happened to you, then this post is just for you. This is a post where you can find out hacks to overcome the villains called exams and make strong long term alliances with the subjects you study to make the most out of your studies, instead of forgetting everything after the exam.

I was beating up myself for not being able to do well in my exams even though I knew most of the concepts! I did study hard and still didn’t understand where I went wrong. And I found a lecture by Marty Lobdell called “Study Less, Study Smart” and I ignored it as it was an hour-long. Boooooring! I had an episode of Breaking Bad to watch.

After Youtube convinced me to watch it bumping it onto my feed a million times, I gave in and watched it and Oh Boy, I regret not having watched this earlier!
And, I do know not everyone has an hour to spare and that is why I am writing this post to bring the value of the lecture concisely.

Studying More doesn’t help

If you have ever tried cramming and studying all night and chugging coffee like there’s no tomorrow just to be reminded that you’re studying for a test the next day. You would be familiar to the feeling of not understanding what you’re reading and yet studying because, well, not studying is not an option. To make the best of the time you study, try doing the following.

  1. Stop studying exactly at the moment you feel distracted.
  2. Get up, get a physical change of atmosphere. Go out of the room if possible for five minutes. Relax, or better yet, treat yourself with anything you like.
  3. Come back, and study only until your mind can focus on what you read.

Initially, you might sit for about 20 minutes, but over time you would be able to focus for longer durations. And when I say “over time”, it spans over weeks and months.

Location Matters

The previous section was about focusing until you can, right? But, you can’t focus when you are in a distracting environment. If you study in your bedroom, just think how much energy you need to stop yourself from getting on the bed and sleep during a night out? Even our phones are a distraction. Or Television running in the next room.
Find a place where you are calm and can study. Have a study room or a library. If possible, try not to study in your bedroom. If that isn’t possible, create environmental cues.

  1. Get a study lamp and name it “Study Lamp”.
  2. Face away from the bed and place your phone where you cannot see it. If you study from your phone, either put it in Focus Mode or DND or better yet, Airplane mode.
  3. Turn on the lamp only when you are studying.
  4. The moment you lose focus and take your break or check your notifications, turn off the lamp.
  5. Do not use your phone at that space and when the light is on. Move away from your study location to use your phone.

What happens is, your brain gets conditioned while studying with the light turned on, and over time you begin to focus better when the light is on.

This is a makeshift desk which faces away from my bed that I use as I don’t have one and I don’t need to iron my clothes as I study!

Sleep

REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep is important to build Neural Connections and understand what you learn. Typically it occurs every 90 minutes, and the duration of REM sleep significantly increases in the last two hours of 8 hours sleep.
And that means a night out before an exam is sub-optimal.
Sleep for 8 hours before the test, and if possible, every day! If you wish to know how to sleep better check out How you can Improve your Sleep Hygiene. Alternatively, you can read Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker to know about how sleep improves our memory and cognitive skills.

Active Learning

If rote learning works for you, you are lucky. You don’t learn by reading over and over. There is a difference between recognition and recollection. Test yourself. Read a page for the book, or this blog post itself. Go away for 5 minutes and try to speak out everything you remember. You may not remember everything. Now, look at the screen/page again. Now you must have gotten a feeling – “Damn! I knew that! I just couldn’t tell it.” What just happened is that you were able to recognise it. You do not recollect it.
There are two major kinds of things you need to learn. Concepts and Facts. Concepts once grasped you remember it all your life. For example, naming all the bones in your body are facts, the functions of those bones are concepts.
How to learn Concepts:

  1. Active Recall:
    1. After you read, put it in your own words.
    2. Relate the concept to something you already know.
    3. Take time to understand what it means.
    4. If you memorise it, you will forget it. Memorising concepts is not a long term solution.
    5. Make up a story to understand the concept if possible.
  2. Teach What You Learn:
    This forces you to assimilate the concept deeper. This will give you data on how much you actually know.
    • Teach it to friends and family.
    • Explain it as you would to a 5-year-old.
    • If you don’t have people to share with. Do a role play with a chair or something. (PS: As long as you know it’s a role play, it’s fine. The problem occurs when you believe the chair is talking back to you.)

How to learn Facts:

  1. Use Acronyms:
    1. Colours of a rainbow – VIBGYOR.
    2. Eddie Ate Dynamite, Good Bye Eddie – The 6 strings of a guitar (EADGBE)
  2. Make up stories or interacting images to remember.
  3. Use study groups: When you study with your peers, you gain more insights and they would also have a few tips and tricks that may help you.

SQ3R

  1. Survey: You aren’t reading a novel. Just go through the entire chapter. Look at the images, the summary in the end.
  2. Question: Ask questions as you read. Why doesn’t water in a dam flow from bottom to the top? Why is the ignition stroke of a petrol engine happen only after the compression stroke? You get the idea right? This makes you curious. You no longer are a passive participant.
  3. Read: Read up to answer the questions you asked.
  4. Recite: Recite what you learnt in your own words. This is where you use the active recall technique.
  5. Review: Before the exam, review it. Touch up, refresh it, Polish it.

There exists an updated version of the same called the SQ4R technique as well. The only addition comes after the step “Recite” called “Record”. Here, you note what you learnt in your own words, which you can “Review” later on.

If you intend to find something, you find it

Marty Lobdell

Miscellaneous Tips:

  1. No drinks (alcohol) before you study.
  2. Actually, implement these ideas.
  3. The brain can’t multitask. The brain can only switch between tasks.
  4. Take Notes, preferably in your own words immediately after the class.
  5. Flatter your lecturers! They get to share their wisdom and you get brownie points.
  6. Use a “Distraction Diary”. Keep a book by your side (Coz well, we chucked the phone where the eyes can’t see right?). And whenever you have any stray thoughts just jot it down. That allows you to forget it and focus on your reading.
This is my “Distraction Diary” which I always keep by my side when I study.

If something doesn’t change your behaviour, you haven’t learnt it.

Marty Lobdell

So, in summary, if you want to learn and use your knowledge for yourself (not limited to exams) you will have to have a habit of studying regularly. Studying a night before is not going to work out in the long term.
I do hope this post would help you with something you didn’t know, or realise before.

It may be overwhelming to see so many things to do just to improve your study. You don’t have to fret. Start small. Make just one change in the way you study and test it out. Over time, slowly incorporate different things into your study and you would be better off in a few weeks than you are now.


If you intend to learn more on the same, do check out his lecture:

If you’re reading this post, It does mean you are someone who wishes to keep improving and that is Amazing! I hope this post adds value to you.
I also think you may be interested to read up on developing a reading habit as well. You can check it out here!

Do you have any other solutions that work for you while studying? Please do drop in a comment so that I can try it out as well!

Until Next time,
#Letsbewisertomorrow

Cover Photo by Nick Morrison on Unsplash

4 thoughts on “Stop Studying Hard. Instead Study Less, Study Smart

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