If you’re going to spend time reading one thing today, read this. It might just change your life…
You are the average student. Your alarm goes off in the morning, a little earlier than you would like, and you drag yourself out of bed and downstairs for breakfast (if you have time). You get into the car/bus/taxi/bike for the journey to school/college/university. You manage to push on through the day, just about manage not to sleep in that boring lecturer’s session this time. You sit through your next seminar, wondering whether or not the teacher is speaking English. The bell rings.. it’s time to go home!
Your mind fills with all the things you’d love to do – hang out at your friend’s house, go to the cinema, play basketball at the local park, practice a musical instrument… but then reality hits you. You’ve got exams in a couple of weeks and you really should revise. These ones are important after all. Back to your room you go…
Sound familiar? Student life is tough. There’s so much to do in so little time. If only you could have more free time…
Well guess what, you can. And I’m here to tell you how. The principles presented below have been tried and tested by many hugely successful people and I guarantee that if you follow the recommendations below, you will learn faster. And do you know what that means? Less time studying and more time doing what you want to do with your life. Invest time now in becoming an accelerated learner and you will reap the rewards for the rest of your life.
The six steps to learning faster
- Decide what you are going to learn.
This is arguably the most important step. Prioritise – decide what the single most important thing for you to learn at that moment in time is then focus solely on that task. Don’t set yourself unrealistic amounts of work to do, or you’ll continuously get frustrated, but equally don’t set the bar too low or you may fall victim to Parkinson’s Law.
THE BEST WAY TO START LEARNING
- Write out the 6 most important things you could be doing right now.
- Number them from 1-6 in terms of importance.
- Work on number 1 until completion (without stopping or switching to any other task).
- Then do number 2, number 3 and so on.
This is the most time-efficient method of completing any particular task as you will focus all your mind power on one task at a time. If you run out of time and have only finished the top one or the top two, this is not a problem! You have done the most important thing you needed to do and there is no way in that period of time you would have done more.
- Create the optimal conditions for learning.
Create the best external and internal environment to enhance your learning.
Remove any distractions that are going to disrupt your work. If you are often distracted by your phone, turn it off or put it in another room. If there’s a website you spend a lot of time on, block it. Not sure how to block websites? There are many ways – I personally use the ‘StayFocusd’ extension for Chrome. If there’s something that distracts you, find somewhere to study where that won’t be a problem. Don’t make excuses to yourself – work around whatever obstacles may arise.
Create the right frame of mind to learn. Be relaxed, calm and confident in your ability to learn. There’s a difference between this and arrogance, which is fragile and unhealthy. Different successful people use different ways to develop this state. Some meditate, others pray, some people have mantras that they repeat to themselves, others visualise the things they can do if they finish their work promptly. This could be things like spending time with friends, family, a boyfriend or girlfriend.
Some ideas for mantras include ‘I can learn anything that I want to learn to achieve anything that I want to achieve’, ‘Every day I’m learning more and progressing towards my goal’ or simply the words ‘Ambition’, ‘Success’, ‘A*’ can have similarly positive effects. Feel free to use these or come up with something more personal to you.
- Prepare for information intake.
This should be guided by you. Before you start, ask yourself the following questions:
- What do you already know about the topic? Write it out from memory. It’s important to know your starting point
- What don’t you know? What don’t you understand? Write a set of questions before you start to have in the back of your mind as you study, to act as a mental prompt and keep you on track. When you’re finished, check that you can now answer these questions from memory.
Work out how you best take in information. You may have heard of ‘visual’, ‘audio’ and ‘kinaesthetic’ learners. In reality, everyone uses a combination of the three to varying degrees. Research different techniques, and come up with your own, that utilise the different modalities – put them into practice and see what works for you.
- Learn and memorise the information.
A lot of research has been done into memory consolidation and it has been well established that spaced repetition is one of the best ways to learn and remember information. Every time you recall a piece of information from your own memory, this memory will be strengthened and thus you will remember it for longer.
A practical way to apply this information is as follows: when you learn some new information, for example in a lesson or a revision session, recall it from memory. You should review your notes after about one hour, then one day, then one week, then one month, then six months and then one year. You will be amazed by how much you can remember, and how long for, if you follow this pattern. Also note that the principle is much more important than the exact time spacing – feel free to adjust it around your life and schedule as required.
A useful piece of free software that can help with spaced recall is ‘Anki’, which is available on computers as well as smart phones. It lets you create your own flashcards then will present them to you at increasing time intervals.
- Test yourself.
There’s no way to be certain that you’ve taken on board new information until you test yourself. Here are some suggestions but feel free to come up with your own:
- Practice exam questions – don’t wait until your teacher/tutor sets them for you; find your own and see which you can answer and which you can’t!
- Recall the information from memory – for example write a three sentence summary of what you have learnt, write a short essay or make a poster – be creative!
- Discuss it with a friend or try to teach it to someone who doesn’t understand it. Albert Einstein once said ‘If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself’.
This stage is important as it will highlight to what level you understand the information. It is an easy and common trap to fall into to simply rote learn something without truly understanding it. If you develop a true understanding of a topic, you will remember it much better as you will be able to ‘work it out’ based on the parts that you can remember.
- Reflect and improve for next time.
Learning is a continuous process that you will continue to do for the rest of your life, whether you realise it or not. The rate at which you learn is largely determined by the amount of time you spend reflecting on your learning and thinking of ideas for improvement.
The key with all of the aforementioned steps is to experiment continuously and critically assess what is working and what isn’t. Don’t be disheartened if you can’t see obvious improvement at times – progression is rarely linear and I can promise that if you persist you will see massive changes over time.
Ask yourself these questions regularly: What worked well and what didn’t? Where could you improve?
Other ways that you can increase that rate at which you learn include:
- Ask other people for feedback. Be accepting of this feedback! If someone is giving you criticism or something you don’t agree with, don’t step in and defend yourself – keep silent for as long as you can and then reflect on what they have told you. Be as objective as you can.
- Always be open to new tips and advice on how to learn. The best approach is to cherry-pick from the inexhaustible information that is out there – try things you hear about and if they work, use them and if they don’t, discard them. A fantastic starting point is Brian Tracy’s ‘Accelerated Learning Techniques’ audiobook – it would make a fantastic birthday or Christmas present from a friend, relative… or even from yourself!
Congratulations on making it to the end of this article. However, having read this article will mean nothing if you don’t now start to apply it to your life. Act now.
Print this off and put it on your wall, by your desk, or somewhere else where you will see it often. Save it on your phone. Email it to your friends and family and discuss your progress together. Repeat these six steps over and over until it becomes second nature. You will be amazed by what you can achieve – there really are no limits on what you can do.