The thing about studying is that it’s one of the things that technology can’t do for us. No matter what developments that Apple or Google comes up with, we still have to do our own learning. There’s no app that can automate learning for us. There’s no machine that can study for us. Technology can help us, but we have to do our own learning ourselves. And we don’t need to be all that high-tech for that.
In fact, low-tech might be just what we need. We are analog beings after all. We have minds housed in brains housed in bone and muscle. We need tangible, corporeal methods and techniques to bring out the best out of ourselves, not suppressing the physical, but embracing and harnessing it to achieve our study goals.
Set the Scene
Our study environment is crucial. They key is to help body and mind find that optimum state for learning — somewhere between hyperalertness and lethargy. We need just enough stimuli and just enough calm to be mentally open and retentive.
Take away the distractions that disrupt our focus and momentum. Let’s keep our phones in silent mode and turn off our desktop Facebook notifications. We can use a program like Cold Turkey to do this for us.
The basic idea is: we don’t want any pinging when we’re reading Descartes.
Turn the Volume Down
Music could actually help us study better, but keep it low. We only need it as a kind of white noise. The genre depends on our musical taste, but in general it should be instrumental, because music with words engages our language processing faculties which we’d want to reserve for understanding our reading material.
Put on Some Light
A dimly lit room will only make us sleepy. Daylight would be awesome, but if not, something close to daylight would do nicely too.
A couple of minutes of breathing and meditation calms the body and mind and would greatly increase our focus and concentration. Taking intermittent breaks to do it again would help keep our minds up and running.
Drink and Eat
We have to prime our bodies to study. We want to stay nice and hydrated all throughout our study time, so let’s keep some water within reach. A plate of light munchies, such as nuts or dark chocolate nibbles would be great too. We don’t want to be hungry as we study, but we don’t want to be stuffed either.
Assimilate the Study Material
One key mistake that we make when we study is to be passive. Learning is not just about reading. It is about processing and assimilating what we’ve read. We have to get not just our minds to get with the program, but you have to get the rest of who we are to participate. That’s why we take the time to set the scene in the previous section — we prepare and prime the body to learn. In this section, we learn how to use the body to help us learn and retain what we’ve learned.
Take Handwritten Notes
These days we may have taken to tapping our class notes on our tablets and laptops, but the latest research findings indicate that students who write their notes by hand using old-school pen and paper retain more of what they’ve learned during a lecture. Although typing produces more copious notes, writing them out by hand forces us to listen more, and digest what we hear a little bit more. Therefore just from the mere act of writing, we’ve already done some pretty heavy learning right off the bat. To maximize the efficiency of this learning technique, there are a myriad of note-taking techniques that we can use.
Speak/Read Out Loud
Our senses are the only ways by which information enters our brains. The thing is we tend to rely only on one of them — the sense of sight. We mostly use our eyes just to read and use just this one sense as a channel of information. If we read aloud, we add our sense of hearing into the mix, and this helps us remember a piece of information more efficiently than just reading it silently again and again.
Use Your Other Senses
We can bring our other senses and use them as learning pathways. One tip that we can use is to use a particular scent or taste into our study experience by chewing a particular kind of gum or wearing a unique cologne. Then when it’s time to take the exam, we chew the same gum or spritz on the same scent, which would help to put our notes or our textbook back in front of us as we try to recall what we’ve learned.
This may seem counterintuitive, but it is recommended that we take 5-minute breaks after every 25 minutes of intense studying. This allows the mind to detach and refresh itself to better enable it to retain more.
Also, let’s not stay up all night before the exams. Sleep is a vital process for assimilating memories as well as revitalizing the mind. You need to be awake and in tip-top mental condition when you take that exam.
When you’re feeling tired and lethargic as you study, think about your end game. It’s not just about acing (or just passing) that test, it’s about getting that dream job. It’s not about sailing through that microbiology exam — it’s ultimately about protecting your future patients from diseases when you finally become a doctor.