How To Supercharge Your Learning Rate Through Desired Difficulties

Published by Klint Ciriaco on

How To Supercharge Your Learning Rate Through Desired Difficulties
Credit: congerdesign

Difficulties supercharge learning rate. But, (and this is a big but), they have to be the right kind of difficulties. What are they? Let’s start with those that are not:

  • Highlighting 
  • Underlining 
  • Re-reading 
  • Rote memorization 

We default to those learning strategies, and when we don’t do well in an exam, we find ourselves asking questions like, “Why did I fail when I spent all that time studying?” “Why am I so dumb?” “Studying is pointless so why bother?” 

If you struggle with learning, it doesn’t mean you’re stupid. You just haven’t been studying the right way. Take me for example — I failed nursing schoo I couldn’t memorize the hundreds of terms and concepts in class. But recently, I was able to memorize 249 verbs in just about 2 hours using a memory technique I learned from the Memorize Academy (side note: I get a small commission if you purchase the course from that link). You can watch how I did it on the video below:

Learning is hard, so you might as well expose yourself to the right kind of hard. Here they are.

1. Testing Yourself 

When someone explains to you how to wrestle an alligator, you get a slight idea how it feels to wrangle one. But, you know what’s better? Wrestling one for real because you acquire hands-on knowledge. So when you’re thrown into the pit with a reptile again, you’ll be more prepared.

The same goes for learning. Restudying before an exam is not enough. If you can get a hold of exams from the previous semesters, take them because they’ll prepare you way better than re-reading notes. The goal is to expose yourself to similar exams that you will have to take.

Don’t make the mistake of memorizing the material though. Learn the underlying concepts instead. 

2. Making Your Own Quizzes and Exams 

Let’s go back to our alligator analogy (this one is crazier but roll with it). If you were given the power to make a reptile from scratch — body, mind, emotions — and then successfully make one, would you be able to answer tough questions about it? Most likely. You built it after all.

There’s more. Making your own exam is just as effective as taking tests, but it also  provides you with something that is extremely valuable: the skill of transfer. Transfer is the ability to use certain knowledge and skills in other disciplines. 

In the study, Comparing the effects of generating questions, testing, and restudying on students’ long-term recall in university learning, the students who made their own exams had better transfer compared to their counterparts. 

3. Getting Good at Using Strategies

This falls under the difficult category because most strategies aren’t “ready-made tools.” They have to be forged through practice. 

For example, when I memorized the 249 verbs I mentioned earlier, I used a technique called Memory Palace. It is the same technique memory champions use. It is also what Sherlock Holmes uses. When I learned how it worked, I still had to practice using it. 

So, when you learn a strategy, it doesn’t immediately make studying more effective. You have to get good at using it. However, it beats using ineffective techniques that keep you crossing your fingers hoping you’ll pass the exams. 

4. Getting Feedback

Going to an exam room is like being sent to the slaughter house if you have not gone through enough study-test-get feedback-adjust experience. Restudying and highlighting, for example, are the worst kinds of strategies because you get the least amount of feedback. 

Testing and creating your exams on the other expose the gaps in your knowledge so you can patch them. There are other ways to get feedback as well: 

  • Talk to a classmate – pretend you’re teaching him or her the material. Then, ask them how accurate you are. 
  • Talk to a professor – same as above. 
  • Blog or Vlog – post your knowledge online and read the comments. 


Desirable but difficult learning strategies may slow down your learning rate at first, but it will get supercharged once you get through the learning curve. Second guessing yourself, crossing your fingers, and being surprised will be minimized as well. So, expose yourself to desired difficulties to help you crush your exams.

Did you know that you can speed up the way you learn through different types of rest? Read more about it on the link below:

Three Types of Rests for Rapid Learning