Learning Strategies to Make the Materials Stick Quicker and Longer

Published by Klint Ciriaco on

How have you ever felt like the normal studying strategies aren’t enough? Let’s list some of them so we’re both on the same page: 

  • Do your homework
  • Go to class
  • Study with friends
  • Participate in class
  • Review your notes after a lecture

I wouldn’t say they’re useless. They’re just not enough. If I were to be transported back to college, based on what I know now, I would use the strategies you are about to learn to get better grades.

They’re going to be divided into 2 categories: Learning strategies and non-learning related categories. 

Learning Strategies

These are actions that make  the lessons stick longer. You may or may not have heard about them since they’re not being talked about (at least not enough). Here they are: 

Read, dump, check, repeat 

Imagine taking a bunch a pictures with a camera with no screen. Now, do you check your shots? Transfer the pictures into your computer.

Re-reading is like taking pictures without verifying if you took all the shots you need. Also, the shots could be blurry or the subjects could be out of the frame. You won’t know for sure until you dump them out of your head.

If you’re spending ungodly hours taking inputs and then only verifying them during exams, you’re putting yourself at a disadvantage. Instead, you should go through a learn-dump-check cycle when studying. Here are the steps:

Step 1: Read a section in your book. Also, underline or highlight the points you think are important. Doing so isn’t for you to remember them. They’re just going to serve as markers for you to easily find them later. 

Step 2: Close the book and do a five to ten minute brain dump — write everything you can remember from what you’ve read. This is going to be uncomfortable but the discomfort is highly beneficial because you are simulating an exam where the pressure is high.

Step 3: Check what you’ve missed. This is where the highlighted words come in handy. In your notes, write down the points you’ve missed and label them as such. Personally, this step gives me a “Damn it, I can’t believe I missed that!” moment which makes the points I forgot more memorable. 

Step 4: Repeat this process in the next sections. 

The most important step is recalling the information. It’s basically a skill. If you think about it, quizzes and exams are just recall sessions. So, develop the skill of recall by practicing. 

Guess What You’re About To Learn

It’s like picking stocks. If your picks do well, you’ll feel great. Otherwise, you’ll feel terrible. Either way, you learn. That can happen in school as well. 

A day before the lecture, predict what you’re going to learn based on previous classes. You can also look at your book’s table of contents or your class syllabus (you may see the topics but you won’t get details). Then, attempt to guess what they’re about. 

I read about this strategy in the book, 5 Elements of Effective Thinking. The authors, Edward Burger and Michael Starbird, passed a class without taking notes. They did it by guessing what they were about to learn based on what they already knew from previous lectures. 

This action fuels learning for the following reasons: 

  • You get an emotional jolt when you find out you’re wrong. But, that lessons stick. 
  • You feel ecstatic when you get your prediction right. 
  • You develop analytical skills which transfer to other courses in college (and in life). 

Study Previous Exams

Imagine yourself as a novice fighter pilot training in a cockpit that simulates an actual plane. You could crash and burn if you go straight into piloting a complicated piece of machinery.

Previous exams are like simulations for the real tests. So take those exams if they are available. Don’t make the mistake of memorizing the questions though. Instead, do the following:

  • Familiarize yourself with the types of questions that may appear on your tests.
  • Know which topics to focus on since time is limited. 

Non-Learning Related Strategies

These are actions that may not seem important, but learning is way harder than they should be if you don’t do these. I really wished I did these things when I was in college because I wouldn’t have struggled as much: 

Workout Hard

Having willpower is cool, but it’s also better to have all your cylinders firing for studies. So update those cylinders through fitness so you can study harder and longer. After all, it’s difficult to run awesome software on bad hardware. 

What kind of workouts are good? Exercises with functional movements that are varied and intense are great. High intensity turns your body into a furnace to burn fat. Varied movements prevents monotony. And finally, functional movements are practical exercises that can be used outside of the gym.

Implied you: So CrossFit?

Yes. I’m biased because I’m a CrossFit trainer so my first prescription would be CrossFit. But, there are many ways to skin a cat. Attend a class (they’re usually free at university gyms), train with friends, etc. Just turn your body into a well-oiled machine so you can have an edge in the classroom.

Do Post-Learning Rests

Close your eyes for 1-10 minutes immediately after studying. According to Dr. Andrew Huberman of Stanford, this action makes the sequence of neurons responsible for learning the material fire backwards. That backward replay seems to make the material stick. 

I actually use this protocol often not just in studies but in skills that I’m trying to learn. 

Fuel Up With The Right Food

The brain hogs 20% of the body’s energy just by resting. Imagine how much energy it uses while studying. So, provide yourself with high quality fuel to help you sustain the demands of learning. 

You don’t have to restrict yourself by dieting like a physique competitor. Just follow these guidelines and you’ll be okay: 

  • Eat real food 80% at a time. *
  • Eat “enjoyment” food 20% at a time. *
  • Eat until you’re satisfied (not stuffed).

*Tip: If you join a CrossFit gym, your coach will teach you this stuff. 

Go For a Walk

Have you ever found yourself getting stuck in a problem? It’s probably because you’re tunnel visioning. The solution is to just go for a walk. This article quotes a study where participants boosted their creativity by 60% just by walking. 60%! This means you should talk a 5-10 minute walk to clear your head instead of flushing another hour down the drain.

You Gotta Get Enough Sleep (This is clichè advice but do it anyway) 

Studies after studies show that lack of sleep tanks performance. If your performance suffers, your grades go down. If your grades go down, recruiters won’t look at you. In essence, your future livelihood is on the line.  

So, structure your days (or weeks) to make sure your time at night is guarded. Also, think twice about pulling all nighters because it takes 2 to 3 days for your body to recover. Again, plan ahead so that won’t happen. 


I hope these tips will give you an edge at school.  I wish you the best and good luck. 


Want The Materials You’ve Learned To Stick? Make Your Own Tests