Supercharged Learning Strategies For Better Retention

Published by Klint Ciriaco on

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Table of Contents

Bonus: 

I didn’t like college. I wasn’t terrible, but I wasn’t exceptional either. It also felt like studying was harder than it needed to be. 

If I could go back in time, I would use the following strategies to not only get better grades, but to truly learn. Meaning, I wouldn’t learn just to pass exams, but to actually gain valuable skills for the real world. 

Here are the strategies I would use if I had the chance do it all over again: 

Use Interleaved Learning

We’ve been taught to do block learning. It’s when you have to master a subject before proceeding to the next. Let’s say your math homework has three sections: 

  1. 15 problems on how to get the area of a triangle
  2. 15 problems on the area of a square
  3. 15 problems on circle 

What you’d usually do is finish all of those problems in a sequence. 

Interleaving on the other hand mixes similar topics together. Going back to our example, jumble your homework problems. It’s going to be more stressful, but your brain will get a potent dose of learning. 

I wrote a more detailed article called How to Do Interleaved Learning. I suggest you read it after you’re done with this article. 

Avoid Thrashing 

In computer science, thrashing is when a computer keeps switching between tasks instead of computing. One of the signs it’s thrashing is when it is frozen. 

We, humans, thrash when we’re not productive anymore. For example, when writing a paper, you may find yourself writing sentences and then deleting them multiple times. You’re stuck in a loop. Next thing you know, two hours have gone by but you’ve only written 100 words. 

This can happen while reading, solving a math problem, and more. 

 The solution? Take a break. You’re better off doing the following:

  • Walk for 20 minutes.
  • Go to the gym. 
  • Take a nap.
  • Eat lunch. 

Think about it. If it took you 3 hours instead of 2 hours to finish a project, you lost valuable time for other stuff. 

Guess What You’re About To Learn 

I learned this hack from the book, 5 Elements for Effective Thinking. 

The authors joined an art appreciation class and never took notes. All they did was guess what they were going to learn based on the previous lecture. Of course, they passed. 

Here’s why it works. When you guess wrong, the “ouch” effect stings, which makes the lesson stick. Same goes for when you miss something. 

What happens when you guess right? The “I knew it” effect kicks in. Because you’re happy about it, the lesson gets cemented. 

I suggest keeping a tally of the topics you get right or wrong as well because it can serve as notes. 

Practice Recall 

When taking exams, you are essentially recalling the things you learned. Why not practice your recall skills during your study sessions? 

Here’s how to do it. Read a page or two from your book. Then, write everything you can remember for 5 to 10 minutes. If you can’t recall anything anymore but there’s still time, keep trying. 

Rinse and repeat. 

This practice helps you validate whether you filled your “bucket” or not. It allows you to find the holes in your knowledge and patch them. So when exam day comes, it’ll be just another day in the classroom. 

Make Your Own Quizzes and Exams

Try  to get in your professor’s head. Heck, pretend you’re him or her. What are the most important topics your students need to focus on?  Now, make a test out of it. 

This exercise  helps you prioritize learning the important things in the subject. After all, you only have so much time in the day. 

Get a Copy of The Previous Year’s Exams (If possible)

Do this even if you haven’t taken the class yet. You can think of it as an intel for battle. 

It’s going to be tricky because you’ll see concepts you haven’t seen before. But, getting familiar with them is the goal. This will make learning in class easier. 

I would also do the following: 

  • Take note of the most common types of questions.
  • Look up unknown definitions.

Studying previous exams is like putting yourself in a simulation for the real thing. It’s a “training ground” without the consequences. 

Avoid Excessive Restudying, Reviewing, and Highlighting

These strategies lack the validation  mechanism that recall has. They also trick you into thinking you’re being productive. 

If anything, use your notes and highlighted pages as references to go back to. Otherwise, you’re better off doing the strategies listed in this article. 

Use Post-study Rests

I learned this strategy from Dr. Andrew Huberman of Stanford. 

He says that the neurons involved in your new knowledge fire in a reverse sequence after practicing. It’s like they’re reviewing what they just learned. 

To take advantage of this phenomena, go to a quiet place and do nothing. You could meditate or take a nap for 10 minutes. I’ve done this after my practice sessions and it does wonders. 

Surround Yourself With Friends 

I read in this article that isolation may lower your IQ. Being lonely is a double whammy – you don’t feel fulfilled and your grades suffer. 

I know you should take that article with a grain of salt, but at the same time, err on the side of caution. In this case, having friends is the cautious thing to do. 

Share To Validate 

This is like practicing your recall  skills but verbally. You’ve probably heard about  this method a million times so I’m not going to beat a dead horse. 

Fight Like Hell to Protect Your Weekend 

I met some computer engineering students where they would work their asses off to finish their projects during the week. Then, they would rest on the weekends. 

I wished I did that because studying for 60 hours without rest days was unsustainable. 

So keep your weekends sacred. 

Bonus: 

Raise Your Fitness Level

A rusty engine isn’t as powerful as an optimized machine. 

Consider this: your heart is working too hard because your arteries are clogged. Your brain is overclocked because it’s allocating energy on a system that is not optimized. This leads you to not have enough energy to pay attention in class because you feel sluggish. 

So, get moving to get the rust off your motor. You don’t have to train like an olympian. Just workout with enough intensity to raise your fitness level. 

Eat the Right Fuel

Your brain is an energy hogger. It uses 20% of your energy just to get the body functioning properly – breathing, pumping the heart, etc. So when you’re studying, it needs additional high quality fuel.  

Again, you don’t have to eat like an olympian. I like to take the 80/20 rule: 80% clean and 20% “enjoyment” foods. 

Charge Your Battery

This is arguably the most important task in this article. Studies show that not getting enough sleep causes a significant drop in school performance. If you had to choose between getting sleep and any of the strategies listed above, go for sleep. 

Also, avoid all nighters if possible. One night of not sleeping takes about 3 days for you to fully recover. 

Conclusion

Going to college is an amazing experience, but it also has loads of challenges. I hope these strategies will not only help you overcome them but to let you thrive in your learning career.  

Crush it. 

-Klint 


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