As well as running my marketing business I lecture on marketing, communication, leadership and management to tertiary students and working professionals from around the world. I am also an active learner and usually adding to my own education on an ongoing basis. All of this has given me an insight into some of the challenges commonly faced when it comes to learning or studying effectively and some proven hacks based on science to make it more productive, efficient and ultimately less painful.
Here are some of my best tips and tricks.
1. Figure out what style of learner you are
Do you know if you are a visual, auditory or kinaesthetic learner? That is, do you know if you learn best by seeing, hearing or doing?
Knowing this about yourself will make the biggest difference to your learning.
There are plenty of free tools online to do a test on which type of learner you are or you can check this one out. Once you know what style of learner you are you can 'digest' your study in the most appealing, and critically, most effective way based on your needs.
Find more information here.
2. Mix it up
Use as many different methods of learning as possible. For example taking notes, listening to recordings, watching videos, constructing models, role plays, reading, discussions, and visualisation tools like mind maps.
Research has shown that the mind is stimulated in different areas with a variety of different media. More activation areas in the brain means more opportunities to learn, understand and retain information.
Also, study a variety of subjects in a day rather than focussing on one - this gives your brain time to consolidate learning. When too much similar information is absorbed at one time it is easier to be confused, so do a little of each subject each day.
Yes, easier said than done with so many distractions at hand but science has definitively proved that multitasking makes you less productive. So turn off your phone, TV, wifi and declutter your workspace.
This is the oldest and most well-known study hack because even though it is boring, it does work. Instead, if you really have to then use your distractions as a reward for completing a period of study, then switch it off and return back to your study session.
4. Use your hands
Avoid using a keyboard to make your notes. Research has shown that students learn and perform better when they have taken notes by hand because our brains are forced to process and reframe information before writing it. The opposite is true for notes made on a keyboard where it is easier to type them verbatim. Working on the computer also makes it easier to be distracted.
5. Use your voice
Research has proven that you can learn information faster by reading information out loud because you can both see and hear it, thus activating more areas in the brain. When you read silently you only see it. Better yet, summarise the information by also writing it down or making some other graphical representation for maximum activation.
6. Take tests
Students who take quizzes and practice tests outperform those who don't. Quiz yourself on concepts and equations you have just studied, look online, check textbooks, ask your teacher - find any sources of tests you can for greater learning efficacy.
7. Find the right environment
Where you learn can have a significant impact on what you retain and how fast you learn. The right learning environment for you could be anything from a traditional classroom setting to a coworking space, or even just watching a video on YouTube while sitting in a park.
What works best for you will depend on your learning style, your preferred method of learning, and what you’re learning. For example, if you’re an audio learner, then a quiet place might be the best environment for you to absorb what you’re learning. Or maybe you’d benefit more from being in a group or attending a seminar where you can discuss what you’re learning with others for a kinaesthetic learner. It might even be a combination of a few of these learning environments.
Make it as comfortable as possible with something like a great chair or even a scented candle. Its up to you, as long as the space is uncluttered and you enjoy being in the environment.
8. Find the optimal time to learn
Some people find that learning at a specific time of the day is more effective for them than others. For example, some people learn better in the morning because they have more energy; others learn better in the afternoon because they’re at their peak after a coffee break, and others learn better in the evening when they’re relaxed.
What works best for you will depend on your learning style, your daily schedule, and your preferred environment. For example, if you’re an auditory learner, then you might find that you learn better at night when it is quiet and freer from other noises competing for your attention. Or if you’re a visual learner, then you’d benefit more from an early morning approach because you find that you have more energy and fewer distractions.
Learn more about finding your peak biological time here.
9. Use mind maps
Mind maps are a great way to organise information. You can use them to see relationships among different topics or to see the big picture. Mind maps can also be used to brainstorm when you don’t know where to start. By mapping out your ideas, you can see how they relate to each other and which ideas are most important.
A mind map is a type of diagram used for visualising information. A typical mind map consists of an ordered collection of nodes connected by links. Each node represents a concept or piece of information, while each link represents a connection between two nodes. As you make connections between the different concepts and ideas in your mind map, it helps you to organise your thinking. It also helps you to remember things by conjuring up the image of the mind map and therefore the information within it.
Here is a great video to learn more about mind mapping.
10. Learn by teaching others
When we learn new concepts, we often confuse ourselves. Make sense of your thoughts by explaining it to someone else. Through this process, we create a more robust and enhanced relationship with the content. By trying to explain something to another person, you are forced to organise your knowledge and make sure you understand it.
11. Use Mnemonics
Having employed a rhyme or a tune to recall something, you have utilised a mnemonic device. It's a memorisation instrument that has a fancy name. Through various gimmicks, mnemonic devices can assist you to remember anything from phone numbers to lengthy lists to other stuff that would otherwise be difficult to remember.
There are nine types of mnemonics - learn more about each here.
12. Take Breaks
Learning is a process that requires attention, focus, and our brain’s short-term memory system. While you are trying to learn new information, your brain is actively processing, storing, and transferring information to long term memory.
When learning a new concept or piece of information, try to focus on it for no more than 20 minutes at a time. After 20 minutes, our brain will lose its attention and the short-term memory system that we’re using to learn will begin to shut down.
By taking a break after 20 minutes, you’ll allow your brain to reset and will increase the chances that you’ll actually retain that information.
There are a couple of ways you can take a break from studying. The first is to simply step away from your desk for a few minutes. This will allow you to pause and clear your head so that you can come back to your studying with renewed focus. The other option is to switch to a different activity for a little bit. This could be anything from going for a walk to doing a different type of studying.
13. Take care of your body and mind
Nutrition plays a key role in cognitive function. The brain relies on adequate levels of nutrients to function properly, and deficiencies can cause problems including poor memory, slowed thinking and impaired concentration.
Many vitamins are required for normal brain function, including A, C, E and B complex. Iron is especially important as it helps to carry oxygen to cells. Zinc is also important as it plays a role in many biological processes. Omega-3 fatty acids are also important for cognition as they play a key role in the production of chemicals called eicosanoids that influence brain activity.
A healthy diet is one of the most important things you can do for your brain, and there are a number foods that have been shown to be particularly beneficial. Fill up on fish, chicken, eggs, blueberries and seeds to nourish your mind.
Then lie down and ensure you get eight hours of sleep. Research shows that if you get enough sleep, you’ll be more focused, you’ll learn faster, and your memory will improve. You’ll also deal with stress more effectively. Pulling all-nighters does not help with learning!
Also, ensure you stay hydrated - the brain is 75% water so keep your fluids at optimum levels - 8 glasses per day.
Exercise at least three times per week. Double down by listening to an audio recording of your study notes, which is particularly effective for kinaesthetic learners.
14. Get the sounds right
If you can't work in silence then science has found that to get into 'flow' state or one of hyperfocus, music should be familiar and repetitive. Don't listen to anything new or with vocals - this will compete with your brain, which is tempted to be distracted by the music. Instead go for trance, techno or classical and put it on repeat.
Learn more about getting into flow state here:
There are thousands of resources out there to help you study, learn and master new information faster. However, most of them are not backed by scientific evidence. That is why I set out to find the best tricks, techniques and hacks based on proven science to make you study smarter and learn faster.
When you combine these with a healthy lifestyle and good nutrition, you can get the best results for your efforts.
I hope that you liked this article and that you learned something new from it and I wish you every success for wherever your educational journey takes you!