One of our readers came up with a great idea for a post and we’re answering the question immediately. Many people are likely young and in college trying to learn the ropes as quickly as possible. The format will be best served for people in college but you can certainly change it to focus on any topic you like. With that in mind lets get to work.
Find the Right Teacher: While this can be an entire 3,000+ word topic alone, we’re going to keep comments here at a minimum. Finding the right teacher simply means “find someone who walks the walk”.
This is best served in examples…
Are you going to take financial advice from someone who is not even a millionaire in his 30s? Of course not.
Are you going to take fitness advice from someone who is out of shape? Of course not.
Are you going to take pick up advice from someone who is significantly better looking than you? Of course not.
Cut the garbage out and find the best teacher you can with the 80/20 rule in mind. Three steps.
1) Does he have what you want? Yes.
2) Did he have less resources than you? Yes.
3) Did he earn it himself? Yes.
Then you’re good to go. If they do not pass this test, you know what to do “Smile, Nod, Agree… Delete contact and explain that you are a Manager at McDonalds… so he never contacts you again”. With the teacher out of the way lets get to work.
No Distractions: The easiest way to improve your studying habits is to get rid of all distractions. This means you do not text on your cell phone, you do not rev up the instant messaging system on your laptop and you do not bring any entertainment objects (magazines, hand held games and otherwise). Instead you focus on absorbing the information at hand. If you had the opportunity to meet your idol (Warren Buffet, Wayne Gretzky, Muhammad Ali, etc.) the last thing you would do is get on your phone to text message your friends about the next party you’re going to attend. Treat a meaningful class in the exact same manner.
The no distractions rule applies to meeting someone you respect as well. If you’re more interested in your phone than talking to the person in front of you, the implied message is that they are of lower value than you. Stop wasting your time *and* his, move on.
Does the Class Matter? Do the Minimum. To avoid confusion, being locked in and focused for class only applies to the ones that matter. Ethnic studies? Sociology? Yep… you guessed it… they do not matter. Practically every single general education course is a waste of your time so the best bet is to do the minimum to maintain your 3.5+ GPA. Focus on what matters in obtaining an A- or better. Their political affiliation. All you need to do is agree with their main points, highlight a few touching sentences from the curriculum and walk out of there with a solid grade. If you want to ensure that you obtain an A-, find out who is grading the tests and be sure to show up to their office hours a couple of times. If you go to a large university, you no longer have to go to class (friend(s) will sign you in for attendance). You’re welcome!
If you are forced to go to class (small university)? PDF the work from your more important classes and take notes, they will not know that you are studying for a different course.
Create a Physical Connection: Now that you’re out of the classroom, only attending the courses that matter and doing the minimum in the ones that do not, you should develop habits to improve your memory. The best way to create a physical connection between the material and your memory is by 1) writing information down with an actual pencil/pen and 2) eating similar foods with each topic. While the first part seems quite easy the second one may seem tedious. The quickest way to trick your mind is by buying 2-3 different types of gum. Chose gum type 1 for class 1, etc. You won’t take more than 4-5 courses in a quarter/semester and chances are only 2-3 of them will matter in the first place.
If you want scientific studies on how eating similar food (or chewing gum) improves memory you can do the work yourself. Or even better, just do it and watch it work on your own mind and body. Yes, you should also chew the same gum type during your exams or even in class.
(Side note: yes drinking the same beverage works as well)
Fifteen and Five: This is a solid ratio for studying. If you’re a relatively fast reader the goal is to read/consume information for 15 minutes and spend the next 5 minutes writing the biggest takeaways. As mentioned above, typing does not count. Write down the main items (formulas, concepts, theories) onto a notepad and reflect for 2-3 minutes. Repeat this until you feel like you are no longer able to focus. Once you hit “the wall” or you feel that you understand the material, switch tasks entirely. Our recommendation is to hit the gym.
Flags Not Highlights: Do not waste your time with a highlighter. When you see a concept or item you wish to recall, underline it and flag the page with a written note. Having a 100 page document with highlighted items will not help. You will be forced to remember why you highlighted the sentence in the first place. Make it easier by picking up a few post its and naming the page “Duration Explanation” or “Game Theory Example” are going to be much easier to refer to when you go through the book.
Ever wonder why it is hard to find a specific “section” even though you remember highlighting it before? Now you know.
Real Life Connections: If you are having a hard time remembering a concept you just learned, attempt to apply it to real life. Keep a simple note card in your pocket with items you continuously get wrong and remind yourself to try and find a connection in your day to day life. Unfortunately we cannot do this part for you as you need to come up with the connection yourself. Positively, a good example would be the application of economic or financial concepts. Simply pick up a business magazine (or WSJ etc.) and try to apply any new concept you learned to an article. In the worst case scenario, none apply and you simply learned more about the latest transactions.
Teach the Topic: In our article on sales we explained that it is always significantly harder to Sell something than it is to Buy something. This is because it takes less information to understand something than it does to teach something. If the class is important and the topic is important for your future, find someone to teach. You will learn more about the topic by forcing yourself to teach the material. By helping the person learn the material, you’re going to have a better understanding yourself.
(Hint: now you know why this blog is alive)
Cramming: At this point you should know the material pretty well, despite what they say, cramming certainly does work. If there are certain concepts you are having trouble internalizing and the test is around the corner, simply memorize the examples/formulas with no application. It is always better to get partial credit on any exam and have perfect examples lined up than to get a 0 on the question.
You can read between the lines here. You’re going to do quite a bit of cramming for the classes that are irrelevant to your future. All you need to do in the meaningless classes is regurgitate the opinion of the grader. While it will take a lot of willpower to write down information you do not believe in… better to get high grades and get rich than die poor.
Recap: There you have it, a quick list of items to follow in order to improve your studying habits. 1) find good teachers, 2) focus only on the topic at hand, 3) cut out material that is not applicable to improving your life, 4) make a physical connection with eating/drinking, 5) 15 mins consume/ 5 minutes write, 6) flags not highlights, 7) real life application, 8) teach the topic and 9) cramming is fine.
Some Final Thoughts: To be clear here, we’re not wavering from our initial opinion on college (only go if you can generate a return and only go if you can attend an elite university). The entire post assumes that you’re going to a college ranked in the top 20 or so in the USA.
Second, you can apply this same logic if you are already out of college. Play the same game as above. Make sure you’re listening to someone of value. Take notes, avoid wasting their time and if you can help them out in any small way… Do it.
Finally, as we have warned many many times in the past… When you decide to study/learn from someone, make sure it flies a little bit against the grain/consensus. If the masses are impressed by it, you know it is a set up for a con. The masses are impressed by $100K (can’t even live in a major city), quick fixes (diet pills that ruin their health) and of course entertainment (study for rate of return not for Snapple facts).
Good luck gentlemen! Hopefully, this answers the question!