Here’s the secret: super students and slow student have exactly the same potential.
The only difference? Effective study strategies.
When comparing themselves to the top student in school, many students respond by saying that they could never achieve all that because they are just not as smart or simply not talented enough. What we need to first understand, is that is it not their inherent lack of ability that sets them apart from the top students who are scoring ‘A’s in school. Rather, it is the learning strategies used by these students that allow them to achieve their excellent grades and results.
How to study effectively?
1. Belief – The Power of Words.
Beliefs are extremely powerful because they are like the operating system in your brain. They determine the kind of goals you set, the kind of actions you take, whether you would end up giving up easily after a setback or will you persevere and fight on. Our beliefs are never absolutely true; they are merely opinions and generalizations constructed by us. But if we believe in them, they will indeed become true (or at least for you).
Imagine if your belief was that ‘I suck at Math and I am never destined to do well at it’. You probably wouldn’t bother studying for Math and end up doing badly on the test. The consequence for not studying will lightly be you doing badly or failing that Math test. This goes one full cycle and reinforces your belief – “There! I indeed suck at Math’. The exact opposite is true too. Believing that you have the potential to excel and learn will lead to positive decisions and eventually, ideal results. That is why most of us find ourselves excelling in subjects and areas that we like and believe that we can do well. Bottom line is, if you want to start doing well, it all begins in your mind. Believe that you can never fail; and you never will.
Merely believing in something will by no means turn it into reality. It takes the necessary skills and actions to back it up. The point is that when you believe something, your brain is commanded to do whatever it takes to find a way to make it happen. It will tap into your potential and open up the possibility of producing those results.
2. Goals – Smart Goal Setting.
While most students choose to dive right into their textbooks and begin their revision, there is actually a more important step before that – to set very clear goals on the results you want to get!
Goals give us a sense of direction and purpose. It boosts our potential and greatly increase our energy and excitement level as we plan and move closer to our goals every day. If you set a goal to score 100% for your test, you will find yourself studying very differently as compared to setting a goal to score 60%. When going for 100% your brain knows that you cannot afford to make a single mistake; while setting a 60% goal means your brain knows that it can afford to lose 40% of the marks. The goals you set is going to determine your actions and therefore your results. This is the power of goals!
What’s worse is that when you do not set a goal, your brain will automatically lock on to the lousiest score it can get away with and let’s face it – that’s suicidal!
3. Time Management – How to manage Time?
Have you wondered what is the difference between billionaires, CEOs, top students and the every day blue collar and average student? Time! In fact, it is how they choose to utilize their time.
Time is a resource that everyone has equal share of. It cannot be bought, borrow or stopped. The clock is ever ticking. People who succeed in life have learnt to master their time. We cannot control how much time we have, but we can control how we use it. If you master your time, you will master your life. Stop procrastination and start getting what’s important to you done now.
Successful people master their time by learning the power of priority. Since we all have 24 hours a day, we must give priority to goal-oriented activities. These are activities that will help you achieve your goals and make you more successful in your life. Start by making a list of all the important stuff, all the goal-oriented activities, then begin to track how you are spending your 24 hours everyday – pay close attention to how much time you actually spend doing the important stuff on your list. You can set all the fantastic goals you want, but they are not worth anything unless you come up with a plan, schedule your time and take the necessary action to turn them into reality.
4. Effective Reading – How to Read Effectively?
An effective learner only reads the textbooks and course materials just once. As they read, they extract the ‘essence’ or ‘information’ in the form of key words and key ideas. Mastering effective reading, is to master the strategies and technique of reading fluently and with ease. However, many of us unknowingly, develop bad habits of reading over time. These bad habits hinder our reading, slowing us down and affecting our comprehension rate.
Part of effective reading is to read fast. Most people avoid reading fast because they think that doing that will reduce their ability to concentrate as well as comprehend what they are reading. When in fact, the most common reason for poor concentration is the result of reading too slowly. Research has shown that our eyes and brain are capable of processing over 20,000 words per minute but most people are reading at the rate of only 200 words per minute (less than 1% of our true potential). Imagine if you had a company that employed 100 workers but at any one time, there was only enough work for one of the workers. What would happen? The 99 other workers will get bored and start looking for other stuff to do. We call this ‘Mind Wandering’ and is exactly what is happening to your brain when it reads too slowly.
To read faster and effectively, you must stop reading one word a time. Instead, start reading in chucks. Force your eyes to pick up chucks of at least two to three words and gradually increase it to three to five words. By doing so, you will be reading a speed of approximately 720 words per minutes, twice the speed of an average reader! With a bit of training, you should be able to read chunks of five to seven words at a time. Now, imagine how much more will you be able to cover and learn with that reading speed.
5. Information Gathering – Pareto Principle
The purpose of effective reading is to gather information. Unfortunately, most students do not read their textbooks or course materials with the purpose of information gathering. Rather, they do so for the purpose of just understanding or gaining knowledge. As a result, they end up having to re-read the same materials again and again whenever they do revision in order remember it. Doing so often results in a realization that there is simply too much too read and too little time!
It is not the number of words that you read that is important, it is the amount of information you get out of reading that matters. In general, in any textbook, only 20% of the words contain the information you need to fully acquire all the knowledge and to score an ‘A’ for your exams. These words are called ‘keywords’. Keywords include nouns, verbs, adverbs and adjectives. The remaining 80% of the textbook are what we call ‘non-keywords’. They are words like ‘is’, ‘was’, ‘the’, ‘of’, ‘has’, ‘for’, that do not contain any information. Their sole purpose is to link the keywords together to form a proper sentence.
The next time you do your revision, keep in mind that not all the words in the textbook are important. You need to actively look out and extract only the words that gives you the information you need to score well for your exams.
6. Sticky Note Making – How to make notes?
If you are reading from your textbook when doing revision, you are definitely wasting a big chunk of your precious time. Instead, you should be revising from notes with information-rich keywords that you have gathered previously. Making notes give you significant advantage in these three areas: it saves you time, helps you understand better and increases your ability to remember.
Today, more than 90% of the students worldwide make personalized notes of some kind. Out of which, the most common notes that students make today are linear notes. These notes are often made up of chunks of sentences taken from the textbook which is essentially identical to the original text except that only the more important concepts are included. Another form of linear notes is also commonly referred to as writing in point forms – where short sentences or phrases are ordered and numbered, with each sentence containing a relevant main point that needs to be learnt.
What’s the problem with linear notes? 90% of students that make linear notes end up saying that they still do not understand or remember even after spending time making these notes. This is largely due to the existence of non-keywords, and that these notes usually do not contain pictures and colors to simulate and engage our minds. In fact, the way information is organized in linear notes bores our brains with chucks of words that does not allow us to see the ‘big picture’.
Sticky notes, on the other hand, are designed to save you time, activate your brain power and like the name suggests, helps to make sure the important information sticks in your mind and stays there. They incorporate the use of pictures and colors to help our brain visualize, coherent association and overview to give our minds a clear understanding of the information and organizes the keywords and information in a way that is outstanding and engaging for our brain.
7. Super Memory – How to memorize things fast?
One of the common excuse students give for not doing well in school is that they have a poor memory. In fact, many students often fully understand the subject matter they are being tested on, but their minds just go blank when they are expected to produce an answer. As a result, their grades do not reflect their true ability in the subject tested.
Many of these students have the common misconception that the ability to remember well is a gift or talent that some have and others don’t. While it is true that they are some readily available memory hacks to help boost your memory, the key to having super super memory lies in recognizing that there is no such thing as a good or bad memory. Studies have shown that people who have an extraordinary capacity to remember things – a fact often mentioned by memory expert, Harry Lorayne – do not have brains different from ours. This goes to prove that memory can indeed be trained and to tap into our natural super memory, we must first understand the process of memory and how our memory works.
The process of memory begins with registration, retention then recall. Registration is easy, when we see something or hear something, the information is being registered. The challenge often lies in retention, which involves storing the information, and recall, which refers to the ability to retrieve the registered information. To put it simply, all memory involves linking one piece of information to another and remembering anything new involves linking that piece of information to something we already know.
For most people who are not trained in memory techniques, this linking process is purely a subconscious one. Sometimes, our subconscious mind makes strong links, that is when we find ourselves remembering information easily. However, the same can happen otherwise, when our subconscious mind makes weak links. That’s when we find ourselves struggling to retrieve the information that we should have known.
While our education system have moved away from pure memory based questions to higher order thinking, remember that unless we can absorb and retain information, you will not be able to use it in higher level critical thinking.
8. Thinking & Application Skills – How to do well in exams?
Having content intelligence is not enough to do well in today’s education landscape. It is the ability to apply your content knowledge to the different combinations of questions that the examiners can throw at you that is more important.
In order to master the ability to apply what we have learnt, we must develop a range of core thinking skills that include creative, analytical and critical thinking. Some of these crucial thinking and application skills to master include comparing data for similarities and differences, analyzing information and relationships, identifying cause and effects, making inferences, evaluating information for reliability and relevance, distinguishing between facts, non-facts and opinions, drawing conclusions from evidences and more!
These application skills may seem intimidating, but they are easily mastered once you know the strategy to use. Start by asking the right questions (to yourself). This simulates your mind and creates opportunities for new links to be formed between new information and information you already know. Another amazing strategy is to start collecting questions. Understand that even your teachers and exam setters have rules they have abide to. They are only a set limited number of ways and types of questions they can test you. Finding out and practicing these different types of question is key in doing well and securing that ‘A’.
9. Revision Strategies – How to revise?
Your mind is like a supercomputer. It automatically sorts out information, stores them and categories them according to how important they are and how frequent we use them. However, over time, our mind too face difficulty retaining information. This is described as the Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve. Taking into consideration of this unique characteristic when doing revision is crucial in our learning process.
The chart above illustrates how our memory works over time. It is important to schedule our revision cycle right before the forgetting curve kicks in. The suggested schedule is after 24 hours, after 1 week, after a month, after 3 months and right before exams.
The objective is unconscious competence. Students who tend to run out of time studying often study to a stage where they understand the subject, but are not adapt or skilled at it. They still need time to think about and analyse a test question before answering it. This stage is known as the level of conscious competence. Successful students on the other hand, always study and revise to a stage of unconscious competence. They revise their work to a stage where they can instinctively answer the questions without having to analyse the problem consciously. This familiarity with the materials and methods helps them arrive at solutions fast and accurately and is what sets the average students and top scorers apart.
When in doubt, revisit step 7: Super Memory and step 8: Thinking & Application Skills. These are the two key steps that will you have to refer back to while doing your revision.
10. Exam Skills – How to prepare for exams?
Exam preparation begins at least two months before the actual examinations. It involves getting your mind and body ready for the upcoming challenge. This is process is essential in getting yourself ready and into an optimal state of preparedness for the examinations.
Start by putting yourself in an empowering state and cultivate a growth mindset – remember that your state of mind will affect how you feel and how you feel will affects your actions and results. Some useful strategies to do includes arriving early at the exam venue to get relaxed, talk to your friend about anything that could take your mind off studying, use the power of words and power of visualization to keep yourself in a positive state.
During the exams, allocate your time wisely. Always plan in advance the amount of time you will spend on each section and subsequently, on each question. You should also plan for an extra ‘check-back time’ of at least 15 minutes. This time can also be used as an emergency measure, if you happen to exceed the time you have allocated for your questions.
If it is possible for others, it’s possible for you. It is only a matter of strategy.
Now that you are aware of the steps you need to take to start scoring good grades, next is understanding what is limiting you now and how you can overcome these limitations to do even better at school and in life. No matter what strategies you decide on, whether to pick up a relevant self-help book or attend a prestigious school holiday programme, remember that it all begins with your beliefs – how you see yourself and what you say to yourself every day.