4. Take regular breaks
Think of your brain like a computer. But a computer that has a near limitless ability to learn and store information.
In fact, the memory capacity of the human brain is estimated to be somewhere around 2.5 petabytes – that’s 2,500,000 Gigabytes – so it’s probably the most powerful processor in existence.
That said, whilst your brain has an almost infinite capacity to store information over the long term (i.e. you can never learn so much that your brain refuses to learn any more), it can get overwhelmed sometimes when learning new information – just like how a laptop can overheat after intense use. That’s why it’s important to take regular breaks to recharge (to push this metaphor even further, again, like a laptop!)
When you push yourself to the point of exhaustion when learning, you’ll find that the returns steadily diminish the more tired you get. That’s down to the fact that your brain is tired and needs a break. Sure, you might technically be learning on that 3am all-nighter, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be understanding or fully taking the information in.
If you find remembering to take breaks difficult, set an alarm on your phone to remind you. Most experts recommend taking a 5- to 15-minute break every hour.
We’ve written extensively about various strategies to help you improve your focus when studying that emphasis the importance of regular breaks, like the Pomodoro method, in this blog. Be sure to check it out to get some more tips.
5. Break down big study tasks into smaller tasks
When you’re confronted with a huge task like ‘learn the history of the Byzantine Empire’, you’re likely to experience a pang of terror about where to start the process. General, overarching topics can be incredibly intimidating to study.
The trick is to make the general into the specific.
In other words, think about the logical order of topics that present themselves. Do some topics need to be studied first in order to enhance your understanding of others? Is there a logical progression in terms of topics that follow one another? Do you have an upcoming assignment or test covering a particular subject that needs to be prioritized?
Consider how each topic fits into the wider picture and make a list of the topics to be studied, based on their order of priority.
This article has some great advice for how to break larger tasks down into smaller ones for better productivity.
6. Repeat what you’ve learned to someone else
Repeating information that you’ve recently learned to someone else can help to cement the facts in your own brain. This has major implications when we’re trying to improve the ways that we learn new information.
A study by Aloysius Wei Lun Koh, Sze Chi Lee, and Stephen Wee Hun Lim featured in the Applied Cognitive Psychology journal set out to try and identify if teaching recently acquired information helped people to learn it faster. The study separated people into four groups and asked them to solve arithmetic problems.
The group that was asked to teach the arithmetic problems at the same time as solving them performed the best overall in a final test at the end of the experiment. That suggests that teaching information at the same time you learn can help you to learn it more effectively.
7. Test yourself regularly
Okay, you might have read the word ‘test’ and started to groan, but hear us out. Testing yourself every so often can be a great way to fix what you’ve already learned into your brain and to uncover the areas where you need to improve. Studies have shown that it can be one of the most effective ways to learn.
There are lots of different ways that you could test yourself to make sure that you’ve understood a topic to the best of your ability:
- Completing past exam papers or questions
- Have a friend ask you questions
Which method you choose depends upon the time you have available, your favourite way to learn and your own creativity. Have fun with the process!
Learning can be incredibly fulfilling when you get the process right! We hope that these 7 tips have helped you think about the ways that you can improve your own learning process.
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