Eventually, I found my own way to study, but I was still curious if there are more efficient ways to study than the one I used. I’ve done the research and collected some science-backed study hacks useful for any learner.
1. Learn by “chunking”
If you’ve taken a psychology class, you may already be familiar with the idea of chunking. The theory is that people tend to remember things better when they learn related ideas in small chunks, rather than simply trying to cram all the details of a topic into their heads at once.
It’s all based on the capacity of the working memory and how our brains turn short-term memories into long-term ones. Psychologists have consistently shown that people can easily recall a string of numbers or names that is 5 to 9 objects long. That means the average person can repeat about 7 items back a few seconds after being given a list.
Students who cram may be taking in a lot of information at once, but since their working memories can’t hold all those facts, they tend to forget most of what they learn. One way to overcome knowledge loss by cramming is to chunk topics together. Research has demonstrated that subjects tend to remember more items on a list when they relate certain items on the list with others.
2. Don’t fall victim to the forgetting curve
You’ve heard of learning curves, but have you ever heard the Forgetting Curve? Research shows that people are much more likely to be able to recall information from a one hour lecture when they review what they learned later on. And, not surprisingly, the more times one turns the information over in their mind, the longer they’ll remember it.
Like chunking, this hack is based on the functioning of the working memory. People take in an astounding amount of sensory information each day. Since not all of this information is important, the brain must decide what to hold on to and what to forget. One way the brain decides what takes priority is by paying more attention to information that it has processed multiple times.
3. Exercise before study
Exercise has both long and short-term effects on cognition. When you exercise, your body interprets the physical stress as you fighting or fleeing an enemy and activates your sympathetic nervous system. In response, your brain is flooded with extra blood, rich in oxygen and nutrients, to make what it thinks could be life-saving decisions. It’s even been demonstrated that exercise can lead to neurogenesis, or the creation of new brain cells–a process previously thought impossible.
In addition, a brain structure called the hippocampus is stimulated during exercise. Research has shown that the hippocampus is important for reasoning and memory. Besides short-term boosts in cognition, regular exercise can actually slow down age-related shrinkage of the hippocampus.
4. Break up long study sessions for better focus
You may be tempted to commit yourself to hours-long study sessions. There’s nothing wrong with having the occasional study-athon, just make sure that you give yourself shorts breaks while you work.
Research has shown that when people try to focus on a single task for a long period of time, their minds start to wander. It’s the same phenomenon you experience when you hear the same sound over and over again–you become habituated to it, and it becomes background. The idea is the same for a task you’re trying to focus on. In essence, you start going through the motions without actually thinking about what you’re doing.