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May 1, 2019

Barbara Oakley’s ‘Improve Your Study Skills: How to Excel at Math and Science: Even if you Flunked Algebra’ (Part 1)

The new mantra is to study smarter, not harder. Then of course, there is the age-old question, are smart people born that way? At birth, are babies predisposed to have a higher IQ? Can IQ be improved upon? —— Recent studies have shown that in regard to academic intelligence, IQ accounts for just over half of the total intelligence quotient score. The other components include genetics, the mother’s perinatal care, home environment, parenting and education. The bottom line is that IQ can be improved. Moreover, getting great grades in school is likely more a function of technique than genius. Below please note the 20 best study techniques I’ve compiled; proven by professors, developed by Nobel Prize winners, and even promoted by Ivy League institutions. Getting A’s in school is not about studying longer, but studying smarter. Do what successful people do, and you will be successful too. Master the study techniques below and your memory and grades will improve, and your future shine brighter.

Advanced Study Tips

  • Time Management
    • Study at a regular time; and in a regular space.
      • Establishing healthy study habits and routines is essential for learning.
      • Study as soon after lecture class as possible.
        • Memory decays! Thus, studying for one hour soon right after class is equivalent to studying several hours a few days later.
      • Use time efficiently and take advantage of small breaks between classes for study opportunities.
      • Prioritize your most important and challenging projects/homework first.
    • Time Blocking
      • Protect & dedicate key elements of your “to-do-list” by scheduling them on your calendar. Instead of working by the clock, focus on completing tasks one at a time. This limits distractions and completes tasks faster.
      • In other words, first list the items on your “to-do-list” or “success list,” then place your hobbies and fun things on the calendar first, next place the “high value” items such as classes, homework, research, exercise, and meeting friends on the calendar. This scheme ensures that not only are the essential matters for academic and professional success are planned for, but also the social and personal matters that keep you sane and healthy.
      • Elon Musk: Time Boxing or Time Blocking by Cal Newport
    • Corson Technique
      • It is not unexpected that when students try to crack difficult science problems that they often hit a wall and cannot solve it and need help. The Corson Technique does not advocate going to a professor, tutor or friend with the phrase “I do not understand this problem or I don’t know what I am looking at.” The Corson Techniques advocates determining with specificity at which point in the process you do not understand. Start at the beginning of the problem, solving the problem as far as you can until you get confused. Having done this, you can show your professor or tutor with great specificity the source of your confusion.
    • Pomodoro Technique
      • This proven time management tool works within Time blocking, improves productivity, not to mention the quality of your work, enhances focus, motivation and attentiveness.
      • The Method: Focus 25 minutes attentively on a single task, then take a 5-minute break. Repeat this pattern four times, then take a well-deserved 20-30 minute break. Turn off the cell phone and instant messaging during study, and deal with interruptions by writing a brief note and promptly getting back to study. This method allows you to focus and then take a break before you start to fatigue. Tiredness reduces memory and comprehension during study. Modification of the method may include studying for 45 – 50 minutes, then taking a 10 – 15 minute break. After 2 Pomodoro sessions, take a 20-30 minute break, then repeat the process.
      • The benefit of the Pomodoro Technique is that it provides study intense periods that allow the student to be effective in regards to focus and concentration without having reached fatigue, when memory and concentration wane. Fatigue is analogous to ADHD and being intoxicated. Effective studying when tired is counter-productive.
    • Minimize Distractions
      • When Studying, turn off phone, turn off notifications, never interfere with the task at hand. If interrupted, write a brief note and address it during the break and after the Pomodoro.
  • Deep Work
    • The people that not only survive, but thrive in today’s global market place are those:
      • Who are owners of capital or access to capital
      • Who can work with intelligent technology
      • Who are Superstars in their field of work
    • Deep Work Defined
      • “Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill and are hard to replicate.” Cal Newport
    • Deep Work is Time Blocking on steroids.
    • To explain Deep Work optimally is beyond the scope of this blog. Best to Google the YouTube video by Art of Improvement entitled “Deep Work: How to Develop the Most Valuable Skill of the 21st Century (Part 1 & Part 2)
    • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ybOJMibAbA
    • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U6bQU_QUHks
  • Spaced Repetition
    • The “forgetting curve” shows that within 1 hour you forget about 50% of the material you were taught in class. After 9 hours, retention hovers around 40%. After one week without review, only 10% is remembered. Spaced repetition is an excellent tool to review material at gradually increasing intervals. For example, if lecture was today and the test is in two weeks, review your notes within an hour of lecture, make flash cards. Material that you’ve mastered review it in two days. Material that you are still weak in, review tomorrow. Repeat, increasing the interval of time between reviewing mastered content, and reviewing daily poorly understood content until the test.
    • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eVajQPuRmk8

Master these 20 study skill techniques for memory recall, efficient and effective studying, and you are ‘well ahead of the curve’ in terms of performing better on tests. As you can see, it doesn’t take a genius to perform well on exams, just the right study skills.

Michael J. Richardson, MD

Senior Consultant

Morningside Heights America