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May 15, 2019

Barbara Oakley’s ‘Improve Your Study Skills: How to Excel at Math and Science: Even if you Flunked Algebra’ (Part 2)

If you haven’t read Part 1 of this series, be sure to check it out before beginning this section on study skills. Similar to swinging a bat properly in baseball or fiddling a violin well in an orchestra, studying and test-taking take proper technique to master. Even top students can improve their performance by learning these simple techniques.

  • Feynman Technique
    • The Purpose of the Feynman Technique is to master a concept. Fundamentally, if you cannot easily explain a difficult concept to a beginner, then you do not know the topic well enough.
      • Step 1: Write the name of the concept at the top of a blank piece of paper.
      • Step 2: Write down an explanation of the concept on the page. Use plain English. Pretend or teach it to someone else (e.g. a new student, a parent, a child). This should highlight what you understand, but more importantly pinpoint what you don’t quite know.
      • Step 3: Review what you have pinpointed you don’t know. Go back to the source material, re-read, and re-learn it. Repeat Step 2.
      • Step 4: If you are using overly wordy or confusing language (or simply paraphrasing the source material) try again so you filter the content. Simplify your language, and where possible use a simple analogy.
  • Studying Alone vs Small Groups
    • If you plan to study in a group, ideally keep it small, no more than three or four others. It is imperative to study the material independently and thoroughly first before the meeting, doing all the assigned homework problems, if applicable. Also, very important to guard against turning these study groups into gossip and ‘pseudo-work.’ Set the timer for how much actual work gets accomplished.
  • Facts vs Concepts
    • While facts are important, understanding concepts and being able to use the new knowledge to solve problems is most important.
  • Practice Tests
      • Scientific research from Harvard, Northwestern and Tufts clearly shows that passive reading and re-reading of text and course notes bears, nor the total time one spends reviewing material correlates with test day performance on standardized test or GPA. Practice tests, to the contrary, are highly predictive of test day success, offering accurate feedback, improving stamina and confidence, and lessening stress on important tests.
      • Practice tests build on one another, improving your test taking skills, identifying both strengths and weaknesses.
      • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Na8m4GPqA30
  • Cornell Notes
  • SQ3R – Cornell Textbook Reading
  • Cornell Guidelines for Creating a Study Schedule
  • Cornell Exam Strategies
  • Cornell Daily To-Do List
  • Cornell Overcoming Procrastination
  • Illusions of Competence
    • Passive re-reading of notes, books or material leads to the impression that reading familiar material is being remembered and mastered. Regretfully, this is rarely true.
  • Interleaving
    • The proven process of studying a topic from difference platforms: lecture notes, practice tests, YouTube videos, problem sets, text book, etc. in order to form new neuronal connections in the brain toward improving comprehension.
  • Writing vs Typing Notes
    • Research shows that students that wrote their notes on paper learned more than those that typed via a keyboard.
    • Students that wrote their notes were forced to listen and digest the material, then process and summarize their notes, improving recall. Students that typed their notes essentially transcribed their notes onto paper & more likely into short-term memory. They probably didn’t process their notes into long-term memory.
    • Moreover, students that typed their content were more often tempted to surf the Internet while note-taking, lessening the total amount of productive studying time.
  • Chunking
    • A cognitive, neural process by which a person takes separate bits of information and binds them together to form a more comprehensive understanding of the main concept, ultimately improving memory.
  • Speedreading
    • The average reader reads at 200 – 250 words per minute with 60% comprehension. Good readers read at 300 – 400 wpm at 80% comprehension. Excellent readers read from 700 – 1000 wpm with 85% comprehension. Imagine tripling your reading speed without diminishing your comprehension, but actually improving it by 50%. Two phone apps to accomplish this are Quick Reader and Spreader.
  • Monitor Study Time Compliance
    • The only way to maximize progress is to track your compliance, for example, number of quality of Pomodoro’s, the scheduling of time blocking, use of Feynman and Spaced Repetition Techniques. Reading comprehension, words per minute, Deep Work blocks, number of practice tests etc. can all be tracked.
  • Protect and manage your willpower
    • Willpower decays with time. It is optimal to study your cognitively demanding (hardest) material first, early in the day when your concentration is sharpest and your energy level is high.
  • Memory Palace & Mnemonics
    • These are memory techniques that can improve your recall of large pieces of information.
  • 5 Day Cornell Study Plan
  • Understanding Cornell Academic Anxiety
  • Letting Go of Cornell Test – Anxiety
  • Cornell Basics of Stress Management

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