Looking at some recently released Early Decision (ED) and Early Action (EA) data, the results couldn’t be more revealing. Covid 19 turned elite college admissions into a frenzy. Dartmouth, Yale and MIT ED/EA applications rose 29%, 38% and 62%, respectively (source: J Robinovitz). With Stanford’s overall admissions rate hovering at 4%, competition to enroll in America’s best colleges is fierce. Interestingly, despite the holistic approach to college admissions, solid grades and scores are at the core fundamental metric. I’ve come to realize that performing well on tests is more of a technique issue than an intelligence issue. Moreover, memorizing facts leads less to success than understanding concepts and optimizing your critical-thinking skills. The purpose of this blog is to revisit study techniques used by top students at top universities. In the words of Cal Newport, “study smarter, not longer.”
Environment & the Value of Sleep & Music
The importance of a good night sleep cannot be overstated. Studying tired is like studying intoxicated. You must aim for that sweet spot of 7 – 8 hours of sleep per night to assure that your memories are consolidated for the long-term. MIT professor Jeffrey Grossman et al. determined that better sleep habits lead to better grades. Moreover, alternating and changing your study environment, such as a different coffee shop or a different library, improved memory and concentration. Lastly, calming music such as classical or instrumental make quiet background music ideal for studying.
Distraction – Free Zone
Silencing your phone to avoid notifications and calls, avoiding conversations, videos or radio go a long way to enhancing comprehension. Another Cal Newport innovation is scheduling your distractions, such as tending to emails, text messages and voice mail messages at intervals like every three – four hours. This allows for better focus and uninterrupted concentration without trivial distractions.
Reframe from junk food and fast food. Transition to well-balanced snacks such as slices of deli turkey, granola bars and grapes. Avoid chips, cookies and candy! Replace them with a protein smoothies, nuts, fruits or edamame. Consuming snacks that provide essential nutrients such as protein and fiber over unhealthy sugary and salty alternatives reduce sugar rushes, maintain your weight and keep you mentally sharp.
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. In this way, you never have to cram before a test because you already know it.
Final Big Idea
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