Studying Smart: Replacing Hard Work For Better Grades 

 February 11, 2022

Why is it the case that some students study extremely hard, but only get average grades? While some other students may not invest even half the amount of time and energy into academics, but get outstanding results? Well, while intelligence certainly plays a role, the real difference is because some people study hard, while others study smart, and studying smart always beats studying hard.

The way you study can either make or break your time at school/college. This article will teach you all about studying smart. By doing so, you can save countless hours of your precious time that would otherwise have been lost to misguided attempts to study hard. You will be guided on how to make the most of your study time, and enable you to reduce the unnecessary parts of your syllabus and focus on what’s actually essential.

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HOLISTIC LEARNING IS THE BEST LEARNING

Most people study by pure rote memorization. While there is nothing wrong with this technique per se, it can be quite inefficient when you have to learn vast amounts of info, or some new complex concept. A much better alternative strategy is holistic learning.

Holistic learning is simply a way of learning that focuses on using the available information to build a mental model. Instead of cramming information into your cranium, the main focus is on the relationships between ideas. This involves linking concepts and ideas together and creating a ‘big picture’ of the topic at hand. Here are some ways to start learning holistically:

• Start Pattern Hunting. Look for broadly applicable patterns in that are valid/similar across different topics. This way, instead of memorizing a whole textbook, you can make do with just learning the standard pattern.
• Don’t Leave Islands. An island, in this case, means a body of information that isn’t related to something else you learned. Find a way to connect everything you learn to something else. Islands of information are the toughest to recall during an exam.
• Get Metaphorical. You can quickly organize, access, and retrieve information. If you think of complex ideas as analogies of simple ones. For example, you can think of the different parts of a computer as an analogy for neurological components of your brain. Abstract ideas are tough to think about, but you can use real-life experiences or memories to think about them. Your imagination is the only limit!
• Create a solid foundation of knowledge. If you read a lot about different stuff, and have a general understanding of multiple fields, you will find it easier to find patterns and metaphors in new topics flexibly. The more you already know, the easier it is to learn more!
• Use all Senses. The further removed a topic is from our senses, the harder it is to learn. Bring these closer to home by way of color codes, podcasts, mnemonics, images, videos, hand-written notes, and flashcards to stimulate your other senses. If you chew a particular flavor of gum while studying, chewing that same flavor gum while giving your test will jog your memory too!

 

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SOME GENERAL TIPS FOR STUDYING SMART

• Here is a bit of sage advice from the great entrepreneur and technologist ElonMusk: “ It is important to view knowledge as a sort of semantic tree – make sure you understand the fundamental principles, i.e., the trunk and the big branches, before you get into the leaves/details, or there is nothing for them to hang on to.” That’s honestly great advice!
• Eat food that keeps your brain healthy and active. A brain taken good care of will instantly perform better, drastically improving your study efficiency. Eat foods like fish, nuts, fruits, oatmeal, and dairy. Avoid oily foods and red meat, as they draw energy away from your brain towards your digestive system. Drink plenty of water.
• Get some exercise! Even 15 minutes of some activity like walking, lifting, dancing, or yoga will not only have multiple health benefits and improve your mood; it also improves your blood circulation. Ensuring enough blood reaches your brain helps your mental performance dramatically. Try it for yourself – go for a walk on your break, and see if you don’t instantly feel better!
• Start or join a study group. This is a great way to study regularly, clear doubts, get help for homework, and prepare for tests. Find a group of likeminded people and meet them for study groups regularly. We can guarantee that it’s better than studying alone!
• Teach it to learn it – whatever you’re studying, find someone who doesn’t understand it at all, and explain it to them. This will force you to organize the concepts mentally, and articulate them in simple terms. It will also give you a different perspective on the subject, making it clearer for you too! Spending ten minutes teaching a concept can save you an hour of hard studying – and give the same effect. Your friends and annoying siblings could be useful for this!
• The smartest thing you can do is ask for help – no one can do everything alone! Visiting a professor after class, asking your class topper for aid, or even some online class help are all great ways to study better and understand more. Even the smartest people on Earth ask for help from their peers – that’s what makes them smart!

 

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WHAT KIND OF LEARNER ARE YOU?

People fall into four basic categories of learning methods. It is an excellent idea to introspect and figure out what kind of learner you are so you can play to your strengths and optimize your studying techniques to your type. The four categories are-

1. Visual Learner – most effective when the learning material is depicted in a visual format, e.g., charts, diagrams, and maps.
2. Auditory Learner – most effective when studying by hearing the information, e.g., a lecture, podcast, or discussion.
3. Emotional Learner – most effective when studying by associating feelings, emotions, and memories with the information.
4. Kinesthetic Learner – most effective when the information is experienced and felt, i.e., ‘learning by doing.’

 

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In order to study in the smartest possible way, you need to discover which type of study you prefer. Once you know what works best for you, align your process of learning to make the most out of it. Mathematically talented students should put their notes into spreadsheets, graphs, and charts; kinesthetic learners imagine the learning material as vivid as possible; linguistic learners discuss the content with others or record their voice while reading the subject out-loud, etc.

USE THE POMODORO TECHNIQUE

The Pomodoro Technique is a popular time-management method invented by Francesco Cirillo in the 1980s. It involves working in shorter, more focused bursts with frequent short breaks between them. This has been scientifically proven to be more effective for learning than long stretches of activity. The Pomodoro Technique has been popularized by several professionals and intellectuals, and those who use it swear by it.

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Studying Smart

Studying Smart

The original Pomodoro Technique involves six steps:

1. Decide on the task to be done.
2. Set a timer for 25 minutes.
3. Work on the task.
4. Stop working when the timer rings and put a checkmark on a piece of paper.
5. If you have less than four checkmarks, take a 5-minute break, then go back to Step 2.
6. If you have four checkmarks, take a more extended 30-minute break, then go back to Step 1.

 

Absolutely fundamental to this method are the stages of planning, tracking, recording, processing, and visualizing. Tasks are planned and prioritized by recording them in a ‘To Do Today’ list. The regular breaks aid in assimilation.

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The main aim is to lessen the impact of internal as well as external distractions on your focus and workflow. A single Pomodoro (25 minute period) is indivisible – if some other task interrupts you, either completely abandon the current Pomodoro, or postpone the new task using the INFORM, NEGOTIATE, SCHEDULE & CALL BACK Strategy.

THE EISENHOWER MATRIX

One of the most critical components of studying smart is knowing what to focus on and prioritize. The renowned management legend Peter Drucker once said, “There is nothing as useless as efficiently performing activities that deserve no attention at all.”

This also echoes the Pareto Principle, also known as the 80/20 Principle. This was postulated by Italian economist Vilfred Pareto, who stated that “80% of your results emanate from 20% of your efforts”. Thus, to work efficiently, you need to pinpoint the most rewarding of your activities and prioritize them over the less impactful.

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One way to rationally prioritize your actions is through the Eisenhower Matrix. World War 2’s Supreme Allied Commander, and later President of the USA, Dwight Eisenhower utilized this technique to prioritize his decisions. This matrix assists you in determining the tasks you should work on immediately, jobs to work on later, tasks to delegate, and tasks to ignore.

The Eisenhower Matrix looks like this. Simply categorize your pending tasks as either urgent or not urgent, and important or unimportant, and fill them in the respective slots. It greatly simplifies the establishment of priorities.

The Eisenhower Matrix

URGENT

NOT URGENT

IMPORTANT

DO NOW

DO LATER

UNIMPORTANT

DELEGATE

DELETE

 

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As you can see, there are many extremely effective ways you can use to save time and effort while studying. Of course, this does not become an excuse to not study at all – some amount of hard work will still have to be put in. But the difference is that the results you see for the amount of effort you put in will be much more impressive. We hope you found this article informative and interesting. Thank you for reading!

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