Learning Skills and Strategies

What is ‘method’? Method (from Greek methodos or met hodos meaning “way across”) is a word which entered English in 1541 via French and Latin, and is defined as ‘a series of steps taken to complete a certain task or to reach a certain objective’. Scientists use the scientific method to define the procedures related to research and study in scientific fields.

Chefs use different methods of cooking to be able to reproduce different types of food from all around the world. What about students? Students also have their own methods – techniques to improve their learning which are developed from a mix of individual preferences and environmental circumstances. Have you ever considered how effective your study methods are? Well, in case you haven’t, we’ve compiled some strategies for you.

1. Study in short, frequent sessions: This “distributed learning” approach is highly efficient as it takes into consideration how your brain naturally performs. The brain needs recovery and recharging time for protein synthesis, which it acquires in the rest periods between one session and another (it can also be called an ‘assimilation period’). Studying for long hours without breaks is likely to cause fatigue and stress, which decreases your capacity to absorb information.

2. Study under feasible circumstances: If you are emotionally distressed, very tired, angry or not feeling well, it is likely you will not absorb much data. Sometimes the best thing to do in this circumstance is to take a break. If your time is your most valuable asset, the last thing you’d want is to spend it ineffectively.

3. Reviewing is a good practice: Merging your memory with your present is the best way to effectively understand and memorise the content of your study. If you have read something in the morning, try reviewing the key points at night. Simple words, verbs or case scenarios will activate your memory, and it is also likely you will capture a few things you did not the first time round.

4. Learning is a logical process: Understanding the context of your studies enables you to learn at a much faster pace. During your learning, try to draw a picture of the whole process and then fill it with the specific details. Once you understand the logic of what you are learning, you’ll find it much easier to solve varied problems.

5. Create associative mechanisms: Associative words are memory triggers. Sometimes a lot of data is stored in your brain in hard-to-access places. By creating associations, you are creating links between different entities and scenarios, which facilitates your memory’s capacity to retrieve data.

6. Build a temple: Create your own place to study – a study temple, and don’t let anyone access it. Once you step into your temple (which could be comprised of anything that helps you concentrate on your task), you’re free of all external interruptions: kids, parents, work, telephone, tv. The environment will help switch your brain into ‘study mode’, and the ‘burden’ of having to study will become a constructive and pleasant way of having a break from everything else.

7. Pay attention to your own mistakes: When studying, it is normal to forget things, have a bad exam or get stuck writing an essay. Instead of punishing yourself about it, simply accept the fact it happened and analyse the reasons for it. You may be able to identify something in your study process which is causing diversion from your objectives. Remember that defeat is not an end, just a temporary detour.

8. Create a study framework: Developing study schedules and protocols will not only help you concentrate, but will also serve as measurements of productivity. Furthermore, creating rules for your study sessions will help you achieve the ‘study mode’ and keep your ‘temple’ in good shape. But once you set your study framework, make sure you stick to it!

9. Set goals: Setting goals will help you progress periodically in your studies. Goals help to measure your productivity, keep yourself motivated, maintain your focus, realise your achievements and, most importantly, improve control over your available resources. However, be realistic when setting your goals – make sure they are achievable.

10. Realise your potential: Finally, your confidence is what will take you from here to there. You may lack a multitude of resources that you’d like to have during your studies, have other major responsibilities along the way, or think that the task is too difficult for you to achieve – but once you picture yourself where you’d like to be, you can rest assured that it is achievable. Realise that potential and go for the ride!

Have you established your overall study goals? Once you’ve determined your study goals, it’s important to look at your study habits to ensure you are giving yourself the best opportunity to achieve your goals. The following tips will help you to get the most out of each study session:

1. Set up a Study Schedule

To set up a good schedule, look at how many hours per week you want/need to contribute to study, keeping in mind the study goals you want to achieve. Assign a suitable number of hours that will give you enough time to contribute to your study. When developing your schedule, consider that it may need to be revised regularly to account for any change in other commitments in your life. Remember Point 8 from the previous edition – Create a Study Framework!

2. When to Study

It is recommended that you carry out study when you are alert, rested and have planned for it.

3. Where to Study

Study anywhere that you feel comfortable and where you will be free from distractions. Areas that give you privacy, quietness and where you can spread out all your learning materials are best. Remember Point 6 from the previous edition – Build a Study Temple!

4. Study Strategies

It can often be daunting when you have a number of readings to cover for a particular topic. Many find the ‘PQ3R’ strategy of assistance:

Preview: Have a general look through the workbook and readings for the unit before you start them. This will give you an overview of the concepts and techniques you will be learning.

Question: As you are working through the readings, ask yourself questions – what, why, how, when, who and where. This will assist your comprehension and understanding of relationships between the main concepts.

Read: Unfortunately, reading is not skimming over pages and only reading sentences in bold or italics (though these usually do have particular importance). Reading actively for learning, comprehension and retention involves:

  1. Reading every sentence
  2. Gleaning the main idea for every paragraph, section and the reading as a whole.
  3. Extracting important information and details from each paragraph, section and reading.
  4. Taking notes – while not mandatory, some students find it useful to write down the main idea and important information and details. If you do, keep the notes you have made logically and legibly, otherwise you have wasted your time in taking notes.

Recall: Stop reading regularly to periodically review the main concepts or points of the reading. Actively try to connect these new concepts to what you already know and have covered previously.

Review: At the end of your study session, spend some time reviewing what you have covered during your study time.

5. Continuing your Study

It is probably best if you are able to complete a segment of study (eg a particular reading or section of a workbook) in its entirety before your study session finishes. However, you may not be able to do this for those particularly long or in-depth sections or readings. At your next study session, it is beneficial to revise the work that you have already completed in the section or reading to make it easier to carry on. Revision can also apply as you are progressing through each workbook – it is useful to go over previous sections of the workbook at the start of your next study session to assist recall of the main concepts and points.