Some words on efficient studying

Efficient studying will save you time and boost your GPA. This blog post describes two techniques I've found to be effective through my years preparing for tests at the university. I know studying is quite individual, and the techniques might not apply for everyone, but I think this post holds some universal thruth.

This post is exclusively based on my own experience and understanding of the human brain. No scientific references are provided.

Stay on your toes

Yes, you've probably heard this before: Keep working throughout the semester. However, the reason for this is not that you'll end up spending more times in the books, and therefore learn more. No, I think spreading the work evenly will save you time in the end. First of all, it's hard to digest all the material for a class in just some weeks. Secondly, working throughout the semester will help you stay up to date with the lectures, which again means you'll gain more in-depth understanding of the material. Lastly, you will be less busy in the periods where you're studying for the tests, which will lead to more free time, more motivation, and more energy, which again leads to effectiveness.

Another desirable consequence is that if you read continuously, you're more likely to commit the knowledge into your long-term memory. This might come in handy when taking other classes that build on the material you've just learnt, not to mention it will give you an edge in a work-related setting.

In other words, my claim is that you will learn more and have a better time studying if you spend five hours every week for ten weeks instead of 25 hours each week in two weeks.

Be careful with "just reading"

Many of you, me included, might be tempted to "just read" through the material before the tests. I know very well this is the easy way out, because reading is straight forward: You don't have to plan much ahead, you just read. Being able to take the text book almost anywhere is a big plus too. However, how many of you have ended up "reading" a couple of pages just to figure out you remember nothing because your train of thoughts has departed to a destination far away? Just reading without taking any notes is a poor way of remembering and understanding the material.

As alternatives to "just reading", I've created an ordered list of methods for studying below. The highest ordered technique takes the most time, but gives the best understanding of the material and the highest level of recollection. The further down you get on the list, the less time the method will take, which again leads to less understanding and recollection of the material.

  1. Write a compendia for others to read. This takes much time, but by keeping that others might read what you've written in mind, you'll make sure you understand it all before putting it down on the paper. An example of this is my compendia in TDT4195.
  2. Write notes for yourself. The arguments for this is the same as above, but when you do this, you might not be as thorough and you will probably still write down things you don't completely understand. An example of this is my notes in CSci5271.
  3. Scribble on a piece of paper while reading. Personally, I'm unable to read my own handwriting after such a session, but it doesn't matter. It's much easier to focus on what you're reading if you have a pen in your hand (which you use to take notes while reading).
  4. Read the text and highlight with a marker. For me, this takes the least amount of time of the mentioned methods, but it is the least effective method when it comes to recollection and understanding. However text highlighting has several advantages: It helps you keep the focus while reading, it might come in handy for an open book exam, and it makes it easier to review the most important parts of the material.

Which of the methods I pick for a class depends on the size of the material, the amount of time I have, and my ambitions.

That's it for now. More tips might follow in the future. Thanks to Tormod Haugland for feedback.