Even though we spend a substantial portion of our life studying or working, most of us have not been taught how to do so in the most effective way. Learning should not imply just reading a text several times and then repeating it. Learning implies three basic actions: exposure to material, revision and practice.

There are many cognitive processes involved in learning (short and long-term memory, attention span, executive functions, perception, language, etc.).

The best way to learn is getting to know all these processes, their limits and some strategies to make them work in the best and most effective possible way. This is called metacognition.

What can you do to improve your study skills?

Let’s start with our environment:

  • It is fundamental to choose our own space to study, with a comfortable table and chair. A space with no distractions (videogames, TV, etc.). Appropriate ventilation and temperature (between 18º y 22º) are also deemed necessary. Bear in mind the importance of the amount of light; if possible, take advantage of the indirect sunlight. If you are right-handed, the light has to come from the left and if you are left-handed from the right. Avoid fluorescent tubes! They will tire your eyes.
  • It is also important to always study in the same place at the same time.Every time we are in a new place, we tend to explore it, so we get distracted. For this reason, we have to consider studying in the same place. Try to find the best time for you to study throughout the day. Some people can concentrate more during the mornings and others in the afternoon.
  • In order to avoid feeling overwhelmed, take only the material strictly necessary for the subject or project you are working on at the moment. When you are done, put it in its place and take the material for the next subject.
  • Duerme tantas horas como necesites y come de la forma más saludable posible. Tu cerebro necesita descansar y alimentarse adecuadamente. Si no das a tu cuerpo lo que necesita, no serás capaz de recordar información, prestar atención o planificar los pasos necesarios para llevar a cabo una tarea.
  • Sleep as many hours as you need and eat as healthily as possible.Your brain needs to rest and to be fed properly as well. If you don’t give to your body what is necessary, you will not be able to recall information, pay attention or plan the steps you need to follow to accomplish a task.
  • Setting goals is also essential.They need to be clear, concrete, short-term and realistic. Write them down, so you don´t forget about them. They will remind you of the track you should follow when you get lost. Reward yourself for your achievements! Go to the cinema, get your favorite snack, buy chocolates, … as soon as you accomplish each of your goals.
  • Expose yourself to the contents in an active way: do not limit yourself to only reading what you have to study several times. You will probably forget about it the following day. Your brain needs to work and process the information in different ways. Ask yourself what you know about the content you are about to read; write down doubts and look for the answer; search for additional information in different formats (books, videos, notes); create mindmaps, etc. Remember it is not a matter of just memorizing words or formulas just for the exams, it is a matter of internalizing what you really need to know.

Look at the following learning pyramid. Did you know that we retain only the 10% of the material we read? Or that, by teaching others, our brain is able to retain the 90%?

Pirámide de William Glasser

Do you want to know more?

When studying or working, one of the biggest obstacles we usually find in our way is time management. Most of the time, we have too many things to do and too little time. It is very common to procrastinate, not know where to start with or just waste our time.

Adequate planning will help you:

  • Control your daily performance and efficiency, so you will be able to adjust your work to your academic/work demands.
  • Create a study habit, so it will not be so hard starting with our tasks. It will increase our concentration too.
  • Use your time: if you plan what you need to do properly, you will see that you will have time, not only for the obligations, but also to enjoy free time.

Do not forget that a proper planning must be, foremost, operative. This means, that it must be useful to achieve the concrete and realistic goals you set. Sharing your objectives with your friends or relatives will help you with your commitment.

If you feel that time management is one of your handicaps, have a look at the following tips:

  • Make a daily or weekly to-do list.  Instead of thinking about everything you need to do, write it down. This can help prevent you from forgetting something important.
  • Prioritize.Assign a priority to the things you have on your list and try to follow the order from the most important /urgent one to the least.
  • Make your own schedule.There are things that need to be done during a concrete time slot. A schedule will also help you visualize the real time you have during the day to do what you plan. This will include free time, so you will also see the benefits of doing what you are supposed to do at the right time. If you need to study for several subjects, take in consideration that it is better to start with a medium difficulty subject, then a high difficulty subject and finish with an easy one. Take breaks every 45-50 minutes and get some water, talk to someone or listen to music for 10-15 minutes.
  • Do not try to multitask.When we feel overwhelmed by all the things that we need to sort out sometimes we try to do everything we want all at once but this will lead us to not finish anything.
  • Keep a clean and tidy environment around you.Trying to find something is a typical and unnecessary way of wasting your time. You can avoid it just by keeping everything in the right place.
  • Do not procrastinate:the main reasons why we delay the moment to start doing something are because of fear of failure or because we don´t know where to start.How can we try to avoid this situation?
    • Identify the difficult task you are avoiding. Divide it into small parts. Write these small parts and place the list somewhere where you can see it. Cross out the steps you are have completed.
    • If you have five minutes to carry out a task, then choose a task that is going to take you that amount of time and force yourself to work during that time.
    • Try not to be a perfectionist.Give your best when developing a project but realize that not everything is going to be always perfect.
    • Stay focused on your final goal and think about the satisfaction you will feel when you achieve it.

Remember that is also important to evaluate yourself from time to time: ask yourself what you are doing right and what you might be doing wrong and do not be afraid of change if what you are doing is not working.

There is not a unique and infallible method for everyone, so try to find your own. Everyone has different needs and different skills!

If, after reading this article, you still feel that you cannot do it by yourself, ask for help. A learning specialist from Sinews can guide you through the, sometimes, difficult path of learning. Through several training sessions you will learn how to organize yourself, memory techniques, or how to summarize.

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