Being able to learn and assimilate NEW THINGS efficiently is becoming more and more important.
Be it for a new job, a new career or if you plan on studying again. No matter how old you are.
I would very much like to STUDY AGAIN now that I am in my mid-thirties. And I’ve been thinking about how I would be doing things differently this time.
What I know for sure is that TRADITIONAL SCHOOLS and UNIVERSITIES teach us NOTHING about HOW TO IMPROVE OR STUDENT LEARNING SKILLS or STUDY HABITS.
In the meantime, I have learned so much more about AN INCREDIBLE AMOUNT OF HABITS you can build up that can make you a SUPER LEARNER.
And I’m sure many more science-backed discoveries will help us go even further, which is very exciting to me.
So, without further due, here are the habits I would focus on to improve my learning and study skills, especially if I were to GO BACK TO UNI…
Improving Your Learning Skills
1. Learn how to speed read.
I’ve been willing to learn how to speed read for a while. If I get back to studies, that’s the number one skill I’d like to start building up. I think most people don’t realize HOW MUCH TIME you can save by reading quicker.
I feel a little ashamed to not have been working on that skill yet. But I do plan on taking Jim Kwik’s online class on super reading hopefully soon. I’ve watched a few of his videos and the masterclass which strongly convinced me about his skills. If you end up taking it, let me know how it was for you!
2. Improve your memory skills.
Like speed reading, A GREAT MEMORY will save you huge amounts of time. What if you did not have to start looking for your credit card to enter its number when you want to purchase something? How about knowing ALL of your PASSWORDS by heart?
And of course, for a student, MEMORY skills are crucial. Even if your studies were not too heavily relying on memory skills. It’s always necessary to remember facts in order to have a better global mental picture of a problem and figure out a solution.
But memory skills are not only good for the OBVIOUS learning advantage as a student. They can help you NETWORK better. It’s a gamechanger to remember people’s names and even background after just having a very short conversation with them.
3. Improve your ability to focus and concentrate.
The ability to focus or concentrate is STRONGLY CORRELATED with your LEARNING PERFORMANCE.
If you are not very good at this, don’t worry, there are ways to IMPROVE your CONCENTRATION SKILLS to optimize your learning outcome.
I’d recommend you start by trying the following out:
- Meditate every day for about 10 minutes in the morning.
- Eliminate distractions. Turn all notifications off. Close distracting tabs. Tidy up your desk and room…
- Exercise. You need to go out and PHYSICALLY MOVE enough. Otherwise focusing and concentrating will become really difficult.
- Practise mindfulness throughout the day.
- Train yourself to focus. Don’t skip an email or read just because it’s too long. Sit and read, until the END. You will find it easier over time to focus again.
4. Spice it up. Keep the learning experience INTERESTING.
There’s nothing WORSE than being BORED when it comes to learning.
But we all have to learn stuff we’re not really FASCINATED about at some point, right?
If that’s the case for you, see how you could REVIVE YOUR INTEREST for the topic.
That’s CRUCIAL to improve your learning skills.
For instance, when I had to learn about accounting, I got lucky enough to have a professor who was TELLING A COMPANY STORY THROUGH THE NUMBERS.
It felt a little bit like watching a movie with TWISTS and TURNS. All based on numbers and great story-telling.
And when I was learning a bit of programming, I was directly trying to apply the concepts to an App I wanted to build.
Keep it interesting, and you will LEARN MUCH BETTER.
5. ALWAYS re-read your notes the same day, preferably before going to sleep.
The power of this HABIT is not to be underestimated. Most of the time, when a teacher goes through a new concept and does it well, we feel like we TOTALLY UNDERSTOOD IT.
But things that have been explained with ease to us MAY BE MORE DIFFICULT than we think to remember or to deeply understand.
That’s why one of the best practices you can have as a student is to GO THROUGH YOUR NOTES and the course materials AGAIN the same day. It’s probably best not to do it right after the class.
Let some time pass by before your review your notes otherwise you won’t be properly checking whether you understood it fully or not.
In my personal experience, it is BEST to do this quick review in the evening, or right before going to sleep in order to better process the information during the night.
6. Summarize everything you study.
The further I got into my career, the more it struck me how only very few people are able to SUMMARIZE information and filter out the essential learnings from it.
It’s an invaluable skill to have in life, and it’s certainly CORE if you want to study efficiently.
Make it a HABIT to summarize all of your notes once or twice. It’s better to review well-structured summarized notes than going through all of the unnecessary details every time you want to study…
7. Apply your learnings right away.
Too often, we get used to having to learn purely theoretical things. We practically have to memorize everything by heart and nothing sticks naturally.
But as a student, it’s YOUR RESPONSIBILITY to find a way to apply your knowledge as quickly as possible.
Most study plans include exercises or case studies and the like.
To make sure you really integrate the knowledge, do as many exercises or case studies as feels necessary.
8. Gather practical experience AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.
To go even further, gather practical experience ASAP.
There are several reasons why you should try to do an internship or part-time job in your field of study as soon as possible.
Practical experience will…
- help you connect the dots between theoretical knowledge and real-world application.
- guide you to make better choices regarding your student path and specializations.
- be a great addition to your CV.
- signalise to a future employer that you are not just a bookworm but KNOW what working is like.
One book that I found really inspiring regarding this GOOD HABIT is Julian Hosp’s 25 inspirational and motivational stories for my Younger Self: From professional athlete to medical doctor to serial entrepreneur*.
Julian Hosp’s story is quite impressive. He became a professional kitesurfer at a young age and SIMULTANEOUSLY (and successfully) studied medicine. In this book, he explains how he was able to do it.
Besides building up great memory skilly at age 16, he also made sure to get an internship s quickly as possible in the medical field.
According to him, he would NEVER have been able to pull this off without being able to gain practical experience from the first year of study…
9. Bite-size your studies.
As a student and adult-in-the-making, you should learn how to MASTER your own schedule.
A part of this is to know how to juggle between different activities without losing track of the big picture.
And that’s going to be super important for you so that you can BITE-SIZE your study plan.
It’s important to understand that when you learn something, IT WILL SINK IN BETTER IF YOU LEARN IT BIT BY BIT.
So in fact, it’s better to learn something 30 minutes per day than to spend 3h30 on it but JUST ONCE per week.
Be sure to integrate this good HABIT into your learning routine.
10. Deconstruct major learning topics so as to understand each component fully.
That’s gonna be a really important HABIT to build as a student.
I am referring to the Feynman method.
Richard Feynman was a scientist who mastered the art to DECONSTRUCT HIGHLY COMPLEX topics.
When confronted with something that seems SO difficult that it sounds Chinese to you, try to isolate the main components of the problem or equation.
Then, spend enough time on each of those components until you have FULLY understood them. Of course, if the components themselves are yet too complex, break them down into smaller components, until you feel at ease studying again.
It appears that our brain is only able to ASSIMILATE a set number of new concepts at a time. When you are faced with a sentence or equation that includes MORE than 3 or 4 new concepts, it becomes too hard to grasp.
But by breaking things down, you can FIRST assimilate the new concepts separately, so as to be able to combine them into a NEW idea or concept as a result.
11. Write a blog about the topic of your studies.
Oh there she goes… you might say! The blogger who wants you to blog. Ain’t it funny? And what’s that got to do with studying?
Well, writing articles about what you are learning and publishing them for an audience is an EXCELLENT TRAINING to memorise and organise your thoughts about what you are currently studying.
Additionally, it’s an excellent feature to share on your CV and to any professional or personal contact that wants to know more about your skills and field.
Of course, there’s also the possibility to earn a living via your blog at the end of the day. Several famous bloggers started this way, including Pat Flynn from Smart Passive Income. He was studying architecture and started his blog to be able to access his notes from anywhere.
He realised that his blog had tremendous traffic and potential after he got dismissed from his job as an architect.
12. Record your own notes with your voice and listen to them regularly.
The reading that inspired me for this GOOD STUDENT HABIT is Jim Harmer’s book Work Energy: Finish Everything You Start and Fearlessly Take On Any Goal*.
Jim Harmer is a successful online entrepreneur who started out really BROKE. He and his wife sold everything they had to be able to afford Jim’s Law Studies, while they already had a baby boy to feed.
I’m a big fan of his work at Income School and have been part of the Project 24 Community for almost a year now. If you’ve decided to follow my advice on blogging, I cannot recommend his online courses* enough to you. For full disclosure, know that this is an affiliate link, but I assure you that I wouldn’t recommend it if it wasn’t REALLY worth it.
Back to Jim’s story now. The funny thing about his path is that it’s NOT his Law Career that eventually got him where he is today.
As a student, Jim was lucky enough to stumble upon online information about how to build a passive income on the internet.
He got so fascinated by this that he decided to RECORD every written information he could find online about the topic and listened to it while during a boring side-job that allowed him and his family to stay afloat.
This allowed him to understand and memorize the information so much better.
He later used this information on his Photography Hobby and became insanely successful with his website.
13. Adopt a results-oriented learning style.
I’ve always been very lucky to like WRITTEN EXAMS. And I’m saying this because it means that doing mock exams, again and again, feels like fun to me.
And if you want to learn more efficiently, that’s the mindset you NEED TO ADOPT.
PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT.
BUT practising irrelevant stuff is a loss of time, at least when it comes to grades and graduation.
Go straight to the point! What will you be asked to do on an exam?
Go ahead and try to do just that RIGHT AWAY. Don’t wait until you have “learned enough”. Just try. There’s no shame in failing, this will be our little secret 😉
That’s exactly what I did for the GMAT. I invested about 50 hours of my time to prepare for this exam. I was working as an intern back then, so I was preparing in the evening when coming back home from work. And all I did was ONE MOCK EXAM after another. It got me to a GMAT score of 730.
I did the same again to pass a Mandarin Chinese exam (HSK 3). My Chinese language basics were pretty rusty and passing HSK 3 felt like a little challenge. So I did the same and went straight to the mock exam available online. I ONLY FOCUSED ON THIS and passed the exam after about 1 month of training…
14. Start studying for exams at least one week in advance.
That’s something students REALLY struggle with, especially freshmen.
But you’ve got to start committing to your studies more seriously. Either you’re in or you’re out. You’re ALWAYS FREE to walk away from the whole thing if you want to.
But if you are going to stick to the path you’ve chosen, PLEASE prepare in advance for your exams. At least one week, but obviously MUCH MORE for very important exams.
Now, I get that it can be difficult when you’re starting. Just see where you’re at at the moment. How much in advance do you start studying for an exam?
Whatever the timeframe, try to increase it a little. If you normally start learning for an exam 2 days ahead, try to make it 3 or 4 days. And increase the preparation period progressively.
Ideally, over time, you will get into a continuous learning flow which will never stop.
This HABIT will have so many benefits for you. Not only will you have better chances of passing, but you will also be more relaxed and lower your general stress levels.
15. Clear any blocks you may have about your ability to learn something.
When you find something really hard to learn, dig deeper and ask yourself whether you have been PRIMED in some way to find it hard.
It’s Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking* that made me include this HABIT this high in the ranking.
Malcolm Gladwell gives a really striking example of what PRIMING can do to student grades.
For instance, African-American students that were asked to report their ethnicity in a questionnaire previous to an exam answered HALF AS MANY questions correctly than the control group. HALF. That’s HUGE!
So, if your school teacher or parents have been telling you that…”You’re simply NOT GOOD at something…” like mathematics or sports, this could be sticking with you subconsciously.
Sometimes, just the fact of having gathered bad grades on a topic for a while will create this belief.
If you have such a BLOCK on a topic that is required for you to be successful as a student, make it a HABIT to confront this block and “CLEAR” it. Replace it with positive affirmations. You CAN do this!
16. Try out something new that may be totally unrelated to your career path once a week.
This will reinforce your brain’s ability to be creative and make connections. I highly recommend watching Netflix’s short documentary called The Creative Brain* on this.
There are quite a lot of scientists who took their inspiration from a side hobby they took seriously. Walter Longo, for instance, made a groundbreaking discovery in cancer research and fasting. He is a passionate guitar player and definitely got inspired by his musical career in the medical field.
17. Give your brain a break.
There a few things you can do to give your brain a break.
First and foremost, GET A GOOD NIGHT’S SLEEP.
No matter how full your schedule is at the moment, YOU WON’T BE ABLE to LEARN EFFICIENTLY if you don’t sleep enough. You memory skills will also be impaired, so that you may have to go over your learning material a couple more times to assimilate it.
Sleep is GOLD for MEMORY and LEARNING. It also fosters your problem-solving skills, meaning that you could wake up with an “A-HA” moment where you finally understood or solved a highly complex topic.
Second, BE SURE TO TAKE REGULAR BREAKS FROM LEARNING.
I use the Pomodoro technique, where I get to take a 5-minute break every 25 minutes or so. And every 2 hours I take about 25 minutes off.
We often think that we CAN FOCUS for very long. But you would be surprised how very often, you end up focusing on the WRONG THING or RUNNING IN CIRCLES until you finally decide to take a break.
And when you come back, the problem is often miraculously EASY to solve!
Scientists have been able to confirm that your brain keeps dealing with the problem at hand while you are taking your break and doing something else.
Don’t push yourself until you LOSE TIME. Give your BRAIN A BREAK regularly.
18. Shake your routine regularly.
Routine has many advantages. It CERTAINLY helps us spare BRAIN resources by minimising the number of decisions we need to make…
And so, some of us have become TRUE ROUTINE BEASTS. We like to do every day the same. Again and again.
But sometimes our brain gets too comfy. It starts running on autopilot. And running on autopilot is rather COUNTERPRODUCTIVE when you want to learn complex new concepts.
You run the risk of reading passively and not being as proactive and present as you could be.
So it’s great to introduce some CHANGE in your day-to-day life. See if you can change rooms or places to learn. Going to the library or a café or simply moving from your bedroom to your living room for 2 hours every now and then could be great.
It doesn’t have to be SO MUCH that your brain gets overwhelmed with the decision to take.
If you’d rather keep it simple, pick 3-4 spots you can go to WHENEVER YOU FEEL that you are reaching LEARNING EXHAUSTION at your current desk.
Changing the time at which you learn during the day, or the materials you use (computer, pen and paper, audio, video) can also help give you this mental boost that will make you learn efficiently.
That’s why many online courses rely on video and written materials. So as to FORCE their students to GO OUT of their COMFORT ZONE and STAY MENTALLY PRESENT to increase their effective learning outcome.
19. Exercise first thing in the morning.
Now, you may ask, what’s that got to do with my LEARNING SKILLS?
Well, Jim Kwik, who is an international expert in BRAIN TRAINING, always says:
When Your Body Moves, Your Brain Grooves.
Science has been able to back this affirmation. It turns out that PHYSICAL ACTIVITY is HIGHLY BENEFICIAL to our body and enhances our learning capacity.
So put on your running shoes!
20. Do one thing that scares you every week at least.
I feel like many students can be prone to anxiety and self-doubt. Many people build self-confidence with time and experiences.
Anxiety and self-doubt can lead us to BUILD UP unreasonable and unjustified fears.
These fears, in turn, can become HUGE MENTAL BARRIERS to do even trivial things that would be very beneficial for you.
That’s why TRAINING your ANTI-FEAR MUSCLE will have an amazing impact on you as a student.
I dare you to…:
- ask that pretty girl or handsome boy out.
- apply for your DREAM internship.
- go talk to a famous professor or professional in your field.
Build up this anti-fear muscle FOR LIFE. Eliminate all these mental glass walls that you have built and separate you from your dreams.