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Optimise your learning

I wish I knew more about how to learn when I was a student.

Meta learning is an important skill and may be the the catalyst for optimising your learning and achieving exam success.

In this short article I will summarise the key strategies that you can implement to help you with your learning.

1) ‘Repetition is Retention’

Living by this mantra means you will strengthen your brains ability to recall. How might you repeat? For starters make it a habit to list 3-5 new things you have learned at the end of each day. Wake up the next day and recall the 3-5 things you learned the night before. Maybe you could have a conversation with a friend/family or colleague about something you have learned. Your ability to explain something you have learned without any notes to aid you, will go a long way in also testing if you’ve actually understood something!

2) Primary and recency affect

Cognitive psychology states that your brain is better able to recall the first and last bit of information that it consumes.This is called the primary and recency effect. You can implement revision strategies to tap into this neurological quirk. For instance why not start your revision day with a new topic, then move on to revise a topic that you might be more familiar with. End your day revisiting the new topic that you started with. In doing this you are capitalising on your brain’s inclination to recall that first and last thing it consumes.

3) Habit forming process

In his book, Atomic Habits, James Clear sets out the 4 step process to cement a habit. Cue (the trigger), craving (the outcome desired), response (the act of doing something), reward (achieving that desired outcome). This 4 step process can be exceptionally beneficially when you’re setting your learning goals. For instance if you want to study for an hour every day, you’ll need to ensure you have the right cue. The cue could be anything that will trigger you to study. For me it was the time of day. I have always been a morning person and whilst revising for my Chartered Accountancy exams I would wake up at 5am to do an hours worth of revision before I went into work #productive

4) Learning in the context of how something will be examined

You are not going to be examined by regurgitating everything that you have learned, so instead of spending ages and ages reading and re-reading your notes, the best way to learn is by actually doing extensive question practice. Whether this is in the form of past exam papers, mock exams or quizzes, the act of learning by testing yourself is likely to lead to better exam success. Whilst if may feel discomforting at times to attempt past exam papers when you feel you don’t fully know a subject, rest assured that you’re putting your brain to work by doing this and actively engaging in your brains ability to recall.

5) Diffuse mode and the importance of taking a break

As a student when you get stuck on understanding a concept or problem, what do you do?

Do you find yourself re-reading the notes or the question and hoping that by some magical process of osmosis the solution will cement itself in your mind?

Did you know the solution to this conundrum is to simply take a break! In her popular ted talk Barbara Oakley Professor of Engineering and co-teacher of the popular online course ‘learning how to Learn’, talks about the importance of the diffuse mode of learning. By taking a break you can activate this diffuse mode and provide your subconscious with the time and space to really consolidate what it is that you’re trying to learn. So the next time you get stuck on understanding a question or concept, go take a walk, look out your window or simply relax and don’t feel guilty because you’re actually giving your brain the space to learn!

So there you have it, my top 5 tips. I hope this article has given you some useful strategies that you can embed as part of your study plan to optimise your learning and maximise exam success. If you are using any of these strategies already, comment and like we’d love to hear from you.

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