Quick Formula For Mastering New Academic Material

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Need a step-by-step formula for puttin’ the hurt on your current course load? Want to muscle through those killer classes and become a legend of learning? Here’s an idiot-proof way to step-up your academic game in three simple steps. Caution: This works best for non-skill-based classes such as, history, political science, sociology, biology, etc. rather than topics like physics, cage-fighting, foreign languages, and math.

First: Make sure you take thorough notes. You can’t master the material if you don’t remember what it was. For a more in-depth how-to on taking noteworthy notes–notes that will cause your professor to weep uncontrollably and set up a shrine to you in the staff lounge–look here. As you’re capturing those notes, be sure to get down the high-payoff items, and I mean payoff in terms of exam grades. You want only to the info that will actually boost your GPA. Not sure if an item is going to be on the test? Write it down and then find out later if it’s important by asking a TA, asking a friend who’s already taken the class, looking at a test bank, or consulting your magic 8 ball. When in doubt, learn it.

Second: Review your notes within ten minutes after having taken them, perhaps while ambling across campus to your next class or over a large mug of something caffeine-y. How should you review? Use your notes as a prompt and teach the topic to an (imaginary) group of very eager–but not overly bright–young peoples (or to a friend). Teach your imaginary class out loud, as if you were actually addressing a group of students. Look at your notes only when necessary. Imagine your students are really trying to understand your analogies, explanations, and examples, but they just don’t get it the first time through. Come up with alternative explanations and more examples. Come up with a test to give them to make sure they have mastered the information. Got it? Teach it. Out loud. With extra explanations. And a test!

Third: Keep teaching your imaginary class over days and weeks until–without using your notes–it gushes forth from your face in silvery fountains of erudition. Do this on a gradually increasing schedule. Your first review is right after you take the notes. The second review is an hour (more or less) after that. Now keep tripling the time between reviews; three hours later, nine hours later, a day later, three days later, nine days later, a month later, etc. This will wedge that info into your long term memory.  Learn more about scheduling those reviews for optimal recall. See more on this in my free study skills video.

As you go through this process take special note of areas you don’t fully understand and GET HELP! The first time you try to teach a particular topic, you will find gaps–yawning abysses, even– in your understanding. Fill those gaps by…

  • Talking to your professor or your TA.
  • Talking to a knowledgeable friend.
  • Going to tutoring sessions.
  • Looking online or in other texts.

Simple as the plot to Twilight, no? Get your notes, review by teaching it on a tripling schedule, and plug the gaps in your understanding as soon as possible.

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© Cody Blair, All Rights Reserved.

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