Are you studying the wrong way? That will definitely cause you to work too hard.Ever heard of the backwoods farmer who wanted to clear off an acre or so of heavily forested land? The farmer excitedly began cutting trees with a new chain saw he had recently purchased, but by the end of the day he had actually cut much less than he could have done with his old hand saw. In disgust he returned the chain saw to the store, and the salesman fired up the chain saw to see what the problem was. The farmer jumped back in surprise and yelled to the salesman, “what’s that noise?”

You can cut down trees with a chain saw, even when it isn’t running, but that’s definitely the hard way. In the same way, you can study for classes by doing rote memorization–going over your notes or flashcards again and again–but that’s definitely the hard way.

What you want is something like a cheat sheet. Sure it might take some time to make your cheat sheet and carefully conceal it, but it sure makes the test a lot easier. Wouldn’t it be great if there was a way to construct a cheat sheet that wasn’t really cheating? Something that the prof would be totally okay with?

I discovered something like that just before I began my first semester of grad school. It’s a way to make a simple cheat sheet that is actually stored on the inside your brain … the only truly OK place to keep a cheat sheet. I used a simple trick that enabled me to quickly and effectively turn my notes into a mental cheat sheet.

The first chance I had to try it out was in my human osteology class. Our first exam was on the bones of the human cranium–ethmoid, sphenoid, vomer, zygomatic, occipatal, etc. We had to be able to identify all the bones and know which bones each of these contacted. The ethmoid alone articulates with twelve other bones! That’s a lot to memorize for one test. In fact, just making a thorough, concealable, readable cheat sheet for the test could have easily taken me an hour.

Using an alternative to rote-memorization I memorized all the material–effectively storing a cheat sheet in my memory. I studied less than thirty minutes for the test and received a perfect score … the only one in the class! The class average was a 72 and most students had studied 8 to 10 hours. Needless to say, I was hooked! You can find out more about the technique I used here. There is also a nice overview of the technique in this college study skills video.

That experience set me on quest for other techniques that made learning more natural and easy. I’ve found many others including…

  • Reviewing on an optimal schedule to maximize recall
  • Using time you would normally waste to get your studying done
  • Taking notes that increase recall and comprehension while actually writing less
  • Teaching other people the information (whether those other people are real or imaginary)
  • Taking frequent breaks to soup up your ability to absorb information

I’ve already blogged about many of these. Others I will be covering in upcoming posts so stay tuned!

By the way, my Wired Study Tips podcast on iTunes takes some of the most popular posts on this site and turns them into meaty, mp3 goodness. Check it out!


Top Five Ways College Students Work Too Hard

  1. Cramming
  2. Taking too many notes on the wrong stuff
  3. Reading more than you need to
  4. Studying the wrong way
  5. Not taking care of your brain
© Cody Blair, All Rights Reserved.


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