15 Rules of fast Learning

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The speed of learning will depend on the way you formulate the material. The same material can be learned many times faster if well formulated! The difference in speed can be stunning!  

  • Always get an overview first. This is an excuse to have a relaxing read of something without analyzing it and breaking it apart for specific study; that comes later.
  • Learn before memorizing. This is pretty much the same rule as above. Get an understanding, then begin memorizing the details.
  • Begin as basically as possible. It’s easy to assume some information is obvious and neglect it. But incorporating the easy stuff into your study costs little and dilutes the harder material, keeping you motivated.
  • Use images. I’d add every kind of media you can to this. Audio, video and whatever else you can get hold of will add depth and interest to your learning. It’s all about be efficient and effective, and these media help you do it.
  • Thinking up mnemonics is a very useful skill to develop. They don’t have to be poems or rhymes – any little mental prompt will do. Keep your mnemonics personal and weird, as these work the best.
  • Avoid sets or lists. You should avoid trying to learn by rote large chunks of organised information. This is very inefficient and frustrating to attempt. If possible, it’s far better to break it down and come at it from several angles.
  • Enumerations. If you really have to learn a set (the example given is “Which countries are in the European Union?”), enumerations are the best (least worst) way to do it. It involves ordering the information in a strict sequence so that you can attack it with better methods such as cloze deletion, and also so that it prompts you as you recite it.
  • Combat interference. If you learn new information that’s similar to something you already know, the two things can clash in your memory, leading you to forget both of them. The problem won’t rectify itself, so the best way to tackle this is to be consciously aware of it, and treat distinguishing the confusing items as something to be learned in itself.
  • Minimum wording. This is similar to tip #4. Always go for the smallest chunks possible. An ‘item’ for review shouldn’t be more than one sentence, and ideally should only be a few words or short phrase.
  • Refer to other memories. One way to avoid interference (#11, above) is to directly incorporate it into your studies. Use similar items to reference and contrast each other. This is fast and helps make the differences obvious.
  • Personalize. As mentioned above, make your learning as personal as possible, even to the extent that you’d be embarrassed to explain your materials to someone else. You’re teaching yourself, so make use of as many idiosyncratic shortcuts as possible.
  • Priorities. This can be very tricky, but you can increase efficiency by prioritizing material to be learnt. Anki and other SRS software lets you do this and will handle the scheduling for you.

Photo by Lacie Slezak

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