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Thursday, March 8, 2012

General Study Skills

Lots of people seem to have problems studying effectively. There are plenty of people I encountered as a student that would have seemingly endless cram sessions to prepare for a test. In the professional world I see people often preparing for presentations in marathon sessions right before they have to give them. This is the wrong way to do things, you brain will not effectively learn material in this fashion. It might end up working, but it is not an efficient use of your time. You can usually get better results by slowly repeating the information over a period of time. If you brain is not bored, it will tend to be much easier to remember information. Take breaks and learn your material over several days and weeks instead of hours before you need it. You will spend a lot less effort, and probably a lot less time in total.
There are lots of things that can help your studying. I like to use mnemonic techniques to aid my memory, it takes some effort to create the images or rhymes but you tend to remember them better. Anything that actively engages multiple senses is also very good, with multiple sensory cues to help categorize information in our memory it is more memorable. There are extreme cases described in the Neuroscience literature like Solomon Shereshevskii, who literally would remember almost everything he experienced. He could not forget, nearly everything he dwelled on for a few seconds was permanently etched in his memory. What made him special was he experienced his world in a very strange way. Numbers would have images and personality associated to them, colors might have sound, his world was basically one unforgettable combined sensory experience after another. He had a form of something the Neuroscientists call Synesthesia. He ended up having severe problems due to his inability to forget, so we don't want to be exactly like him.
We can consciously make ourselves a little like him though by using multiple senses to remember information. If you need to remember things about the dust bowl you might try going through the following sensory imagery while you commit the information to memory.
  1. Imagine the gritty taste of dirt in your mouth
  2. The feeling of sand blowing on your skin
  3. Imagine you have not eaten all day, and being intensely hungry and thirsty
Adding these sensory cues to your studying will act like a highlighter pen to your mind. You are making the facts more memorable, and they will likely be much easier for you to recall.
There is much to be said on the subject of studying effectively. While it is not complete by any stretch of the imagination I have some more information on how to study on the main MemVance site.

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