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Lesson 19: Study Smart

By now, you’ve probably realised that you need to study very hard to become a Laureate. However, this is not enough. You need to study smart as well. Studying smart simply means that you are getting maximum benefits from the time and effort you put in your studies. In this lesson, you’ll find four strategies you can employ to study more efficiently.

Strategy 1: Don’t Procrastinate

Since you have a limited amount of time before your HSC exams, you can’t afford to waste it.

Procrastination equals time-wasting.

We all struggle with issues of procrastination, even Laureates. As human beings, we tend to delay or postpone things instead of doing them right now. Here are some examples:

  • I’ll do my homework the day before it’s due.

  • I’ll start revising for my exam as from next week.

  • I’ll learn this topic tomorrow, not today.

  • I’ll start taking care of my physical and mental health once the exams are over because I don’t have time for this right now.

  • I’ll ask the teacher about my doubts in the next class, not this one.

The list goes on and on. We procrastinate because our brains prefer immediate rewards to long term ones. I have touched upon this in a previous lesson, so, I will not go in too much depth here.

My advice to you is to make your own list of things you procrastinate on. Be brutally honest with yourself. If you want to take this to another level, keep a “Procrastination” sheet or notebook. Each time you procrastinate, write something about it. This will help keep yourself accountable. You could also give yourself immediate rewards for completing a study session. For example, treat yourself with an activity you enjoy doing after each session.

Strategy 2: Plan your study daily

As I said above, time is limited. So, it would be best if you manage it efficiently. As Benjamin Franklin rightfully said:

You may delay, but time will not.

As a student, one of the best ways to make the best use of your time is to create a study timetable for the day and stick to it. It should be strict enough to ensure you get things done while being flexible enough to adjust for unexpected circumstances.

You need to understand two things before using a timetable. First, you need to decide how many hours you want to study per day. It is up to you to decide, but somewhere around 8 hours is reasonable, including school and tuition. Second, you need to understand what is meant by a study hour. We are at school for about 7 hours a day. However, this does not mean that you have studied for 7 hours. A study hour should be interpreted as an hour fully dedicated to focused studying.

A daily planner (or daily timetable – call it whatever you like!) is simply a list of tasks you need to complete during the day. Each task has a set DEADLINE by which it must be completed. This deadline should be a time of the day. For example, “Finish my maths homework before 6 pm”. If you can, add a starting time for each task as well. Make sure that the plan is achievable. It should not be too challenging to complete. Self-imposed deadlines set you up for success as they help you get things done within a short enough time. Use them to your advantage!

Strategy 3: Focus on Understanding first

It’s important to memorise things (I’ll come to this in the next lesson), but it’s even more important to understand first. Memorising helps you remember the concepts. However, understanding empowers you to retain them for longer and apply them correctly to a variety of (potentially unseen) questions. In an exam, you’ll undoubtedly come across problems you have not seen before. These are often the questions that separate Laureates from the rest. Fortunately, if you know all topics in your syllabus thoroughly, you will be able to apply the relevant techniques to answer the advanced questions accurately.

Here are some tips to help you understand topics better:

  • Give the teacher your undivided attention when he/she is explaining a topic to you.

  • When you are reading notes or textbooks, highlight the essential bits and add additional comments if necessary.

  • Learn from a variety of different sources, i.e., learn from your teachers, friends, notes, textbooks, websites, videos and so on. Don’t limit yourself to only one source of knowledge.

  • Practice enough simple examples/questions to make sure you understand the basics. Don’t neglect the basic exercises because the harder/more advanced ones will likely build upon them. You need a solid foundation in each topic to be able to tackle exam questions correctly. You need to crawl before you start to walk, and you need to jog before you can begin to run! Don’t miss any step or try to take shortcuts when learning a new topic.

  • Ask questions whenever in doubt.

Strategy 4: Study like a Teacher

Learn the material as if you were planning to teach it to someone. It has been scientifically proven that the way you understand and retain information is improved when you explain it to someone. This strategy provides a fail-proof way to check your understanding of concepts:

If you cannot explain a topic clearly and concisely, then you don’t understand it well enough.

To help you attain this level of understanding, you could try the Feynman technique. Richard Feynman was a Nobel Prize winner and was also known as the “great explainer” because he could explain complicated subjects simply and intuitively. Here’s an adaptation of his technique:

Step 1

Identify the topic you want to explain. Write its name at the top of a blank sheet of paper and write a summary of everything you know about it. Always assume that you aim to teach a 10-year old kid, not your smart friend, or your teacher. Minimise the use of complicated jargon and vocabulary. When you need to include them, make sure they are defined in simple language, so that the child can understand what you are talking about. Be sure to include intuitive examples to support your explanation.

Step 2

Explain the topic to a child or somebody not familiar with it. Make sure you ask for their honest feedback on whether they’ve understood it or not. Remember, if they don’t understand, it means that you don’t have sufficient knowledge of the concept yourself. If you’ve managed to explain it clearly, skip to step 5.

Step 3

Identify the areas where you struggled to explain the topic. These are, in fact, the gaps in your own understanding of the subject.

Step 4

Go back to your sources of information (notes, books, and so on) to fill in those gaps in your understanding. Then, go back to step 1. (Note: To test your understanding thoroughly, you cannot go from step 4 to step 5 directly. You can only reach step 5 from step 2.)

Step 5

Organise your hand-written notes in an appropriate order and store them. Those notes should not have any undefined complicated jargon. Re-write them neatly, if possible. For each subject, your ultimate goal should be to compile all your “Feynman notes” into a “pack” that can, on its own, explain the entire subject to a class of 10-year old children!

Now that you are equipped with those four strategies, you’ve hopefully understood why the Key Takeaway from this lesson is:

Study hard and smart.

Do you have any questions or comments? Post them below!

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