In this article, I am going to give you 8 Advanced Study Tips, so let’s get started.
1. Corson Techniques
The first tip is to use the Corson Technique when asking professors for help. Dale Corson was the eighth president of Cornell University.
Yes, the same Cornell University that spawned the famous Cornell Note-Taking System. He was also a chemistry professor. He said that students in chemistry and other science and math programs often have to really work to crack problems one sentence at a time as they go through their textbooks or problem sets, but sometimes eventually you get to a point where you just can't crack the problem on your own and you need to ask for help.
So, you go to your professor, and what Dale Corson wants you to think about before you actually talk to your professor is pause and ask yourself, "What is it that I don't understand? Truly, what is it that I don't understand?" What he wants you to get away from is this thing that a lot of students do is where they go to their professors and with a "general wave of the hand," as he says, they say, "I don't understand what I'm looking at.
“This is just confusing to me, I don’t get it.” What he wants you to do is avoid that, rather, pick apart the problem one sentence at a time and figure out the exact point at which you don’t get what’s going on.
Right here, I understand this, this process makes sense to me, but here's where I'm getting a little shaky and I just don't get this. After that, I'm cool. When you can pinpoint that, you're going to impress your professor with your preparation and the amount of effort you put into the problem, so you get some brownie points there, but you're also working to practice the art of recognizing confusion and following it down to its actual source.
This will help you immensely in all of your learning going forward.
2. Space Repetition
Tip #2 is to learn facts quickly with a technique called space repetition. Now, space repetition is the art of studying things at increasingly bigger and bigger intervals of time and it’s a very efficient way to study, but it also takes advantage of the way your brain works.
Basically, space repetition is a system where you'll study something, and if you know that individual fact very well, you will not see it for quite a while, but the facts that you don't know well, you're going to see them more and more frequently.
The way that it works on our brain level is that you are trying to recall information. You're forcing your brain to pull it out at the closest time possible to when you are about to forget it, so your brain actually has to work as hard as it possibly can to recall this information and it encodes it better, so its more efficient and you can actually learn a lot faster.
The best way to take advantage of this is to use an SRS (or space repetition software) to do your studying for you instead of using index cards or something.
There is actually a free and generalized one called Anki and you can find it on AnkiSRS.net where you can actually create your own card sets for any type of data that you think you would want to study with SRS or you can actually find shared card decks from people who have already made things.
So, definitely check that out. I think the preparation aspect of making your own card decks is very useful, but simply going through and studying them using space repetition is usually going to be more efficient than using just typical linear flashcard study methods on paper.
3. Method of Loci
Tip #3. We’re getting a little more advanced here, so this one is to try out the Method of Loci for memorization. The Method of Loci goes back to the Greek and Roman times and it is a memorization technique that has been used by memory champs for a long time.
It essentially takes advantage of your brain's ability to remember spatial information very well. It's all about visualization. The classic way to do it is to associate certain sets of the set of data you're trying to memorize, certain groups of that with different rooms of a house.
Let me give you an example. This is the Kanji for king in Japanese, and the pronunciation, the way that you say king in Japanese is "Oh," and "Oh" is really simple pronunciation. It doesn't really lend itself too well to mnemonics, which is a shame because mnemonics is a great way to learn Kanji.
Now, what if I want to adapt the Method of Loci to learning this Kanji along with lots of others. What does a king sit on, a throne, or as we could say, the toilet, and I am not averse to using 5-year-old humor here.
What do you say when you smell the toilet, "Oh." Yeah, work with me here. Also, the Kanji for king looks like a towel rack so I can associate king with the bathroom in a house, and if I really want to make this study technique useful for me, I would go into the bathroom and I would put up flashcards on the walls and then I'd walk through my house and study this.
Now, the Method of Loci is difficult to use. It’s an advanced technique and usually you’re going to be better off with SRS or mnemonics if you have a smaller set of data, but if you’ve got a lot of work with and nothing else has worked for you, it’s something that you can try.
Tip #4 is to hack akrasia. Akrasia is a term that has been written about for centuries and it goes back to Plato, and it’s essentially a lack of command over oneself. There’s another even more complex term called picoeconomics, which talks about this hyperbolic discounting that we do.
Essentially, we discount the value of a task the more it is delayed, the more the reward is pushed off into the future, which in short means that we tend to procrastinate and do fun things that don't really align with our values in the short term, and we avoid doing things that really do line up with our values because the reward is delayed.
The way you can hack akrasia or avoid becoming a victim to it is two-fold. One, use a commitment device, bind yourself to getting your task done on time, and the way I do this is by using an app called Beeminder, which I’ve talked about before.
I absolutely love Beeminder and I've been using it to ensure I publish three things a week for quite a while now. If you look at my graph here, which I'll throw up, you can see that I have been actually publishing much, much, much more frequently than I was before, and it's largely because I use a commitment device to buy myself to do this.
Now, another way that you can hack akrasia, the second part of the fold, is to add a shorter term reward to completing a task. The classic way, you've probably seen this image before, is to put gummy bears on your textbook, and as you read paragraphs you allow yourself to eat them, but you can do all sorts of other things.
Let yourself watch an episode of Game of Thrones once you finish an assignment or maybe use a tool like HabitRPG and give yourself some experience and goals when you finish the study, problem set or something.
Just find a way to make sure that the only reward isn’t that far-off delayed one that causes akrasia.
5. Pomodoro Technique
Tip #5 is to improve the Pomodoro Technique. You may have heard of the Pomodoro Technique,
Everyone talks about it, but in case you haven’t, it’s simply a technique where you set a timer for about 25-minutes, and then you work only on one task during that 25-minute session.
I think a lot of people do this and it’s very useful, but there are some areas for improvement that I don’t believe that a lot of people take advantage of. So, let me just rapid-fire give them to you. Number one, and I’ve talked about how much I’m a fan of the Beeminder app, and the Beeminder blog is also a good resource for productivity techniques and experiments.
One of things that they talk about is this thing they do called Tocks. A Tock is essentially a Pomodoro session except they use about 45 minutes and then take 15-minute breaks instead of the classic 25-minute, 5-minute break structure.
The tip here is to experiment with the time intervals. Don’t just set yourself to 25-minutes and assume that’s the only potential interval that you could study at. Find what works for you.
The other one is to put a piece of paper next to you during your Pomodoro session, and whenever anything that comes up that distracts you, maybe a phone call or the urge to check Facebook or something, write it down.
This lets you do two things. One, you can remember what the distraction was and if it happened to be something urgent you can take care of it during your break time, but two, as you continue to lots of Pomodoro sessions over months and months, you start to see what are the common problem points.
What comes up a lot that distracts you, and then you can take steps to prevent these things. Maybe it’s your phone. You forget to put it in do not disturb mode; well, you can do that now. If it’s a certain website that you really want to visit because it’s just so distracting and draws you in, then you can use an extension like Stay Focused on Chrome to block it during your study session.
6. Focused and Diffused Thinking
Tip #6 is when learning new concepts, use both focused and diffused thinking. This is a concept that I learned about in a book called, Thinking in Numbers.
Look at this guy, Magnus Carlsen. He is currently the #1 chess player in the world, but back in 2004 when he was just 13 years old, he played Garry Kasparov, who was considered the best chess player in the world a couple of decades ago and who was often considered to be the best chess player of all time.
He played Garry to a draw. During the match, he actually gets up and walks around, looks at other tables, and what he’s doing. What the author of this book has pointed out, is he’s using diffused thinking.
So focused thinking really takes advantage of your prefrontal cortex to focus on one specific set of data, one specific problem, and it really concentrates on one that thing, but it doesn't let the rest of your brain become activated.
A lot of ideas come from different nodes of your brain connecting different completely unrelated ideas in new different ways, and that’s the diffused mode of thinking. When you’re learning something new, you want to use diffused thinking, so you can rock it, you can tie it to other nodes in your brain and understand it.
If you only try to focus on the problem and do nothing else, you’re going to have a lot harder time solving the problem. Now, focused thinking is very, very good for problems you already understand, for processes that you’ve gone through before, and that’s why you want to use these two modes of thinking in combination.
7. Gauge Your Classes
Now, tip #7 and I've talked about this before in terms of textbooks is to gauge your classes, and the specific area I want you to think about here is gauge the speed at which your professor moves and at which you're able to understand.
If your professor tends to go too fast and you can't really understand everything he's presenting. Maybe he writes too fast and you can take notes fast enough or he just moves through the material too fast for you to really understand it and give time to process in your brain.
Then, you want to take some steps to mitigate that problem. One thing you could do is to read through the chapter before a lecture. Maybe if you have some material that outlines what's going to be in the lecture, you can use that to look at the most relevant parts of the textbook and prime your brain for the lecture.
One other thing you can do if the class pace is just too fast, and I can’t really emphasize this enough, is to simply ask your professor for help or ask questions in the middle of class. Professors are there to help you and you should take advantage of that.
8. Start Your Problem Sets Alone
My 8th and final tip is to start your problem sets alone. When I was a sophomore I had a statistics class, and I actually had a partner and she would come over to my dorm every time we had a homework assignment to do and we would do it together.
Now, I realize that this isn’t really the best strategy!
I got a pretty good grade in the class anyway, but going forward, I wouldn’t do this again. Here’s the reason why:
When you do a problem set with a partner, you’re robbing yourself the opportunity to really pinpoint gaps in your understanding because two people going at the same problem at the same time, if one person is able to do the entire thing and the other person can kind of get where the first person’s coming from.
So, if you don't really understand a problem or maybe there's one tiny little section that you wouldn't have gotten, but your partner does, you're going to latch onto their answer. You're going to say, "Yeah, I sort of get that," and you're going to move on, but if you do it alone, then you're going to be able to pinpoint those areas of confusion and shore them up before you get into a group and finish the assignment, so start them alone.