When it comes to subjects like chemistry and biology, memory work is definitely inevitable. There is simply no other way to memorise all those formulae or those reagents required in chemistry, and the biology answers in your Ten Years Series must diffuse into your brain somehow.
But unfortunately, there are days when it feels like nothing is going in. You stare at pages of your textbook or your lecture notes, dumbfounded. You wonder: how are you going to get all this information into your brain?!
Thankfully, there are some shortcuts to absorbing information. This article will attempt to introduce some methods to increase your retention of information.
With no further delay, here are three tips that will hopefully help you cultivate better studying habits.
Tip #1: Do some studying right before sleeping and right after waking up
Research has shown that learning new information before sleeping helps in the retention of the information. Similarly, if you study right after waking up, your brain will also be performing at its best.
This is almost hard to believe – can we really remember more just by modifying our study habits and schedules? Well, now it is scientifically proven! The brain is better at making links and taking in things when it is at its freshest, or right before it is about to get some rest.
If we create memories in our sleep, then this would explain why you learn best right before you sleep.
In a similar vein, this would also mean that if you feel like you are stuck in a rut or that your brain is desperately zoning out, maybe what you really need is a power nap. There is really no point in studying if your brain is too tired to absorb anything. Always aim to achieve maximum productivity when studying.
Tip #2: Be Active, Not Passive
The time will come when you have to deal with pages of readings – and you find yourself skimming through the pages mindlessly. Eventually, 50 pages later, you realise that you don’t really remember anything that you have just read. That is what we term passive reading. It is not really useful in helping you to extract key information, and it is also not the best use of your time.
What you need to do is the exact opposite – be proactive!
Instead of willing the information to go into your brain, always keep your mind and your body busy. Highlight the information. Write down little notes. Ask yourself questions – how does this information fit in with what I already know? Draw mindmaps and make your own connections. Do up a summary if that helps you.
Then at the end of every chapter or whenever appropriate, test yourself. Find some topical exercises, or go over what you have just read and discuss with a friend. Only when you really cannot remember the information, then go back to the textbook for reference.
Go through this process repeatedly – this is how your brain familiarizes itself with new information. If you follow these steps, your brain should be able to re-package the information and internalize it – and you would have achieved your goal! Learning new information should be anything but easy. If you find it smooth-sailing, chances are that you’re not doing it right.
Tip #3: Go at a steady pace
Needless to say, cramming in information the night before the exam is ineffective. Once you wake up, it is easy to feel as though half the information you need is mysteriously gone. This is because you have not given your brain enough time to digest and process the copious amount of information while you are resting in that one night.
It is thus important to space out your studying and exam revision. While this might sound obvious to you, this is a piece of information that is always conveniently discarded at the back of our heads.
Plan out your schedule well and give your brain sufficient time to do a little bit of memory work every day. This links back to Tip #1, which already explains why your brain needs rest to retain information.
Often, it is not about how much time you put into studying. It is about how you can study smarter. With that, it is the writer’s hopes that these tips will help readers in their pursuit of a more productive studying life!