Learning to Study: 8 Techniques that Work

Learning to Study: 8 Techniques that Work

At school, before anything else, it should be learn to study.

And it should be done through a consolidated, efficient, intelligent method.

A bit like in sport, where to reach levels of excellence it is not enough to go to the field and practice!

Instead, you need a teacher who teaches you the techniques, who avoids the most common mistakes, who gives you feedback to improve.

But at school they teach you mathematics, history, biology, literature ... but they don't teach you to study them.

It touches you then learn to study completely self-taught, like “o nuoti o anneghi”.

According to some, this should form character.

I have serious doubts that this is really the case, and in any case it is an approach that I have never liked.

In fact, life already has enough lessons, there is no need to make everything difficult and unpleasant.

So if you are not satisfied with your method, in today's article we will see 8 tips that will help you study better.

1. Plan your time and energy

Raise your hand if the student who never happened to say "I'm late" or "I wasted a lot of time".

And indeed time management is the first big problem to face if you want to learn to study.

Especially when preparing university exams or competitions it is important:

  • Have a long-term plan indicating, week by week, the various phases of the study (first reading, diagrams, general review, second review, etc.). This way you will always know if you are up to date with the preparation.
  • Have a daily plan tell you what time you will study and what topics you will address. That way you'll start each day knowing what to do, and resist the temptation to procrastinate.

Many tools can be used for long-term plans, but in the end a sheet of Excel is more than enough.

While planning the next day can be simplified even further, using a diary or even a simple post - it, as in the Ivy Lee method. 

For those who are horrified by planning because they believe it kills their creativity and spontaneity, here's a surprise quote:

Our goals can only be achieved through good planning in which we absolutely must believe and on which we must act. 

Surprisingly, because Pablo Picasso said this sentence, not a gray bureaucrat from a book by Kafka. If even a genius like him made the effort to plan, you can't help but do it too.

2. Learn to study "in layers"

Many students make the mistake of putting all information on an equal footing from the very first reading.

They are afraid of not understanding, of forgetting, of neglecting, and so, right from the start, they invest enormous energy in every detail.

The result is that many of these energies are ultimately wasted, because:

  • Without understanding the general aspects first, it is more difficult to understand the details. So doing both things at the same time is inefficient.
  • Many details repeat themselves at a later time, or they are later discovered to be irrelevant. So all the effort made to memorize them is wasted
  • Details are not normally all essential to pass an exam, so it doesn't make sense that they have the same priority as the most important information.

For all these reasons, organize your studio in layers or "concentric circles".

First, that is, study and memorize the most important concepts; then move on to the secondary; then to the tertiaries; finally to the details.

In this way you will develop the overview of the topic much more quickly, and each circle will be a solid foundation for the next.

3. Learn to study by reducing the material to the essential

It is practically impossible to learn everything right away, therefore it is inevitable that everything must be reviewed.

However, this poses a problem: if every time you have to review you have to go through ALL the study material all over again, the review will be very long.

Here then, in view of the reviews, it is essential to reduce the material to the essential.


  • Underlining and highlighting only what you need to review (Note: good underlining shouldn't involve more than 30% of the book)
  • By noting down keywords in the margins of the book (Note: keywords must alone recall entire concepts, and normally you shouldn't put more than a dozen per page).
  • Making patterns that simplify and integrate the book, notes, transcripts or other sources of study

Making patterns takes a long time in the first phase, but if they are done well it saves you a lot forever (I still happen to use schemes that I made 20 years ago).

And by schemes I mean the traditional waterfall schemes that I explain at this link, not mind maps or concept maps, which are useful for many purposes but very scarce for study.

But how! - you will tell me - Pinco and pallo, on their blogs, say that the maps are very cool to study!

Yes, because that way they have the excuse to sell them to you in their study methods.

But look at the examples of mind and concept maps that they make for you, and you will realize that perhaps they are used to study in elementary and middle school, certainly not when it comes to complex, long, articulated topics.

(Note: mind maps and concept maps are not useless, but are used for purposes other than hard and pure study).

4. Learn to repeat

Surely you too have studied many times by repeating aloud, we have all done it.

And you did well, because it's a great strategy for:

  • Improve memorization
  • Clarify the understanding of the text (when you repeat something you did not understand, you immediately notice)
  • Prepare for the oral exam

However, there are two scientifically tested strategies that make repetition 10 times more effective:

  • The active reminder: Many students repeat by continually glancing at the book or notes to help themselves. This makes them go faster, but it is bad for storage. Instead, learn to study a short piece of text and then, closed the book or covered the patterns, repeat without looking. You will make more effort, and the effort helps your memory.
  • The spaced repetition: between repeating the same thing 3 times in a day or 3 times in a week, the time is the same but the second strategy gives much better results. The psychologist Ebbinghauss discovered more than 100 years ago that, in order to make memorization more efficient, the time interval between one repetition and another is fundamental. An excellent pattern is 0-1-3-8-20 (that is, repeat what you saw in class the same day, the next, then 3, 8 and 20 days later), but of course you have to adapt it to your needs, the subject, the exam date, etc.

5. Learn to Study for the exam

Especially when it comes to a university exam or a competition, studying and knowing is not enough: 

  • For example, if you have spent two hundred hours on the wrong book, you will get a mediocre result.
  • As well as, if you know everything thoroughly but can't repeat it well, your oral exam will suffer.
  • Or also, if you are super prepared but you are not used to fighting against the clock, here you could fail a cross-spread test.

In all of these cases, you are like an athlete who has trained for a competition such as 800 meters and then finds himself competing over another distance on race day!

Obviously he will race, but he will have a result far below the effort he took to prepare.

When studying for an exam, think about the fact that not only do you need to know, but you also have to prepare yourself for a particular type of performance.

You must therefore learn to study accordingly, training yourself in the exam procedures from the first day, as I explain in my article "how to prepare public competitions"

6. Learn at least a little about speed reading and skimming

When you study, a lot of time goes by in processing the exam material, that is, in reading.

For this reason, even improving your reading speed by 20% means, in a year of study, saving entire days.

Now, I don't want to make it too easy: Speed ​​reading is a time consuming skill to be learned, and a lot of exercise to be maintained.

But this happens if you want to read twice or three times faster.

To gain 10 or 20% speed, on the other hand, it takes very little, and so I invite you to try it by starting with my free guide to quick reading and my article on skimming.

Learn to study by doing, first of all, a quick and general reading of the text, in such a way as to build an idea of ​​what awaits you (what I call "The route map"), it will be of great help to you.

7. Learn some memory techniques

Here the same is true for quick reading and skimming.

Learning memory techniques in depth is a long job, not suitable or necessary for everyone.

Learn some memory techniques instead it is easy, pleasant and useful in any case.

First then, learn to study:

  • Displaying as much as possible, because images are remembered much better than words.
  • By associating as much as possible, because every time you build a bridge between long-term memory and short-term memory, the latter is strengthened.

Also, especially when you have to memorize small lists, learn how to do this using techniques.

In my article on the palace of memory I show, by way of example, how the names of the cranial nerves are memorized in a few minutes, which without techniques would take you 5 times longer (and you would forget them faster).

Study how memory palaces work and think about when and how you could use them in your course of study.

8. Learn to study from your concentration

Many young people write to me that they have problems memorizing, organizing, understanding, repeating ...

And in many cases, after digging a bit, it turns out that the real problem is the lack of focus with which they do those things.

Now, concentration is not an on / off switch that turns on and off with a gesture.

It is instead of a state of mind complex that must be cultivated through many precautions:

  • Eliminate distractions: to find concentration it is necessary to remove everything that obviously damages it. Turn off all technology (see my article on digital minimalism), create a tidy environment, keep noise out.
  • Build pre-study and pre-exam rituals: athletes, musicians, actors, before a competition or going on stage, repeat some rituals (who meditates, who takes 10 breaths, who makes the sign of the cross, who puts on the socks of when he was a child, etc. etc. ) that help them focus. Study and exams are also a performance, so find your own rituals too.
  • Alternate sprint and rest: one of the most deleterious and frustrating things for studying is spending hours and hours on books consecutively but without putting too much effort into it. You must then learn to study alternating short periods of intense study (25 minutes) with short scheduled rest periods (5 minutes). It will be easier for you to maintain a high concentration (try for example the tomato technique). 
  • Ask yourself questions: the questions stimulate us and bring us back to the deep meaning of the study. Everything we study in fact it is the answer to a question that someone has asked himself at some point. So every now and then, to bring your attention back to the text, stop for a moment and ask yourself “Who? When? Because? Like? Where is it? Etc ". And, of course, give yourself the corresponding answers as well.

Conclusions on how to learn to study

Beyond the practical ideas I gave you in this article, there is one last thing, a little more philosophical, I want to talk to you about.

You see, in all things, even in the study, more important than the how is the why.

The fact is, when you understand why - or the reasons - of what you do, that's it also the how - or the methods - somehow it arrives.

On the other hand, when you lack awareness of the reasons, even the most sophisticated method doesn't help you that much.

Before even practicing a series of techniques, learning to study therefore means:

  • fortify your motivation
  • clarify your goals
  • find the deep meaning of what you do.

Warning: it is not necessarily necessary who knows what passion, or that what you study you really like and make you enjoy.

It would of course be a plus if that were the case, but unfortunately few happen to find something like that.

On the other hand, what is necessary to find in the studio, and we all can / must do it, it is precisely a why, a profound meaning.

Here then is that the how that I have explained to you in this article will become easy to apply, and you will learn to study not only effectively, but with satisfaction.

A greeting. Anthony.

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