How to Study: Techniques of Learning and Remembering

Cut out rituals
A ritual is a preliminary to something else. There are many rituals indulged in as preliminaries to studying. There are personal rituals. Some students must go through the ritual of dressing for the ordeal of study. Some pre-study rituals take the form of special eating. These are gastronomical rituals. Then there are social rituals like talking to some one, making telephone calls.

Such ritualistic activities are apparently legitimate reason for postponing studying that is anticipated as both being difficult and disagreeable. Indulgence in them means frittering away of time and energy. They are attempts to put off what you are not at all eager to do. Cut out the rituals. Get on with the work.

Spaced v. Continuous method of study
In the spaced method of learning, learning periods are distributed in time separated by periods of rest or the periods of very different activity. It is also called the distributed or the study—rest—study—rest method. It is contrasted with the method of continuous study.

Psychological research has repeatedly shown that the spaced method is superior to the continuous method. The spaced method encourages you to spend more time on studying. You experience less fatigue. The rest pause following a period of learning gives you an opportunity to integrate what is learned. The rest pause not only makes integration possible, it also makes the forgetting of wrong things possible, thus making retention of the right things possible. Adopt the spaced method.

The SQ3R system of study
The SQ3R system of study has proved of undoubted value in American colleges and universities for effective study. The SQ3R stands for: Survey Question Read Recite Revise.

(1) Survey: Briefly this means that instead of picking up a textbook and reading one of its chapters over and over, you should first ‘survey’: i.e., find out all you can about the aims and purposes of the book, read the author’s preface, study the table of contents and the index, read the chapter summaries (if there are summaries) and skim rapidly through the book. Keep in mind your own object in study, the syllabus you are trying to cover, and the relevance of the book to your own areas of interest. If the book does not suit your purpose, if it is not well-written, and at the right level of standard, look for a better one that makes the grade. In brief make a reconnaissance before you start your main work, and get an over-all perspective of what lies before you. It is akin to military, naval, etc reconnaissance and its importance can hardly be over-stressed.

(2) Question: This step involves asking questions. It entails going rapidly through the chapters of the book which you are tackling and jotting down such questions as occur to you. This is useful as it motivates you and gives you a purpose. It compels you to think and to marshal such knowledge as you already possess. By maintaining a questioning attitude you will, in due course, come to study books critically: “No intelligent person merely reads a book. He cannot help dwelling on particular points as he reads, and contrasting or uniting them with other points that he has just grasped.” Bacon wrote, “Read not to contradict and confute, not to believe and take for granted, nor to find talk and discourse, but to weigh and consider.”

(3) Reading: The next step—reading proper—is of vital importance. The first reading of a textbook chapter should be slow and thorough. Most good textbook chapters have a pattern of headings and subheadings which you should keep at the back of your mind as you read. If the subject is illustrated by graphs or diagrams take the trouble to master them. They are much more easily remembered than long verbal statements.
This type of reading is analytical reading, the aim of which is to discover the details, the specific results, the facts out of which the general ideas and broader view of the subject developed. It requires you to read more slowly, to re-read sentences and paragraphs that are not clearly understood. It is the reading in which your major study work is done.

(1) Automatic reading, which fails to command conscious attention. Avoid it, for establishing the habit of reading ideas rather than words.

(2) Reading as a ritual like reading an assignment three times with the blind faith that somehow three readings of an assignment will lead to success.

(3) Recitation: Recitation is defined as an attempt to reproduce in any way that which is being (or has been) learned.

Recitation is a very potent and effective factor in remembering (memorizing) for the following reasons:
(a) It keeps motivation strong.
(b) It facilitates the use of immediate goals.
(c) It tells you how well you are progressing in learning.
(d) It gives rise to reward when you are successful or punishment when you are less successful in what you are learning.
(e) Finally recitation gives you patience in doing what you ultimately want to do.
Bacon wrote, “If you read anything over twenty times, you will not learn it by heart so easily as if you were to read it only ten times trying to read it between lines and when memory failed looking at the book.”

How to recite
Following are ways in which you can recite a given material.
(1) Write it.
(2) Draw things which lend themselves to drawing, e.g., data represented graphically.
(3) Picture it, e.g., visualize the characteristics of each of the several types of architecture you are studying.
(4) Hear it—hear that musical selection you are trying to master. Use other senses also.
(5) Tell it to someone.
(6) Explain it to someone—e.g., a complex theory you are trying to learn.
(7) Talk it over—discussion in a group of two or three.
(8) Outline the substance.
(9) After reading each major section of a chapter, lay the book on one side and try to recall what you have been reading. Periodic recall is an undoubted aid to learning.
(10) Write out abstracts. Studies have shown that time spent in active recitation leads to more effective learning. Its value is further enhanced when there is some device by which you are kept informed as to whether the ideas you are recalling are correct or incorrect.

The final step of SQ3R system is Revision. Revision should not be considered something to be undertaken just before exams. Memory experiments show that material that has to be retained over long periods should be studied and restudied. Memories become stronger and stronger with each re-learning and forgetting proceeds more slowly.

The first revision should take place as soon as possible after the original learning. Further revisions are often necessary before the final revision which precedes exams. Underlining the importance of review Prof W.W. Ruch says that it is important to review as soon as possible after learning and then to review again and again from time to time. “Review should be selective, with the most emphasis given to those parts which are most important or most difficult.”

In revision before exams, pay particular attention to the earlier material you have learnt, as more of it will have been forgotten. Leave yourself time to go over all the material you have covered. Research studies have shown that subjective estimates of strengths and weaknesses are often faulty. Active revision, and a few attempts at answering old exam questions should give you a better idea of where your true strengths and weaknesses lie.

It needs emphasis that revision should be an active rather than a passive process. ‘Revise by writing down from memory what you know about each topic, then check with your books and notes’, is sound advice.

Technique of over-learning
Over-learning is an important technique in learning and remembering. Over-learning is learning in which repetition or practice has proceeded beyond the point necessary for the retention or recall required. Such over-learning may, however, be necessary in view of the factors likely to affect recall, which are bound to enter subsequently from the circumstances of the case.

It is that added time and effort beyond what is required now that you have put into learning what you intend to recall at sometime in the future. It also means that you spend added time and energy learning something which you already know.

As Maddox observes, material is under-learned when it has not been studied long enough for you to be able to recall it 100 per cent correctly. It is over-learned when you continue to practise it after you can recall it 100 per cent correctly. For example, it might take you 10 minutes to learn a vocabulary of 20 foreign words. If you then carry on learning and reciting with the same close attention as before, you are over-learning the material. Another 5 minutes would represent 50 per cent over-learning, another 10 minutes 100 per cent.

It pays to over-learn because of the distinct gain in retention: it increases the strength of your memory traces. “If you want to remember something for a long time, you should over-learn it.”

Over-learning to be effective, must be active learning. Your attention must be riveted upon what is being learned. Therefore, over-learn actively and with conscious attention by using various methods of recitation. As Dudley puts it, “Do not repeat what you wish to remember until you barely know it, but until you know it really well.”