Retain Information with Incremental Studying – Part 2
A word to the wise:
Cramming for a test is never the best option. Our brains are very good at filtering out junk information to retain the important information. However, if we get information overload by trying to learn to much at one time, we set ourselves up to not only forget the junk but everything else along with it. Develop a strategy to learn a little bit of information each day and truly understand that information.
Have you ever picked up a textbook to read a chapter and realized halfway through that you’ve reread the same sentence multiple times? No matter how many times you try to finish the sentence, your attention span and focus won’t allow you to retain any of the information you are reading?
This is a sign that you have information overload.
That’s a bad sign if you are hoping to remember anything tomorrow!
In our previous article we outline what Incremental Progress is and how it can help us get 1% better each day. In this post we will look into how we can use that concept to get better at studying.
Getting 1% better each day:
When it comes to studying, this concept does not translate perfectly. However, it can be utilized to our advantage regardless.
Instead of getting 1% better with incremental progress each day, we are looking to retain a little bit more information each day with incremental learning. Not only are we going to learn a bit more each day, we are going to really understand what we learned!
Increase understanding is the major benefit of this process. If you read an entire chapter and take a couple notes, you will probably understand what the chapter is about and maybe a few key points that stuck out to you. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to fully understand the little details and steps that are needed to fully understand the entire subject.
Our brains love to learn this way. When we go to the gym to workout a muscle, we don’t work out once and suddenly have Arnold Schwarzenegger muscles and Hercules strength. We need to go to the gym multiple times a week for a long time for our muscle to build that strength.
Your brain is the same way. By introducing a little bit of information each day, you will produce greater results in the long run.
Actionable steps for Incremental Learning:
The first step is to identify what you need to learn and the time frame.
For example, if we are assigned 2 chapters to read in a week, that means we have 6 nights to study.
Now that we know what has to be read and the time frame. We can now develop a incremental strategy for not only reading that material but understanding it!
The second step is to open up your textbook and count the number of subsections included in the 2 chapters. This information can often be found on the first page of a chapter. If it is not, flip through the pages and count the number of Bold subsection headings.
Let’s say the chapters are broken down like this:
Chapter 12 = 4 subsections
Chapter 13 = 8 subsections
Total = 12 subsections
Great! Now we know that we have 12 subsections to read in 6 evening study sessions. Of course, you could attempt to read this the night before in a panic and end up skimming the chapters. Or, you could do the following:
12 subsections / 6 study sessions = 2 subsections per study session.
It’s time to really utilize the incremental learning. Instead of spending a huge duration of time attempting to read it all at once, we’ve now broken it down into shorter portions.
Instead of just skimming it, really take a few minutes to read subsections 1-2 from start to finish. Once you finish, take a piece of paper or a notebook and write down the title of both subsections.
Re-read the subsections and write down the key points and outline the meaning behind that information.
Awesome, you are done for the night! A short, productive and focused study session complete.
Today’s goal is to learn a little bit more than you knew the day before. Not only that, but we want to reinforce what we learned yesterday!
Don’t bother re-reading the first 2 subsections. Instead, take 2-3 minutes to read your notes from the day before.
Once you’ve finished reading your previous days notes, read subsections 3-4.
Just like yesterday, write down the title of both subsections.
Re-read the subsections and write down the key points and outline the meaning behind the information. Remember that understand concepts can be crucial when you write a test!
Close up your book and go do something much more fun! Like play video games or hang with friends.
Repeat the process. Review your previous days notes and study subsections 5-12.
Now, you might be thinking to yourself “why would I study six nights when I could study just once?”.
Well this study method isn’t for the lazy students looking to squeeze by in class. This is for students and professionals who are looking to not only pass a class, but to truly understand a subject and ace the course!
Incremental Learning for Major Projects:
Using incremental learning really started to affect me more when I was working on my dissertation. When you are used to projects being due in a week or month maximum, it’s overwhelming when you eventually get a project that takes 9 months! If you are doing a Master Thesis, it could take years!
This is the one of the best ways to deal with a project of that size.
I once heard an expression; “how do you eat an elephant…One bite at a time.”
The point being that when you have something huge you need to do, the only way to do it is 1 step at a time.
With a big project such as a dissertation. Breaking it into pieces like the textbook example above is just not possible. And doing 15 minutes a day will not be enough. Instead we go back to the concept of being 1% better each day.
Giving an example for this section would be extremely difficult due to each project being unique. However, here’s what you need to remember.
Each day the goal is to be at least 1% better.
There will be days that you spend hours researching and other days writing. However, sometimes you will be very busy and unable to spend hours working on the project. On those days, figure out a way to move your project forward incrementally.
- Edit a paragraph you wrote before.
- Find some useful pictures or graphical information.
- Locate a couple internet sources you previously didn’t have.
- Write down on a piece of paper a few ideas you thought of throughout the day.
- Get a friend to edit what you have so far.
- Print a rough draft that you can review the following day.
The concept works because it will keep the momentum of the project going. Every night you go to sleep, you will know that you made a little bit of progress towards the end goal.
Do you prefer to do more small condensed study sessions or less long dense study sessions for optimal studying?