Study smarter – not longer

Three posts in two weeks my lord! What will happen next? Will Omar actively use Facebook or even post an article – only time will tell 🙂 Now onto the topic at hand. I saw this post in LifeHacker titled “Study Less, Study Smart”: The Best Ways to Retain More in Less Time by Patrick Allan.

The article has a great video from Dr. Marty Lobdell from Pierce College where he gives compelling evidence to back up these tips, so this is not just a this worked for me scenario. Then I’ll talk about some tech tools to help you follow through with these tips.

  • Study in chunked sessions
  • Have a dedicated space
  • Recognition vs Recollection
  • Take good notes
  • Can you teach it?
  • Read effectively – not quickly

Now let me go into these in a little more detail.

Study in chunked sessions

Dr. Lobdell tells us to study but when you feel your mind starting to wander or slide, then take a break. His recommended time is 25 minutes study, 5 minute break. Now, during the break do something you enjoy for about 5 minutes, it can be anything but it should be something you enjoy.

Now here is the problem I’ve run into. Sometimes, I’ll be working on something and lose track of time so how can you keep track of that? Simple download a pomodoro timer program. You can find some free ones or very inexpensive ones for your computer or smart phone. I use Tomighty on my Mac. It’s free and works very well. There are plenty of others out there for all platforms including Android, iOS and Windows phone so you shouldn’t have trouble finding one.

Dr. Lobdell further says that this technique is a type of training that will eventually allow you to study for even longer sessions between breaks. As our students get older – the material gets more difficult and the volume of material certainly increases. This technique will greatly help you no matter what you’re studying.

It also goes without saying that those 25 minutes should be uninterrupted, so silence your phone or even switch it off. Make sure that distraction is kept in check for those dedicated times of study.

Have a dedicated space to study

Dr. Lobdell says that we unconsciously associate function to certain areas. For example the bedroom is to sleep or relax. That is its function and if you have a crap ton of studying to do that is probably where you don’t want to be. Too many distractions and comforts.

Of course, as a middle or high school student you may not have as many choices as a university student, so here is his suggestion. Get a lamp. I know it sounds a little silly but hear me out. Get a small lamp and a desk (which hopefully most students have). The lamp is used only to study – nothing else. So when the light is on, you’re studying. When the light is off, you’re just hanging out. Then apply the chunking technique mentioned above. This is essentially you carving a dedicated study session

The more you do this technique, the better trained you will become and the faster you can get “in the groove.”

Whatever your space is, make it more appropriate for studying. If you study at the kitchen table, clear it off. Take away all the food or any food cues. Are you studying in the living room – take the batteries out of the remote. If you are studying in a place that gets a lot of people coming by maybe think about changing locations to give yourself a place where you won’t be interrupted or distracted.

Recognition vs Recollection

There is a lot in this section here. Dr. Lobdell starts talking about facts vs. concepts. He said a lot of teachers value concepts more than the facts (especially as you get older). That’s not to say facts are not important but facts that aren’t attached to a concept are basically useless. For example, Dr Lobdell splits the class into two. One half is instructed to count the number of vowels in a list of words. The other half is said to rank the words on a scale of one to five of their importance if you were stranded on a desert island. Then he asks the groups of people to write down all the words they remember.

The group counting the vowels on average could remember only five words. The other group was able to do about ten. – nearly double. Cool huh? The words by themselves have no meaning, but by associating the words with a scenario gives it meaning, therefore it is easier for people to remember them.

Now let’s get knee deep into recognition or recollection. For example, re-read a magazine that you haven’t read in a while. Everything feels familiar as if you remember it. Not true, can you predict what is on the next page? Can you predict the pictures or advertisement? Probably not. That is the difference between remembering and recognition.

What you need to be able to do is restate in your own words what you’ve just studied. Then you know. Another thing that helps in a big way is to get proper sleep.

The last thing he mentions is to have a study group. Yep, strength in numbers or misery loves company. Whatever the catch phrase, more people studying together tend to have better success on tests and assessments.

Taking proper notes

Taking notes is vital for success. I don’t think I need to talk to you about this, but the real important part of the process is to revisit those notes. What I like to do is to take notes by hand in a class or meeting and then revisit them and type them in Evernote.

One of the best professors I ever had told me this technique as a freshmen in university. I blew it off at the time thinking I could do just fine on my own. Then one day, while working on a big presentation that needed to accompany a research project I was having difficulties distilling the info. So I gathered up all my note and research and then started retyping it. Sure enough within an hour I had a good idea of how to compress all this information into a coherent presentation. It didn’t just work, it worked great.

Can you teach it

Being able to take a concept and to then explain it to another person helps you internalize it and better understand it. This goes back to recognizing vs recognition. This also links back to study groups.

If you don’t have someone to “teach” – that’s cool. Just do it in the mirror or to an empty chair. If you’re alone who is going to catch you? A lot of people I know do this and it works. It helps them visualize and internalize what it is they are working on.

Effective reading

S – survey – Go through each chapter and get a feel for it
Q – question – As you survey you should ask some basic questions
R – read – Read the sections you need to review
R – recite – Recite it to better internalize it
R – review – This should be done before the assessment, project or presentation. Think back to the advice of good note taking.

Otherwise know as SQ3R.

Dr. Lobdell’s last advice is to use mnemonics to remember straight up facts.

So be sure to use these tips yourself but at the very least pass them onto your students so they can have the tools to better prepare themselves for their academic and post academic careers.

iPhone app of the week – Catch


Are you a teacher or student that needs a little help organizing? Do you need something that will let you just take a few notes (audio, typed, image) and then help you organize it? I encourage you to try out Catch. It is a very streamlined app that makes creating and organizing notes, not just easy, but fast! That last part is what makes this app stand out in my opinion. It has a unique interface that allows you to create any type of note, reminder, to do task, etc. with just two clicks. Now that is what I call handy. While I was really impressed with it, an app like this is not that powerful if it doesn’t have some sort of desktop counterpart. The people of Catch certainly didn’t ignore this either by adding extensions to Chrome, Firefox and Internet Explorer (sorry Safari users) so you can add notes directly from web pages. They also have a web interface so you can peruse your notes, organize them and stay up to date even if you’re phone is not handy. You can create a Catch account or sign in with your Facebook or Google Account credentials. Check out the app for free here and for Android here.

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Taking notes on your computer?

Try these apps


When I was in school we had to walk across three continents to get to school, make our own textbooks and construct our own environmentally friendly schools. Oh yeah, I also had to learn to take notes. This skill has served me well and over the course of my lifetime my skills have evolved but my choice of median has not. Every time I head to a meeting or workshop, I reach for my trusty notebook and pen/pencil. That’s my preference of course, but there are plenty of people out there who reach for their laptop or iPad. I’ve tried them, but it’s just not for me.

However, if that’s your preference, I’ve compiled a quick list of note taking applications that you should check out. I’ve used all of them and can recommend that they all work pretty well. This is by no means a definitive list but it’s a good place to start. I had two requirements for this list: it had to be free and it has to be simple. Read on past the break to see my choices and don’t forget to add your own choices in the comments. We love to hear what you have to say.

Continue reading “Taking notes on your computer?”