How often do you struggle to remember or understand what you study? If you are a student or a professional, you have books to read or courses to take. Studying is a part of our lives.
- Do you forget what you read in a few days?
- Do you find yourself reading 10 pages only to realize you understood nothing?
- Do you understand a topic well enough the day you read but gather only bits and parts during the exam?
If you face the same struggles, do not panic or consider yourself inferior. Many people go through these struggles because the human mind tends to forget and get distracted.
Why do you forget what you read
As human beings, we cannot retain every word we hear, every sight we see or every page we read. You will forget most of what you gather from your various senses. If you read a book today, a year later, you cannot recall most of it. You and I go through a forgetting curve, where we naturally forget what we read.
Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve explains how we forget information over time.
Since such studies cannot zero down on exact figures due to the difference in memory by a person, no one can predict your forgetting curve with high precision.
Irrespective of the exact figures, one thing is certain. You will lose information at a rapid pace if you study the incorrect way.
Common study problems
Almost all problems associated with how to study and remember fall under 2 broad buckets
You understand what you studied but you cannot recollect what the material was soon after, even when only a few hours have elapsed.
In other cases, you sometimes understand a topic well but when the time comes to gather it together, you scramble to only find broken pieces of what you once understood well.
In its simple form, you struggle to go past some material because you cannot grasp the information. You read again, but nothing changes. After another attempt, you turn frustrated for not understanding yet. You slam the book closed and watch a Youtube video instead.
In the passive skipping form, you read through the material even when you barely understood what the context was. Pages keep flipping or the video continues playing, but your understanding stopped long ago. After a while when you hit the sweet realization, “Wait a minute, how did I reach here?” You have no choice but to go back and figure out where did your mind stop and resume again.
How to Study and Remember
To learn how to study and remember, follow some of the practices and tactics which aid understanding and recall. Everyone has a different learning technique, so not all these techniques will yield results for you.
Whatever you are learning, having a notepad or a bunch of sheets to write on. I prefer buying a cheaper quality of paper for writing down because I will never read what I wrote down.
Yes, you read that right. You do not need to read what you write, you only have to scribble. After studying a paragraph or two, scribble what you understood on paper. It does not have to be legible or understandable. You are writing for a different purpose.
When you make an attempt to write, your brain has to recollect it for you. What you write and how beautiful it looks does not matter because your brain is regurgitating the information.
What comes out of your fingers holds no value. If you spend time writing slowly sure it adds further value, but let’s agree we do not have the patience or time for that.
Your brain connects and registers the content better when you attempt to write. Writing serves as one of the key tips for how to study and remember better.
2. Draw a picture or a flow or a chart
You might be thinking, “Can I draw any content into a pictorial figure?” I agree you cannot, but you can draw more concepts on paper than you think.
For example, let us say you are taking a course on the different stages of building a blog. You can draw a sequence of things to do as a flowchart.
- Buy a domain
- Start a blog on WordPress
- Buy a theme which fits
- Write 30 articles
- Use captivating titles
- Promote on Pinterest
- Optimize content for SEO
The human mind does not grasp information only in a linear fashion by collecting what you read in your head. Your brain is a connection of billions of neurons. It learns even by what you see. When you are walking down a road and notice a billboard, the image captures your attention first.
You might remember the catchy and persuasive text longer, but your mind deciphers the image first. Your brain needs to process what you read, while it can understand a picture intuitively. No matter how intelligent you are, your mind instinctively understands pictures before text.
3. Visualize in your mind
You can use this method as an alternative to drawing a picture.
You might find your lazy self tempting you to not draw pictures. Well, I suggest you battle it out with the lethargic voice in your head. But on that off day where you are too lazy to even put up a fight, visualize the picture in your head instead of drawing.
Imagine you drawing the picture step by step. Though this works as a substitute, try to use the earliest method of drawing with your read on paper. Do make a habit of using this method daily.
4. Revise as you go
The normal practice of studying involves reading through the whole book and then starting from chapter 1 as a revision. If you do not possess the grasping skills of a whiz kid, when revising you would end up like me feeling, “When did I read this chapter?”.
Your brain has a hard time storing content by itself. You must assist your brain to retain better. One way to achieve that is by revising a chapter as soon as you are done. If you want to notch it up a level, you can even revise a concept as soon as you finish.
When you revise sooner, your brain cements it better.
5. Try to recall before revising
Most people revise by re-reading information. Such a practice can produce a false feeling of knowing what you are reading. If you close the book, you realize that you do not know as much as you think you do.
Try to recall before you revise. You might recall some elements and notice some gaps. When you revise after you recall, you pay more attention to the gaps and the content gets etched into your memory.
6. Teach Yourself
Richard Feynman, the Nobel winning physicist, created a technique of learning better which is now called the Feynman Technique.
Not only is the technique easy to apply but it provides great results too. The process is as simple as it can get. As per the technique, you have to teach what you learn and you can choose your comfortable way to teach. If you find a person next to you whom you can maintain seated, teach the fellow even if he shows no interest in the topic.
Another way of teaching is to pretend an invisible student exists and explain the concept to him. You can stand in front of a mirror and teach yourself too.
7. Use memory kegs
Memory grandmasters use this technique to remember complicated sequences and content. You may not have to remember a deck of 52 cards or a 200 digit number, but you have things to store in your memory too.
For example, you read the book 7 Habits of highly effective people by Stephen Covey and you want to save the 7 items in your head.
You can hold such lists in memory by associating them with some real-life objects.
To begin, use a place you know very well. You can use your own house or workplace or school which you already know inch to inch.
I am taking a house as an example. To start, go through your house in a sequence. You can start with the door, followed by the rack where you place the shoes, the couch, the TV, the coffee table and so on. You must follow the exact sequence in which the objects are arranged in your house. You can choose to clockwise or anti-clockwise whichever you use by instinct.
To remember the 7 habits of effective people, start with your first object, the door. You can imagine yourself proactively cleaning the mat. You now have associated ‘be proactive to the door. Next, visualize keeping your shoes ready for the next day thereby relating ‘begin with the end in mind’ to the shoe rack. Continue doing the same with the other items on the list. Make the visualization as vivid as possible, like cleaning the mat while singing and dancing, juggling the shoes while racking them and more.
Next time if you start from the door of your house, you can recall what you visualized and recollect the 7 habits of effective people.
8. Use the Pomodoro technique
The current world is filled with distractions that compound the problem of understanding and recall. Your phone has a million ways to distract you. A text might pop up, your friend might send a message in the group, you might want to check Instagram or the Youtube video might seem interesting.
Get distracted by any one of these and boom – 15 or more minutes gone into thin air. You expend far more time on such useless activities than you think. You can overcome distractions using the Pomodoro technique.
The technique involves working in bursts of 25 minutes followed by a 5-minute break. The rule you have to follow is, during those 25 minutes, you should not distract yourself or let anyone interrupt you. You focus only on what you are doing keeping all the other distractions at bay. Those are your 25 minutes of utmost focus. Those 25 minutes answer your question on how to study and remember effectively.
After 25 minutes of laser-focused work, you take a break of 5 minutes during which you can do whatever you like. Make sure you stop what you are doing when the clock hits the 5-minute mark.
9. Keep moving
No matter what content you read, you will often come across material you cannot decipher. Sometimes you might get it when you read again and sometimes you have no clue no matter how many times you re-read. In such cases, simply move on further by skipping the difficult part.
You do not have to learn each and everything. I know you are saying, “What if it comes as a question in the exam?” Usually, you do not need to answer every single question from the list of questions. If knowing all the material is a need for what you are studying, you can come back to what you skipped at a later point.
When you try to understand a part that seems hard, you get frustrated. This feeling makes it all the more difficult to grasp the hard content. Either skip it or come back to it when your mind feels calmer.
10. Sleep 7 hours
Are you aware of the magic that happens in your body when you fall asleep? Do not kick yourself if you don’t. Most people are oblivious of the activities their brain carries out after they slip into slumber.
When you gather information through the day using your five senses, your brain stores them all in a part called the hippocampus. If you have to recall the color of the t-shirt your crush wore today, your hippocampus retrieves it for you.
After you fall asleep, during your initial sleep, your brain strips off all the unnecessary information you gathered. A few days later you will no longer remember what outfit your crush wore on every single day. But your brain replays the important information at quarter the speed during your Rapid Eye Movement(REM) sleep, like a movie in slow motion.
Like an action replay, your brain tries various permutations and combinations to associate the new information with the knowledge you have. After the process, you wake up smarter. You must thank your REM sleep for making you intelligent and wise.
Once you wake up, the important information from the previous day moved to the neocortex. The same data is no longer served from the hippocampus.
7 hours of sleep helps your brain complete such activity without any hiccups. If you sleep fewer hours, chances are your brain cannot connect what you read with your prior knowledge. If you do not sleep enough, you will forget what you read. If you have to master the art of how to study and remember, do not forget to sleep.
11. Stay hydrated
Keep drinking some water while you study and during the exam. Your brain consumes about 20-25% of your total energy so supply your body with enough water. Of course, every cell in your body needs water, but your brain takes a bigger beating without water. A recent study in animals has shown that low water can lead to poor brain functioning.
12. Prevent your sugar levels from dipping down
Many of your brain cells need glucose to function best. Your brain cannot store glucose, so you need to add glucose into your body regularly. Most of the food you eat does that.
Do you remember finding it hard to focus while you were hungry? You might consider hunger as the reason but the real reason is the lack of glucose. It hinders your cognition, ability to understand and decision making.
Eating a banana works as the best method to retain glucose. A piece of chocolate can supply glucose too, but for obvious health reasons, banana is a far better choice. Any fruit sugar works as a healthy source of sugar for your body and brain.
You must try to eat a banana during your study hours. Please do not gobble down a dozen. Eat a single banana somewhere halfway between your two meals.
Eating a banana during exams helps too. I understand peeling and eating a banana during exams can seem strange, so you can use dark chocolate instead.
Studying involves more than spending hours holding a book or watching a screen. By understanding how your brain learns, you can do wonders to your knowledge. Apply the above tips and check what yields the best results for you.
Above all, keep learning. Today, tomorrow, day after, and forever.
What I am not:
What I am:
Continuously improving self-learner
Productivity/Time Management Obsessed