Olympian Study Techniques

Another great idea from Phil Chambers

In honour of the 5 Olympic Rings, this month I decided to share my own 5 rings (or letter O’s) to help you study or assimilate information faster.

Objectives

As Stephen Covey said, “Begin with the end in Mind”.

Before tackling the book it is important to set your objectives and define goals. Break your goals into smaller aims. How long do you want to work for per session and how much do you want to cover? Ask yourself why are you reading the book? What specific questions do you want to answer?
Asking questions before you begin enables your subconscious to go to work as soon as you open the book. You will be on the lookout for particular facts and will be more likely to spot relevant information. Often the answers will seem to leap out at you. Spend five minutes jotting down what you already know about the subject. This gets you in the right state of mind to engage with the book, boosts concentration and means that you will lay a firm foundation to build upon. Connecting new and existing knowledge is far more effective than trying to acquire information in isolation.

Overview

Go through the whole book very quickly. Pay particular attention to summaries, conclusions, illustrations, diagrams, graphs and headings. Look at the contents page and index. You may want to insert strips of paper to act as bookmarks so you can quickly return to points of interest. The aim of this step is to familiarise yourself with that layout and rough content of the book. Imagine you are attempting to complete a jigsaw puzzle. This part is analogous to studying the picture on the
front of the box and spreading out the pieces.

Obtain information and answers

‘Skim and dip’ through the book. Don’t be tempted to dwell to long on any one section. Make notes as you read (Building up a Mind Map is a good tool for this).  Be selective in your reading. Remember your questions. Most information tends to be concentrated at the beginning and end of chapters so pay particular attention to these. In the early days of the internet when the web was referred to as the ‘World Wide Wait’, images were often shown as progressive JPEG files. You started with a very blocky image that gradually became clearer as more data was downloaded. The process of reading works in exactly the same way. You start with a vague picture and refine it bit by bit as you assimilate information.

Omit difficult bits

If there are parts of the text that you struggle with, just jump over them and continue onwards. The more context you have the easier these parts will become. Getting bogged down in detail does not serve any useful purpose. Returning to our jigsaw analogy the more pieces you put in place, the
easier it is to see where the remaining parts fit.

Outcome

The final stage is to tie things together. Return to noteworthy parts of the text, fill in any gaps and answer your questions. If you want to retain what you have learned from the book, especially if you are studying for an exam, you need to review. Take a 10 minute break after finishing your notes then re-read them. This initial reinforcement is vital to maintain recall. Schedule time in your diary to review your notes or Mind Maps: Review for a second time the following day, one week later, after one month and finally after three months. These five reviews will be enough to transfer the information to long term memory. Remember to celebrate. This may sound frivolous but it is very important. It associates study with reward and motivates you next time you have a similar situation. The whole time you are enjoying yourself your sub-conscious is assimilating, integrating and interpreting what you have been learned so that it is embedded at a deeper level.

Next time you have to study a book, think of the Olympics and follow the five rings.

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