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Learning to Learn

Wed 31 Jan 2018


Studying is a skill that can be learned and needs to be taught. The fact that you have made it this far in the university attests to the fact that you are an excellent student. But some excellent students come to the university and record about four trails in a semester. Why does this happen? Do you think it’s because they don’t learn? No, some do learn about 8 hours a day whiles others study throughout the entire night. But still this doesn’t reflect in their grades or their academic intellect. This piece of writing is about learning how to learn effectively – critical to academic performance. It highlights some proven effective techniques that when put to practice will improve long-term retention of knowledge. This can be helpful to students, lecturers and academic advisors. Techniques learned can be useful in preparation for quizzes, final examinations, comprehensive exams, etc.

Distributed Learning Practice – the act of studying in small blocks of time spread over a certain period of time interval has been proven to be the best method of learning and retaining what you have studied. 

Basic Rules for Distributed Learning Practice

  • Keep each study session to a maximum of 1.5 hours
  • Take a 15 minutes break between sessions. You can go for a walk and get a fresh air.
  • Stick to the plan for a week, and then adjust if needed
  • Don’t study on Friday evenings, Saturday or Sunday mornings (let them be your leisure periods)
  • Don’t let homework distract you from your study sessions
  • Plan for homework separately. You can use free slots during the day.

Preparing your study plan

In preparing your study plan, list all courses you need to study e.g A, B, C. Decide which course requires more time and which less. Assuming A requires most time and C the least time, assign ratios of 3:2:1 to the three courses. Meaning A requires 3 times as much times as C, and B requires twice as much time as C. Make for you an inventory of study slots that you have for the week. Each slot is 1.5 hours with a 15 minute break. 3 study slots each day; 7pm-8.30pm, 8.45pm-10.15pm-10.30-12am from Monday to Thursday will give a total of 12 slots.

During weekends, you can begin studies at 1pm and end at 6pm. Then you continue after supper at 8pm and end at 11.15pm. On Sundays you can repeat that pattern. You will have a total of 22 slots in a week. Now you have to distribute 22 slots in proportion to required time for the 3 courses.

In our case for course A; 3/6 x 22= 11 slots. For course B; 2/6 x 22 = 7 and 4 slots for course C. You can make adjustments like 10 for A, 8 for B and 4 for C. Be sure to spread out courses and avoid doing back to back studying of the same course.

Carl's study plan

Carl can have this study plan: Monday – A, B, A; Tuesday – C, B, A; Wednesday – A, B, A; Thursday – C, B, A; Saturday – C, B, A; B, A; Sunday – B, C, A; B, A. [10 A, 8 B, 4 C]. Be sure to know what to study for each session. Be specific e.g. topic, chapter #, or paper to read, etc. Try it for a week. Stick to your plan religiously and be disciplined. And when it’s time for break, really take a break. Doing it for a week will give you a great sense of satisfaction and achievement. Reward yourself on Friday nights, play games, watch movies and sleep. If it’s necessary you need more time slots before exams, you can make use of the mornings on the weekends. Do well to review the same topics/chapters sometime later to help retention. Remember you need to make some sacrifices! Know that underlining and rereading, two methods that many students use, are ineffective and can be time-consuming.

I hope this piece helps you in your studies.

Reference: Making a Study Plan and Effective Study Techniques (Learning how to learn) by Dr. Leonard M. Lye, PEng, FCSCE, FEC, FCAE, Professor of Civil Engineering, Associate Dean (Graduate Studies)