What are the best study methods?

Answer by Ahmad Ali:

This is my research on how to study over two years. I succeeded to get a distinction in 8000 students from many colleges. I did not spend more than two months in my college.

There are two important studies worth sharing before I describe my study method. The first study is about memory graph and the second one is about concentration span.

The Human Memory Graph
This study reveals to us that when you read something, your memory of what you read or heard is almost alive.  If we represent this with graph it is horizontally at 100%, and it slowly declines over time. When you review it after one day, memory connections are strengthened. Now its declination is very slow as compared to without review.  This speed decreases with every review of the thing you want to remember. It is explained in the graph below.

Instead of memorizing, try setting a review plan without any tension and be relaxed. Read with concentration, and then leave it. Read again in the evening, then again the next day, and then again the next week. Test yourself on the 15th day, and then review after one month. You'll notice that your memory, of what you heard, read, or listened, will not decline so easy now plus you remember most of it including subtle things related or within the material.

Human Attention Span

As it's clear from this graph, the human attention span is at 30% after 45 minutes. Mostly, that is the length of one class for schools below university level.  In universities it is increased to one hour or more.  You can improve your attention span by increasing the time slowly, but it is better to take a short break (~5 minutes) after about an hour of focused study.  The short break will allow you to regain about 90% of your attention span.

Another important thing regarding memory is reading a topic from many sources. It has two benefits, less boredom and many different aspects of the same scenario. Later one increases latency of information from different areas of mind when required. The more connections your brain makes with the information, the more likely it will stick in your mind.

  • Another important consideration is the productive hours. It may be different for few people but mostly early morning is the most productive time.
  • Remember to keep the room temperature a little warm. It will help in focusing.

After a lot of study about how to study I devised a plan, which was refined over time and according to the results. Now here is a refined plan, in which are inherent many researches and experiences I have come across.

Planning and managing your study

  1. Make a timetable; mine was 11 hours for study. It is first step to success. (I was studying, and interested in it, so I was giving most of my time to studying; you may have less than 11 hours of course. It just shows my dedication towards academics and the dreams I had after graduation. I was in a poor family; I knew that without hard-work, I won’t be able to get along. After getting a position, I was able to continue my study for free. I also received prize money from the government and a special training for more motivation and visits. Yes, I got a Talent Award too.
  2. Humans can concentrate for 40 minutes on a subject, or maximum 1 hour. Do change your study material/subject after every 40 minutes or 1 hour. But later on you can increase this time slowly to 2 hours. I did this.
  3. Start time table by learning new things, after looking at the last day topics. Later chapters in books mostly have references from former ones. Learning new things at start gives you hope and makes you motivated.
  4. Don’t start one subject or module after the other; take a break of 5 to ten minutes. In this time eat some chocolate, fruits and vitamins. Do some sit stands and go out to look in nature and have an analog (natural phenomena) thinking to refresh. This is a right click and refresh for you on your desktop to start another application.
  5. Study each subject three times a day, design time table such that every subject has 3 shifts per day.
  6. Take notes in the first shift, and rehearse them in second shift and so on. Notes should not be exact copy of the book text.
  7. Re-allocate time for your modules in timetable after every, maximum two weeks. Or take your exams after one week and re-allocate based on the exam results.
  8. Exam yourself sometime in the middle of the time table.
  9. Have some extra time to look topics of this day you have studied, at the end of study time table.
  10. Second day, start with looking at the topics of the last day. But never do an exam at the start of study time. Increase difficulty slowly from start to end.
  11. Do some statistics on important and less important subjects or difficult and easy subjects and divide time with statistics methods. For example by first assigning the difficulty level to each subject like 40% and 60% etc.
  12. If studying something which could be easily implemented in home or lab, don’t miss it. I, when studying biology, had tried to produce a new family of a tree though it was just a try and nothing resulted. I have been programming to simulate the physics concepts which helped a lot.

Subject specific study techniques

  1. For math subjects, try to solve a question, if you fail, just do it with your hands by looking at some help book. After you finish copying by hands, you will infer what was missing. This is called learning with hands not mind. This is because some time an answer tells you about the solution in math.
  2. For physics subjects, start with writing the topics equation, prove it on paper same as stated above in (math method), then start with the theory. Attach equation with the topic.
  3. For English, write difficult words on the note book. Learn them first.
  4. For theory subjects, read a lot on the same topic from different sources, read the topic on book, leave it. Now read it on Wikipedia and leave it. Learn it on some other book. This is easy and very useful method. Don't try to learn from your book only this will bore you and you won’t remember well.

Exam Tips

  1. End preparing for exams about one week before. Design your exams timetable so that your intense preparation ends about one week before the first day of paper. This will help in
  2. Tension free preparation. Inside your heart you know I have one week, as a backup.
  3. One week extra preparation. The last EXTRA week is now more valuable than one month. Everything you will do in this week will be extra and very motivational for you.
  4. If there is 2, 3 days break between papers, don't stick with one subject. As mentioned above it kills productive study and focus. Change study module for the sake of attaining mind focus and refreshment, at least.
  5. Review your notes the day before paper. This will give you an overview of all topics plus strengthening the memory connections for those topics.
  6. After paper is over, don’t throw the question paper into dust bin, thinking that it’s gone now. It can help your mind settle down. Read and examine how much you did correctly.
  7. Keep calculating marks you obtained in each paper and adding to total. It will motivate you, like we do in scoring games.
  8. Don’t forget the one and only solution for refreshment and energy of mind, the exercise and healthy foods in exams.

Miscellaneous facts

  1. Don't listen to love music or such type of songs. Listen to some good motivational music like "K'NAAN – WAVIN' FLAG".
  2. Do take some time for spirituality or loneliness, for many reasons it’s important.
  3. Play some sports or exercise, not too much.
  4. Eat different things in daily life and especially in break times.
  5. Listen to news for some time. If learning English, listen to BBC.
  6. Play with children, they are also learning, observe them and their interest.
  7. Do spend some time with family and share your status.
  8. If possible, do have some time to teach someone. It will be best, if you can teach what you are learning yourself.
  9. For your tasks apart from study, make a to-do list. It’s very important to lessen the distraction and burden from your mind.
  10. Understanding the problem, half solves it.
  11. Imagine your success every day, imagine the future. You are investing on your future.
  12. Spread knowledge.

* If you note I have written number 1 for no love music, in the details, I mean we should have zero distraction outside and inside of ourselves to create a creative state of mind, give all your attention to study when you study!
Do one thing at a time. Don’t have another part of your mind allocated for the mobile phone beside, or an open Facebook tab.

Good luck.

What are the best study methods?


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