I vividly remember the days in college that involved cramming for exams. There was one time a couple of friends and I stayed up memorizing responses for our final exam until 4:00 am, only 5 hours before the test.
My brain was so full of well-crafted essay responses that I avoided having any conversations until the exam. As soon as it began, I poured out all of the information onto the paper. To my avail, I aced the exam. But guess how much of that information I was able to recall after one day had passed?
You guessed it. Zilch.
Because it wasn’t a concern of mine to remember all that information on a topic I had little interest in, it wasn’t really an issue.
But now that I’m out of college and beginning my Certified Transformational Nutrition Coach (CTNC) program, it was time for me to learn the right ways to study in order to comprehend the material I’m passionate about learning. But how?
Little did I know that with some simple learning and comprehension tips, I could have easily saved myself and my friends from the stress of pulling all-nighters in college only to forget the information.
Over the past year, I have discovered and test various learning and comprehension techniques from podcasts, speed reading courses, and books that have vastly improved the way I learn and process information.
In today’s article, you’ll discover four ways to boost learning and comprehension in less time and without losing the enjoyment of learning.
1. MUSIC – WHAT ARE YOU LISTENING TO?
If you’re someone like me who loves to sing along with rap or pop music, this might be a tough exercise, but cut out the music with lyrics. It’s great stuff, don’t get me wrong, but there’s a time and place for everything.
Trust me, you’ll struggle to retain quality information about the microbiome when you have Taylor Swift playing in the background.
In fact, The University of Stanford has multiple studies showing the effects of music on the brain. It turns out, “the human brain listens to song lyrics with same part that does word processing, which is the same part that is supposedly being employed for studying.”
However, instrumental music is processed on the other side of the brain that processes language. Sorry Taylor, but “we are never ever getting back together” while I am studying (intensely).
While studying and writing, here are 3 of my favorite non-lyrical genres to listen to that get me into study mode:
It is at 60 BPM and harmonizes with your resting heart rate. It also puts your brainwaves in an alpha state so you are more relaxed and aware.
I did not find any studies on the effect of Disney instrumentals on studying; however, combined with the effects of classical music on the brain, I have found Disney music to be very inspiring emotionally.
There’s a lot of noise about binaural beats these days, and one of the reasons it has many benefits is because of the frequency of brain waves it can induce.
Similar to baroque music, binaural beats create alpha brain frequencies that are correlated with relaxed but alert states of mind. Just like brainwaves, binaural beats vary depending on purpose.
For example, if an audio wave of 400 Hz is presented in your left ear while an audio wave of 410 Hz is presented in your right ear, the difference between those two waves (10Hz) is the frequency of the binaural beat.
Thus, the brain will begin to function with the 10 Hz, which is an alpha brainwave frequency.
2. TIMING – ELIMINATE DISTRACTIONS AND BOOST FOCUS
Earlier, I mentioned how my friends and I would cram for days (or hours) before tests. While timing has many effects on focus and productivity, it can also be used to boost comprehension. When it comes to timing, short intervals combined with study breaks improve memory and focus.
Do you ever get to a point where you lose your focus on studying? Turns out attention and retention diminish after 25-30 minutes. This means there must be some technique that compliments this idea…
THE POMODORO TECHNIQUE
When studying or taking in new information, break down these sessions into 25-minute intervals with 5-minute breaks. During those 5 minutes, don’t check your phone. Instead, move around, do some squats or jumping jacks, drink water, and breathe.
When taking an extended break, set a time limit for other things (i.e. distractions – email, social media, etc.)
I have noticed I spend less time on them when I time myself.
Taking breaks capitalizes on two important memory principles: primacy and recency. With learning new information, primacy says we remember things at the beginning, and recency says we remember things at the end.
So, for instance, if you study for hours straight (like I used to), it could really hinder what is comprehended.
Primacy and recency come in handy because the more breaks you take, the more beginnings and ends you have as well. Spacing out your learning also helps translate the information from short term to long term memory.
Additionally, using a structured approach to studying helps quiet your inner critic because you’re baby-stepping along. The 5-minute breaks provide a light at the end of each tunnel.
3. IMAGES ENHANCE ACTIVE RECALL
In a 2011 TED talk, Sunni Brown discussed how sketching and doodling improve our comprehension and creative thinking. Studies show that “people who doodle when they’re exposed to verbal information retain more of that information by 29%.”
This is commonly referred to as distracting, how could that be? Well, when it comes to learning there are four ways learners take in information: visual, auditory, reading and writing, and kinesthetic.
In order to really understand the material or convert it to long term memory, “we have to engage at least 2 modalities, or we have to engage one of those modalities with an emotional experience.”
What’s great about doodling is that it engages ALL FOUR modalities simultaneously with the possibility of an emotional experience.
It might take some additional time up front to draw a picture, but the payoff can result in greater comprehension and understanding.
4. TALK IT OUT
For some, this might be scary to do or seem like a waste of time, but consider these three quotes when it comes to talking out information:
“When you have to teach something, you get to learn it twice.” Jim Kwik
“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” Albert Einstein
“If you can’t explain it to someone, it’s not wired in your brain.” Joe Dispenza
When you teach what you learn to someone, you really have to personalize the information and convey it in a comprehensible manner.
Additionally, when you talk things through with someone, you tend to find gaps in your own understanding, which creates more questions. And more questions lead to more answers.
Funny enough, in Jim Kwik’s speed reading course he spoke about a verbalizing hierarchy. Talking to a human would be the best, but a learner could even talk to a dog, plant, or an inanimate object to help with comprehension.
And if you’re feeling extra bold, you can even share what you learned on your Instagram, Snapchat, or Facebook stories.
If simultaneously implementing all of these learning tools seems like a lot, just know you don’t necessarily need to do all of them. Think of these tips as some tools to keep in your learning toolbox.
There are many additional learning hacks such as smell which is connected to memory, environment, and may help you recall information.
Some days you might not have your rosemary aromatherapy diffuser, other days you might not have a study buddy, and then there are days you might not have either, so having options guarantees you always have a tool in your back pocket to learn and comprehend at your best.
For more learning hacks, check out these 10 Tools To Improve Your Memory Today!