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It is often unhelpful to hear that the perfect routine is the one you can stick to to help you reach your goals. As everyone is different in personality, constraints, and preferences, the ideal method will differ.
Instead of outlining an exact routine, look at the essential parts of a routine, and season them as you desire.
Previously, I explained the difference between learning bounded and unbounded subjects . School is bounded. Life is unbounded. The difference is critical.
In today’s lesson, I’d like to shift from search strategies to routines. What’s the best routine for studying?
The correct answer is that the perfect routine is one you can stick to and will let you reach your goals. Everyone has different personalities, constraints and preferences—so the perfect routine will be different.
That’s true, but it’s also unhelpful. Obviously some routines are better than others, even if we’re all unique.
Instead of specifying an exact routine—let’s look at the ingredients any such routine would have. Get the essential recipe right and the spices are up to you.
There are five main ingredients to include in any studying schedule you could dream up:
There are few subjects where omitting one of these is safe. Conversely, get all five, and the rest is mostly fine-tuning. Let’s look at each:
To perfect your studying routine, look at your current routine, and see what's missing. For example:
Retrieval means deliberately dredging up knowledge from your mind—not just passively exposing yourself to it.
Countless studies show retrieval practice works better than passive review . If you’re going to use the knowledge in a specific place, practice in that place. Do practice tests, work on real problems and apply it.
Spacing is the idea of repeated reviews, spread out in time . It’s one of the most robust effects in cognitive psychology, benefiting many subjects.
The mechanism is less clear. Consolidation via deep sleep may play a role. Other theories suggest activating knowledge from different prior contexts makes more robust cues for retrieval (e.g. studying it from both your class and from home, gives two starting points to recall a fact.)
Regardless of how it works, its effectiveness is certain. A good routine needs to cover old knowledge along with new.
The goal of learning is for things to make sense. If something feels like an arbitrary collection of facts, that’s a sign you aren’t investing in understanding it.
Failures to understand can be fixed. The Feynman Technique remains my most popular studying advice. The method is simple: explain the confusing idea to yourself, as if you were teaching it. When you get stuck, find a textbook or teacher and you can now ask a much more specific question.
Not all understanding needs formal methods. With understanding as a goal, you change how you learn. The question stops being, “How do I cram all of this into my head?” and becomes, “How do I make all of this obvious?”
Feedback is obviously useful. But there are some common misconceptions.
The first is that feedback has to come from people. This is false. “Did that work?” can often be answered directly from the environment. Human feedback can introduce biases, delays and social difficulties, so it isn’t always ideal.
Here’s your homework for today:
Bookworms almost never miss #1 (instruction), but often miss #2 (retrieval). Practitioners get #3 (spacing) and #5 (feedback) for free, but may miss out on #1. A lot of improvements to your routine can come from simply hitting all five.
That’s it for today’s lesson. On Monday, July 6th, I’m going to be reopening Rapid Learner , my six-week learning course. This course covers all of these ingredients in more depth, along with other strategies for improving how you learn.
SIMILAR ARTICLES & IDEAS:
Studying time is more efficient if it is spread out over many sessions throughout the semester, with a little extra right before the exam.
Cover each piece of info five times from when you fi...
Testing yourself, so you have to retrieve the information from memory, works much better than repeatedly reviewing the information, or creating a concept map (mind map).
After the first time learning the material, spend the subsequent studying to recalling the information, solving a problem or explaining the idea without glancing at the source.
When learning any new topic efficiently, we need to learn the most useful, basic and broadly applicable ideas first.
After that, we can move onto the obscure, advanced or specialized.
The learning space for an academic subject is composed of papers, books, and courses, linked via citations.
Practice loops are useful as a concept to think about learning any skill. A practice loop is an activity or group of activities you repeat over and over again while learning somet...
Many loops aren’t straightforward repetitions. You may never write the same essay twice. The loop isn't writing a particular essay, but the overall process for writing essays.
In the same way, each thing you learn may have more than one loop. Drills are smaller loops to focus on smaller parts of the bigger loop.
Step one involves figuring out what your loops are. These are the activities you repeat over and over when learning something.
Next, analyze the loop for different parts to see whether you can make improvements. It will result in faster learning.