The human brain learns all information in the same way. This learning process has been scientifically researched, so we know which method is best for humans to learn. In this article, I will introduce you to my learning system and its application in everyday life based on this research.
I will mainly refer to everyday university life and my studies. However, my system can just as easily be applied to school or everyday work – or to a project you want to study for in your spare time.
Before I get into the details of my learning system, there are some basics that need to be clarified. The best system is useless if you don't implement these five principles of learning.
- Everyone learns better in a different environment.
- You only learn something if you are focused on the material and not distracted by other things.
- It is best to learn alone. While working with other people is useful and helpful in understanding things, it is best to learn the concepts you already understand on your own if possible.
- Each person has their own pace of learning. Don't despair if those around you learn something faster than you. How fast you learn has nothing to do with how intelligent you are (or vice versa).
- You can only reliably learn a certain amount of information per day. That's why you should take regular breaks.
No system in the world will solve your learning problems unless you first internalize these principles.
While working through the learning material, you should take notes. It is important to use your own wording and to really understand what you are writing down. If you don't understand something right away, you should ask questions, consult other resources, or ask for help.
This applies to all learning materials: books, videos, lectures, websites, and so on. If you don't take notes on a resource, you will forget the information sooner or later. I usually write my notes by hand first and transfer them to the computer later, revising and correcting as needed.
How detailed the notes are depends on your personal attitude. The notes should be long enough that you can renew your understanding of the subject months later based solely on the notes. So, especially in new topics, the notes are longer especially in the beginning.
I write down my notes in keyword form. For this, I use headings with bullet point lists underneath. I also mark the most important partial information in yellow. I include illustrations and graphics if they improve or accelerate the understanding of the topic (for example, if they can replace a cumbersome written explanation).
With my notes, immediately after I have completed them, I create flashcards. I write down a question for each card, which then has part of my note as an answer. So, I don't rephrase the note, but I divide it into flashcards and think of questions for them. These questions are usually fairly simple (e.g., “What is the definition of X?” or “What distinguishes Y from Z?”) and the answers are copied from my notes.
To create my flashcards, I use the program “Anki.”
Anki has the advantage that it is not only suitable for creating flashcards, but also for learning. When you have answered a flashcard, you have to indicate how easy it was for you. Based on this, Anki calculates when to show you the flashcard again (the harder it was for you to answer, the sooner Anki will repeat the flashcard).
This system implements the principles of Active Recall and Spaced Repetition, which are considered the most effective learning methods. The former describes that you actively recall what you have learned by testing yourself with questions and the latter that you repeat this recall over a longer period of time in individual intervals.
For the system to work, it is essential to learn flashcards every day. In my everyday life this means that I usually learn or repeat between 5-30 flashcards per day. In return, I save a large part of the study time for the exams at the end of the semester.
Application and Exam Preparation
For active exam preparation, after I have created my notes semester-accompanying and converted them into flashcards, I don't need to do much. I also study the flashcards during the semester, so I greatly reduce the intervals of the flashcards two to three weeks before the exams. My goal is to go through the cards completely about three to five times during this preparation period. I mark difficult cards so that I can study them separately.
In addition, I go through practice exercises, test exams, and memory logs of old exams in parallel with my own flashcards. From these, I create new flashcards that I integrate into my workflow.
This system makes it easy for me to prepare for exams. By splitting the learning over the semester, it saves a lot of time and nerves before the exam period.
Of course, it takes more effort to stick with this system than to simply memorize everything just before the exam – but thanks to my learning method, I don't forget the content (as quickly) and thus benefit in the long run.