Learn how to study effectively AND remember information longer

Writing helps you remember things you studyCredit: Flickr: SterlicTaking tests is not fun for anyone, but the worst part is studying for them. 

This is especially true when you take tests on information that is boring to you or is highly technical.

 Who wants to waste time studying? Believe it or not, there is a proper way to study.  Learning how to study effectively will not only save you time, but prevent you from having to study the same information multiple times.  In this article I'm going to cover 4 steps to make it faster AND help you remember it longer.

Whether you are studying for a test in high school, or figuring out how to study for exams in college or a new job, these tips offer a process to make it easier.

Step #1 - Rewrite your notes by hand as if you were explaining the topic to a middle school student.

There are two reasons to do this:

  • The best way to learn something is to teach it to someone else.  If you can put the information in your own words, you'll remember it better
  • Writing things by hand makes you remember them longer.  In a study published at the end of 2010[1916], researchers showed a significant difference in the ability to recall information that you write by hand as opposed to typing it up.

If you don't have notes, rewrite the study guide or the key paragraphs of a textbook instead.  The key is to write out the information you need to learn in your own words. 

Example for Step #1

Let's say I need to learn about the human immune system. I'm going to pretend that I'm explaining it to my nephew who is 10 years old.  Here's an example of how I would write it out in my notebook:

The immune system is what keeps you healthy.  Your immune system is made up of a bunch of cells and proteins that work to get rid of germs that have invaded your body.

The immune system is really two different systems that work together. One you're born with and one that develops as you grow up.  The one you're born with is called the innate system, and the one you grow into is called the adaptive system.  Think of it like how you know how to cry when you're born, but you have to learn to talk.

Let's say you've got a splinter in your finger and it gets invaded with a germ bacteria. The innate system, the one you're born with, starts up first.  The innate system tries to get rid of the invaders by eating the germs or killing them outright.  The cells that eat the germs are called macrophages, and the ones that kill them are called natural killer cells.

Sometimes the germs are too strong for the innate system.  For example many viruses are hard to fight.  That's when you need the adaptive system, which learns how to beat the invaders by targeting their special weaknesses.

Helpers cells, called T-cells find the germs and tattle to the B Cells. Then, the B cells will make a special protein called an antibody, to fight it.  The antibody will only work to destroy that particular  germ virus. There is a different antibody to kill every germ virus you get.

Step #2 - Rewrite it again, summarizing what you wrote.

I know.  You're saying, "what? write it again?"  Yep.  But this time it will be just be 4-5 sentences. 

Here's our example using the immune system:

  • The immune system keeps us healthy by getting rid of germs
  • The innate and the adaptive are the two parts of the immune system
  • The innate system responds first and tries to eat up or kill the germs by poking holes in them using macrophages and natural killer cells
  • The adaptive system works using T cells and B cells to make antibodies that kill the germs

Step #3 - Rewrite it once more time, using keywords/phrases only

Just like a few notes of a song can make you remember all the words to it, so can memorizing a few key phrases.  If I start singing the song "A-B-C-D..." you can't help but to sing the rest in your head.  Even if it's just the "E-F-G" part!

Here's our example in practice:

  • healthy from germs
  • innate and adaptive
  • first is macrophage and NK cells
  • then T cells, B cells,  & antibodies

Now, when you just read those keywords or phrases, you still remember the big long paragraph you wrote in step 1.  The reason you remember it is because you wrote it out by hand, and that process of writing stores it in your brain better than anything else you can do.

Step #4 - Use it or Lose It

The absolute best way to keep remembering something is to use it everyday.  Unfortunately, that is not easy to do.  I mean, who's going to ask me to describe how the immune system works everyday?

So here's what you do: make a quick worksheet.

Here's the worksheet I would make for the immune system:

  1. The function of the immune system is to ______________.
  2. There are _____ parts of the immune system.
  3. The part of the immune system you are born with is called ____________.
  4. The other part of the immune system that grows with you is called __________.
  5. Cells that eat invaders are called ___________.
  6. Cells that can kill invaders are called ____________.
  7. When an invader is strong, helper cells, called ___________ tell the other kind of cell, called _____________, to make a special protein called an ____________that kills the invaders.

If you fill out this quick worksheet once or twice a day until your test day, you will easily be able to recall the information!

As a quick recap: writing out information in your own words, and then continuing to simplify it into keywords or phrases helps your brain to learn and keep information. 

Following it up with a little repetition until your test day will help you to rapidly recall the necessary information.

Writing helps you remember things you study
Credit: Flickr: Sterlic