10 rules of Good Studying (plagiarised and adapted from Barbara Oakley PhD)

I was lucky enough to hear Dr Oakley speak at the #TLAB15 conference in March.  She has written extensively about the neural processes involved in good learning and this list of 10 points is an abridged and adapted excerpt from her book “A Mind for Numbers: How to Excel in Math and Science (Even if you Flunked Algebra)

1. Use recall.  Read a page, look away and recall all the main ideas.  Highlight very little, check your recall frequently in different places and at different times.  An ability to recall – to generate the ideas from inside yourself – is one of the key indicators of good learning.

2. Test yourself. On everything. All the time. Flash cards are your friend.


3. Chunk your problems.  Chunking is understanding and practising a solution so that it can come to mind in a single step.  After you solve a problem, rehearse it.  Pretend its a song and learn to play it over and over again in your mind so that the information combines into one smooth chunk you can pull up whenever you want.

4. Space your repetition. Spread out your learning in any subject a little every day, just like an athlete.  Little and often is the way to deep and full understanding.

5. Alternate different problem-solving techniques during your revision.  Never practice learning a particular topic for too long.  Mix it up and work on different kinds of problems.  Handwrite a problem/question on one side of a flash card and the solutions on the other.  Go through tests and assignments, looking at errors and checking why you made them.

6. Take breaks. Some Biology topics are difficult to understand and few people will get them first time.  If it doesn’t make sense first time, don’t worry, take a break, work on something different and come back to it.  Your mind is very powerful and can work on problems in the background even when your focus is elsewhere.  This is also why little and often is such a good rule for learning.

7. Use simple analogies.  If a concept is difficult, think to yourself – “how can I explain this so a 10 year old could understand it?”  Using analogies really helps.  Don’t just think the analogy, say it out aloud and write it down.


8. Focus. Turn off all beeps and alarms on your phone and computer and set a timer for 25 minutes.  Focus intently for the 25 minutes and try to work as diligently as you can.  When the timer goes off give yourself a small, fun reward.  Chocolate works well for me…..

9. Eat your frogs first.  Do the hardest thing early in the day when you are fresh.


10.  Make a mental contrast.  Imagine where you’ve come from and contrast that with the dream of where your studies are going to take you.  Post a picture or words in your workspace to remind yourself of your dream.  Look at this when you find motivation flagging.

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