How to be a better learner
I’m often asked how I can help people pass their exams, and usually by people who have failed the same exam more than once, and who are feeling as though no matter how hard they work none of it makes any difference.
We are all good learners. There’s plenty of evidence for that. So it’s not because we can’t learn that we run into trouble when it comes to taking exams.
But if you have a full-time job, a family, and dare I say it, a life(!) then the chances are, you are already up to your eyes with responsibility and commitment. Finding the time to study is already a tall order, before you throw into the mix that the way you go about it is probably not the most efficient method for how your brain prefers to process, store and retrieve information.
So, to answer the question, how to be a better learner, your results will go through the roof if you do two things.
- Find out how your brain prefers to learn. And
- Make sure you are taking care of the 3 Keys to Learning.
The first part is easy. If you don’t know how, ask me!
The second part, 3 Keys to Learning, is as follows:
Spend enough time with the information for your brain to make a pattern of it and send it to your long-term memory.
I’ve lost count of the people who think that merely reading a textbook means that you will learn its contents. Worse, some trainers still recommend doing exactly that.
What you’ve actually got to do is actively manipulate the information and make it your own. And that takes time.
By manipulating the information, what I mean is making your own revision notes.
That takes effort. The sort of notes that you will make will depend on how your brain prefers to handle information, but you need to do something with it.
Don’t shoot yourself in the foot by using a computer for this. Research tells us that the effort and coordination between the brain and the hand doing the writing creates much stronger connections between the neurons creating the memory.
Everyone knows you have to write notes, don’t they?
Hmmm… Maybe not. For some people, it’s not written notes at all that they need to be making. If you’re one of those people you’re on a hiding to nothing trying to learn the ‘conventional’ way.
OK, so now you have the information in your head, how are you going to keep it there?
Your very clever brain will attempt to forget what you’ve just learnt! all It really cares about is keeping you out of danger, which means letting go of old information in favour of the new, on the basis that new information is more likely keep you alive.
Very useful! In some circumstances! Not so much when you are trying to learn for an exam!
So you have to let your unconscious mind know that this information is important, and you do that by using it regularly.
You know how to tie your shoelaces, don’t you? You learned how to do that some considerable time ago, right? But you still have those connections in your brain. You don’t have to keep relearning that skill. and of course, (I know you’re there ahead of me) you’ve tied your shoelaces so many times over the years you can do it now as easily as falling off a log.
That’s how your brain works, naturally. So to make the most of that innate skill, you need to revisit the information you’ve just learnt on a regular basis, just like you have done with those shoelaces.
And that will keep the information in your head.
But don’t panic! as long as you follow the Learning Cycle you don’t have to plough through the same stuff over and over again. Instead, there will be plenty of time and it is completely doable.
Yes, by you!
And that is how to be a better learner!