In this second installment of Brain Rules, I’ll introduce 6 additional brain rules to leverage in understanding the ways we think, learn and retain new information. Hopefully, you can incorporate some of these into your routine to help you study more efficiently and effectively.
Despite the proliferation of technology in our lives; tools and resources, to help us multi-task for school and work, the human brain can only focus on one thing at a time. Therefore, it’s imperative to find a nice quiet place to study and focus on the task at hand. Sure, you can listen to some music on your earbuds if that helps you tune out the world around you, but you should not be simultaneously texting your friends or surfing-the-web.
When we are learning new information in a course lecture or a presentation, most audiences check out after 10 minutes. Therefore, the speaker must know how to engage their audience through anecdotes and a colorful delivery. We can put these tools to use when studying as well. If we simply read our textbook for hours in preparation for an exam, it probably won't hold our attention either. After reading a chapter in your book, take a quick break to watch a video corresponding to the subject matter. You can find these tools via great sites like Khan Academy or Crash Course videos cover material from complex mathematics to chemistry and even US History. This way, you are more likely to pay attention and retain the material.
The reason that we are more likely to retain information that keeps our attention is that it usually stimulates more than one of our senses. Therefore, when we enhance our study sessions beyond reading and taking notes, we are practicing sensory integration by stimulating more of our senses at once. Humans' senses evolved overtime to work together. For instance, our vision influences our hearing, so when we see something and hear it these two senses work in tandem to better cement a memory.
How can you incorporate sensory integration into your study skills? Try to infuse your learning process with as many senses as possible. Read something, write it, recite it aloud, draw a diagram of it – this way you are incorporating; sight, touch, sound, and vision increasing your chances of retaining the information.
Just because your body is asleep does not mean your brain is. Neurons fire in our brain all night long while we sleep, perhaps replaying what we’ve learned that day. We need sleep to learn.
A lack of sleep impedes our attention, memory, quantitative skills, logical reasoning and manual dexterity. These are all skills we utilize when studying, learning, retaining and recalling information. What is the point of putting in many hours of studying only to be unable to retain and recall the information due to a lack of sleep?
Don’t pull all-nighters. Whether studying for finals or a major college or professional school admissions exam, the night before the test you should be focusing on de-stressing, eating a healthy dinner and going to sleep at a reasonable hour. If you have given yourself adequate time to prepare for this crucial exam, you should not feel hard pressed to do last minute studying.
Exercise boosts brain power by increasing oxygen flow to the brain, raising our mental sharpness and cognition.
In recent years, colleagues have began going for “walking meetings,” instead of being cooped up in an office or conference room, co-workers will step outside to walk and talk. Aside from getting some fresh air or a change of scenery, this type of meeting also promotes getting moving, rather than remaining sedentary at a desk. In addition to this, the exercise during your walk gets your blood pumping and ultimately your brain firing.
You can even put this into practice when studying. When you hit a wall and your mind starts to wander, go for a brief walk, this will increase blood flow to your brain and help you to reset. You could also walk with a classmate and quiz each other over the material along the way.
We learn through exploration, and not by passively taking in information. Just as the steps in the scientific method, we learn by observation, hypothesis, experiment and conclusion.
When learning new information of any subject matter, not just science, it pays to put these same steps to use. Observe the material, whether from a class lecture or reading your textbook, hypothesize regarding the larger implications of this new material, what is its place in the larger narrative or subject matter? What conclusions can you draw from the new information?
Remember to remain flexible and not rigid when learning, our brains are malleable into adulthood so we can continue to learn and take in new information. If you are rigid and regimented in the ways you learn and have reached a plateau in your studying, try infusing your learning with a new method, approach problems from a different perspective and you may be more successful.
Every brain is wired differently, no two humans have the same brain, not even twins. The way our school system is set up is counter-intuitive to this fact as we are all graded on the same scale and held to the same standards, despite learning and understanding information in totally different ways.
How does understanding this impact your everyday learning? First off, stop comparing yourself to your peers. If we all are wired differently, then it is unfair to compare our ability to learn, comprehend or perform to other classmates. This is not to say that you should be totally oblivious to the performance of those around you, because ultimately a certain amount of competition can be healthy. But overall, it would serve you better to tap into the ways you learn, and which tactics are most affective for you to learn and retain new information.
Understanding how our brains are wired and the ways they operate is an invaluable tool in using our mental acumen to the fullest potential. Pinpointing the tactics we respond to when absorbing information and surefire ways to retain that information can be priceless in our pursuit of learning.