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How to Learn Fast

_ezell_ profile image Ezell Frazier ・4 min read

TLDR;

  1. Focus on what you need to know and filter out unrelated information
  2. How to find out what you need to know? Test what you think you know.
  3. Summarize everything you think you know about what you've read
  4. If summarizing what you know is tough, focus on the where you're struggling and repeat the earlier steps.

Does reading a book from cover to cover qualify the book as being read?

Definitely so for fiction.

How about textbooks? News articles? Tutorials?

I've been doing it wrong for almost three decades.

I didn't catch on until my senior year in college. I graduated from a commuter school, or a school with no campus-life. My grades were slightly above average. Juggling heavy-work hours and being a full-time student was no easy feat.

In my senior year, I began to wonder, "how"? How are some students able to work 40 to 60-hour workweeks and still ace exams and projects? What's the science? The witchcraft? I wanted in.

I know some readers right now are probably saying, "oh they cheat, everyone cheats". Yeah, well, some might, but I'm always willing to give the benefit of a doubt. In my quest for answers, I've stumbled across many books, how-to's, and personalities with fancy cars and book collections.

One common message stood out:

'Get what I need to know and get out'.

I'm going to compare how I used to study and how I studied after learning this new technique.

I'm assuming most textbooks are structured in this fashion:

  • A chapter is ~35 pages
  • Takes about two hours to "read" one chapter (longer with note-taking)
  • Summary section at the end of the chapter (with review questions)

Old Me Studying a Textbook Chapter:

  1. Attempt to read the entire chapter from start to finish
  2. Take notes along the way
  3. If I haven't burned out, try to answer the review questions
  4. Return to class with little to no understanding of what I "studied"

New Me Studying a Textbook Chapter:

  1. Jump straight to the end of the chapter
  2. Test my existing knowledge based on review questions
  3. Note the review questions I got incorrect
  4. Jump to each section of the chapter related to my incorrect answers
  5. Take notes on those sections
  6. Return to the summary and look for any gaps in my understanding
  7. Repeat the earlier steps if necessary
  8. Return to class and start a conversation on the chapter to confirm my knowledge

I was able to shorten what used to take about two to five hours to roughly 40 minutes to an hour on average. I'm looking at a 90% reduction in time invested (at best) while increasing knowledge retention, and preventing burn-out. An all-around win-win.

So, these top students were able to study for multiple courses in the same amount of time I barely studied one.

Why did I take the chapter review before reading anything about the chapter?

I needed to know what I need to know. I am literally wasting time reading about something that I already understood.

So, if there is an assessment available, take it before diving in. I'm always surprised at what I may already know. Sometimes I get everything wrong. And that's perfectly fine. Now I know what I need to review. I never go in without a map of what I need to go.

Know What to Know

This is the key to fast learning. Who'll win a scavenger hunt first? The player with a map or the player without the map?

Unfortunately, every article, book, or piece of learning material is not structured like a college text-book. So, how would I be able to apply this same practice?

I learned of two basic writing principles which apply to just about every piece of non-fiction:

  1. Thesis statements
  2. Supporting information

The thesis statement is exactly what the author wants the reader to understand. Everything else is supporting information.

Sometimes a thesis statement is a sentence. Maybe a paragraph. If we're lucky, the author will explicitly start off with a summary of everything he or she will discuss.

My thesis statement for this article is one sentence. It's bold and in large text. It's hard to miss. If it makes sense to the reader, they can stop there and continue with their day.

Sometimes a book's title is the thesis statement. Maybe it's the title of the chapter. Sometimes the thesis statement tucked away midway through the opening paragraphs.

If any part of the thesis statement is vague or does not make sense, make note of it and parse out the chapter or book for related information. Sometimes another book or article explains it better. Don't limit the learning process to the current document or book.

The goal isn't to read the book for prestige or achievement, but to actually gain practical knowledge.

However, the learning process is the same.

  1. Read the thesis and try to explain it in my own words
  2. If I'm unable to, make note of what doesn't make sense
  3. Scan the book/chapter/article for what I need and note it
  4. Repeat if necessary

If there's anything I've missed or other techniques you've acquired which works for you, let me know!

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_ezell_ profile

Ezell Frazier

@_ezell_

Creator of DeckDB.com. My career is a side-effect.

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