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How to Study Less: Learn Information Once

Updated on January 2, 2016

Study less: Learn information once. Save more time.

Reading repeatedly may not be the most effective way to study, learn and retain information.
Reading repeatedly may not be the most effective way to study, learn and retain information.

Why Your Current Method of Study May be a Waste of Time

If your method of study is to go over things repeatedly only to find you're not retaining much information, perhaps you need to change the way you learn and study. Taking longer to study and learn while retaining little is a waste of your time. You need to learn faster, study less.

If this sounds like a familiar problem, then you should learn the methods of learning faster and studying less. Let's face it, if you learned information the first time around, you could spend less time studying, right?

The problem is that you may have too many leaks in the methods by which you learn and study. More study time is never going to help you if your study method is flawed. Smart people don't just learn better, they learn differently.

Dominic O'Brien, the eight-time world memory champion, was able to memorize 54 decks of cards in the correct sequence (yes, that’s 2808 different cards), after looking at each card only once. How much time could you save by developing a "learn faster, study less" system like Dominic?

The Concept Behind "Learn Faster, Study Less"

Think of how much more time you would have for other things if you could just learn things the first time around.

How much time do you waste because you fail to learn the information the first time around?

If you didn't have to repeatedly review and go over the same information multiple times, you could save a whole lot of time. What would you do with all that extra time?

Imagine that you're in a leaky boat out in the middle of the ocean. This boat has issues, I mean it is loaded with multiple leaks (This leaky boat is also a metaphor for your current study methods). You could go around to each individual leak and plug it with your finger and that may stop a small amount of water from a single leak coming into the boat. The problem is, the boat has multiple leaks. So, rather than running around trying to stop a few leaks, FIX each leak the first time and then move on to other leaks. Eventually all the leaks will be fixed permanently and you won't have a leaky boat anymore.

The key to learn faster and study less is simple: Learn information the first time you see it rather than repeatedly exposing yourself to the same information again and again. You can teach yourself how to do this very thing - learn faster by studying less.

If you want to save time - study less, learn information once. First you have to fix your leaky boat (study method).
If you want to save time - study less, learn information once. First you have to fix your leaky boat (study method).

Step 1: Find the Leaks

To figure out where the water is in your leaky boat (your study method), you have to locate the holes. First, determine the type of information you're having difficulty remembering. Then, learn to identify the information that you just don't quite understand. Don't waste time reviewing the info you already know - they're not leaks in your boat.

To find the leaks when you're reading or studying, ask yourself these questions after each section:

  • What information are you most likely to forget?
  • What ideas or concepts are totally new to me?
  • What are the concepts or ideas are the most difficult understand?

These questions will help you find the leaks in your study/learning process. Don't waste any more time on studying ALL your notes or already familiar information. You already know that information. Spend your time "fixing these leaks" by investing study time on these areas.

Step 2: Fix the Leaks

So you've identified the leaks - great! Now it's time to fix them for good so you can learn faster and study less.

Stop doing everything and concentrate all of your efforts on fixing this problem. I knew a computer programmer in college, he wrote software. One thing he knew was that any sort of problem or "bug" left unaddressed in the software would begin causing all sorts of problems later on. Sometimes, it would take several hundred hours to find and fix the "bug."

You're a learner - you want to learn faster and study less, right? It's time to fix the "bug" in your study system and fix it quickly. While there are literally hundreds of books written on this subject (a few listed below), here are a few good tips to get you started in the right direction:

• Are you trying to retain information? A complex mass of information may be easily retained by using analogies, vivid images or metaphors to connect typically abstract information to an easily recognizable item. Simply put, you attach a visual image with a verbal label. For example; the arm motion used in the motion of a bowling arm can be likened to a pendulum, or the arm motion used in the sidestroke in swimming is sometimes described as picking an apple and placing it in the other hand, which then places it in a basket. Create simple analogies and metaphors to represent more complex concepts and ideas.

• Are you memorizing lots of information? An effective way to memorize a great deal of arbitrary info is to use the "link method" (also known as the "memory palace" technique). It's a simple matter of associating or combining two things together. One medical student I knew did this by writing terms/definitions on Post-It® notes, then placing them on different items as he walked through the apartment. The word "lumbar" with it's definition written on a Post-It® note and placed on a lamp next to the sofa. The next Post-It® note with word/definition was placed next to the lamp on the sofa. The next one placed on the end table next to the sofa, the next on the chair next to the end table. On test day, he simply walked through his apartment in his mind and see each word/definition as he passed by each piece of furniture.

• Are conceptualizing information? If you're a visual learner, simply draw a picture or diagram to combine several complex related ideas or concepts together. This technique is really helpful when you need to remember a complicated process or a set of relationships. For example; If you're studying philosophers throughout history, place their name in a circle on a page that corresponds to the time they lived in history, then use lines to connect the similar interrelational ideas of each philosopher.

If you don't fix your leaks (weak points) in the way you learn/study, you will just skim over information and will never know what you're really missing. Once you have repaired all the leaks in your boat, your learning/study effectiveness will increase exponentially. The key in this "learn faster, study less" method is knowing where your leaks (weak points) are and fixing them.

Step 3: Really Getting It

Sometimes, there's more to understanding information than just studying/learning it. In order to really learn specific information, you must "get it." Almost every test you ever take is, in essence, going to ask this single basic question: Do you really understand what you are studying/learning? You need to understand the information on a deeper level - it needs to make complete sense to you.

So, if you want to be sure you're really "getting it," ask yourself "why?" until the information makes perfect sense to you. Check your level of understanding with these questions:

• Look into the background, the context of the information. Most complex ideas and concepts are more easily understood when they are studied within the context of that information. Dig into the origins of a subject. Sure, it's gonna require some extra time and effort, but anything you learn about the context of a particular topic will aid in your understanding of it - now and in the future. I did this in college and we didn't have the Internet - today, it's so much faster and easier to gather contextual information.

• Learn to use sensory descriptions. The human brain is a wonderful and complex organ that can do more than we know. The brain is more than just a computer. It can store vivid images, distinct sensory information and emotional responses and provide a better record than just dry, detailed descriptions or abstract concepts. Link complex and abstract details to vivid images, strong sensations or moving stories. For example; a math student studying determinants, a form of math utilizing matrices, would imagine visualizing his hands moving through diagonals, one hand adding, one hand taking away.

Time to Test Yourself

You knew there was going to be a test, right? How else are you going to measure the results of what you have learned here?

You should develop some sort of record or test diary where you can record past results. Are you looking at past materials to see if you understand them better now? What about taking a look at past tests or questions in textbooks? Maybe devise some quizzes or exercises that prove you're progressing in your understanding. Re-taking past tests may also help to conclusively prove you're improving. Check your understanding on a regular basis to see if these methods are really working for you. Be objective in your assessments.

The Final Word on Learn Faster, Study Less

If I could go back and do college again, I would definitely do it differently. I would regard that time I spent studying as sacred, to be utilized fully and to get the most from each minute. Now that college is in my past, I still see the effectiveness of these methods.

I will occasionally tweak and improve these methods for use in different areas of learning. I use them often because they are SO effective in allowing me to learn the first time and thereby, leaving more time for more learning.

I am a life-long learner. When I approach a subject or try to learn new information these days, I go with the expectation of learning everything in the first pass, I focus on that effort - and it has served me well.

So, for you - use your study time wisely, expect to learn everything on your first pass through the information and if you don't, stop and identify those areas that will require further study and clarification. Focus on fixing the leaks once and for all. Before you know it, your boat won't have any more leaks.

The books listed below have been very helpful, you may want to check them out.

Take the Study Less, Learn Information Once POLL

What methods have you found most useful in studying/understanding new information?

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    • Edward_G_Gordon profile image

      Edward G Gordon 

      10 months ago from Northern Ireland

      Good article. I'm a fan of Dominic O'Brien and have been practicing some of his techniques for years. But no Dominic O'Brien am I, sadly.

      Keep up the good work my friend.

    • MKayo profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago from Texas

      Vocalcoach and GS Leigh - Thanks for stopping by and reading. Let me know if you notice any discernible difference in your learning style or ability. Have a great day!

    • GS Leigh profile image

      Gabbi Struble 

      4 years ago from New York

      This is very helpful!

    • vocalcoach profile image

      Audrey Hunt 

      4 years ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      Great and helpful information. Will start using these tips right away.

      Thanks and will share.


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