Understanding a topic, so you barely need to memorize

books with highlighted sentences

When you understand something, it’s easier to remember because you remember how you came to understand it. Understanding is the most important part of studying, without that there is no reason to remember something.

Feynman technique

The Feynman technique is about the ability to explain a topic or subject to a five-year-old. That means being able to explain it to someone who has no idea about it and has never heard of the subject before. With this technique, you are able to understand everything of the subject because you are able to explain everything, and you are prepared if they ask: “Why?” ten times. 

So every time you learn something, you can ask yourself, does this make sense and can I explain this to a five-year-old/friend? Then you know if you truly understand the topic. 

There are only two “rules”: 1. Keep the language simple and 2. Cut down on the details and keep the information simple

Here you can find more about the Feynman technique.

Active recall

Questioning yourself is called active recall and it’s the single most efficient study technique. There has been a lot of research that shows, rereading and taking notes is not as effective as active recall. 

The best way to do it is by keeping testing as a part of learning: after reading something, close the book, ask yourself: “what did I just read, what are the key concepts, and can I phrase this in my own words?” .

Don’t write summaries, it takes too much time and it’s a passive way of learning. Learning is like a muscle, the harder it is to do something, the bigger it will grow. If you are just reading the brain doesn’t have to work very hard, but if you are questioning yourself, it’s hard for the brain, so you will get out more of it.

guy studying with headphones on

The difference is called the active and passive way of learning. During the active parts you are actively questioning yourself and your brain has to work hard. Whereas when you are just reading pages and pages and write summaries, your brain doesn’t have to work very hard, and therefore it’s not really productive. You feel as if you did a lot but you didn’t get out of the time as much as you could have by using active recall.

That’s also why I can still “learn” when I’m tired (because I just read papers and write summaries) because it’s a passive way of learning. 

Taking notes during class

As we have learned taking notes is not efficient, summarizing is a passive concept, so it’s not hard for the brain, and you won’t get out a lot of it. But during class, if you want to take notes, studies have shown that handwriting our notes is better than taking notes with a laptop. That is because taking notes with a computer is easier (more a passive way of taking notes).

Taking notes during class can also help you stay more focused and present. During the class, you can write down questions instead of taking notes.

Taking notes after class

Taking notes after a period of time helps build active recall questions and consolidate understanding. If you go over your questions or notes after class, you see how much you actually understood.

Now you can try and answer the questions you wrote down in class. If you don’t know the answer you can simply look it up in google or your school book. 

Scoping the subject

guy doing a mind map on a black board

A big thing that is really helpful for understanding a subject is to go through every single topic within a subject and try and subcategorize the topics. You get a bigger picture of the subject and you are less likely to get drowned in the details.

You can create a tree or mind maps, and then you can start understanding the stem up until to the branches and leaves. 

Here you can learn about why the techniques you are using are not productive, or how to remember and memorize a topic.

have you ever heard about these techniques? Are you going to try them or are you already studying this way?

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