TYPE: Non-fiction (philosophy); practical.
SYNTHESIS: Simple strategies and inspirational stories to help you ace courses and enjoy a lifetime of deep, effective learning from retired Chemistry professor and writer on academic success, Saundra McGuire.
NOTES: Learning is a skill and anyone can learn it. There are no miracles, just hard work and proven strategies.
The first secret to better learning? Metacognition – the ability to:
- Think about your own thinking;
- Be consciously aware of your problem-solving mind;
- Monitor, plan and control your mental processing; and
- Accurately judge our level of learning.
Doing so means stepping back from yourself, separating action from ability, taking responsibility for your actions and becoming curious about learning how to learn.
One of the most useful tools in metacognition is Bloom’s Taxonomy – a model of six increasingly deep learning activities:
- Remembering – Stating facts and information verbatim as learned;
- Understanding – Restating information in own words with analogies and examples;
- Applying -Using knowledge to solve new examples of known problem types;
- Analysing – Breaking concepts into parts and showing how these relate to each other and the whole;
- Evaluating – Discriminating between and accurately judging statements made by others; and
- Creating – Using knowledge to creatively solve new problem types in unfamiliar situations.
The second secret to better learning? Consciously shifting from a “study” mindset (limited to Bloom’s levels 1 and 2) to a “learning” mindset (adding Bloom’s levels 3 – 6).
Consider the difference in depth of understanding needed to pass an exam vs. teaching a topic to others. This is the shift that’s required.
How can you make it? To change your learning, change your strategies:
- Stay positive, healthy and motivated by getting the right rest, fuel and exercise.
- Preview material before class – skim chapters and summaries and create questions as you go.
- Attend every class – Answer and ask questions, be present and take notes actively and by hand.
- Review your notes as soon as possible after class and every weekend – Fill in gaps, identify questions.
- Be productive – Start homework as soon as it’s set and do a little each day, without using examples as a guide.
- Seek tutoring and coaching on your problem areas, then teach those concepts to others.
- Study outside of class – Use 3 – 5 intense, purposeful study sessions per day, 5 days per week.
- Use mnemonics, flashcards and spaced repetition to make remembering easier.
- Draw mind maps, diagrams and mental pictures of difficult concepts.
- Test and teach each other in study groups with self-made quizzes and practice exams.
- Rework all quiz and test items before the next class session.
- Survey exams before starting, budget your time and read directions carefully.
- Reflect actively on homework, test and exam performance, then develop a plan for improvement.
- Adopt a growth mindset – You can do well, even if you’ve done poorly, by doing more of the above.
(N.B., bolded terms indicate the 5 steps of McGuire’s Study Cycle: preview, attend, review, study and test.)
Aside from her clear writing and inspiring student-success stories, McGuire offers a few further, basic tips on productivity:
- Keep a calendar;
- Guard free time; and
- Do things sooner rather than later.
And exam preparation:
- Know what to expect from a test;
- Do practice tests to prepare for it.
But nothing you won’t find (and in more detail) in Frank’s excellent 10 Steps to Earning Awesome Grades.
That said, as guides on learning how to learn in academic environments go Teach Yourself How to Learn is definitely worth a read.