Study Tips: How To Learn New Content and Never Forget It
Are you just starting off learning a new subject and have no idea how to be effective with your learning? We’re going to focus on how to learn content you’re seeing for the first time with active recall.
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Memorization Vs Understanding
So spoiler alert the key concepts behind learning new content are active recall and spaced repetition.
When people are first introduced to concepts like active recall and the idea of self-testing rather than just reading or taking notes they’ll watch a video about creating questions and not taking notes . Will make some assumptions, then often fall into one of two groups:
- The whole process seems too hard and they are feel more comfortable passively making notes as this is what they have been taught in university. So they take notes and re-read and highlight ahead of exams. This method might work for them but it just takes way longer and is less effective. But as they are comfortable they just flat out refuse and nope out on using active recall.
- The second way people go is that they go all in and start creating loads of recall questions and start immediately testing themselves and memorising facts. The problem is while they are testing themselves they’re not necessarily understanding the new content. So if you find yourself making questions for every single fact. You need to ask yourself, do I actually need a question to remember this and do I really understand what I’m learning?
You don’t want to read passively, just to memorize facts. For people starting out you don’t want to fall into either of these two groups and instead you what to focus down on two key things: firstly understanding the topic and where it fits in to what you are studying and secondly you need to then retain and remember that information and apply it. This will not only help you to learn faster and more efficiently. But will allow you to apply your knowledge through that understanding and find the answers of questions that you have never seen.
Understanding and Remembering New Content
The key is to not go through the material passively like the group who noped out on active recall all together but to continuously test yourself and ask yourself questions as you go through new material. You see active recall isn’t just about studying for exams by creating your own questions. Active recall and self testing can be used to learn anything. Don’t just read and re-read or highlight, actually test yourself as soon as you spot something new.
For example, if you are reading through a textbook for the first time rather than making notes you want to be reading a paragraph. Then closing the book and trying to recall the key points in your head or by writing it down and seeing. If you can rephrase the concepts in that paragraph in your own words such that anyone you explained it to can understand. If you can’t, open the book back up and go again. And when you go again you might want to read a little further around the topic you couldn’t remember start to build up that understanding. Then test yourself again to see if you can explain the concept. By going back to the textbooks and reading around the topic you are building up structure and context for the topic and how it fits into your current understanding to help you make sense of it.
Now there are lots of ways to use active recall such as writing down questions. It really doesn’t matter what you optimise for, as long as it works for you and is efficient and effective. To help you get going using active recall quickly to learn new content here are some of the top new content learning hacks:
Plan Things Out
Whatever you’re learning get hold of the course syllabus or people who have scored top grades on the exam. Before you to find out what the most commonly tested topics are. You can also look at simple things like what lectures or classes will be coming up in the next few months. So you have a basic top-level overview of how things fit together so that when you first see a new topic you have an understanding of why you are learning it and where it fits in. Having this context will help you to prioritise what you are learning. Also help you know where to go to learn more and in what detail you need to learn things.
Pick The Best Tools
Make sure you pick the best source materials to learn from. The best of this hack here is to ask the top scoring students from previous years what they used. Then to get a short notes book and then have some reliable websites you can refer to. For medical finals you can use a short notes finals revision guide, combined with YouTube searches in addition to lecture notes. For clinical OSCEs in medicine you can use actual YouTube videos of clinical exams.
Challenge Your Beliefs
The final tip is a bit more introspective. People using online question banks might feel that they need to read through a topic before jumping in to questions. So as we’ve seen you need to trust in the process and test your assumptions. Starting off by simply reading a paragraph of new content and then using active recall to ask in your head “Do I understand this?”. That is a great first step and you can then build up your active recall and spacing process based on what works best for you whether creating your own questions or using flashcards. Do what works best for you but make sure you apply active recall to understand what you are learning rather than just memorizing facts. Then use spacing to test yourself again in a week and a month to ensure you retain your understanding for longer.