Crowd Wisdom: Your Best Study Hacks Revealed

The Crowd SpeaksThe Crowd

Enough about me! Last week I asked you to share your most effective and unusual study hacks. You sent in some clever strategies. Below are five of particular interest. Hopefully these will help stimulate your own thinking toward the sheer variety of approaches that are possible for mastering your academic environment.

I’m sad to report, however, that I don’t actually have t-shirts, as promised, that feature a smiling picture of me with the caption “Straight-A Students Do It On Schedule.” Although I thought this was infinitely clever, I was informed by Julie that, in fact, it’s infinitely not.

HACK #1: Study in Character
Submitted by jlb

Faced with a tough academic challenge? Imagine a character that would handle it well. Then tackle the challenge in character. Reader jlb admits to being a procrastinating perfectionist. But it when it came to earning his PhD in the classics, he invented: The Efficient Classicist. When ever it came time to work, he first asked “what would the efficient classicist do?”

As jlb recalls: “I was pleasantly surprised to realize that I knew exactly how an efficient classicist would behave, and I stuck to it. Inventing this fictional character helped me to get beyond my limiting ideas about myself.”

HACK #2: Memorize by Connecting to the Unforgettable
Submitted by Vincent

When faced with a straight memorization task, as in a Latin or foreign language class, don’t resort to rote review. Instead, connect each word to a strong visual that ties to both the word itself and its meaning. Not just any visual, mind you, but outrageous, unforgettable visuals. Use sex, drugs, booze, the thought of crazy old Mrs. Hannigan naked — whatever will stick out in your mind.

Reader Vincent describes how he learns Latin words 8 seconds at a time: “To learn “procella” (Latin for “storms”), for example, I imagine Hilary Clinton fervently making a speech on a stand as a “pro” (I mean pro as in an advocate) for “cellars” (of lots of beer) while thunder (”stormy conditions”) strikes in the background. When you do this two to three times a week, it becomes second nature.”

HACK #3: Quiz-and-Recall Using Idea Maps
Submitted by Dominic

When facing a class that presents a large amount of detailed information, using quiz-and-recall method on the raw facts can become overwhelmingly boring; not to mention that it becomes easy to miss the bigger picture connections and ideas that will help you on an advanced test. Try this instead: organize the information into idea maps that connect the information to bigger concepts which in turn connect with each other. When studying, try to reconstruct the idea map from scratch.

As reader Dominic explains: “During an exam, the first thing I do for each problem is to ask: ‘what part of the idea map does this belong to?’ Usually the problem’s core concepts then become clear. Ever since adopting and refining the above strategy, I have received nothing lower than an A in my advanced biology classes.”

HACK #4: Visualize Your Way Into a Flow State
Submitted by David

We work best when hit that magical moment of flow where everything else in the world drops away and your concentration is at its peak. Reaching this state, however, can be tough when you’re in a crowded study lounge, surrounded by over-caffeinated pre-meds loudly debating whose recent panic attack was most spectacular.

To combat this, head to a library that is quiet and that has nothing to do with what you study. This reduces stress and helps you relax. Once there, visualize yourself levitating in the air and looking at the back of your own head. This exercise, when enacted in a calm environment, helps you fall into a flow state.

As reader David explains: “I do this visualization exercise and it allows me to immediately enter the flow state. Having a relaxed environment just reduces the temptation to focus deadlines or upcoming tests and instead concentrate on accomplishing what needs to be done.”

HACK #5: Meditate Your Way Into a Flow State
Submitted by Michael

Not big on visualizing? Reader Michael (of the University Scholar blog) recalls a recent study by Dr. Heidi Wenk-Sormaz that demonstrates how 20 minutes of meditation produced better results on a subsequent concentration task than 20 minutes of relaxing or working on another problem. Take advantage of these concentration-boosting powers of meditation. Consider a quick 10 to 20 minutes of getting your zen on before class, before studying, before working on a paper, before a big test, or, even if you’re just having a hard time getting your motivation amped up.

As Michael notes: “Meditation is easy. You don’t need to find a meditation center or sign up for yoga. All you need to do is sit comfortably, on your knees, in a chair, or cross-legged on the floor and focus on your breathing.”

13 thoughts on “Crowd Wisdom: Your Best Study Hacks Revealed”

  1. Cal, thanks for posting my hack.

    Here’s the key concept about my hack that I forgot to mention earlier: ridiculous/unforgettable images/occurrences will help engrave words and formulas into memory. To achieve this, a student must actively experience the real world more. Memory circuits (as I call these links) are built on humor and actual experiences. If say, a hang glider is involved in the memory circuit, then it helps to actually go out and fly on a hang glider to remember what it feels like. A memory circuit linking a foreign-language word or engineering equation to a hang glider will be stronger if the student actually ever flew on a hang glider. Watching funny movies and amusing Youtube videos can inspire students to think more creatively when making memory circuits (and amuse more crowds at social events).

    “Humor” and “experience” helps a student to visualize memory circuits more vividly. When you make a ridiculous association more vivid and memorable, you can remember certain material more easily. I drew out my Latin memory circuits to enhance the visual experience, and even acted them out to help my classmates. Some thought I was crazy and that my system doesn’t work, but it will only work for you when you have the imagination and ability to visualize through 1) humor and 2) experience.

  2. You have some creative readers. I like how they all focus on using your senses. It makes for a stronger mental connection.

  3. I should have also mentioned that a very critical aspect to achieving the flow state using my method (or even Michael’s for that matter) is actually being able to state your purpose so clearly that you can see what done looks like. This ties back to Cal’s idea of never using the word “study” to describe one’s activity. Like a vector, a good study session has magnitude (the “relaxed intensity” of being in the flow state) and direction (achievement of a specific purpose). If purpose is missing, you may have a hard time maintaining focus or you may get a lot of irrelevant things done.

  4. @Study Hacks:
    I’m “jlb,” whose post you featured as “HACK #1.” There’s no way you could have known this, since I only used my initials, but I’m a “she” not a “he.” In the future, I think I’ll post as “Jenny” to avoid confusion. Thanks a lot for featuring my post!

  5. Have you ever thought of posting your best blogs at the bottom of your page as in the manner of Zen Habits? Leo on that site also lists the best blogs for the month as he see it. The great thing about this approach is that it makes it easy for newcomers to your blog get a sense of the quality of the material you generate.

  6. My history teacher gave us a cool way to study for our history exams. We brainstormed as a class the huge themes that came accross during the 400 years of so of history we covered in the semester.

    What you did then was make a chart. Make a column for the theme then one column is pre 1500ish then the next one was about 1500-about maybe 20 yrs to the present and the last one is the present. Then under each column in a row that has the big theme that you picked you basically put down notes of what happened in each section.

    It’s really cool because it makes a map that allows you to see how a theme was evolved over time.

  7. @Leigh:

    This is a good idea. It’s definitely one of the additions I’m planning for an upcoming blog overhaul.


    Really cool. I could that being applicable for any history class. A thematic map to help organize the main events…

  8. Dear Cal,

    I was trying to apply the quizz-and-recall method for my Virginia’s environment class, with clustered quizzes, but reviewing detailed information bore me out of my mind. And suddenly, yesterday, three days before the final exam, I got the light: I am doing maps based on ideas associations. Basically, I put the word that summarizes the main concept at hand (e.g, atmosphere) and draw arrows to every single detail associated with this word. It probably is very similar to the hack 3# idea, if not the same thing, but actually the thing that inspired me was your post about notebook and pen and the advice 7# of the yellow book. So now, I am ready to ace my exam with this method.



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