Study Success Part 1: Studying Techniques

When I began writing this post I intended to include some productivity tools as well, but it started getting a little long, so I broke it into two parts. In Part One I’ll look at the top three studying techniques I use in the Med Lab program, and in Part Two I’ll look at productivity tools I use to enhance my studying.

Study Technique #1: Keep Calm and Break It Down

No, not on the dance floor.

When I was in the professional writing program at Douglas College, one of the first things they taught us was how break projects down into manageable pieces.

When you’re on the outside of a project, it appears to be a mountain. Obviously, when you climb a mountain, you do it one step at a time. No one in their right mind would expect themselves to climb it in one step.

But that is what many of us do. We expect to complete something all at once, to get to the top of the mountain immediately. The result is we give up before trying, or procrastinate until we’re in a dire situation.

It’s the same with studying. We learn a lot every week at BCIT. Sometimes I look at it all and nearly give up.  It’s a mountain and I’m expecting myself to climb it all at once. But then I shake myself out of it and break things down. I write myself a list. A reasonable list. Before I know it, I’m reaching the summit.

So next time you’ve got 30 pages of notes to write, don’t mentally plan to write all 30 at once. Instead plan on writing 2 pages one day. Two the next. You’ll get something done, and you’ll be satisfied checking it off your list.

Study Technique #2: Review Right Away

You’ve probably heard this a thousand times before, so please hear me out before you roll your eyes and click away.

If you do what I’m about to explain, you actually reduce the overall time needed to study.

Review your notes within 24 hours of lecture. Then review them again within 7 days. Then again within 30. Thankfully, the way that BCIT delivers its course content naturally reinforces this strategy, to a large extent. Many classes have weekly or biweekly quizzes and/or assignments. Then midterms come begin within 1 – 2 months. But the first review is up to you – and it’s the most important one.

(I learned the following from University of Waterloo, and have paraphrased it here. Check out the link for a better description!)

The concept is called the Curve of Forgetting, and the basic premise is simple. The more often your brain sees something, the higher priority it assigns to remembering it.

Here is how it works.

When you first learn something, you will understand a given amount (depending on how your memory works). Let’s make it easy and say you remember and understand 100% of what you learned right after the lecture. Throughout the day, your retention will begin to drop, so that at 24 hours someone might ask you about the lecture, and you would only remember approximately 60%. BUT if you review for 10 minutes within those 24 hours, you’ll be back at 100%.

Here’s where things get exciting. Now if someone was to ask you at 24 hours after your first review, you would remember closer to 90%. The rate at which you forget diminishes, and so does the time required to review.

It requires diligence, but it’s worth it. It’s most important to review after that 24 hours, because the further you get from the lecture, the weaker the memory link when you do review it. I’ve used this technique and I know it works!

Study Technique #3: Quick and Dirty Memorization

We all know tip #2 doesn’t always work at BCIT, and even the most diligent people get behind. That’s when you pull out the quick and dirty tricks.

When it comes to memory, humans respond best visually and emotionally, and it’s essential to connect new information to previous. There are loads of great memory tools out there based on this predisposition: mind palace (as featured in BBC One’s Sherlock Holmes), peg system, and story method – to name a few.

I don’t use any one exclusively. But I do gravitate toward the story method. The trick is to look at what you know about what you’re trying to learn and come up with a story that is creative and memorable by engaging visual and emotional aspects of your brain. It’s important to be as visual as possible, to the point of disgust, even. This will engage your emotions, and you will remember it better.

This technique works well in microbiology because most have names that will remind you of something that you can then craft a story around.


What I do is fairly simple, but effective. Breaking it down overcomes the mental obstacle of “I can’t do it,” reviewing within 24 hours reduces relearning time, and using various memory techniques allows me to anchor large amounts of information in short order.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my study tips! Next up I’ll talk about some productivity tools I use.

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