The Most Effective Methods of Using Our Brain

Studying effectively is a skill that anyone can learn, and it’s important to remember that there is no one “right” way to study. What works for one person may not work for another. However, by using evidence-based methods, you can increase the effectiveness of your studying and make the most of your learning. Learning can be a challenging process that can often feel like a waste of time and energy. We’re often taught that the best way to learn is to repeatedly read books and notes, spending hours organizing the contents into detailed mind maps. However, Barbara Oakley, a professor of engineering at the University of Auckland, has written a book that challenges this perception of learning. In “A Mind for Numbers,” Oakley explores the most effective methods for learning from the perspective of brain science.

Oakley’s book reveals that the brain has two different modes of thinking: focus mode and divergent mode. Focus mode is used for direct problem-solving and is associated with a state of high concentration. Divergent mode, on the other hand, is used for brainstorming and is associated with a state of relaxation and rest. The brain frequently toggles between these two modes in daily life, and both are important for learning.

While the focus mode is important for direct problem-solving tasks like math problems, programming, or reading textbooks, the divergent mode is valuable for generating new ideas and solving difficult problems. Oakley encourages learners to use both modes of thinking when studying math and science to stay creative. Intensive training is crucial for both modes, and learners should switch between them when faced with difficult problems.

Switching from focus mode to divergent mode requires learners to relax and take a break. Taking a nap, listening to music, or taking a shower can help learners switch to divergent mode, which allows for a wider perspective and new ideas to emerge. This mode of thinking is essential for building a new understanding of a concept or solving a challenging problem.

In this article, I’ll introduce the best methods for smart study, based on the research and teachings of Professor Barbara Oakley in her book “A Mind for Numbers.” These methods are backed by science and have been proven to work for students of all ages and backgrounds. I’ll discuss the top five most effective methods this time,


Method 1: Focus on Understanding, Not Memorization

When studying, it’s easy to fall into the trap of simply memorizing information, but this approach is not very effective. Instead, focus on understanding the concepts and ideas behind the material you’re studying. This will help you retain the information more effectively and make it easier to recall later.

To understand the material, start by breaking it down into smaller pieces. Try to identify the main ideas and concepts, and then work to understand how they fit together. Use examples and analogies to help you make sense of the information, and be sure to ask questions if anything is unclear.


Method 2: Use Active Recall

Active recall is a powerful study technique that involves actively trying to recall information from memory. This is different from passive review, where you simply read over the material again and again. When you actively try to recall information, you’re engaging your brain in a more meaningful way, which helps to strengthen your memory.

To use active recall, start by reviewing a piece of information, such as a definition or concept. Then, cover it up and try to recall it from memory. If you’re having trouble, take a quick look to refresh your memory, and then try again. Repeat this process until you can recall the information easily.


Method 3: Break Up Your Studying

Studying for hours on end is not very effective, as your brain needs time to rest and process information. Instead, try breaking up your studying into shorter, focused sessions. This will help you stay engaged and focused and will make it easier to retain the information.

A good rule of thumb is to study for 25-30 minutes, and then take a 5-10 minute break. During your break, do something unrelated to studying, such as taking a walk or doing some stretching exercises. This will help you clear your mind and come back to your studying refreshed and focused.


Method 4: Get Plenty of Sleep

Sleep is essential for effective studying, as it helps to consolidate memories and make them more permanent. When you’re sleep-deprived, your brain doesn’t function as well, which can make it harder to learn and remember information.

To ensure that you’re getting enough sleep, try to stick to a regular sleep schedule, and aim for 7-8 hours of sleep per night. Avoid studying right before bed, as this can make it harder to fall asleep. Instead, try to wind down with some relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing or meditation.


Method 5: Use Active Learning Strategies

Active learning strategies are techniques that require you to actively engage with the material you’re studying. Examples of active learning strategies include taking notes, creating flashcards, or summarizing information in your own words. These techniques help to reinforce your understanding of the material and make it easier to recall later.

When using active learning strategies, try to be as interactive as possible. For example, instead of simply copying down notes from a lecture, try to rephrase the information in your own words. This will help you process the information more deeply and make it easier to remember.

Amongst the top five effective methods, one of the key takeaways from “A Mind for Numbers” is the importance of active learning. This means engaging with the material you’re studying rather than just passively reading it. There are many ways to do this, such as taking notes, summarizing key points in your own words, or creating flashcards to test your knowledge. By actively engaging with the material, you’ll be more likely to remember it and understand it on a deeper level.


Another important aspect of smart studying is taking breaks. It may seem counterintuitive, but taking regular breaks can actually help you be more productive in the long run. When you’re studying for extended periods of time without breaks, your brain can become fatigued and less effective at retaining information. Taking short breaks every 25 minutes or so can help prevent this fatigue and keep your mind fresh and alert.


Oakley also emphasizes the importance of effective learning methods such as chunking, extraction exercises, and interspersed learning. Chunking involves grouping information into meaningful units to make learning more efficient. Extraction exercises, like recall practice, help learners to retain information better than simply re-reading notes or textbooks. Interspersed learning involves practicing different problem-solving strategies instead of over-learning the same problem repeatedly.


In addition to these techniques, Oakley also offers advice on how to manage your time effectively and avoid procrastination. She suggests breaking down large tasks into smaller, more manageable ones, and using tools like calendars and to-do lists to stay organized and on track. By setting achievable goals and working towards them in a structured way, you can make progress toward your academic goals without feeling overwhelmed or burnt out.


Therefore, if you’re looking to improve your study habits, by incorporating these techniques into your routine, you can become a more effective learner and achieve your daily study goals more easily. So why not give them a try and see what works best for you? With the right approach, you can unlock your full potential and excel in your studies or work.

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