Effective Studying Techniques

Since the dreaded Summer exam periods are coming up in my University, as well as many other people’s, I thought that I would shed some light on some different studying methods and techniques that some people may find extremely useful, as well as myself.

The Pomodoro Technique

This method is one of the most widely used and known studying techniques, and was developed by Francesco Cirillo in the 1980s. There are 4 main steps to the technique:

  1. Set a task that you want to get done. This can be anything from finishing a past paper to replying to all of your emails.
  2. Set your timer of choice to 25 minutes, and work on your task for this duration of time.
  3. When the timer goes off, set another timer for 5 minutes. Until your 5 minutes is up, take a step away from your workspace and use the bathroom, get a snack, check your mobile phone, etc.
  4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 until you have done 4 lots of 25 minutes. Then, take a longer 15 minute to 30 minute break. After this break is done, go back to step 2 and repeat.

During your intense 25 minutes of focus, there are to be as little distractions as possible. This involves turning off your mobile phone, working in a quiet environment, and using the inform-negotiate-schedule-call back technique for any interruptions. If there are more severe interruptions, or there is not an option to call back, the full cycle must be abandoned.

This technique is my particular technique of choice. It has also been adopted into many Pair Programming activities, as after the time focusing extends 25 minutes, the human brain essentially begins to get lazy, and will be more likely to make errors.

More information on the Pomodoro Technique can be found here.

Getting Things Done

Often shortened to GTD, this technique is another popular studying method, and was developed by David Allan.

Instead of using any tools such as timers, this technique is based around effective time management. The fundamental ideas of the technique involve moving tasks that need to be completed out of the mind of the individual, by recording them externally (for example, in a to do list), and breaking these tasks down into actionable work items. This shifts away from the idea of having to remember what tasks need to be done, and  towards just taking action for tasks that are recorded already for you.

There are 5 different stages within the GTD workflow: capture, clarify, organise, reflect, and engage. Together, these steps allow the creation of a diagram that has each individual thing that you need to do put into different categories depending on priority, time, and difficulty levels among other things.

The main focuses of GTD are control and perspective. If you do not have control over your routine, then you will not be able to accomplish your tasks that you have set out to do. As well as this, you need to have a good perspective of looking at the tasks that you have to do. The workflow diagrams aid this. Not only a good perspective of the tasks is required, however, but also a good perspective on life. It is said that the perfect mentality is that the “mind is like water” for the GTD technique to be effective.

Due to all of the intricate details and knowledge behind making the GTD technique applicable to your life, it is often thought of as very complicated and time consuming to get started. However, once people get the hang of this method, they often never look back. The book that the technique is based on can be found here, if you are interested in learning more.

The Action Method

Created by Behance, a company based in New York that provides a range of services, this is a fairly new and innovative productivity and studying method.

Essentially, it consists of a collaborative online “to-do” list, similar to some other methods of productivity such as kanban boards in software development. Items on the list can be assigned to other people by entering their email address, and they will get an email notification saying that they have been assigned a task.

The method also contains other functionalities such as references and wikis where notes can be jotted down.

This is a brilliant method for group studying or even keeping track of your own studying electronically. There is even an iPhone application available to get the method on your mobile!

The Flowtime Technique

Many people comment that they do not like studying methods such as the Pomodoro Technique due to it being “too restrictive” in the sense of set timings for working and intervals. One method that I have heard people speak about to deal with this issue while still keeping the same underlying principles of the Pomodoro is the flowtime technique.

This was created by a Medium user, @lightsandcandy, and has a quick explanation on a blog post here.

I have used this method myself, and I have found that it is extremely useful for days when you just don’t want to stop half way through a Pomodoro cycle, and want to keep working until you get the task that you have set out to do complete.

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