Studying and learning, what’s the difference?
When people say they don’t like school, they actually mean they don’t like studying. There are so many better and easier ways to learn that don’t involve tedious studying. But the problem is, school material is optimized for studying, not for other ways of learning. And everybody will struggle with studying even a subject they’re passionate about. The only reason it may be easier for you to study a subject you love is that you would spend your free time learning about the particular subject. Now, if you want to find ways to learn better, you should properly understand the real difference between studying and learning.
To study means the devotion of time and attention to gaining knowledge of an academic subject, especially by means of books.
To learn means to gain or acquire knowledge of or skill in (something) by study, experience, or being taught.
Learning is the main purpose of school, and studying is merely one of the ways to learn, but the overwhelming material we have to go through gets our focus stuck in studying and we lose sight of other ways to learn better. As we study, the overwhelming pressure we feel while struggling to pass our exams makes the process tedious, stressful, and no fun. Which, in turn, hinders learning. And makes it difficult for us to pass our exams, it’s a paradox.
It’s not really possible to pass exams without studying. So, back in school, I deliberately paid attention to how I could optimize studying and learn better in order to pass my exams more easily. And I’m here to share what I learned.
How to optimize studying and learn better in school
Use these tips to learn better.
1. Stop studying based on chapters, study topics instead
In school, the books are organized in chapters. Sometimes, parts of the same topic are spread across several chapters. You may be studying one chapter and there may be something you don’t understand about the topic that is in another chapter, and you may not know, so you get stuck. Focus on understanding a topic, this way, you can look up whatever you don’t understand somewhere else.
2. Look up everything
I can speak several languages. This is mainly because I have lived in many places. But when I have to learn a new language, I look up any and every new word that gets my attention. I actually make a list of new words and look them up in a dictionary. This helps me remember better as I fully understand the meaning of the word and not simply go with what I assumed the word means.
This applies to school too. On the footnote of my notebooks, I usually write words, abbreviations, formulas, etc., that I didn’t fully understand. And I make a list of questions that occur to me while studying, on the last page of my notebook. I later look them up or ask someone: classmate, teachers, etc. I don’t take anything for granted.
3. Use alternative sources
Studying the same topic from different sources and in different formats will help you learn better.
- Use old books: I once struggled to pass a physics exam. I can’t really explain why, but when I used an old physics book to study the subject I was struggling with, I passed the exam in flying colors. I guess a fresh perspective is always good.
- Use video: Books are not a natural way to learn. We learn better audiovisually. As I said earlier, I don’t like studying. And, you know, history books are big. There was no way I was going to read through the hefty history book. Lucky for me, there are actually documentaries on youtube of all the topics on history books. Not just a teacher explaining the topics or cartoon animations, but actual documentaries, sometimes with real footage. That’s how I passed my history exams. This also worked for biology, philosophy, etc. The best thing is after watching the video on a topic, studying it becomes easier as neurological pathways were created as you watched the videos.
- Use audio: I recommended this to a friend once, and it worked wonders. She went to the classroom with her iPad and recorded all the lectures. She later listened more carefully to the lectures at home, and she understood better. Audiobooks are great too, for a variety of reasons. For one, you can basically learn anywhere, especially while commuting. Reading your textbook out loud and recording it works too.
- Use an online platform: To find a better and more extensive explanation, you can use learning platforms like Edx.org, Futurelearn.com, Khanacademy.org, even youtube is great. The plus side is that you’ll find the material of your interest in different formats: audio, video, text, etc. You’ll also find exercises you can do to understand the topic better.
4. Get a tutor
If you don’t have the money to pay for one,make an exchange. If you’ve heard about language exchange, there’s study exchange too: you teach them what they want to learn that you know, and they teach you what you want to learn. At the university, I had an Italian guy who taught me physics and he practiced his Spanish with me.I got someone for language exchange too online when I was learning Dutch language.
5. Ask questions
Did I mention this earlier? I can’t insist enough. Make a list of what you don’t fully and deeply understand and ask anyone you can lay your hand on that understands the topic. Friends, parents, siblings, teachers, even strangers…
5. Study group
Are you the type that likes to study with a company? The best way to remember what you learn is by teaching it. Explain a topic you learn to someone and you’ll end up understanding it better.
6. Find the time of the day you study better
They say you study better during the day, among other reasons, because you have daylight. In school, I once tried my absolute best to study during the day, it didn’t work. I found that I’m much more productive at night. But some people prefer studying during the day. What suits you best?
7. Find suitable conditions and avoid distractions to increase productivity
- Lights: It’s good to study with bright light especially when reading a book. But too much bright light in my surroundings bothers me. I know of some people that love bright light and others that don’t. What works best for you?
- Sound: I generally get distracted by sound, studying or not. So, I try to seek silence as much as possible. Do you get bothered by sound? Find a quiet place to study if so.
- Temperature: Too much heat or too much cold is not good. Find the right temperature.
What else do you find distracting?
6. Be organized
- Organize your time: Do you struggle to make the best use of your time? Use the Eisenhower box to organize your time.
- Organize your notes: Make sure the most important parts of your notes are highlighted. The effectiveness of your study highly depends on the quality of your note.
7. Don’t stress
Use the Pomodoro technique to take short breaks while studying: Study for 20 mins, take 5 mins break. Do that three times, then take 15 mins break. Repeat the cycle.
8. Study what you love
If you’re not particularly interested in what you study, you will find it much more difficult actually learn anything.
One of our superpowers as humans is our ability to learn. Learning is probably my favorite superpower, so I always look for ways to learn better. I hope the tips in this list will help you optimize studying and learn better.