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How am I supposed to learn?

This may seem like a strange question, after all you’ve been learning your whole life. The question becomes more important when you are in a highly competitive and time-restricted environment. You need to be able to compete at a high level, and get efficient learning.

General Advice

No one can force you to learn, nor can anyone (unfortunately!) learn for you, so at University it is important to take control of your own learning. Remember that study doesn’t have to be dull. You can study in lots of situations and in lots of different ways, so work out what is the best strategy to maximise your results.

It’s important to think about what and how you are studying. Some methods of study are less efficient, generally, for more people and some are more efficient. You will see many amusing examples of people learning in bizarre and irrelevant ways.

  • One example from first year was a student who was very bright and was reading through the textbook for Cells. He knew loads of irrelevant information about cellular biology, but nothing that would get him any marks. Remember, you only need to learn certain details, you’re not doing a PhD in Cellular biology (at this point, anyway).
  • Or the diligent student who is told by the teacher to “go home and read, write and recite” so they write out word for word what the lecturer has said. This is not what helps learning, you need to be thinking about the material.
  • It can be good to have thought about the taught material from several different angles, using different study modalities. For example, one day you may wish to study from notes taken in class, along with looking at a textbook and some lecture slides. The next, you could meet up with some friends to discuss what you have each learnt, sharing ideas, and building upon each person’s strengths.

In the end, all study is study – but some forms of study are more equal than others!

Research on learning

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