We all need to learn things at times. Students, employees, actors, business people and Bible readers all need to learn and memorise things at times. While there are various memory tricks which can be used, I will help you here with some really sound wisdom to help you study and learn whatever you need to. The study skills I share with you are quite universally applicable and don’t need you to apply gimmicks to advance your studies.
Three Simple Keys
As I reflect on my own study career and my ability to learn and retain important information, in school, work, as a professional presenter and preacher, and so on, I come back to three simple keys which I teach to my own children.
I recently reviewed these three simple keys with my youngest son, as he addressed himself to some new study challenges. That has prompted me to put them in text for other students, parents and families to benefit from. I trust you find this series of articles helpful.
When I started secondary schooling my older brother, Lawrence, one year ahead of me, told me something really important that helped me cruise through my high school years. He told me that if I paid close attention in class, and did not let my mind wander, but hung off everything the teacher told me, I would not need to do much review or study at home.
A teacher had told Lawrence that the homework and home-study which teachers required their students to do, at least in the early years of High School, were simply to make up for the fact that the students weren’t paying attention to or properly understanding what the teacher was explaining in class. If students became disciplined at paying attention they could save themselves much home study time.
Further to paying attention Lawrence’s teacher told him to ask questions. The key is to be attentive to and understand the information being taught. If, while paying attention, you cannot understand what is being explained, then ask the teacher to go over it again, or clarify the thing that does not click for you.
Many students shy away from asking questions, as it signals their ignorance to other students who might understand perfectly well. No one wants to look stupid if they can help it. So, in order to gain clarification we may have to push past our pride. Or even approach the teacher during class break time, to get an explanation when others are not aware what you are doing.
However it is done, be sure you understand and take cognition of what has to be absorbed.
Engage the Brain
A poster I recall for years ago advised, “Please engage brain before engaging jaw!” That advice is not as funny as it might first sound. Many people operate at a level of semi-mindlessness. They don’t switch off altogether, but they try to operate their brain on ‘idle’ instead of ‘full speed’.
Our attention can be fuzzy and our thoughts distracted while we are doing other things. We adjust to this minimal level of concentration and can cruise through our day with little mental discipline and focus. So I am serious when I challenge you to engage the Brain.
Make a point of paying attention. Discipline yourself to be able to do so.
Take Out the Garbage
Some years ago I attended a conference where home-schooling fathers met to discuss their various challenges. Two teachers addressed the conference, reflecting on a course which they had run just before the conference for a group of male high-school age students.
The men, from an engineering background, taught a large group of young men about electrical and mechanical motor systems and who they operate and can be repaired. These men normally taught their subject to tertiary level students in a technical college.
The instructors had glowing reports of their experience teaching the high-school age home-schoolers. The course which they normally took a year to teach at Tech, was able to be taught in just 2 weeks. And what really impressed the teachers was that the young men asked intelligent questions which no other students had ever asked before. The young students were paying such attention and gaining such understanding that they not only covered the material in record time, they also understood it at a deeper level.
Obviously the advantage of being home-schooled was a factor in this, but the teachers pointed to another important issue. The young men were completely uncluttered from garbage. They did not have music playing in their ears, messaging going on to their friends, smutty thoughts going through their minds, competitive ego issues at play in the class, and so on. They had taken out the garbage from their lives, which normal class environments are full of.
The fathers of these young students had protected them from becoming garbage bins, and had trained their sons to keep their hearts and minds clean and clear. While each child would have been at a different level on this issue, the overwhelming reality was that the students were able to process work at an exceptional rate.
That points to the fact that most of us could be much better students and speed ahead of those around us, if only we could learn to pay attention with a life that is free from distractions.
In my late teens I became friends with a young man named Tony. Tony had performed poorly at school, yet I realised he was quite intelligent. In the areas which took his interest, including history and nature, he could tell me all sorts of things about events, people, migratory patterns of various birds and so on.
I later discovered why Tony had done poorly at school. As a lad he had been taken into a hospital room to see his mum before she died. The woman was desperately ill and looked close to death. Tony ran out of the room screaming, “My mummy’s going to die!” The trauma and torment of that experience totally swamped just about everything else in his life, including his studies.
Tony’s mother had a vision of Jesus walking into her hospital room a few days after Tony’s visit. She was totally and miraculously restored to health. The home returned to normal, but Tony never recovered. A monster distraction had so impacted his emotions and mind that it disabled his class-room performance from then on.
Tony’s private reading and personal study was strong and effective, but he failed in the schooling system and struggled with the stigma of being unintelligent.
So, it is possible to be hit by monster distractions which totally derail your ability to pay attention. If you have experienced that then I encourage you to get sound Christian help and pastoral care to become free, through the power of Jesus.
Pay Attention to Paying Attention
There’s more I need to say about this foundational key to study and learning. Meanwhile, I want you to pay attention to paying attention. Take note of how easily you switch off, get distracted, or operate without your brain in gear.
In the next instalment I’ll give you more insight into the whole process of being attentive, so you can get your learning and study off to a strong start.