When it comes to learning, I am one lazy SOB. In fact, right this minute, I should be focusing on similarities between Romance dialects and how Advanced Tongue Root may play a role in the heightening of mid vowels to high. But instead of doing that, I’m sitting here in the library, stubbornly refusing to do my work. In order to give myself some excuse for being unproductive, I’m going to share with you, my faithful reader, my advice for cramming a ton of info in your head for exams and whatnot. I started using this technique two years ago and the results were pretty damn impressive.
1: Write your notes by hand. NO TYPING.
This may not be entirely necessary, but it sure as hell worked for me. I found that when I had to write a ton of notes from my textbook by hand, I was forced to slow down, due to my hand cramping up all the time. The side effect was that by slowing down, more of the information seeped into my head, without me even noticing it until I went back to my notes. Now, I don’t do this all the time, and sometimes I cheat and just type some of it up, but the stuff I wrote by hand stuck with me longer than the stuff I just typed up.
2: Read the summary first.
This one will be familiar to anyone who’s ever tried learning about learning. When you read the summary, you get a nice outline of what the chapter is going to be about, and the key points are right there for you to watch out for when you go back to read the chapter. This really only works if your textbook has a GOOD summary and not some crappy three-sentence one that I’ve come across lately.
3. Read the chapters aloud.
This one’s a real pain to actually finish, but damn does it work. I tried this with my painfully dull Nonverbal Communication text, and the information stuck better than when I just read it silently. Again, this probably has to do with slowing down to digest everything, but it gets results and I think everyone should do it, especially with those ridiculously dense texts that you start getting saddled with as a grad student.
4. Record your notes and prepare to go insane.
I don’t remember where I heard about this trick, but it is by far the best of the lot. You’re going to need a ton of patience to do it, but if you’re anything like me, the results will definitely be worth the trouble. Get every single one of your notes and put them in a decent order. If you don’t have enough notes, grab your text and write down more. If you are lucky enough to have a study guide, go to town and write down everything mentioned on it. Fire up your computer and load any sound recording program that you have. Grab your microphone and record yourself reading every single note you have. Don’t just stop at the notes: read the chapter summaries, definitions to any terms that you’re having trouble with, anything that you know you’re going to need to know. Don’t leave anything out. Once you have it all recorded, either burn it to a CD or upload it into your MP3 player. Now listen to it until your ears bleed. Listen in the car, listen while going out for a walk, listen while doing random crap around your room. Even if you have it playing as “background music,” occasionally you will hear bits of info and start remembering them. Yes, you will get sick of hearing yourself, but that’s what you want. At some point your brain is just going to get fed up and let everything ooze in. I remember things better when I hear them, and when I hear something over and over and over again, it’s much easier to recall.
Another thing you’ll notice when you’ve been listening to your notes…if you go back and actually read the chapter again, you’re going to fly through it because you already know everything. You’ll be hearing yourself talk about it in your head, and whatever you forgot to jot down will be easily added to this knowledge, like an ornament.
Here’s my attempt to explain why this works: You’re bombarding yourself with information in three different ways. You’re reading the text, you’re writing the notes, and you’re listening to the information that you wrote down. Nothing takes the place of having a professor there to explain it to you, but if you’re working on this alone, this is a great way to stimulate the senses.
Those are my handy-dandy tips for cramming. Feel free to add your own, if you care to.