EP3: Using your study time

In this episode we’ll discuss what to do with your study time.

Welcome to the Autodidactic Podcast with your host Rick Dearman.

Hello and welcome to the Autodidactic Podcast, Episode Three – Season One. If you’re a new listener, I’d like to welcome you and encourage you to give feedback on this show by emailing me at rick@auodidactic.info, and you can visit our website where you’ll find the show notes and transcriptions of this podcast.

On today’s show, we’re gonna be talking about what to do with the study time that you have and how to create a study plan. I’ll give you some suggestions for how you can take the topics we discussed today and generate a study plan template that you can use as an autodidactic or polymath.

But don’t get too obsessed with the creation of the perfect study plan. As General George Patton said; a good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.

Today we’re gonna talk about three things. Study frequency. Inter-leaving and testing. These three things together will probably do more for your study and retention than just about anything else you can do. The problem with these, of course, is that they’re difficult

But if you’re aware of them and you can work them into your study time, it will help you improve significantly. After we cover these topics and discuss them in greater detail, I’ll move on and briefly discuss something called a reverse revision timetable, and finally, we’ll talk about a study plan.

In the last podcast, I left you with something to think about. So let’s return to the question I asked, which was; Is it better to study four subjects for 15 minutes a day or each subject for one hour over the course of four days? Well, the answer is that there is no correct answer, but research indicates that spacing is more beneficial for long term learning. So by dividing up the four subjects into 15 minute intervals and studying each of them every day, the primary benefit is that you’re forgetting curve is less.

Longer periods of time between study sessions mean that you’re more likely to forget more about the previous session. But because you’re studying a subject every day, albeit for a limited amount of time, you’re not forgetting as much and the following day you’re reinforcing your memory.

In addition, other studies have shown that students who cram for an hour for an examination or quiz will generally score the same as students who studied for shorter periods over the previous week. However, on subsequent examinations of the same material, the students who studied small amounts of material more frequently over time, rather than cramming, remembered almost 50% more than the students who took the second examination. [should have been: However, on subsequent examinations of the same material, the students who studied small amounts of material more frequently over time, rather than cramming, remembered almost 50% more than the cramming students in a second examination.]

So what does this tell us? Well, by breaking up the material into smaller pieces and reviewing it more frequently, students had a higher retention rate than students who simply crammed for the examination the next day. So if you only want to learn enough to pass a test, cramming will work fine. But if you’re attempting to learn a lifelong skill or create a knowledge base then breaking it up, and reviewing it more frequently is a much, much better way to go.

In fact, in another research study, they broke three sets of students up and ask them to learn 50 Spanish words in eight sessions. The sessions for each group were broken up into the next day, the next week or the next month. For example, the first group had one session every day for eight days. The next group had one session every week for eight weeks, etcetera.

So then these three groups of people were tested eight years later. And the people who learned the words in eight sessions over eight months still remembered 50% of the vocabulary, whereas the other students were significantly lower in their percentages of recall.

Another advantage of short but focus study sessions is that you’re more focused and therefore more likely to retain the information. In a long study session your mind will have a tendency to wander, and you’ll not be is focused on the task as you would be if you knew that it was just a simple, short but intense session of study.

So research has shown that spacing out your learning has a benefit on retention. In addition, inter-leaving of information or methods can increase retention. Inter-leaving is simply using multiple sources for your study or multiple methods for your study.

So in one research study students were asked to look at paintings which were grouped by artists, and another set of students were asked to look at the exact same paintings but were in a random order. The students had to critique the paintings and understand the differences between them all. So students who looked at paintings in a random order were better able to remember the critique of the paintings.

You can use interweaving in your own studies by mixing resources So for example, if you are attempting to remember a specific grammatical usage of a word in a foreign language, you might want to read the grammar book description and then looked through another fiction book for an example of that grammatical usage. Or listen to a native speaker who is using that grammatical method in in a sentence. You might mix up Resource is by studying two different books at the same time. Inter-leaving or mixing up as much as possible is a very useful strategy.

The third topic is testing, and as a self learner, you’re probably not going to have a test administered to you by a third party. But research has shown that a large part of the retention of information is being tested on the information.

For example, the more times you have to remember a phone number in order to dial it, the easier it becomes to remember the phone number. And although most people would today society keep their numbers on smartphones, the principal stays the same. Use it or lose it.

At the University of Louisville, psychologist Keith Lyle PhD used a captive audience of his students, his undergraduate class, to prove a point in one 75 person class. At the end of each class session, he asked students to complete a 4 to 6 question short quiz about the material that had been presented during that lecture. Cumulatively, the quizzes counted for just 8% of the final grade.

He also taught a second class using the same syllabus, but didn’t give daily quizzes, and at the end of the semester, he found that students in the quiz class significantly outscored students in the non quiz class in all four midterm examinations.

So although most professors won’t use daily quizzes in their courses, students can and should test themselves by asking questions after each study session. Now, as a self learner, the results of Professor Lyle’s daily quizzes shouldn’t go unnoticed. This is something you can do for yourself easily and practically for the last few minutes of your study period or while you are studying, simply write out a small quiz of what you have studied. It’s relatively easy to generate a question from a paragraph that you just read, and you can use this quiz not on yourself that day, but on your future self tomorrow. So in effect each day you create tomorrow’s daily quiz for yourself. So at the start of your study session, you answer your queries from yesterday and that the end of your session you generate a quiz for tomorrow.

Okay, so let’s bring all of this research together, and how do we apply it? Well, the first thing to do is identify key facts and areas of study. Think about the key sets of facts and areas that you’re going to want to remember 20 years from now or next year or next week. At the end of each study session generated quiz for yourself. Break all of the big ideas into smaller pieces that can easily be quized and try and study from more than one resource at a time.

Try to compare and contrast the information in the various resource is that you’re using, so that covers the three topics of spacing, inter-leaving and testing. Now let’s move on to something I like to call reverse revision timetable.

Of course, I’m not the first person to have used or promoted the reverse revision timetable, but I would like to discuss it, since many people will not have used reverse revision timetable and have only be aware of a revision timetable, which was typically used in school or when studying.

A revision timetable is simply scheduling the time you will use to revise when you have learned a class or a textbook. So, for example, the typical revision timetable will say; On the second of August, I will study the circulatory system; On the third of August, I will study the respiratory system and it goes on like this.

However, one of the problems with this revision timetable is that it doesn’t actually allow you to focus in on the things that you’re having problems with because you are simply doing it in the order in which it was scheduled, and it is bound only to a time-frame.

A reverse revision timetable is different because it focuses on the subject, and the time frame is secondary. To create a reverse revision timetable, you would first list the subjects you’re going to study and not worry about the times that you’re going to study them.

So if we were to use a spreadsheet, you would open it up and in column A you might write a list of 10 subjects that you plan to study or revise. Then what you do is in column B beside the subject that you have studied that day, you write in the date that you studied and you give it a colour coding known as a rag status.

A rag status is a project management term, which stands for Red, Amber, Green. Red means there is a problem, and something needs to be done about this immediately. Amber is a warning colour, saying that there’s a potential problem that needs to be dealt with. And green means everything’s good

Now, on the first pass of a reverse revision timetable, you work down through your list of 10 topics, for example, studying the circulatory system and then the respiratory system, etcetera, etcetera, and after you’ve completed all 10 subjects, you go back and review the rag status of each of those topics. And the next thing you study is one of the red subjects.

So, for example, if you had colour coded, the respiratory system has Red but the circulatory system was green. You would do the respiratory system before the circulatory system. So you study all of the red subjects until you’ve done them all one more time and you colour code those and then you do all of the amber. And on the third pass, you look for more red or amber subjects.

You’ll notice that we ignore Green in this example, because if it was green, it means you already know it. And you simply continue to do this each time, working on the Red and Amber’s to try and make them all Green.

The benefit of this method is that you’re focusing your attention specifically on the items which you are struggling with. In the normal revision timetable, you study the subject again on the next date it’s due. Whether you know it or not, so this is sub optimal. If you want to ensure that you understand the various topics that you’re studying, you should always be studying the thing that you don’t understand or the thing that you understand the least.

Now, Finally, I’d like to outline my suggested study plan template. Here I’m going to assume that you are learning more than one subject at a time, and I’m gonna make this simple and say that you’re only studying two topics.

In this example we’re going to say that you’re studying one foreign language, French, and you’re studying mathematics. You have one hour of dedicated study time every day, which means you’re going to break up these two topics and give them one half hour each. The very first thing you would need to do is to create a study plan.

Now, this is slightly different from your revision timetable because you haven’t actually studied anything yet. The study plan is what your future intention is to study. To create a study plan you look at the resource is that you have available for each topic one at a time.

So let’s start with French. You have one audio resource, two textbooks on a fiction book. So you decide you’re going to use the audio resource during your stolen minutes, and if you don’t know what I mean by stolen minutes, have a listen to the previous podcast. So you won’t be using your audio during this study period, so you’re going to use the two textbooks and the fiction books.

You’re going to start with the smaller textbook, and after completing each section, you will try and find the same information in the larger textbook to compare and contrast the information that they’re giving. The fiction book you will read every other study period, underlining unknown vocabulary and putting them into flash cards, and you will use the flash cards in those stolen minutes. And that will be your study plan for the next month.

For your study of mathematics, it’s very similar. You have four mathematics books, basic math, algebra, trigonometry and geometry. You decide that you will do them in the order of basic math, geometry and trigonometry. But you will use the algebra book every other day while making your way through the other three books over time. In hopes that this inter leaving of algebra with the other maths books will help for the retention of all, or at least give you some ability to see, compare and contrast the subjects.

Finally, you open up your spreadsheet and you list your topics. You break the topics down into sub-categories as much as possible and as appropriate. You decide that each month you will collect up all of the daily quizzes that you generate, and you will take them all as one big test each month.

So in addition to daily quizzes, your daily quiz becomes a large test at the end of each month. And the results of these monthly examinations will be used as indicators for your reverse time table revision.

So let’s say, for example, you had divided your French into two sub-categories vocabulary and grammar, and in your monthly exam, you see that you should be studying grammar more frequently. This allows you to modify the next month study session and focus on grammar. So the results of your testing and you’re quizzing and your revision allows you to look forward to the next month and create a new plan.

Now you don’t have to use this study template because you’re studying something might be radically different from what I study. However, I think the principle of using daily tests monthly exam and a reverse revision timetable will help you to maintain a steady schedule and record your progress as a self learner.

That’s it for today, and I’d like to thank you for listening to today’s podcast in the next podcast, I’m going to cover Gathering Resource is in order to study as a self learner. There are a large number of free and legal resource is available to you as a self learner on the Internet today. You can get textbooks written by colleges and universities, as well as professors who are releasing textbooks under Creative Commons licences that allow you to print them or use them, as you see fit. There are apps to help with spaced repetition or memorization, their language learning apps, their courses that have been released into the public domain. So in addition to all this free and legal resource on the Internet, there’s also paid subscriptions, other websites where you can get additional resource is and will cover all of that, as well as libraries, used book-stores, charity shops and other places to gather materials in the next podcast.

Thank you for listening to the auto didactic podcast with your host Rick Dearman, if you enjoyed this podcast, please consider giving a donation by a Paypal. Thank you very much, and see you again next time.