EP10: Solving concentration problems

Hello and welcome to the auto didactic podcast. This is Season 1 Episode 10 If you’re a long-time listener, welcome back to the show. And if you’re joining us for the first time, welcome aboard. As always, I just want to say that I enjoy getting feedback for the show. So if you have any feedback, feel free to email me at rick@autodidactic.info, and you can request topics or give feedback or give your experience.

Today we’re going to talk about concentration. Now, when you study, concentration is very important, and it’s something that you may have in abundance or something that you might not have, but it is definitely something that can be acquired.

So what is Concentration? Concentration is focusing your attention on what you’re doing, and concentration is an important in just about everything, especially reading or listening or studying. It’s very difficult to say what concentration is, but it’s very easy to explain what it isn’t.

For example, if you’re reading a chapter in your textbook, you’re concentrating only as long as you’re thinking of nothing else, as soon as you start to think about how many pages you have left to read or what time you’re gonna eat dinner or a soon as you start to think about something else then you’ve been distracted and you’re not concentrating.

So if you think about the fact that you should be concentrating, that means you’ve actually lost your concentration. So, for example, if you were in some sort, of course, or watching a YouTube video and you become interested in something that’s happening outside your window or behind you or other people talking, then you’ve lost your concentration. And you’ve probably missed some of the points that the person was trying to make.

Being distracted interferes with your ability to focus, and in each of the sort of examples I’ve given you are actually concentrating on something. The problem is, you just were concentrating on something other than what you wanted to be. Now the difficulty with concentration is a pretty common place for most people on.

I think basically, there three types of concentration and improving your concentration is something that’s very important if you’re going to become an autodidactic. Studies say that there are three levels of concentration.

So as you’re reading your text assignments. Time yourself for 20 minutes, and each time you think of something else or look up from what you’re doing, put a tick mark in the margin of your book. You’ll find out that you probably weren’t concentrating at the level that you should have been. And at some points during the 20 minute period, you’ll have noticed that you were more focused on the material than other times. If you look back at the tick marks that you made in your books, you can see where you were starting to lose concentration. And typically, most people find that these are in the early parts of the study section or the section, which you’re studying.

Why is that? Basically, most people are less distracted toward the end of the 20 minute period. Let’s take a little look at how concentration works. You have what they call light concentration, moderate concentration and deep concentration. A light concentration is typically when you first sit down and you first start a task. So at this stage it lasts, probably for the first five or 10 minutes of your activity on. Then, as you get settled into reading or studying or whatever it is you’re doing, you can see that in the first few minutes you’re not really as focused as you should be, and you wiggle about in the chair or you pull your hair or you start twiddling a pencil or doing something.

So when you’re in light concentration mode, you’re easily distracted. So if somebody starts talking behind you or you see people walking around outside or whatever or some noise occurs, you may find yourself thinking about other things, and you typically don’t accomplish much in a light concentration phase.

Now, after that first five or six minutes, you start to move into a moderate concentration mode, and at this point you begin to seriously pay attention to what you’re doing on the task that you’re doing or what you’re reading, etcetera. Now you may find that you’re actually interested in in this material on what you’re doing, and at this stage you’ll find that you’re not as easily distracted as you were before. So although you might lose your concentration at this point if somebody actually speaks directly to you or knocks on the door or whatever, typically you’re going to stay focused on what you’re doing, and then at some point you might move into deep concentration.

And this means you’re completely engrossed in what you’re doing reading, studying, etcetera and you aren’t thinking about anything except what you’re doing. It’s this. This is the sort of phase where you jump when somebody comes up behind you and touches your arm because you’re so sort of engrossed in what you’re doing that you didn’t even notice the person. Enter the room or say your name when you’re in deep concentration. You’re not really aware of doors opening, clock’s ticking, other sounds that you may have found distracting. And this is the stage of concentration where you’re working the most effectively and you’re gonna have the highest comprehension.

This is the mode that you want to get into, and this is where you’re gonna learn the most and complete the most amount of work.

How do you get into a deep concentration? Concentration typically is a cycle, and you might be thinking that it’s easy to get to a high level of concentration. You know you work for 10 or 15 minutes and then buying you’re in deep concentration, but it really doesn’t work like that. What typically tends to happen is you’ll be able to work up into deep concentration for 40 minutes of say in our study session. Typically, the first few minutes is not really any good to you. And unfortunately, some people never actually get into deep concentration. They flip back and forth between light and moderate because they’re more or less constantly distracted.

Every time you’re distracted, you move back to a lesser stage of concentration. So if you’re in deep concentration, you get distracted urine sort of moderate, and then if you’re in moderate, you go back to light. What you need to do is keep interruptions very short if they happen or not at all. And you need to do this until you get deep into the material. This might take you. You no longer than five or 10 minutes to do. But you’re still gonna have to move through these two other steps of light and moderate before you could get into deep or heavy concentration. And this is gonna take you a while.

So you’re gonna need to study in places where you’re not interrupted as much where you’re you’re gonna be able to basically concentrate for longer periods and your your ability to concentrate. It’s gonna vary from task to task and depends on what you study in the text and things on the time what you’re doing, it etcetera. One of the things you definitely don’t want to be doing is studying in a noisy or distracting area where there’s loads of people and you should actually try and study at the same time each day because you just get into a habit of studying. Most people, as I said, have concentration problems. But most people don’t actually have problems concentrating, which sounds a bit weird, but people have the ability to concentrate. No problem. They just have problems getting into concentration.

So there’s three kinds of problems that are typically found. There’s difficulty focusing at will like you know immediately when you want to. There’s a difficulty sustaining that focus over a longer period of time, and there’s a different difficulty in limiting the focus toe one task at a time. So let’s discuss the first one focusing it will. So have you ever noticed that you have difficulty concentrating when somebody starts lecturing or when you start to the video you may find yourself looking around or thinking about you know, when you’re when you’re gonna be able to get thio whatever you’re doing next. But you basically have trouble focusing all your attention on the task at hand, and this is focusing at will, being able to turn your attention on and off like a light switch. Now some people can concentrate immediately. Others find it difficult.

Many people have developed techniques to focus their attention on the task at hand. You picture yourself of that critical minute when you’re gonna make your move, and you go through some sort of ritual to calm yourself or focus your attention. People that play sports ballplayers, bowlers, tennis players, runners, etcetera have strategies to focus their attention. Many people use self talk to focus yourself, so you might say things like, Okay, pay attention. I’m gonna do this. Some people give themselves a little pep talk. You know, pay attention. I need to do this. I need to concentrate, etcetera. Some people have sort of a totem, you know. They put a pen or highlighter in front of them, and they, you know, they know that they’re going to start studying or they have ah, particular place where they study and they associate their concentration with that area, so these sorts of things help them to focus their will.

The other problem that people have is sustaining that concentration once you actually start, as we discussed previously, the concentration is a cycle, so it’s not as easy as it sounds just to keep in that mode. And some people have difficulty maintaining concentration. Regardless of the task, Some people can focus for long, long, long periods without ever becoming distracted. Why is there this difference? Well, the difficulty of the task level, the person’s interest in the material, their motivation can all be factors in what is the ability to sustain this focus? The final type of problem is, uh, limiting your focus toe one task at a time.

Now, a lot of people think that it’s good to multitask, but most of the time this isn’t a good idea, especially when you’re studying or trying to learn something, you need to focus your attention on the task at hand without being distracted by, you know, another uh, text that you need to review or another thing that needs to do but happen or something else on your to do list. Various strategies around this include, you know, having a good study environment that helps you avoid distractions.

Strategies for setting goals and time management and prioritization will all help you. When you find yourself thinking of other things staring out a window or being distracted, you may have difficulty focusing at will, sustaining your focus or limiting your focus on one task. The rial cause of most problems for concentration are simply a lack of attention, lack of interest or lack of motivation. The two main signs of poor concentration are external internal distractions. Distraction is anything that divert your attention from the task at hand. So external distractions or things like doorbells or people walking past etcetera, internal distractions or things that you’re thinking about or you’re worrying about, or you know, something that pops into your head while you’re while you’re working.

Common internal distractions, air sort of anxieties, personal worries, indecision, etcetera. You probably find that it’s really easy to concentrate when you’re interested in what you’re doing. So when you’re focused on something that you’re doing, like a hobby or or whatever you find it easy to let the time slip away. You’re very focused on what you’re doing. Your level of interest in this particular course from the material that you’re studying, maybe part of the problem with A without having a high level of interest. It’s easy to get distracted, especially when you’re surrounded by distractions. I like the motivation is another cause If you really don’t care about what you’re studying or you have no motivation to complete on, learn what you need to learn, then you’re really not going to see the relevance, uh, toe what you’re trying to study or or what your you’ve assigned yourself to do on. It’s hard to exert.

You know that extra willpower to get it done, you really need to have a motivation and and find out, you know, why am I doing this? Why am I trying to learn this? You know what is my motivation and keep that motivation of mind. It will help you improve your concentration. If you’re motivated to succeed, these problems can be marked. Is AIM (Attention, interest and motivation).

And they’re the real reasons that distractions interrupt you. Internal distractions are difficult to put away. It’s very difficult to not worry about personal problems or think about what you have to do later, or if you’re feeling hungry or tired, you know is another common distraction. You need to make sure that you try and solve these types of problems before you sit down to study, you know, have a snack. Eat something before you start. Try and make sure you’re getting proper sleep and things so that you’re not tired, and you need to make sure that you’ve got the right attitude towards what you’re doing so that you’re motivated, that you know what you want to do and you’re ready to do it. There’s a lot of people have concentration problems when they’re reading assignments, unlike the person speaking or varying the pitch of their voice or the tone or the changing environment around them. These folks can keep you from being distracted and can keep you interested in what’s happening. But if you’re lying in bed reading a textbook, well, you know it can affect your ability to concentrate. If you try and read late at night, you’re gonna experience more difficulty staying focused because you’re tired.

Concentration actually requires effort, so it’s hard to make that effort if you’re tired and you have difficulty maintaining concentration when you’re reading for long periods of time without a break. Okay, So how do we improve concentration? How do we go about making the concentration better? Well, by now, you realize that concentration is pretty common for everybody. And although it makes you feel a bit better to know you’re not the only person who has this problem. It doesn’t actually help you.

Look at ways to fix our concentration strategies. There’s various motivational and organizational strategies we can use to improve concentration. And probably the most helpful ones are a positive attitude. A general interest in the task in hand, goal settings and scheduling yourself. You know, your study periods.

So you need to develop a positive attitude towards what you’re gonna what you’re gonna do. You need too. Want to do the study you need to see it is relevant and valuable and important. So before you even begin to do all of this stuff, have to think about how it benefits you, right? And, answer the question of why you want to do this and then have some self belief. You know, you can do this assignment. It’s not a problem. You have successfully completed things before and you’ll successfully complete.

If you’re having any self doubts or frustration, they’ll interfere with your concentration. You need to have a positive attitude, and then you need to be interested in the task If you’re not already interested and you’re gonna have a lot of difficulty in doing, uh, this task If you need to read a two part data sheet on, uh, microprocessors or something, then you’re gonna need to be interested in that. In order to sustain your focus, you’re gonna need ways to find to make this material interesting on dso that you can generate an interest in what you’re doing.

Now, one way is to preview the thing before you read, so you have a good idea of what you’re going to go through. You know, we’ve talked about this before where you review the chapters. You look at the headings, you sort of have a good idea of what’s gonna happen before you start to read. And in order to increase your motivation, you start to ask some questions from the headlines on the headers so that you are looking to answer these questions as you’re reading along so that that gets you more motivation and more interest in the topic because you’re actually searching for answers at this point.

Another thing that you might try is to break up, break up this task into smaller chunks so that you don’t have to read eight Chapter Section one of this book. You break it into smaller chapters or half a chapter so that you’re basically doing one task at a time, and you’re taking your way through it so it won’t matter as much if you’re distracted midway through if you’re only midway through a relatively small section. The other thing you might try is if you’re not particularly interested in this particular topic and you have another topic what you are interested in, you can try flipping between them so that you know you force yourself to do 20 minutes of mathematics in order to read 20 minutes of history book.

Now you can use goal setting strategies, so set a clear specific goal to help you concentrate. So if you know what you need to accomplish, then you can limit your focus to that tasks of it again. If we go back to asking questions, you’re focusing on answering your own questions rather than just reading the text. But having a clear purpose in mind can help you limit the distractions that you run into on time. Management strategies are very important, you know. Have a to do list. Have a reverse revision, spreadsheet, that sort of thing. To develop a steady schedule study schedule for yourself each day. Then you need to create a positive environment. You need to be able to reduce the number of external distractions on.

The easiest way to do that is just just eliminate them by going and hiding away somewhere where you’re not gonna be distracted. You can avoid most external distractions by closing yourself off or getting yourself alone somewhere. Find yourself a nice, quiet study place. Limit your distractions. So even in your study place, you can put your desk against the wall. Eso you can’t look out the window. Turn off emails, etcetera. Use your desk to study, you know, Don’t use it for everything else. Don’t eat your dinner there. You know it’s just for studying and don’t get a comfy chair to study in. Get something that’s not too comfortable that basically keeps you awake. Never study while you’re lying in bed, because basically, you fall asleep. Um, you can try and turn off your phone, or at least screen your phone calls. Turn off radios, televisions, radio, etcetera. If you need something sort of white noise, you can use soft, familiar music or because even APS you can download that have sort of a sound of falling rain. Etcetera.

Try and study when where you’re at is the most quiet. So if you’re studying at home, when your family members or asleep or outside, um, try and consider going to maybe a library or somewhere quiet If you can’t get any quiet time at home, try and just reduce or remove all distractions in order to get your place. Get yourself into a place where you could go into deep concentration. Now again, everybody says multitasking is great, but really multitasking is not great for study. You need to focus on what you’re doing. You can’t be, you know, studying mathematics While watching football on television. You might think that you’re able to but you just can’t because you’re concentrating on neither thing. If you’re trying to listen to your, you know, respond to text messages on your phone while you’re studying, it’s just not gonna work. Don’t do it. Focus on the task at hand. Minimize all your distractions.

Try not to focus yourself internally, so don’t think about you know the things you could be doing or should be doing or want to be doing. Uh, that’s not the time to be focusing on that. Focus on what you’re doing. Task at hand. And when you find yourself drifting off and thinking about something else, pull yourself back and the more often you pull yourself back and focus, the easier it will be for you to focus later. So one of the better ways to keep distractions from actually getting to you in the first place is to generate a high level involvement using active learning strategies. You may understand video tutoring better if you’re writing notes at the same time. If you’re physically actively writing notes, um, or you know you may have other um, strategies for, I don’t know, looking for grammatical errors and sentences, etcetera. So all of these sort of active strategies to get you involved and focus your attention on the task.

The other problem that you may have is that your you prefer one type of activity over another. So, for example, you may prefer to watch video tutorials rather than read text, which is fine. But you need to be able to make sure that when you’re doing a an activity that you don’t particularly like so much that you’re focusing and concentrating on that as well. Now, one of the things we said earlier was to put a check mark or a tick mark in the book. Every time you’ve got distracted Onda at the end of the study session, you can count the number of interruptions. One of the things that you can do with this is you can use this as a monitor to see if you’re improving your concentration. The way that you do that is, you basically put a tick mark or something in the margin of your study book or in your notes.

If you’re in a lecture hall or you’re watching a video or whatever, each time you get distracted and then what, you’re gonna try and do is make a commitment to reduce the number of ticks and distractions in order to force yourself to concentrate when you notice that you’re distracted or day dreaming or thinking about something else and you’re putting that tick in the in the margin or in your notes or whatever, then have a think about what actually caused you or triggered you to lose your concentration. And if you can pinpoint the cause of your distraction than your step closer to coming up with a solution.

So, for example, if you if you’re studying and you over the course of two or three days, you notice that you’re always constantly distracted by the the postman putting post through the letter box, it might not be, you know, a good idea to stop the postman from delivering your post, but you can at least try and schedule your study time after the postman has been, for example, or if you know, approximately the time that they’re going to show up. Schedule a study break, then, rather than having it being forced upon you many benefits to improve concentration, and obviously the most obvious one is that you’re making better use of your time, and you’re actually studying more but improves concentration while studying has another benefit, which is, Actually, it improves your concentration the rest of the time, bringing your attention back on point. Every time it goes off, you’re training yourself to become more focused and more aware of what you’re doing and better able to fix your concentration at will on a particular thing.

This is something that a lot of people who meditate have found that their ability to meditate and to focus on one thing allows them much, much better ability to get in the flow of something and focus and concentrate. Monitor your distractions so you can hold yourself accountable and try and figure out what is causing these distractions or lack of concentration. So you can try and come up with some sort of improvement method or system or something that will help you do it. And if you’re putting in the time but not getting much done, then you probably have a concentration problem, and you and you need to work on fixing your concentration problem.

I hope you enjoyed this weeks podcast, and I hope you have found something to take away and improve your studying and improve your concentration.

Next week in next week’s podcast, I want to cover off something that you might have been wondering, which is has an auto didactic. You don’t have a teacher or professor or someone showing you what to learn. And, of course, you yourself don’t actually know yet about this subject in full. So how do you go about creating your own self directed learning plan or curriculum for yourself? Next week? We’ll cover off some of those topics just to try and cover what it is you should try and look for when you first start out and how you plan create an Evolve, a learning plan that helps you become a lifelong learner and also to cover the topic that you’re interested in. So that’s it for this week. I hope you enjoyed the podcast. And, as always, if you have any feedback, please email me at rick@autodidactic.info. Uh, with any questions, feedback, anything you want to discuss. Thank you very much.

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EP9: Taking Lecture Notes

“Hello, everyone, and welcome back. This is Episode 9 Season 1 of The Autodidactic Podcast. If this is your first time, I welcome you, and if you’re a returning listener, thanks for coming back.

Today I want to cover the topic of lecture notes. As an Autodidactic, self-learner you’re probably not gonna attend many formal lectures, although you might. Other than attending class every day, taking good lecture notes is probably the single most important activity for college students, but if you’re self learning, you might not think you need to worry about this sort of thing.

However, like I pointed out last week, a lecture may take many different forms. It could be an online lecture, or it could be a class from an on line tutor. It could be a speech at a conference, or it could be a podcast or YouTube video. If someone is verbally imparting knowledge to you, you should consider it a lecture and try and take some notes.

If it is recorded audio or video lecture, you could re listen. But this isn’t a very efficient use of time. With these types of information, you’re not going to get things spoon-fed to you like you did back in high school. There probably isn’t a blackboard where the important stuff is itemized in a list for you. You’re going to have to listen closely and pick out the most important parts for yourself.

Developing good note-taking skills takes both time and practice. Taking lecture notes

promotes active listening, provides an accurate record of information, provides an

opportunity to interpret, condense, and organize the information, and provides an

opportunity for repetition of the material. Learning and practising effective strategies for how to take lecture notes will help you become a more successful autodidactic.

By taking notes, you can improve your concentration because you’re focusing your intention on what is being said. You have a purpose, which is listening for the next point that the speaker will make so you can write it down.

Taking notes is a very active process. You can generate a high level of involvement in your own learning by taking notes. Note taking involves more than just writing down what the instructor is saying however, it includes thinking about what is being said, determining what is important, recognizing the different points and how they relate to each other. Anticipating what will be said next and putting the information into your own words and organizing the information in your notes, condensing and interpreting the information helps make it more meaningful for you, which helps you to learn it. The process of taking good lecture notes can help you become both an active listener and an active participant.

Research studies indicate that without rehearsal, you may forget 50% of what you hear in a lecture within 24 hours and 80% of it in just two weeks. And in fact, in one month you may have forgot 95% of it. So you can’t rely on your memory of the lecture, you need your notes too. Taking lecture notes forces you to interpret, condense and organize information.

You’ll quickly find that you can’t write a quickly if someone can speak. If you could write that fast, you could simply write down a lecture verbatim and then re-read it later. But re-reading is the same as re-attending or reviewing a video recorded lecture. It just isn’t an efficient use of your time.

You have to condense the information and you have to think about each sentence and interpret it, often putting the information into your own words as you write down the information in a condensed form, you’re also forced to create a system of organization that separates the main and supporting points. You structure the information your way and in a way that will make sense to you.

So now that we know why it’s important to take notes, how do you do it? You can judge the effectiveness of your notes by reviewing them against recorded lectures were possible in making sure that you’re picking out the important information and condensing it properly.

I wrote a book about note taking; and the majority of the book covers ways of making notes faster by using abbreviation and speed writing and also some general methods for note taking and meetings, etcetera. I’ll put the link in the show notes. (Effective Note-taking: Note-taking for business)

When you start doing lecture notes, you need to consider the organization of the notes and the way that you’re going to structure the material. If you just try and write down everything as quickly as possible, you’ll end up with a tangled mass of disassociated ideas and sentences so it’s important to separate the main points from the details and show the relationships between the ideas.

Therefore, before you even start to watch the lecture or enter the lecture hall or go to the conference centre, you need to have prepared your notebook or your app or whatever you’re going to use. You should try and be familiar with what’s going to be discussed a much as possible. And if you have a textbook on the subject, study it before the lecture so it’ll be easier for you to pick up on the main points and organize your notes if you have a good idea of what’s gonna happen next.

Personally, I recommend that you use a paper based notebook simply because it allows more freedom and it allows you to do some additional work with it after the lecture, and we’ll cover that a bit later. Now, remember that you only get one chance to listen to a lecture unless, of course, it’s been recorded. But you can read the textbook or your notes as many times as you want.

Try to make sure that you see and hear the speaker and that you’re not going to be distracted. So to take the notes, you need to:

  • Decide that you want to listen.
  • You need to be paying close attention to the lecture.
  • You need to select the relevant information and ignore any distractions.
  • You need to interpret the information to make sure it’s meaningful. And you need to condense the information before writing it down.
  • organizing the information into appropriate headings and subheadings
  • you take notes

When writing down the notes in your notebook, never, ever right on both sides of the notepaper. And I’ll tell you why in a little while.

People often confuse hearing with listening on listening means that you’re engaged in. You’re paying attention and you’re interpreting what you’re hearing, and you’re trying to assign meaning to it. Active listeners air physically, intellectually and emotionally involved in the lecture. Some strategies to become Active listener are:

  • read any text you can before the lecture to build up a background on the topic
  • review your last set of notes before a lecture begins. (If this lecture is related to a previous one)
  • make sure that you want to listen.
  • Focus your attention by physically sitting up and making eye contact with the speaker. (If the if the lecture is live but otherwise sitting forward and paying attention to the screen or the audio, focus your attention mentally by eliminating or avoiding distractions.)
  • Listen with an open mind and set aside your own biases. So don’t be distracted by things you might find unappealing about the message or the messenger and concentrate on what’s being said.
  • Try and control your emotional response to what is being discussed.
  • Listen for the main points and the related details.
  • When you’re taking your notes, ask any questions if that’s possible for recorded materials right down the questions as they occur to you so that you can review and look up later.
  • Monitor your listening. In other words, check that what you heard or think you heard is what was actually said. So you can do this by checking with the lecturer or another audience member if it’s live or if you’re unsure the information, or you can just watch it again if it’s recorded. So basically, just monitoring to make sure that what you thought you understood, you actually understood and then hold yourself accountable for the material that was presented, you know, make make yourself learn what is being discussed.

One of the systems for note taking is the Cornell system developed at Cornell University, which has an excellent format for setting up your note page. But I recommend that you have different notebooks for different topics. So don’t mix up your I don’t know mathematics study with your Electronics study, for example.

Although there are many, many note taking systems, there are three that worked particularly well for lectures.

They’re called the Informal Outline, the Block and the Modified Block style, and they all work well in lectures. So try them all and see which one works best for you.

The informal outline is similar to the formal outline that many people learned in school where you have the headings with a capital A and in subheadings are 123 etcetera. The end former outline is a very similar system, but you just don’t label things you know ABC or 123 etcetera. In addition on informal outline contains a lot more information. So you’re not just putting single word headings and subheadings you’re actually writing, you know, full sentences. And after writing the main points next to the you know margin line. You just use indentation to show that the following points are subordinate to the lines above.

And now the block style of note taking is another very simple system. Block notes are especially useful if you need to record a great deal of information very quickly. Are you listening to someone who talks so fast that you can’t keep up who never goes back over information? Well, when taking block notes, you need only to write down the heading and then focus on writing as many details as you can. So block notes are written continuously across the page, separating any details by dashes or slashes.

The modified block method is similar to an outline. However, you simply have a heading and then a paragraph underneath of it with all of the details.

The block and modified-block methods allow you to take notes efficiently and

effectively because you have to concentrate on only two things:

  1. writing down the main points (headings) and
  2. writing down any details about them.

You don’t spend a lot of time trying to figure out where to place or how to label

each new piece of information.

But still, there’s the question. What should I write down? Or perhaps you find yourself thinking. Should I write that down? If you’re asking yourself the question, should you write that down? Then the answer is yes.

After you’ve written your notes in the lectures done, congratulations. You have completed the first draft. Now you have to edit your notes.

You need to edit, revise your notes and correct errors. Clarify meanings. Make additions improve organization etcetera. Editing your notes helps you become a better note taker because you’re basically giving yourself feedback on the quality of your own notes. And as you go through the notes checking for accuracy and filling in gaps and information and proving organization, you can see where you made mistakes, and this feedback will help you take better notes next time.

Editing provides you with an opportunity to review both the text and the lecture material, and it gives you a chance to integrate the course material textbooks or other subsequent information. This additional repetition, which requires both critical thinking and active structuring of the data, helps you to reinforce what you read and heard and leads to a better understanding of the material.

So editing your notes, you need to do within 24 hours of the lecture, because if you wait too long, you’ll have for gotten too much.

Note editing is very straightforward. There’s basically five steps that you’re trying to do.

  1. Fill in the gaps and missing information. As you read your notes it will jog your memory and you’ll be able to add more detail.
  2. Refer to a textbook or other information sources to help fill in gaps in your notes.
  3. Check for accuracy. If you notice some incorrect information in your notes or if you’re unsure of the accuracy of some points, check with the lecturer if possible or textbook or other sources of information to verify whether the information is correct.
  4. Expand your notes. Make your notes more understandable, expand abbreviations, finish sentences, correct spellings, etc.
  5. Rewrite your notes in order to improve the organization of the information.

This last point is the reason why I said earlier, never right on the back side of the paper. As you’re taking your notes, the back side of the page is blank, but because it’s related to the information other side, you can rewrite your notes on the back in a more organized and accurate way. And then later, when you review your notes, review the back side of the notepaper, not the front.

And to review your notes is similar to the other reviews that I mentioned in previous podcasts. You need to develop recall questions and generate many quizzes to test yourself. If you need to go back and review previous a podcast, now would be a good time to do it, because now you know how to take lecture notes while you’re listening.

Okay, so that’s it for me this week. Next week we’ll try and cover concentration while studying. So how to make sure you’re concentrating on your studying your concentration levels, concentration problems, strategies for overcoming issues?

Thanks for listening and as always if you have any feedback I would love to hear from you. You can email me at: rick@autodidactic.info or you can put comments on the website. Thank you very much for attention on. I’ll see you soon.

EP8: How to mark and highlight text books for review.

We cover how to highlight, what to highlight, how much to highlight, and how to review highlighted material.

Hello, everybody, and welcome back to the show. This is Episode 8, Season 1 of The Autodidactic Podcast. Today we’re going to discuss textbook highlighting.

If you’re new to the show I would like to welcome you and if you are returning, I’d like to welcome you back. As always, I really enjoy getting feedback for this show. So if you’re interested in giving me some feedback, you can email me at rick@autodidactic.info. You can make comments on the website as well where I will be uploading the show notes for this show as well as others.

Why should you mark up your text books?

When done correctly, text marking promotes active reading, condenses the

material for later review, increases your comprehension, and serves as a mini

comprehension-monitoring system.

Active reading

By marking your textbooks as you read, you can achieve a high level of concentration and knowing that you should mark specific sections as you read helps keep you alert. It gives you a purpose for

reading. To mark your text effectively, you have to think about the content of the chapter. You constantly need to make decisions about what’s important and what isn’t.

Condense Material

Because you are highlighting the important areas, there is not need for you to read the entire section again for review. You only need to review the highlighted areas.

Increased Comprehension

Identifying and marking the main points and then looking for supporting details help you understand the text. When you highlight you’re effectively reading twice, because your eyes will follow the marker and reinforce the reading.

Feedback on comprehension

Highlighting also monitors your comprehension because it gives you feedback on if you are paying attention. If you’ve highlighted everything, then it means you have not been looking for the important information and making decisions about what is or isn’t important. If you haven’t highlighted anything in a large section it means you’ve not understood well enough, or that you were distracted while reading.

So how do you go about marking up your textbook? The main two methods are underlining or marking with a pencil. You can use either, but I would recommend that you use a highlighter, since this forces you to read a second time. You might think you get the same effect with underlining but studies have shown that people tend to look at the pencil like rather than the words. Highlighting doesn’t have this disadvantage.

Before you underline or highlight anything, you need to have completed the reading of the section. After you’ve read the section, have a little think about what parts were important, then go back and find those areas and highlight them. Don’t mark anything until you complete the section. If you start marking right away then you might mark something important which actually isn’t. In addition marking while reading interferes with comprehension.

When you do mark, make sure to highlight in the direction of the text to force a second reading. Don’t highlight the text backwards. You also should you a soft shade like yellow or pink, this is because highly fluorescent colours tend to cause eye-strain when you go back to do your reviews.

When marking, markup sentences where possible. If you ‘re highlighting keywords, then you need to use linking to connect them together. While marking just try to remember to mark things in a way that they’ll make sense when you review a month or six months later. This is why it is better to mark meaningful phrases instead of just words.

I recommended you only do highlighting, but don’t throw away the pencil just yet. While you’re marking up the textbook use your pencil to make notes in the margins. Mark margin notes about areas where you disagree with the author, or put a question mark if you need more information about this particular point. You can use margin notes to make a summary of the keywords and creating a link between them.

But don’t over use the margin notes. You defeat the object of highlighting if you’re creating huge summaries in the margins.

Keep It Simple Stupid – The kiss principle.

Diversity is great, but not when it comes to text highlighting. You’ve probably seen people who have 10 different colour highlighters and they have one colour for facts, one for opinion, one for keywords, another colour for examples, etcetera. I would advise against this. It makes you think more about the colouring than the content. Using two colours is really the maximum.

One thing about colours however. If you’re using a used textbook which has already been highlighted make sure you get a different colour for your highlights. This might be difficult if the previous owner was a multiple-colour highlighter.

Another time consuming exercise in futility is the multiple symbol method. This is where people underline, double underline, circle, bracket, use asterisks, etc. The idea being you have a set of symbols you use to encode the review material. This is very time consuming, and often leads to over-marking the text. You spend too much time thinking about the system instead of the content.

A simple system will help focus on the important information without the distraction of remembering various symbols, or colour combinations.

Now that we have discussed how to mark, the next step is figuring out what to mark. In the past you’ve probably caught yourself thinking; “I wonder if I should mark this?” Until you become experienced at marking, it’s better to mark a little too much rather than not enough.

There is no real set of rules for what you should mark. But, headings, subheadings, main ideas, supporting details, definitions, examples, and statistics are important. Even though they’re not always identified by bold or italic print. So let’s go through some good practice guidelines for marking up information.

Mark headers. It is very likely that headings in the text are important, since typically, they are a summary of the most important idea of the section.

Mark the main ideas of the section. Main ideas are the general statements that the author makes about the topic. The main idea statement, or topic sentence, is generally found in the first or second sentence of a paragraph. Sometimes authors don’t directly state the main ideas; they only imply them. However, as you practice looking for these main ideas you’ll find the implied ones. You want to write the implied idea in the margin notes.

Focus on the supporting details. Look at definitions, examples, facts, statistics, and signal words, etcetera. You should absolutely highlight definitions, and perhaps even load them into a SRS, spaced repetition program in order to learn them off by heart.

Look through the examples and highlight where the example is illuminating the idea.

Lists or enumerations, like definitions, should almost always be highlighted. They contain itemised information.

Facts or statistics are also worth highlighting a because they will support the main idea.

Some important information is found outside the regular body of the text. You need to read and mark any definitions for technical terms, even if they’re in the left-hand margin. Don’t omit information included in charts, graphs, and other diagrams. The information under photos, in footnotes, and in boxed features is also important to your understanding of the material.

For Math or Science books make sure to highlight all formulas, as well as any problems that

you want to review. Be sure you also mark the text material that explains or discusses that formula or problem. The prose material material is as important as or perhaps even more important than the problems.

Finally it is probably worth highlighting negation words like, but, however, on the other hand, conversely, etcetera. This is because they are showing a change in the authors direction in this area. So you’ll need to highlight them in order to avoid confusion later when reviewing.

So now we know how to make, and what to mark, how much should we mark? Well, the correct answer is “just enough”. But what does that mean. Firstly, you don’t want to over mark since this will lengthen your review times, if you highlight everything, you might as well just read the book again. You need to be actively looking for important ideas and information.

However, being overly concerned about over-marking can lead to another problem which is under-marking. Marking too little means you’re probably only marking the headlines or key words. But you should also highlight related details. You may miss important information by trying to pick out only one or two important points in each paragraph or headed section. You may have heard or read that you should mark only one main point in each paragraph or that you shouldn’t mark more than 20 percent of the words on a page. This might be good rules-of-thumb, but actually you need to mark all the information which you need in order to understand and retain all the important information.

So both over-marking and under-marking are a problem. Just like Goldie-locks you need the find the one that is just right.

Remarking and review. After you’ve marked your textbook, on the next review don’t leave the highlighter behind, pick a second colour for your second review. So I recommended you only use one colour when you highlight, but this time you’re not highlighting, you are re-highlighting and therefore you need a different colour from the first time.

The idea here is if you have to remark the material you are once again engaged and actively reading the material. As you reread the marked selections, you can determine whether or not the information is important enough to review again. The first time you read the chapter, everything was new

to you. At that time, many things may have seemed important. After having completed the chapter, worked through text questions or a study guide, read or listened to other material, you should be able to reduce the text material even more.

When you review you might also want to rewrite and summarize the information into a notebooks. One really good method of review is to generate a mock examination from the information on a separate sheet of paper. Don’t make multiple choice questions however since this might lead you to remembering incorrect information. Write a broad question for each heading or subheading and then

as many specific questions as you can.

After your review, have a think about your markings.

  • Did they make sense?
  • Did you mark all the important information the first time around?
  • Does the markings retain and contain the meaning of each section?

Giving yourself feedback on your markings will help you in future markings. You’ll get better at it as you go along. For an autodidactic, there probably isn’t going to be a test or examiniation in your future. So you’ll need to review your books periodically and having a good well thought out set of markings will reduce the time you need for review.

That is all for today, thanks for listening and I’m glad you joined me. Next week, we’re going to talk about taking lecture notes. Thank you very much.

EP5: Using Flashcards for Study

Welcome to the Autodidactic Podcast with your host Rick Dearman.

Hello, everybody, and welcome back to the show. Today we’re going to discuss flashcard learning.

If you’re new to the show would like to welcome you and if you are returning, I’d like to welcome you back. As always, I really, really enjoy getting feedback for this show. So if you’re interested in giving me some feedback, you can email me at rick@autodidactic.info. You can make comments on the website as well where I will be uploading the show notes for this show as well as others.

Flash card learning is something that I do every single day, mostly with regards to language learning. But I also use it for other things as well, and today I’m gonna go through how to use flash cards and how to create flashcards so that they’re more memorable and useful to you. I recommend that if you have a smart phone or computer or something available that you try and get a hold of a program called Anki (ANKI), which is an electronic flash card system, and it’s free for most devices. I think Apple phones you have to pay for, but everything else is free. But there are other electronic flash card programs available.

But what we’re going to discuss today can be used either with the electronic versions or with the paper version flashcards like you may have used in school long ago. So let’s get it started. If you’ve got Anki or an app that you’re going to use, you generally need to set up an account, and you’re going to need some way of importing this into the system.

Now Anki uses a CSV file, which you can generate with Excel or LibreOffice, or you can open the program and input them manually. Now, in addition to just text electronic flashcards generally support sound as well as images. So rather than just write some text, you can have images and audio.

There is a program which I have done a video tutorial on YouTube about how to create what’s called subs2SRS, which is subtitles to spaced repetition. But that’s if you’re learning a language. You’ll be able to use the subtitles of the film to help you learn, and I’ll put links in the show notes to that.

But this is one of the reasons that I would recommend that you use an electronic flash card system as opposed to a paper one. Since it’s much easier to get audio and video into flashcards nowadays. One of the other reasons for an electronic version is fonts and colouring. The reason for this is generally you can use different fonts for different subjects to help you; give you some context when you’re memorizing things, but you don’t need an electronic version for this.

So if you, for example, were learning nouns in French, which have a gender either masculine or feminine, you might want to put yellow cards as masculine and blue cards as feminine, for example, or whatever you want. But that is one way of using context to give you some indication of the flashcards type.

Now there are two basic concepts behind flashcards, and that is active recall testing and spaced repetition. Now, active recall is something we talked about in previous episodes, where you basically test yourself on the subject that you’re learning and that testing the active recall forces you to recall what you’ve learned.

Spaced repetition is a learning technique which uses increasing intervals of time between the reviews of previously learned material in order to exploit a phenomenon where humans more easily remember or learn things when they’re studied a few times over the space of a long time.

So with any learning method, there are very good and very bad practices for anything. What I’m gonna explain here is the best practices for you to follow when creating flashcards and studying them.

And one of the very first things that I recommend is that you make your own flashcards. If you use an electronic flash card system like Anki, you can download pre-made decks for just about everything from languages to biology, chemistry, mathematics, you name it. There will be a pre-made deck for it. But part of the learning process, I believe, is actually creation of your own flashcards, using your own context and your own methods and I think this is gonna help you more than just downloading a pre-made deck.

Now, having said that, there are some quite good pre-made decks for things like mathematics, which you probably don’t want to expend the time to do yourself when the actual learning is straightforward. So, for example, multiplication tables or square roots, etcetera. They’re pretty simple; Question on the front, Answer on the back type cards. You can also get pre-made paper cards, certainly for vocabulary and things from places like Amazon. But again, I recommend that you just make your own cards.

Now the second thing about flashcards is you should never try and memorize what you don’t understand. So if you’re making a flash card, you need to understand the the topic in which you’re making the card about. You know, a parrot can just repeat sentences, but it doesn’t understand what it’s saying. So when you’re making the flashcards, it’s going to ingrain this information into your head in a spaced repetition system. So if you just made a card that said !22W2! and you looked at it repeatedly, you would actually learn that. But it doesn’t actually mean anything and is of no use. So make sure that you understand what you are putting onto your flash card.

The next thing is to relate the information on the card to some other context, so related information is much easier to memorize. If you have multiple associations in your mind, you will remember it. So every piece of our information in our memory is connected to other pieces in another way. For example, if you’re given the word pear, you may think of something green and round and sweet and pear shaped, and it’s from a tree, and it’s a fruit on. It’s made into cider, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera, so there’s lots of associations with the word pear. So try and make a many associations as you can with the card, and you might want to make multiple cards relating to each other so that the information reinforces itself.

The next thing is to start with the basics. So if you’re a beginner, you need to start with the basics of the information. And you might want to keep separate decks of basic information versus more advanced information, which builds on your basic deck. And just try and keep it as basic and simple as possible. And once you have completed the basic cards, move on to the more advanced.

The next thing is the KIS Principal. K.I.S (keep it simple). Don’t try and put every piece of information you have about a concept on one single card. Complex cards are difficult to memorize, and you need to chunk up this information. It’s a smaller bits and pieces, so you try and break up the information on to multiple cards while keeping the information per card as simple as possible.

So, for example, on language card, you may have six congregations of verb in the present tense. Well, rather than put all six congregations on one card, it would be better to create a card for the first person card for second person, etcetera, etcetera. Whatever the subject you’re studying, you need to simplify the information as much as you can.

Now. The next thing and this sort of only applies to electronic versions of cards is to use close deletion cards where possible. A closed deletion card is a, for example, a sentence, which has the information in there, but one of the words is blanked out. One of the critical words is blanked out, and you have to type it in. Now this type of card forces you to actively recall. You can’t just press the next button and be given the answer. You have to type it in so these types of cards are very, very useful in forcing you to actively recall what the word is, which completes the sentence. And it may not be a word, it maybe, if you’re doing mathematics, it might be one variable of the formula, for example. So these types of cards are very useful and I highly recommend them.

Wherever possible, try and use images because, as they say, a picture is worth 1000 words and as human beings we’re of quite visual creatures on its very easy to link pictures and images in your mind to various bits of information. This can be done on paper flashcards as well. You can print out images and use them in your flashcards, etcetera. It’s very easy on electronic version.

When you create cards trying, use as many senses as possible. Now, obviously, even on electronic one you’re not going to get the sense of smell. But you can put the word on a flash card. You can put the picture of the thing on the flash card. You can put a linked to a sound of what’s being said on it or some other form of sound, so sight and sound can be done, and it’s very easy to manage that.

Try and avoid sets of information. This goes back to the KIS principle of keeping it simple. It’s almost impossible to memorize a set without forgetting some numbers and typically, things in the middle of the set are almost invariably forgotten, because we tend to remember things at the beginning of a list or at the end of the list, and not so much the stuff in the middle.

Don’t set up your cards with a set of information. Break that set up into smaller cards or close deletion cards. Try to not just learn in one direction or the other. So what I mean by that is an example. If you’re learning vocabulary is that you might have always put the French word on the front of the card and the English on the back. Well, actually, you need two cards. You need one where English is on the front and another where French is on the front, for example. And you do this the same on, other study cards. You need to have a reversible card that presents the same information and the same question in the other direction.

Okay, When you’re creating your decks, try and keep a theme for each deck. So this is similar to the rule about related information. So, for example, if you have a deck about the circulatory system, only have things in there about the circulatory system and have a completely separate set of cards for the respiratory system. If you were studying biology.

For languages, it’s the same thing. You have a theme for animals, and then you have another one for kitchen utensils, but you try and keep them separate.

Now the other thing is to try and make sure that you only have one point per flashcard again. This is stressing the not having sets of information and not trying to put all the information on one card. But you need to have one fully comprehensive point on the card. Now, if that means that this card is particularly large or long, that’s fine. But it needs to only consist of that single point of information. So you’re dedicating one concept to each card, and hopefully one question with one answer.

Wherever possible, you should try and use sentences for your question and sentences for your answer, rather than just image cards, but enhance that question with images and sounds. Try and commit to completing your allotted amount of flashcards every day.

Now, how do you a lot yourself Flashcards? Well, if you’re using electronic program, it will allocate that for you based on whatever for algorithm it uses. If you’re using a paper flashcard system, then typically what you would do is you would have it in a file card system and you have today’s cards. And if this is your first day, then you say you start with 10 cards and you do them until you’ve learned them all, and you put them in tomorrow’s card. On tomorrow you take 10 new cards and you go through those and then you go through the 10 from yesterday and see if you forgotten any. If you have forgotten them, you move them forward into tomorrow’s set. You basically carry on doing a review each time.

Now, wherever possible, try and say the answer out loud when you’re doing the flash card. This is because it helps you to retain the information because you hear yourself saying it.

Never do opposites cards. An opposite card is, for example, what is the opposite of hot in French. This only leads to confusion, and you start to mix up the concepts of hot and cold, and things don’t don’t do opposite. Ask what is cold in French. Don’t use what is the opposite of hot. So whenever you’re doing any study cards that you’re creating, try and remember not to do opposite cards and dependent on what you’re studying, you know that can become a problem, especially for vocabulary for language.

Vary your question format. In other words, don’t make all your cards the same. Some cards, maybe question cards, try and come up with other types of cards that aren’t just questions that they are asking you to do an explanation. One of the methods I use to create a different type of card when studying a language, for example, would be to create a card that says; practice grammar point A practice grammar point B and then you go away and study for 10 minutes on that particular point of grammar. So this isn’t giving you a easy question answer thing. It is directing you to study this particular topic for five minutes. That type of card is also useful because it’s prompts you at different times to do different things.

Okay, so memorizing using flash cards is a great way to help you progress in your study. Just memorization isn’t going to help you necessarily, you know, fulfil all of your requirements. You’re going to need to do other things in order to become an auto didactic learner, you’re gonna have to study other ways. But flashcards are an amazing, excellent way to take those little stolen moments of time when you’re standing in a queue or you’re waiting for something and use those to progress your study and also the creation of cards itself, works as a study.

So in order to generate the cards, you are having to ask yourself questions. You have to find the information you have to find the answers. You have to find related information. You have to simplify the information so that it fits one concept per card, etcetera, etcetera. So flashcards aren’t just a way of studying in the stolen moments they actually help you study full on while creating the cards. And this is one of the reasons I tell you not to download pre-made decks because the actual creation of the card itself will help you just as much as memorizing the card.

Okay. Thanks for listening today. And I’m glad you joined me. Next week, we’re going to talk about memory, and memorization and study skills. Thank you very much.

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.