About effective learning (Part 1): My personal experience

Is this you?

If you’re anything like me, you don’t like to be spending a lot of time studying and reading and stuff, but you still wanna be able to understand some complex ideas and concepts. But isn’t so frustrating that you read that book a few months back and you don’t remember a single thing about what it was about, or you studied for that exam but a few weeks later you could only remember some vague labels about it and you don’t even remember what those labels meant. Why can’t we remember everything we learn? And what’s the point of learning if we’re not going to be able to recall any of this? How can you and I spend less time studying or reading or whatever it is but end up remembering way more than an average human being? If you ever wondered one or several of these questions, then I may be able to help you if you read this series of posts about my journey with uncovering the secrets of effective learning.

There are a lot of books about cognitive neuroscience, cognitive psychology, the science of learning how to learn, etc. But reading them all will take you a few months, if not years, and the odds are you’re not gonna be able to remember more than 20% of what you learned in them anyways. LOL, sorry about that! But it’s just the truth! And so let me give you some of the most important tips that I came across when learning about these subjects and share with you how it helped me save a lot of time and energy in learning either in school or in life in general.

My pre-high school self

I started asking some of the questions above when I was still in school. I gotta admit, I wasn’t a hard-working student but from kindergarten all the way to high school I was always first in my class (I don’t mean to brag, but it was just the way it was). I rarely understood what people meant when they said that they spend the whole weekend studying for that exam or slept very late to do that. For me, if it wasn’t for homework (for which I will be punished if I don’t do both in school and by my parents), I hardly studied at home. I was one of those students who do their homework last minute (usually on the school bus, that was hilarious by the way, the handwriting on the school bus turns out like a piece of art, but it got better with time since I was doing that a lot).

So for me, school was not a big deal up to high school, I was doing just fine in exams with very little if not no studying at home. But there were some subjects that I hated, and those were those annoying subjects that you had to memorize stuff to pass the exam (history, poetry, etc.) I didn’t hate the content, I loved poetry (history not so much, to be honest) but the thing is I didn’t like to learn things by hard because that means that I should spend time at home studying. And the problem was that some teachers wouldn’t give you the points for the question if the answer is not EXACTLY as it is written in the book (That was total nonsense to me!). But if the exam was a bit flexible, and my own definitions and ways of presenting things were accepted even if they’re not exactly how they’re written in the textbook, then I would do just fine without even studying for that exam.

The beginning of the struggle

But then, after graduating high school and getting into those preparatory classes for engineering school. For those of you who’re not familiar with the concept, it’s an educational system that is present in Morocco as well as France and some other countries and that consists in getting into two preparatory years to sit for an exam at the end of these years in order to get into the top engineering schools in the country. The only aim of those two years is to get a good ranking in that national exam that will give you the opportunity (or not) to get into the school that you want. The thing is if you don’t pass that exam at the end of those two years, you have two options either you try again for another year (if they judge that you have a chance in succeeding the following year), or you don’t pass then you’re left with nothing but your high school degree that you got two years ago (no degree is provided by the preparatory classes).

The system is highly competitive especially when you know that only 40 to 50% of the students pass that exam and make it to the engineering schools. And so, 50 to 60% won’t have access to any engineering school and will be leaving that place with two “wasted” years and will have to look for other options and compete with freshly high school graduates two years younger than them. And just to make things a little bit more stressful (because yeah that was not enough :D), you are not supposed to “fail” in the first year because if you do, you’ll be sent back home immediately (you have no opportunity to try again).

Ok, so why am I telling you this? I’m telling you all this to let you know that as a lazy person (somebody who doesn’t want and like spending a lot of time studying), I was in trouuuuble in that environment. I remember hearing stories about people (ordinary students in that environment) going for 3 to 4 days without sleep, only coffee and books. I saw people who had zero social life and who considered my dinner out with friends or a 2 hours movie night a huuuge waste of time because you know, you always have to be studying. And I was like, wooow, what did I get myself into? I am a person who needs her sleep ( I’ll get really clumsy if I’m sleep deprived lol), I like to go out and hang out with my friends, I like to watch my series and movies, I like a lot of things not school related but it seemed like I wasn’t allowed to do that. If I go out with friends for a few hours, everybody will be like, yeah you have an exam tomorrow and you went out for dinner? You’re either crazy or you’ve been working very hard the previous nights! Yeah, right! (By the way, we had an exam of something every single week so it’s not like it’s a rare thing).

To be continued

3 thoughts on “About effective learning (Part 1): My personal experience

  1. The genius of Albert Einstein’s quotes seems to be their timeless nature. Einstein is often also quoted as saying, “Information is not knowledge.” Interestingly, the rest of that original quote ends with, “The only source of knowledge is experience.” Another great quote on the subject is by John Naisbitt, author of Megatrends, “We are drowning in information but starved for knowledge.”

    Liked by 1 person

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