Jake had his first midterms, since joining college, coming up in 2 weeks, but he wasn’t too worried. He was a smart guy and he knew it. All the way through high school, he had been acing his tests with study right before the test date, cramming in as much as possible and using this honed skill to understand the concepts clearly enough to give the test. After all, sleep was for the weak. “Who cares about what I study in high school? College education will be more important”, was his usual excuse. Bad sadly, old habits die hard and this was the case with Jake’s attitude. Similar grading schemes and examination patterns did not bring about the realization in Jake that the learning environment was brand new.
Hence, with less than two weeks to go, Jake spent his time hanging out with whichever friend was available, frequenting the local karaoke place and playing basketball, basically everything that didn’t involve touching his study material. Whenever a pang of guilt would hit him, especially when he saw the others burying their noses in piles of books, he would take out a book from the library and make his best attempt to learn the material. However, after reading a couple of paragraphs, the queasiness would set in and he would constantly be checking his phone for messages from anybody as bored as him, or rather than researching his material, he would research what his old high school friends were upto on Facebook. On other occasions, the material seemed super simple so he didn’t bother touching it again, unless it was really necessary.
This is how it continued all the way till the night before the first midterm exam. Finally with the weight of responsibility, he buckled down to hit the books. However, after 5 hours of continuous studying, Jake was sweating bullets. The words didn’t seem to be going into his head, let alone the concepts. Forget understanding the material, he was barely able to not confuse two or more related concepts. This was not going well. College was a whole new ball game. Maybe he should have planned his study better.
A week later, Jake was miserable. All his tests went horrible and he was expecting poor grades for the first time in his life. While answering the tests, he often blanked out or muddled up the answers to two similar questions or related concepts. In other words, it was a complete disaster. He decided to go sit in the park to think about how to mitigate the damage. On arriving at the park, he saw his friend May there. She was sitting on a bench reading. Upon greeting her, Jake noticed she was her usual energetic, cheery self, a sever contrast to his current mood. May asked him how his tests went, stating that hers were a breeze. Jake was brutally honest. Seeing his despondent mood, May decided to help him “Learn How To Learn”, to which Jake readily agreed.
The first part of May’s program was to make sure Jake focused and relaxed his mind as needed. She would sit everyday with Jake for a fixed amount of time, usually an hour, in which they would have 2-3 focused sessions of study. This involved reading the material without making any assumptions of the ease of the topic or their own comfort with the matter. Even though it first felt uneasy, Jake persevered and would ensure that there were no distractions in that hour and his complete focus was his study. May showed him not just when to study, but how to study. She explained to Jake that he should space his study sessions for one topic with 2-3 days, interleaving different topics so that a typical week would involve studying atleast 3 different topics. This suited Jake well as he started realizing that he was less burdened by this approach. Also, May explained that he should spend enough time forming groups of related, logical concepts in his head, something she called “chunks of knowledge”. Then, whenever they learned something new, they would try to relate it to some pre-existing chunk.
After their study sessions, May always took Jake on a walk through the park She explained that this would help his brain diffuse and relax after all that intense studying, helping his neurons form the chunks more effectively. Also, she made it a point that Jake stopped staying up late playing video games and slept early, awoke early and got enough sleep. Jake didn’t complain. He took his college education seriously. Slowly but surely, this schedule became natural to Jake and he realized how he was earlier fooling himself into thinking he was learning and his illusions of competence, whereas his actual learning was coming now, and he was very grateful to May for her help.
Soon enough the term examinations came around. This time Jake was calmer and more relaxed. He and May were both able to pull the “chunks of knowledge” required at will and were easily able to grasp new concepts. However, they still kept up their study schedules. Without the burden of last minute study, Jake gave his term exams in a more confident state and had more energy every day. Answers came as naturally as breathing and he clearly knew what to write depending on the requirements of the question. At the end of the week, Jake was happy again. His terms exams went a lot better than his midterms and May and her study techniques were instrumental to this. And not just was it about the exams, but he felt he really was learning and his creativity was improving consequentially, something that was his overall goal when he joined college. He soon began performing quality research under some of his professors and continued to study diligently with May.
Jake had now learned how to learn.