Comprehensive learning

During my studies, I’ve probably spent most of my time with attempts to memorize entire sentences that I had previously copied from books and papers. Although my grades were always fine, half of the content I had studied disappeared from my head immediately after the exam and I have wasted hours that I could have had used more productively. But learning to study isn’t actually that hard as Annika Köhne of the ZSb, the Central Student Advisory Service, has showed me. I talked to her about one of the methods, comprehensive learning, and tried it out myself.

The basics of studying

I’ve known it better all along, yet I have still made all the mistakes that Annika Köhne specifically advises us not to do. The most common mistake is definitely the mere reading of the studying material, highlighting the assumably important parts and copying them word by word on our study papers – which is not only arduous and monotonous but easily leads to distraction as well. Often times we don’t even take the type of exam into account, an especially useful advice since the approach to e.g. an oral exam is so much different than to a multiple choice exam. But what actually is the right approach? Annika Köhne suggests the following steps:

  • look at the material at hand
  • make notes in your own words
  • think about the subject matter intensively
  • visualize it
  • use several channels of studying (writing, speaking, listening, singing, movement…)

In order to study more effectively, it is useful to focus on comprehension. But what’s the difference?

Comprehending the material instead of memorizing it

Annika Köhne emphasizes the importance of structure. With comprehensive learning, our background knowledge of a topic is supposed to get connected to the new material; thereby, all the information can be linked with a longer lasting effect. I can also help to identify the relevance this topic has for us personally or whether we have some kind of emotional connection to it that helps us understand it better. Most importantly, the form of the exam needs to be considered here: If you’re for example studying for a multiple choice exam as it is very common in medical school, this learning method might not be very helpful. It is mainly useful to memorize concepts and theories, which is perfectly suited for working on my master thesis in literary studies. I would like to better understand the literary genre of “satire” and tried out the different steps:

  1. Reading the material once. Sometimes it is sufficient to only read the material once in order to get the essence of a text. Okay then, there is an abundance of books about literary satire on my desk. I will now finally start reading one of the papers that give an overview about the topic.
  2. Making notes in my own words. What do I already know about the topic? What can I use from the text I just read? I am trying to reproduce information from my own memory: There are several different types of satire, it’s a more or less humorous approach to social criticism and it was already used in the ancient world. Uh huh.
  3. Asking questions. Annika Köhne advises to ask specific questions to reflect on the material and to understand it better. I have plenty of useful questions, for example: What actually are those different types of satire and how do they differ? Are there examples in contemporary pop culture and if so, what exactly do they criticize? And how do I even detect satire in a text?
  4. Designing index cards. It is especially advisable a) to classify the topic into the overall context, b) to use key words and write in bullet points rather than entire sentences and c) to visualize the content in a creative manner in order to memorize everything better. For my index card, I am starting with a general definition of satire, include background information about origins and authors, who made use of satire, and conclude with tangible examples (you could also work with exam questions or colorful mind maps and charts).

Instead of only copying slides and randomly marking sentences, Annika Köhne gives the advice of finding a more intelligible approach to studying. Even though this method might sound time consuming, it lets us actually think about the material and leads us to activate our memory and to store information in the long run. I get the feeling that especially point 3, asking questions about the subject, clarifies for me what I already know and what I still need to learn about it. While it is certainly depending on the type of exam or paper you have to write, it’s seems to me as a reasonable manner to actually understand complex issues and relations. RiP to all the content I forced myself to memorize for an exam and of which I had forgotten 99% the next day…

Click here to see the entire Instagram highlight of the #unigoelernt series with all its expert tips! [in German]

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