Learning is an art, and through this post, I intend to shed light on six proven scientific study techniques I have used to adapt to the rigors of the Master of Science in Analytics program at NC State University.

The MSA program is well known for its uniquely designed curriculum in data analytics. Students are introduced to various subjects, projects, professional development activities, and industry-sponsored practicums in just ten months. Being busy with numerous tasks, it is essential to identify effective studying methods that can bolster the entire learning experience.

The learning process always begins with setting small, realistic, achievable goals based on the intensity, availability of time, and difficulty level of the activity. While allocating enough time to soak in the material is crucial; doing so in short intervals spread over a long span can help retain the information without stressing the brain. Though every individual’s preferred method of studying is different, a comfortable combination of the techniques illustrated below can increase learning efficiency.

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Second brain: The second brain can also be called personal knowledge management. This involves effective note-taking strategies and creating a repository of information that individuals can reference at any time. The method focuses on three aspects: Taking notes, context and connection, and personal summary.

Taking notes (from lectures, videos, books, and other resources) in a structured way is something that most students do while studying by using tools such as OneNote, cloud drives, or plain pen and paper. However, building connections and context and generating a personal summary are less commonly used.

Understanding the context helps assess the “how,” “why,” and “what” aspects of the topic and solidifies the purpose of the subject. Visualizing and connecting different sections can knit everything together to render an overview of how everything works in sync. This can be done using mind maps, flowcharts, diagrams, flashcards, quizlets, and other pictographic representations. One tool that helped me build connections between concepts is a software called XMind. Understanding these links and relationships provides both big-picture overviews and nitty-gritty details in one place.

The last step involves creating a summary of the topic where one tries to condense everything they have learned in a comprehensive manner. It is unique to the individual’s level of understanding of the subject as opposed to lectures or predefined information from textbooks.

Associative Learning: Associative learning is about building connections between concepts. However, it is not limited to flowcharts or diagrams. It involves using concrete examples, personal experiences, and mnemonics such as acronyms, rhymes, or mental images that are easy to remember. This can aid with retaining and understanding information. The brain is naturally wired to remember things that are different. Thus, using this method to associate a concept with something unnatural forces the brain to retain it.

Active recall and spaced repetition: Active recall and spaced repetition work hand in hand with consistently reinforcing the neural patterns established in the brain upon introducing it to anything new. We tend to remember things we consistently do, as opposed to something we do just once. This is especially true for studying. Active recall involves recollecting facts from memory on a concept multiple times after going through the material. While it sounds obvious, the technique is surprisingly effective in letting one realize the gaps in their understanding so that less-understood concepts can be revisited. Active recall also encompasses continuous and consistent practice.  When dealing with subjects such as coding, repeated activity is the only way to ensure improvement over time.

Similarly, spaced repetition involves revising and recalling a concept after significant gaps of inactivity. Such revisions can be done every third, seventh, and fourteenth day. As an IAA student, this can be hard, but doing this every weekend still works well enough. 

Feynman Technique: The Feynman technique was named after American physicist Richard P. Feynman based on his ideology of teaching to understand. When learning a topic, there is no better way than to “teach” it to yourself or someone else. The method involves simplifying the concept enough to teach it to a child or a person hearing about it for the first time. This naturally demands that the one explaining the concept knows it well. If one encounters a struggle in explaining it, then there is some rework on the topic required! This is one of the most effective techniques for gauging knowledge gaps.

Active Learning: Active learning involves discussing subjects in groups, where the diversity in perspectives naturally enhances the learning experience. It also includes feedback and elaborative interrogation. Consistently questioning or quizzing oneself on topics stimulates the mind and forces it to think. Sources from Google and generative AI can assist with creating tests and questions.

Lastly, the importance of discipline and time management must be balanced. Chunking the work into doable bits, prepping in short, intense bursts of time (duration depends on the difficulty of the subject), and using time management techniques like the Pomodoro, where one works for 40 minutes (depends on the complexity of the task) and takes an active break for 10 minutes, works with effectively managing time.

These proven study techniques aren’t one-size-fits-all; they are as unique as the individuals who employ them. Through trial and error, I discovered that active recall, spaced repetition, and the Feynman Technique helped me grasp complex concepts, manage vast information, and maintain a more profound, long-lasting understanding of the subject matter. Thus, I trust that the overview of these transformative study techniques will contribute to our growth as lifelong learners.


Columnist: Nithya Manoj Kumar