How to study on the hop

How much time is really needed to learn a few facts or memorise key data?

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It is often thought that information will only be properly absorbed with a minimum commitment of an hour’s study. Yet whole, uninterrupted hours are scarce commodities. Busy workloads, long commutes, family commitments, and other social pressures all conspire to prevent focused studying. But how many of us have spotted spare half-hours here and there, thought about getting our books out and then decided it wasn’t worth the bother?

Everyone can be more resourceful than this. Who says you can’t invest 10 minutes in profitable study? If you’ve conditioned yourself to believe you can’t learn anything in less than an hour’s sitting, the good news is you can re-condition yourself to a more rational, constructive mindset.

Tools of the trade

Brief bursts of reading can be made doubly effective by highlighting crucial facts – the visual and kinaesthetic aspects of this activity can really bolster your learning power. If you can’t bear to mark books, use mini-sticky notes to indicate important pages. Write key phrases on small index cards that you can keep handy for snatched study ‘windows’. Use the back of your index cards for mind-mapping if you are feeling creative.

You may not want the voice of your lecturer with you night and day, but give tapes a chance by recording yourself reading out loud anything that requires memorising. Repeated listening – even on a 10-minute train journey – can embed that knowledge in your sub-conscious to be recalled when you need it. You can also transfer tapes to MP3 players – and while listening to the finer points of advanced taxation on your iPod might sound deeply uncool, your fellow passengers will have no idea.

Plan ahead

Think about those occasions when you have a few idle minutes: on the station platform, in the car, on coffee breaks, or at lunch. Don’t stop there: putting the kettle on, waiting for the lift, routine shopping, and queuing at the bank are all opportunities for quickfire learning. What about that half-hour between two favourite television programmes – or during commercial breaks? Keep your short-session study tools handy and place them strategically around the house or office.

An awareness of the finite time available is likely to focus your mind on getting more from each minute you devote to studying on the hop. Accept the idea that you can learn in short, sharp bursts. Why not start by re-reading this article next time you spot a studying opportunity? The chances are you’ll be amazed at how much you can recall later.

"Brief bursts of reading can be made doubly effective by highlighting crucial facts – the visual and kinaesthetic aspects of this activity can really bolster your learning power"