Studying And Actually Learning


In France, the first year of medical school was a “concours,” a “contest exam.” That meant that slots in the second year class went to those who scored the highest on the exam. There were 650 of us in the first year. There were 110 in the second.

It was obvious, that even with a chance to repeat the spring exam in the fall, and a chance to repeat the year, if a student did not turn up in the top 1/6 or so of the class.

I realized after the first few days of classes that French Medical School was going to require a different style of studying and learning than I had ever used before.

I had been told by an American Medical student that medical school (in the U.S.) required more rote memorization than anything I had ever tried to study.

Despite a few students who were anti-American and really did not want me anywhere near their “study groups,” many French students were both candid and helpful. They all told me to learn every lecture cold and reproduce it verbatim and I would get good enough grades. Nobody actually seemed to feel they were expected to “understand” very much.

As for people who did not seem to be working very hard at that, they usually had other reasons for “killing time” in medical school — like being near a fiancĂ© who is in medical school actually trying to pass, or a young man who wanted an extra year of fun before doing compulsory medical service.

Pretty much all of the advice given to me was, in one way or another, a combination of common sense and brute force — Set goals, take breaks, have a study plan, get lots of rest, be positive, get study patners.

Do I still study that way? Not at all.

We have learned more than a bit about the brain since then. There is a whole field of psychology “cognitive” studies, that focuses on how folks learn, often down to cellular mechanisms.

As far as I can tell, these “science-backed” study tips really are more effective. They include:
* Study when you are sleepy
* Space out tasks such as learning a few rows of the Periodic Table each day
* Make dull facts into a story you can tell and remember
* Don’t get stuck on one topic — mix it up every day

And of course there are more for anyone with a search engine to check out.

People are, among other things, the sum-total of what they believe to be true. People cling to beliefs as if their identity is in question every time science comes up with something that may actually be more effective than what they have believed before.

I do not study and learn the same way I did in medical.

I am much more efficient at doing such things now than I have been in the past.

Some is rote practice. Some is trying new things. Some ideas are well, as old as the Bible. “Studying when you are sleepy” is awfully close to the way the Kings of Israel prayed when they went to sleep at night.

Are you ready to realize change in how your brain works can be lifelong, and does not need to stop when you hang your credentials on the wall?

Are you ready to assimilate new knowledge from science, and integrate new ideas into your life?

Me, I think it can only help.

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