It took me a good 5 years to develop my personal study framework.
I graduated from one of the best engineering school in France, but I have never been a great student.
I got expelled during my first year of study, then came back to engineering after a year at another university. I quickly became obsessed with finding ways to improve my productivity.
I hit many walls before managing to hack the educational system. Many failures where I had to repass exams or provide complementary work. My ability to study new materials fast peaked during my last year of study at Stockholm University as an exchange student, where I crammed 2 months of lectures in two weeks while being a top student, enjoying a social life, and starting my first side projects.
The study methodology I developed is not only useful for students, but also for workers who need to get used to hard topics lightning fast. Here is the process:
1) Gather lots of diverse materials
Get your hands on as many materials as you can: books, videos, textbooks, course notes, slides, subject experts (teachers, professors, mentors etc.) etc.
Read the summary, the chapters and the headlines to figure out the exact structure of the material
Formulate questions from what you read in the survey phase. For example, if you read a chapter titled “Spanning Tree”, the first question you have to ask yourself is “What is a Spanning Tree?“. When a new concept appears you have to go through the 5W (who, what, why, when, where + how) and consider whether or not you can formulate a relevant question. Log all your questions in a text editor.
4) Read and Respond
Answer your questions by reading the materials.
Write down the answers corresponding to each question. Rephrase the answers with your own words. Each question should be refined to be atomic, meaning where a question is a very specific aspect of a concept to understand. If a question covers too many concepts at once you have to break it down to ease the memorization process.
6) Iterate until you have a nice list of Q&A covering all your materials
Example: my machine learning notes from college (a 2 month course)
Make flashcards out of your Q&A
The broader the lecture, the more flashcards you will have. To avoid skimming through the flashcards (micro-structure), it’s important to draw a mind map as a macro-structure linking all the concepts together. Don’t ask me the details, the brain loves overviews. You need one mind map per chapter and another linking all the mind maps together.
Read through your flashcards and mind maps as regularly as possible. Rest in between each study session. Re-write everything on paper. Writing by hand helps with the memory.
10) Apply the Pareto Principle
80% of the results will come from 20% of your content. If acing tests is not your priority, skim through the details. If you are studying for an exam, create a separate version of your mind maps/flashcards which strictly covers the scope of the exam (example: notes in green in this doc are the most important concepts to learn). Cut the fat. The less you have to learn, the better your retention and learning curve.
11) Iterate (again)
Rephrase, find new materials, and update your flashcards accordingly.
Theory pondered by practice makes everything more interesting and will allow you to get a deeper understanding of the subject. You have to do both to develop expertise.
Teaching is the best way to make sure you grasped a subject well enough to explain in simple terms to someone else. Gather friends or create a blog, and share it all!
Now, the powerful thing about this framework is that it can be used for both speed studies (cram a lot of materials in a few days) and in-depth studies alike.
I hope it can help you :)