There were too many moments like this during my course of study. A large part of the study-and-forget pattern was due to my procrastination. For help dealing with procrastination, see Part I and Part II of our post on the topic.
There were also times, however, when I just felt overwhelmed and couldn’t properly absorb the information I was studying. To prevent this, I had to seek some sort of help. If this often happens to you, try any or all of the following:
1) Talk to your professor or teacher about how best to focus and study for his or her course. Make a plan with your professor. This works best if you take action as soon as you start to feel like you’re in over your head. Of course, you can’t benefit from this too much if you talk to your professor minutes before the exam, but if you arrange this ahead of time, when you are cramming you’ll have a much better idea of what information you should be prioritizing.
2) Start a study group and work together to reteach the necessary material to each other. This works well when you plan in advance as well as when you’re cramming for an exam the next day. There are two main benefits to this approach. First, rather than rote memorization of the material, you’ll really reinforce your knowledge through explaining it to another. Second, there is some comfort in working with others and “sharing” the burden. Just be sure that your group mates are going to be able to focus and work with you, not distract you.
3) Get and stay organized. How you organize the information you need to learn is up to you and your personal learning style. A good example of what worked really well for me and my classmates in university was to rewrite sections of my notes on index cards using colored pens. For example, I would write the term I needed to learn on the front side of the card and then write all the related details listed in bullets on the back of the card. I carried a deck with me everywhere (especially the day before an exam) so that when I had some down time I could review. Additionally, the color association helped me to recall information. Such a technique may work well for visual people. Kinesthetic learners may want to find ways to organize information around movement and activity; audial learners could benefit from recording important information as an MP3 and listening to them repeated. Find what works for you and work it.
4) Eat well and get some rest. A starved brain just doesn’t focus and remember as well as a rested, nourished brain.
What tips do you have for making the most of your study time?