Thursday, 28 March 2013

The 7 Secrets of Effective Study and Successful Revision


Be interested in everything. If you know and experience lots of different things there is a point when they start to join up, or to link in some strange and delightful way. With a broad-based knowledge it is also more likely that you will be able to make informed and inspired guesses. These mindmoves are both enjoyable and stimulating.

Give the topic/subject the benefit of the doubt. If you assume that you will be having a tedious experience while studying, your initial thoughts tend to be self-fulfilling. At first many topics are complex and they present initial barriers to entry. Similarly, anything unfamiliar may involve the shock of the new. Rather than turning away, take a leap of faith and keep going until you discover those satisfying moments of lucidity - these are the dawning lights of the understanding at work.

Positive mental attitude - this means not basing your current work or your future expectation on past failures.

Channel your antagonism effectively.


This typically means free from distractions which serve as psychological cues for procrastination. So keep your TV/ games/ phone out of reach. Working in bed may lead to bouts of napping and irregular sleep patterns. Working in the kitchen may lead to sudden weight gain. Libraries are quite good locations because they are 'study-rich' zones of association. My undergraduate years at St Andrews University were spent by the sea. In addition to my work in the library, this is where I did some of my final week's revision:


Highlighter, pencils, cards, image, poster-size paper, post-its.
A library.
Course guide books.
Internet connection (But don't wander off topic...).
Friends, mentors, teachers, tutors...
Past exam papers.


A SMART revision/study plan is essential. Otherwise you revision or study will tend to lack focus. You create openings for procrastination. This in turn leads to feelings of helplessness, fear, stress and anxiety. It's fun to macro and micro manage your work as this approach leads to rising levels of confidence and the sense that goals are being achieved.


Short term rewards include anything that you find immediately pleasurable; from chocolate to music, calling friends, games and TV. Short term rewards may involve working for progressively longer periods without a break. 25 minutes is a decent target, but it depends on the complexity and focus of the work. Generally concentration diminishes sharply after 45 minutes.

Long Term. These are motivational with respect to your emotional or intellectual development, or your education and career progression.


By keeping a record of your progress and performance you will be able to work out why you become distracted, or identify what leads to excellent performance. If you have a sense of progression then the self-fulfilment and motivation will increase. This also helps you to avoid anxiety, because you know that you are doing your personal best.


Remember that most of the people who are considered brilliant and successful have worked very hard to gain their achievements. Perspiration achieves 100 times more than pure inspiration.

In order to master any key skill, craft or topic with proficiency, dexterity and in-depth, typically requires 5,000 hours!

That's why simply revising the night before seldom works...

“Study is the bane of childhood, the oil of youth, the indulgence of adulthood, and a restorative in old age.” --- Walter Savage Landor.

“Study the past if you would divine the future.” --- Confucius

“I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy.” --- John Adams

“If you want to study the social and political history of modern nations, study hell.”
--- Thomas Merton

“Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you.” --- Frank Lloyd Wright

Dr Ian McCormick is the author of The Art of Connection: the Social Life of Sentences
(Quibble Academic, 2013)