Home > Revision tips > Supercharge your study skills, part one: elderly men in practical clothing

Supercharge your study skills, part one: elderly men in practical clothing

I get it. Study skills are about as sexy as old men in dungarees.

You’re reading this because old men in dungarees aren’t likely to help score you a job or get you into a fancy college. If one of them promises you either of these things in exchange for taking a look in the back of his van, refuse. It’s unlikely to be helpful.

I’ve decided to keep things brief to compensate for the inherent lack of sex appeal, but if it helps, feel free to read this article out loud to yourself in the voice of Barry White.

There are three key abilities necessary for passing an exam:

  1. Understanding information
  2. Remembering information
  3. Expressing or applying it


To some of you this will be old news – very old news. In the 1950s the stages of learning were classified in a way that is considerably more complicated than this.

So why am I giving you the poor man’s version of some old ideas? Why should you care?

Put simply:

If the technique that you’re using doesn’t support the ability you’re trying to develop, you may be wasting your time.

Typically, we rely on these study techniques:

  1. Reading (developing an understanding)
  2. Self-testing (committing information to memory)
  3. Tutorials (learning to express or apply information)


This means that whilst reading can really help develop your understanding of material, you can’t rely entirely on that technique. If you need to learn how to apply something, reading is not the best tool for the job. It’s easy to get suckered in to using it as a crutch because it feels productive, requires little effort and doesn’t highlight the big gap between what you know and what you think you know.

There’s an important ‘gotcha’ here. Because those three abilities increase in complexity, you might assume that they must happen in sequence, each one building on the last. That’s just not true.

Many years ago when I was feeling ill, my dad took me to the cinema to cheer me up and let me pick the film. I chose Police Academy Six: city under siege. For some reason I don’t ever recall him taking me to the cinema after that.

I’m sure my dad understood the plot – it was hardly Inception – but I don’t think he’d have remembered the character names or story line a week later.

This is because it’s entirely possible to understand or apply something without having committed it to memory. In fact, it’s much easier to memorise something once you understand it.

Self-testing techniques are often overlooked because reading, following tutorials and answering past paper questions do help you to remember. The problem with relying solely on those methods is that they are fairly ineffective, not necessarily comprehensive, and very time consuming.

Here are your takeaway points:

  • Use a study technique suited to the ability you need to develop
  • Use a dedicated technique for memorisation
  • If a Police Academy movie doesn’t have Steve Guttenberg in it, it probably won’t be in contention for an Oscar

Read part two in this series (click here)

My book is now available! You can read about it here.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: