New Student Tip #12: Memorizing

Although schools and colleges have moved away from the imbalanced emphasis on memorizing and regurgitating huge chunks of information, with a much greater focus on demonstrating understanding, many subjects still require an ability to memorize, especially for tests and exams.

Unfortunately, few students are taught how to memorize, usually resulting in lots of inefficient and ineffective trial-and-error methods. Some of the following tips are based on research and some on my own experience of learning and teaching.

1. Go to lectures

One of the benefits of being present at lectures is that the material not only goes in the eye-gate but also in the ear-gate. Reading the material is good, but hearing the material is even better. It would be really easy for many teachers just to pass out their notes and say “Go read!” But educators have found that most students understand and retain knowledge better when it is heard as well as read. There’s something about the physical presence and audible voice of a teacher that make the information stick better than just reading.

2. Take notes

Sharing notes seems to be a highly efficient method of study. However, taking your own notes has been demonstrated to lay the information down better in the brain. In fact, writing them by hand rather than typing them on a laptop activates even more regions of the brain and fosters better recall.

3. Single-task

Yes, believe it or not, you will learn more and better by focusing on the lecture alone. This study examined the impact of multi-tasking with digital technologies while attempting to learn from real-time classroom lectures in a university setting.

Participants who did not use any technologies in the lectures outperformed students who used some form of technology. Consistent with the cognitive bottleneck theory of attention (Welford, 1967) and contrary to popular beliefs, attempting to attend to lectures and engage digital technologies for off-task activities can have a detrimental impact on learning.”

4. Outline

You cannot memorize globs of undifferentiated data. Your brain will rebel or explode. If you want to love your brain and your brain to love you, you need to organize and outline your lecture notes and any notes on assigned reading. I’ve written more about the how of note-taking here. When outlining, make a huge effort to make your structure and content as logical as possible. Your brain finds it far easier to remember the logical than the illogical!

5. Summarize and simplify

You will remember more if you write it in your own words, if you reduce the number of words, and if you use simple words. That’s why, when you are putting your notes in outline form, you should do the intense mental labor of summarizing as much as possible and simplifying as much as possible. You can’t remember everything, and you’ll forget everything if you try. Better to memorize less but memorize it well. You’ll be amazed at how much a well-memorized summary outline will trigger memory of the material not in your summary.

6. Color your notes

Given a choice between memorizing simply black text on white paper compared to color-highlighted text, the brain will choose the latter any day. A well-highlighted page looks more like a picture to the brain, something like a map, which leaves a deeper and longer impression on the mind.

7. Use mnemonics

A mnemonic is a strategy or technique to improve memory. It translates information into a form that the brain finds easier to remember. If that’s still double dutch to you, here are a few samples to get you started. Using mnemonics  can be tough work at first, but the brain is like a muscle in some ways, the more you push it, the stronger it gets. The mental “lifting” that you used to find impossible gradually gets easier with practice and of course the ability transfers to other subjects too.

8. Little and often

Short and frequent is better than long and rare. It is better to study your four or five subjects every day for shorter times than to study one subject each day for the full day. By the time you go back to what you studied four or five days previously, most of what you learned will have gone.

When I ask struggling Hebrew students about their study habits, they will usually say, “Well, I study 2-3 hours every day. The first thing I tell them to do is to shorten their study time. Once they’ve started breathing again, I explain the strategy using the following diagram:

Study-habits 1

7-8am: Study the subject first thing in the morning for 45-60 minutes maximum. As soon as you end that period, your mind immediately starts losing data at a frighteningly rapid rate. Imagine where this graph ends up by the end of the day (feel familiar?)

11am: Re-study the same material again, although this time it should only take you 20-30 minutes. Notice that the knowledge level is higher than the the first period (and reached faster), and that the data loss rate has a shallower gradient (it takes longer to forget what you’ve learned).

4pm: Re-study same material again, this time for 10-15 minutes. Knowledge peak is even higher and gradient of loss even shallower. (In between these study times, you can be studying other subjects using the same method.)

9pm: Just before bed, review the material one more time for about 5-10 mins. Note peak and gradient (appealing, isn’t it!).  Compare where you are now with where you would be if you only studied the subject for one long period. Where would that red line be?

And if you want to seal it for good, do a quick 5-minute review first thing the next morning before studying new material. That will really set the mental concrete.

9. Test yourself

It’s easy to think we’ve memorized something…until we get into the exam room and it’s gone. That’s why you should test your recall beforehand, perhaps using flashcards or getting someone to test you. Forcing yourself to recall something itself improves your memory of it. Speaking answers out loud also secures the data better in your mind.

10. Feed and rest your brain

This Wall Street Journal article cited evidence showing that students who ate a regular balanced diet that included fruit and veg did better than those who ate a high-fat, low-carb diet that was heavy on meat, eggs, cheese, and cream. The brain requires a constant supply of energy and “has only a limited backup battery.”

The same piece also recommended that students don’t wake up earlier than usual to study as this could interfere with the rapid-eye-movement sleep that aids memory. All-nighters impair memory and reasoning for up to 4 days.

Previous Tips

New Student Tip #1: Dropbox
New Student Tip #2: Wunderlist
New Student Tip #3: Evernote
New Student Tip #4: Diigo
New Student Tip #5: Lastpass
New Student Tip #6: Calendar
New Student Tip #7: Feedly
New Student Tip #8: Covenant Eyes
New Student Tip #9: The Why of Note-taking
New Student Tip #10: The How Of Note-taking
New Student Tip #11: Time Management


Thriving at College by Alex Chediak (for students)
Preparing Your Teens For College by Alex Chediak (for parents of students)
Top 10 Books for Students

7 Kinds of Happiness

Although this world can be a sad place, in God’s mercy there are still many different kinds of happiness in the world.

Nature happiness: This is the kind of joy that can be derived from the creation, the happiness we experience through our physical senses when we encounter God’s creation. Mountains, rivers, lakes, trees, flowers, animals, seasons, weather, food, etc., – all of them and much more can put smiles in our heart and on our face.

Social happiness: We find so much wonderful pleasure in our family and our friends. Relationships of different kinds and degrees are so integral to a happy life.

Vocational happiness: Although our jobs can often frustrate us, we also experience much job satisfaction and even exhilaration when things go well.

Physical happiness: The joy we have in being fit, strong, and healthy, able to do what we want to do. It’s especially intense and special to those who have their health and comfort restored after sickness or surgery.

Intellectual happiness: The pleasure that comes from understanding something – analyzing it, explaining it, improving it, remembering it, using it. We master a subject or solve a problem and enjoy a kind of mental ecstasy.

Humor happiness: God created humanity with a sense of humor – it’s not the result of the fall. Sure, it’s often hard to separate humor from sin today because jokes and funny stories are often so vulgar, crude, and demeaning of others. However, there is still such a thing as holy and healthy humor.

These six joys can all be experienced both by the Christian and the non-Christian. Isn’t it amazing how much happiness, and how many different happinesses, God has left for His creatures in this fallen and sin-cursed world. “Good unto all men is the Lord, Over all his works, his tender mercies are” (Psalm 145:9).

Having said that, a Christian should be able to derive even more happiness from these six sources by connecting them with God’s grace and God’s providential activity in their lives.

Also, there is a joy that only the Christian can experience, a joy that at times contains more pleasure and delight than the other six put together, and that’s spiritual happiness. This joy often fills and even floods a believer’s heart as he/she reads the Bible, learns about God and His grace, and communes with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This is indeed joy unspeakable and full of glory.

But let me leave you with a question: Which of these happinesses did Jesus experience and enjoy?

New Student Tip #11: Time Management

I’ve already given a couple of time management tips in my calendar post. But here are some other practices I’ve found helpful in managing my time in an efficient way.

Watch: Get one. I know, I know, it’s so old fashioned (at least until the Apple Watch comes out), but there’s something about having the time tick away in front of your eyes that makes you more conscious of time and the need to use it while you have it. Why not download a clock-face App to your computer that will allow you to see the hands swinging round – it seems to convey the passing of time better than digital numbers.

Plan: Don’t just plan class time but plan study time and exercise time too. Put everything in your calendar and treat it as an appointment you have to keep. Part of planning is trying to anticipate needs ahead of time so that you don’t have to rush around in a last-minute panic. Plan to use small time block of 20-30 minutes for small tasks like writing an email or making a phone call. Use bigger time blocks for bigger tasks.

Routine: God is a God of order and having made us in His image, we will thrive when we have orderly and regular lives. Although there are some unpredictables in student life, you should strive to make each week as much like any other. Get your body used to set study times and places so that its ready to roll when the time and environment cues kick in. The more rhythm you build into your life, the more you will thrive and flourish.

Review: Take 15 minutes at the end of each week, say Friday or Saturday evening, to review how the week went and to plan for the next week. Learn from what worked, and from what didn’t, and adjust accordingly. Take special note of anything unusual in the week ahead, like family and church obligations, or medical and dental appointments, and work out how you need to adjust your normal plans.

Divide: When you get dates for assignments, tests, and exams, work out how much time you have until the date and divide the work over the days and weeks available. Write out a study plan with the work you plan to have completed each week and check it off as you go. When you start worrying, you can look at the plan and see it’s reasonable and do-able, removing unnecessary stress.

Margin: Don’t cram everything in your calendar so that there is no room for the unexpected. Better lose ten minutes of study or exercise time than be constantly rushing trying to squeeze the last possible second of time out of life.

Limit: Work tends to expand to fill available time. For example, if you know you have four hours available to prepare for an exam or write a paper, you’d be best to set yourself a three hour target and leave yourself an hour to relax or socialize. It’s amazing how much can be done when you have to do it in a lesser time. This is especially true of something like email or social media. If you set strict time limits on these activities, you’ll get through a ton more emails and also use your social media time much better.

Focus: When you limit your time on any activity, you have to focus all the harder to make sure you get through the work. That means that you need to shut off distractions like the Internet, emails, messages, phone calls, etc., – you can use software blockers to help you.

Hide: Get away from places where people can tempt you to talk, have coffees, etc. You’ll have much more time for that, and with much less guilt, if you really focus on undistracted studying. In fact, you’ll be amazed how much time you end up with.

Single-tasking: Similar to previous point but worth emphasizing there is no such thing as multi-tasking, only multi-switching with every switch requiring ramp-up time.

Sleep: I’ll write a separate tip about sleep, but I’m sure you already know from painful experience that cutting down on sleep not only makes your studying less efficient, it also reduces retention of what is read.

Early: As the mind is much more impressionable and retentive early in the day when it’s not been crowded with stimuli and packed with useless information, the best study hours are usually first thing in the morning. Many find they can study twice as much twice as fast in the morning compared to the evening.

Exercise: Research has shown that exercise boosts cognitive function, creativity, problem solving and productivity. In fact a NASA study showed employees who exercised daily worked at 100% efficiency after 7 hours, while those who didn’t saw a 50% drop, meaning it took them twice as long to accomplish the same thing. So, exercise, in effect, creates time.”

Audit: In my Leadership class I have students perform the following exercise which you may want to adapt to invite input and develop accountability.

Log your time in 10-minute segments for weeks 3&4 of the semester. Analyze your use of time, and make suggestions about how you plan to improve. Find an accountability partner in the class, share your proposed time management plans, and evaluate one another’s performance over weeks 5-7. Submit a 5- page paper by the end of week 9 describing the lessons learned.

Memorize: “See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil” (Eph. 3:15-16).

Previous Tips

New Student Tip #1: Dropbox
New Student Tip #2: Wunderlist
New Student Tip #3: Evernote
New Student Tip #4: Diigo
New Student Tip #5: Lastpass
New Student Tip #6: Calendar
New Student Tip #7: Feedly
New Student Tip #8: Covenant Eyes
New Student Tip #9: The Why of Note-taking
New Student Tip #10: The How Of Note-taking


Time Management from the Inside Out: The Foolproof System for Taking Control of Your Schedule–and Your Life by Julie Morgenstern
Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence by Daniel Goleman
Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life by Winifred Gallagher
Thriving at College by Alex Chediak (for students)
Preparing Your Teens For College by Alex Chediak (for parents of students)
Top 10 Books for Students

Other Resources

See Top 50  Time Management Articles

Top 50 Time Management Articles

Over the past 4-5 years I’ve been collating and cataloging online resources for teaching purposes. Recently I started posting some of these links on the blog. Previous posts include:

You can find the full list here.

While working on my New Student Tip #11 on Time Management, I realized I’d collected a number of articles over the years on that subject. So here they are for your reading pleasure.

5 Apps to Make Your Busy Life a Little Less Busy | Time Management Ninja

Preparation is the Key to Making Your Day Productive | Time Management Ninja

What Could You Do in Five Years? | Time Management Ninja

10 Places to Find More Productivity in Your Day | Time Management Ninja

Working Toward Effective Time Management – Eric Geiger

Know Thy Time – Leadership Journal –

Essential Time-Management Hacks – Business Insider

Find Out Where Your Time Goes With This Productivity Chart

7 Time Management Strategies From Some Brilliant Teenage Prodigies | Fast Company | Business + Innovation

How Millionaires Manage Their Time | Michael Hyatt

The Cornerstone of Winston Churchill’s Time Management – What’s Best Next

7 Time-Management Tricks From Chris Hardwick, Man Of 1,000 TV Shows | Co.Create | creativity + culture + commerce

14 Tips for Time Management

Why Some of the World’s Most Productive People Have Empty Schedules

Themelios: Laying Waste to “Time-Wasters.”

Seth Getz Business Mastery • Time hacks to make the most of your precious life

Beware: 10 Time Management Rules That You Are Breaking | Time Management Ninja

Respect Yourself and Take Back Control of Your Calendar :: Tips :: 99U

The Importance of Time Management – Feeding on Christ

Christ and the Academy: An Interview with D.A. Carson by D.A. Carson | Reformed Theology Articles at

Practical Advice on Budgeting Your Time — Horatius Bonar | Reformed Bibliophile

How to Tame Your Task List: 13 Tips & Tricks | Time Management Ninja

When We Are Worn Out « Preaching Barefoot

21 Signs That You Are Failing At Time Management | Time Management Ninja

The Biggest Myth in Time Management – Peter Bregman – Harvard Business Review

6 Time-Management Tips From Accelerator Programs | Fast Company

RELEVANT Magazine – Making Peace with Time

Why The 1-Hour Meeting Is Too Long | Time Management Ninja

Study Guides and Strategies

Keeping a Time Diary Can Identify Patterns That Affect Your Productivity

Living Longer by Stretching Psychological Time « Scott H Young

How to Better Control Your Time by Designing Your Ideal Week

Better Time Management Is Not the Answer – Linda Hill & Kent Lineback – Harvard Business Review

The Places and Purposes of My Work « Provocations & Pantings< /a> – Time Management

Where Do You Put Yourself in Your List of Priorities?

Study Hacks » Blog Archive » Fixed-Schedule Productivity: How I Accomplish a Large Amount of Work in a Small Number of Work Hours

Prioritize Your Time Instead of Budgeting It

Take Back Your Free Time: Establishing Boundaries Between Work and Play

Why morning people rule the world | Life & Style

Scheduling Time in the “Alone Zone”

The Power of Full Engagement : What’s Best Next


Time Management Tips – Self Improvement

Sleep and Your Productivity

Time Audit – How to do a time audit | Productivity501

Time Leveraging vs. Time Management : What’s Best Next

How to Effectively Use Speed Reading to Study Entire Books

Office technology: Productivity boost or time sink?

The Pomodoro Technique™

A Scottish View on Scottish Independence

It’s been quite “interesting” over the past week to see various Americans weigh in on whether Scotland should remain in the United Kingdom or become an independent nation, with most American journalists and bloggers favoring the unionist status quo.

There was virtually no mention of Thursday’s vote until the last week or so when a couple of  opinion polls showed a surge in support for independence, bringing both sides neck and neck. That probably has nothing to do with North Korea coming out in support of an independent Scotland!

As you have to be resident in Scotland to vote, I cannot participate. At first I was a bit miffed about that, especially because tens of thousands who have come to Scotland from other nations can vote, even if they are not Scottish citizens and even if they’ve only stayed there for a few days. However, as I’ve made my home in Grand Rapids for the past seven years, and hope to apply for American citizenship as soon as is legally possible, I can’t really complain about being voteless.

Spiritual Dimension
Having said that, I do still have strong spiritual ties to my homeland, and I’m deeply concerned about Scotland’s spiritual welfare. The spiritual dimension is rarely if ever mentioned in the increasingly heated debates. The deciding factor for the vast majority is purely economic – will union or independence put more money in my wallet? For others, the primary consideration is political power, the argument on the one side being that Scotland will have more political clout standing on its own. The other side argues that an independent Scotland will no longer have a voice at the top table of nations, and England will have a weakened voice too. And then there are those who are motivated by sheer hatred of the English, especially of English politicians, and others just want change, any change.

But for the diminishing number of Christians in Scotland, the biggest question is “How will it affect the Kingdom of God?” The church I used to be a pastor in has produced a report that attempts to explain the negative spiritual ramifications of independence. I’m not that impressed with the report, but it will give you an opportunity to see how some Christians are trying to think through the spiritual implications of Independence.

How would I vote?
So how would I vote if I was allowed to? Although I was a member of the Conservative party, the most strongly unionist party in the UK, and I even campaigned with Winston Churchill’s grandson in one utterly hopeless election, I must say I’ve been inclined towards independence at times, especially as I’ve seen the way Scotland is often sidelined and belittled by the English upper-class twits that seem to rule the roost in the Westminster Houses of Parliament.

However, I keep coming back to the spiritual implications and asking, “What would be best for the Kingdom of God?”

I agree with the Christians who argue that the evidence from the devolved Scottish parliament since its inception in 1999 is that Scottish politicians have tried to outdo and outpace their London counterparts in stripping Scotland of its Christian heritage and replacing it with a rabidly secular agenda. Yes, I’m ashamed to say, Scotland has led the way in the UK in legislating for gay rights, gay adoption, gay marriage, etc. Having said that, London has only been a step or two behind. So, whether Scotland stays in the union or votes for independence, I don’t see either arrangement making that much difference to Christians or the Church of Christ.

So, given these pros and cons, I would probably reluctantly vote NO to independence, mainly on the grounds, “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.” Also, from my understanding of biblical and non-biblical history, I don’t believe Christians should campaign or vote to upend the status quo of civil society without having extremely good moral reasons to do so. I’ve not been convinced that such reasons exist.

My Prediction
My prediction? I predict that Scotland will vote narrowly against independence, mainly on economic grounds, with enough fear-mongering having convinced enough people that independence will cost them too much money to take the risk.

I also predict that the current secularization of British society will continue apace north and south of the border, the gay rights movement will adopt an increasingly persecuting agenda, hate-crime legislation will be used to suppress criticism of all non-Christian religions, and radical Islam will increasingly threaten Christians and churches in many parts of the UK.

Unless God returns to Scotland in reviving and reforming power, I further predict the continued numerical decline of Scottish churches. Due to the devastating influence of the secular public school system in which 99% of Scottish kids are educated, the demographics of most Scottish churches looks disastrous. Of the small proportion of kids attending churches, the majority leave church in their mid-late teens. If you were to look out over many (most?) churches,  you’d see a hugely disproportionate number of gray hairs, which can only mean the accelerated closure of multiple churches throughout the land in the next 10-15 years.

Of course, there will still be faithful churches that enjoy the blessing of God, especially if they do five things:

1. Maintain and strengthen the essential spiritual core of faithful biblical preaching and reverent biblical worship, with an emphasis on communicating and worshipping in modern language, “the vulgar language of every nation” as the Westminster Confession puts it.

2. Break out of the pervasive defensive posture and courageously evangelize, especially in populous and often dangerous inner-city areas.

3. Re-build a culture of Christian education, beginning with homeschooling, but aiming for Christian schools (of which there are only a tiny handful in the whole of Scotland).

4. Prayerfully depend on the Holy Spirit for blessing rather than importing and aping some of the worst of the North American church scene.

5. Stop fighting the ecclesiastical battles of the past. Over the years, there have been many church divisions in Scotland, some of them very necessary. But some Christians are still bitterly fighting the wars of the 20th and even the 19th century instead of opposing the current spiritual enemies that are overwhelming the land.

Although the majority of Americans have way too romantic ideas of Scotland and its current spiritual state, there are still godly and faithful ministers, Christians, and churches throughout Scotland. Yes, they are a tiny proportion of the population, but they are a praying people who continue to plead for revival and reformation.

Let’s all use this time of renewed focus on Scotland to prayerfully remember that historically much-blessed land, and to join with our brothers and sisters there in giving God no rest until He again establish Scotland as a praise in the earth (Isa. 62:7).

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