HealthApril 24, 2014

A look into effective MCAT and USMLE study strategies: Part 2

Earlier this month, we began our dissection of Scott H. Young’s three-step study strategy by looking into the importance of setting aside discrete times to study and relax. Today, we’ll dive into the second step of Young’s strategy—switching passive learning tasks to active ones.

Passive learning/Active learning pyramid

Passive tasks include reading, listening, or watching something to learn it. Attending a lecture is passive learning. Re-reading notes is passive learning. As Young says, if there’s no way to find out if you’re incorrect from your method, then it’s probably passive learning. From the above image, we see that people generally only remember 50% of what they passively learn. Hardly a recipe for success.

Active tasks include testing, teaching, or participating in something to learn it. Young notes that active learning will strain you more, which underscores the need to set predetermined hours for studying and recuperating. But, active studying is a MUCH more efficient way of learning. The image above shows that people can generally retain 90% of what they actively learn! Now we’re on to something.

Young draws from the Feynman Technique, a 4-step approach to active learning. You can watch his analysis here.

For each step of the Feynman Technique, Firecracker has a parallel function! Let’s break it down...

1. Choose concept. Not too difficult on Firecracker, where we have over 2,500 topics to flag! You can isolate the exact concept you wish to review in our system and amass the associated review questions.

2. Explain idea as if teaching it to yourself. Firecracker’s questions are open-answer, meaning you have to be able to explain the concept to yourself (in your head or on our scratchpads) to see how well you know really know it. Multiple choice questions are easier, but they don’t help you learn nearly as efficiently! We’ve heard it for years—you only know something if you can teach it.

3. When stuck, review material until able to explain it. Super easy on Firecracker! Whenever you’re stuck on a question, use the hot-key “T” to immediately view the associated topic card. After reviewing, press “T” again to go back to the question and see if you can answer it. Also, the catchup section in “More Options” tells you EXACTLY what you need to review, based on your changing strengths and weaknesses. We recommend everyday what topics you should be reviewing to ensure you can completely and independently explain a concept.

4. If explanation is wordy or confusing, use simplified language or an analogy. Add helpful notes or mnemonics to topic cards! If you’re having trouble answering a question, write a short and simple note that helps simplify the answer and makes it more memorable.


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