7 Ways to Use Brain Science to Learn New Topics Faster

How would your life change if you could learn faster?

Instead of spending hours stuck at your desk only to realize you’ve forgotten a lot of what you learned, or struggling with focus and motivation, how would you feel if you knew, before you took on any new learning, that you would succeed?

Knowing how your brain learns best lets you unlock all these advantages. Faster learning, knowing you will succeed in any new learning scenario, greater productivity and more free time – all these things can be yours if you know how to unlock the hidden potential of your brain.

And I call it your hidden potential because you already do have it in you to become a faster and more efficient learner – all that you’re lacking right now are the right strategies.

So, let’s jump right into them!

Table of Contents

1. Turn What You Learn into Mental Movies

2. Summarize What You’re Learning with Mind Maps

3. Keep Your Study Sessions Short with Breaks In-Between

4. Get Some Exercise

5. Minimize Distractions and Don’t Multitask

6. Develop Faster Reading Strategies

7. Activate Your Motivation by Chunking Your Learning

7 Ways to Use Brain Science to Learn New Topics Faster

1. Turn What You Learn into Mental Movies

7 Ways to Use Brain Science to Learn New Topics FasterThis is one of the most important pieces of advice I can give you.

Visualization is at the core of faster learning and sharper memory.

Of the three learning modalities – visual, auditory, and kinesthetic – visual learners usually have an advantage in school because school typically teaches and tests you in a way that plays up to a visual learner’s strengths.

And these strengths include being able to convert what they learn into mental movies, which are much, much faster to recall and retain than chapters of text.

Let me explain using brain science.

Scientists have used brain scanning technology like fMRI scans to show how your brain uses a huge portion of its surface area for visual processing.

In fact, 80% of your brain is involved in creating, accessing and recalling images – this is tens of thousands of times faster than your brain remembers text!

Okay, let me put it like this – what’s easier to remember? An image in your mind of the Eiffel Tower, or a paragraph describing the Eiffel Tower, word for word?

Your brain processes and understands images faster than it can text.

An image evokes an instant response and deeper understanding, whereas with text, your brain has to decode letters, decipher their combinations, figure out the meanings of their sequence, and then try to remember all that in order.

Your brain doesn’t work in a linear fashion – it grasps concepts and ideas better when they are in images.

This is why, for example, you might read explanations of how something like the water cycle or photosynthesis works, but it’s only when you see a well-illustrated diagram breaking the process down that it really makes sense.

So, when you’re learning, convert what you read into images! This is what visual learners are doing naturally, and what gives them an advantage during written tests.

Use diagrams, charts and graphs to represent information in a visual way in your mind.

When you have to describe the steps of the water cycle for a quiz, trust me – remembering that diagram, or even sketching it out quickly, will help you intuitively and quickly understand and walk through the process.

Turn the things you’re learning into vivid mental movies in your head by asking yourself “What does this remind me of?”

By doing this, you create mnemonic associations, and it’s one of the ways your brain learns best – by connecting new information to existing information.

For instance, if you’re trying to remember something like how evaporation happens, imagine the molecules of water like cartoon marbles holding hands.

When heated up, the marbles start moving faster because they have more energy, and some of them shoot away from the others, unable to hold on anymore, and into the air as steam or water vapour.

That image can help you understand much more intuitively what’s going on, than memorizing a technical definition of evaporation.

Another excellent, science-proven method which uses visualization to boost your learning and memory is creating mind maps – so read on to the next tip!

2. Summarize What You’re Learning with Mind Maps

7 Ways to Use Brain Science to Learn New Topics FasterTony Buzan, the creator of mind maps, developed this method to summarize information based on how the brain learns best.

You already know that the brain recalls images thousands of times faster, has a more intuitive response to images, and learns and creates memory through pictures and associations.

Mind maps present information in a way that matches all these brain preferences for learning!

First, you write out the main topic or chapter name in the center of a page, and draw a circle around it.

Next, branching out of the circle in a clockwise manner, you draw out spokes leading to other circles, where your subtopics and points go.

If you have more subtopics and points branching out of these smaller circles, go ahead and draw them in.

You can go as creative or as simple as you like with a mind map. The important thing is that summarizing what you’re learning into this format helps code information into your brain more efficiently.

For example, have you ever found that when you try to make notes you just end up copying whole chunks of the textbook, or yellow highlighting almost the whole page?

That’s not very helpful for your brain to learn. However, when you take the entirety of a chapter, and condense it into a mind map, your brain is actively engaging with what you learned.

It figures out the salient or relevant points, summarizes them in a meaningful way that you can understand, connects them with other information, and presents them in a way you can take in at one glance.

And when you’re in an exam room trying to remember an entire chapter’s worth of content, recalling a mind map with all the points neatly and appropriately connected for you is much faster and more helpful than trying to remember pages and pages of text!

3. Keep Your Study Sessions Short with Breaks In-Between

7 Ways to Use Brain Science to Learn New Topics FasterA lot of people think that studying hard means spending hours and hours at a desk with your nose in a book, and you might be one of them.

But this is not how the brain learns best at all.

Hermann Ebbinghaus, a mathematician, demonstrated this with the Ebbinghaus curve of forgetting.

The curve illustrates how, the longer the gap between the beginning and end of a study session, the steeper the decline in the middle,

This means that you’re more likely to remember what you learned at the beginning (primacy) and end (recency) of a study session, and the longer the gap between the two, the more you’re likely to forget if no attempt it made to retain the information.

This happens because if you’re studying in long stretches, you’re not giving your brain enough time to store what you’re learning into your long-term memory, by processing it and connecting it to what you already know.

Your working memory, which is a temporary form of memory your brain uses when it’s focusing on learning something in the present, gets overwhelmed if you go over its capacity.

If you experience information overload, where you’re not able to absorb information no matter how much you try, it could be because your working memory is overwhelmed.

Neuroscientists find that studying for 20 to 25 minutes, and taking a short 5-minute break before resuming, is more than effective in restoring your working memory and building your long-term memory.

The short break isn’t just necessary to help your working memory recover. When your brain takes a break from focusing on one thing, it’s able to wander, looking over what it learned, how it connects to what you know, and making sense of, creating ideas and solutions from this information.

And remember what I said about the curve of forgetting being steeper if you don’t make attempts to retain information?

Another important element of building up long-term recall is making sure you review what you’re learning.

The more you review what you learn, the more active the pathways between your brain cells where the information you learned is stored.

So, after every 5-minute break, quickly review what you covered in the previous session. You’re building up your long-term recall, and it’s much more efficient and effective than spending hours cramming only to realize you have to do it all over again.

4. Get Some Exercise

7 Ways to Use Brain Science to Learn New Topics FasterOne way of literally getting your brain to work faster is with exercise!

When you are physically active, your blood circulation speeds up, and it carries more oxygen and nutrient-rich blood to your brain cells.

This helps your brain create new brain cells in parts of the brain where learning and memory occurs, like your hippocampus, as well as speeds up the rate at which your brain creates connections between brain cells as learning occurs.

Exercise doesn’t have to be long sessions at the gym either – a brisk walk, some jumping jacks at your desk, a jog around the block, light stretching, can all help jog your brain cells for faster learning.

Exercise also triggers the release of chemical messengers like endorphins, dopamine and serotonin. These switch your brain into a state of focus and boost your motivation for learning, while keeping you in a great mood!

5. Minimize Distractions and Don’t Multitask

7 Ways to Use Brain Science to Learn New Topics FasterGlancing at your phone to check who just messaged you, or watching a short video on YouTube, might seem harmless enough.

But when you distract your brain in the middle of focusing on something, studies show it can take you almost 30 minutes to refocus.

So, every time you lose focus in the middle of working, you’re losing the progress you might have made during one entire brain-friendly study session.

Your brain doesn’t fare well when it has to multitask. It’s like forcing a car to switch from one destination to another over and over while you’re driving.

You end up not getting anywhere because you’re trying to get to two places at once.

Studies show that people who focus on a single task tend to perform far better than those who try to multitask.

The latter end up slowing down because their brains have to keep switching from processing and consolidating one thing to another, over and over.

So, make sure you’re focusing on one topic or task at a time, and minimizing distractions.

Set up your workspace somewhere without the TV, away from the activity in your home.

Switch off your phone, or turn off your notifications, and if you really feel as though you might still be tempted away by your social media, use apps like FocusMe to temporarily block distracting websites while you’re learning.

Better focus is one of the keys to faster learning, and by learning in a brain-friendly way, you’ll have more free time to enjoy all these things later without guilt anyway!

6. Develop Faster Reading Strategies

7 Ways to Use Brain Science to Learn New Topics FasterFaster reading with better comprehension and memory can significantly speed up your memory!

And you might not even be aware of it, but you might be reading slower than you could because you have subconscious habits that are slowing you down.

For example, do you find that you end up going back over words or lines you’ve already read, because you feel like you lost your place in the text, or forgot what you were reading? This is called regression, and can seriously tire your brain out because you’re constantly hitting the brakes, reversing, and starting again – imagine how long and exhausting it would be to get somewhere if you had to drive that way!

Or do you end up reading out each word in your head or even mouth the words as you read? You might be doing this because you learned to read phonetically as a child – meaning you distinguish all the different sounds and how their combinations create words when you read.

Since you speak a lot slower than you read, this can slow your reading and therefore your learning down quite a bit!

Or do you perhaps experience fixations – where your eyes end up lingering on certain words just a tad bit too long?

Using the Eye-Q Reading Inventory, you can identify the specific reading strengths and weaknesses you have, unique to you.

This in turn helps you figure out which strategy to use to overcome these obstacles and speed up your reading!

One instant way you can help achieve faster reading is to use a tracer. Using your finger or a pen, trace under the line that you’re reading.

This gives your eye a pointer to follow along, and you’ll find that it automatically reduces fixations and regressions.

But that’s not all! I have several other brain-friendly reading strategies in my course Total Recall Learning.

This includes a hi-tech speed reading method that can double, if not triple your reading speed, with extraordinary improvements to your comprehension and memory and automatic reduction of poor reading habits!

7. Activate Your Motivation by Chunking Your Learning

7 Ways to Use Brain Science to Learn New Topics FasterDid you know that you can use brain science to access on-demand motivation?

One of the chemical messengers I mentioned in the section about exercise is dopamine – also known as the motivation molecule.

When you experience a sense of accomplishment – from learning something new, getting a good grade, a compliment or a promotion – the mesolimbic or reward pathways of your brain light up.

There’s a spike of dopamine in your system, which is what causes that sense of pleasure and satisfaction from achieving something.

And your brain enjoys this experience so much that it craves more of it, motivating you to do more of what you did to activate your reward pathways and raising dopamine levels in anticipation of the reward.

To use this system to your advantage for faster learning, all you have to do is break down your study tasks into a series of smaller tasks!

If you set yourself a big task, like finishing studying for an entire subject in a day, your brain might be expecting a reward but when you struggle to complete the task, your dopamine levels actually fall. This leaves you demotivated.

So, instead, break this task down into a series of smaller steps – instead of finishing an entire subject, break it down into chapters, or topics.

As you complete each step, the dopamine surges in your system keep you feeling accomplished and motivated, in turn keeping you focused and engaged to take on the next task!

With these 7 ways to use brain science to learn new topics faster, you have the tools you need to tap into your brain’s faster learning potential!

For more science-backed faster learning tips and tricks, check out Total Recall Learning!

pat wymanPat Wyman is the CEO of HowtoLearn.com and an internationally noted brain coach known as America’s Most Trusted Learning Expert.

Pat’s superpower is helping people learn, read and remember everything faster. She has helped over half a million people in schools and corporations such as Microsoft, Intel and Google improve their lives with her learning strategies, learning styles inventory and courses, such as Total Recall Learning™. Use coupon code LEARNMUCHFASTER to make the course $27 today! Save $70!

Pat is the best-selling author of more than 15 books, a university instructor, mom and golden retriever lover!

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