How To Become a More Effective Learner: The Ultimate Guide

In this article you will learn to identify where you are today, how you can shift your mindset and give you tips on how to become a more effective learner.

Many concepts and strategies revealed in this text are universal principles which can be applied to improve other areas of your life as well.

I encourage you to read with an open mind and practice what you find useful.

How To Become a More Effective Learner:

Developing the mindset of a rapid learner

Many people who need to learn or study a particular subject fast fall prey to the following common beliefs:

“There are people who are naturally smart and I am not one of them.”

“The IQ level of a person is solely based on their genes”

“Each person is “smart” in his or her own turf. Some things I just can’t learn.”

The statements above are at best only partially true.

Studies have shown that IQ levels change as we age. This means that with maturity you can be intelligent enough to learn anything. If you are an average learner today, you are not doomed to be at a mediocre level forever.

There are plenty of examples of people who were average students who became spectacular students after improving and changing their learning habits.

This transformation begins with a change in belief. You cannot get the results you want (and deserve) unless you first believe that you have the potential to do it.

After you believe you have the capability, the second thing you need is the inner drive or motivation to do it. We will now take a look at how you can influence both of these elements.

How you can shift your beliefs

A belief is nothing more than a feeling of absolute certainty about something. Let’s say you were presented with the task of: tying your shoes. Would you believe you could do it? Most people will answer: of course! Why?

It’s because they have done it a million times before. They have experienced successfully tying their shoes in the past and therefore feel certain they can do it again. So the best way to get a new belief is therefore to have a new experience. This will massively strengthen your belief about your ability.

The problem is that some things you first need to believe you can achieve before you have the experience. You can’t experience being an A-student if you have no belief you can achieve it. Then, how can you shift your belief without having a new experience?

The answer is you need to first create certainty in your mind. Changing how you think. Make sure you habitually communicate to yourself in an empowering way.

If you say to yourself you are incapable, you will be incapable. Let me give you an example of this. A terrible man named Adolf Hitler once said: “Tell people a lie long enough, loud enough – and they will eventually start to believe it”. I’m sure you know the history and consequences of this.

Lesson: Take notice of how you communicate with yourself. Are you lying about your ability to learn and study?

How to motivate yourself to learn

In every moment:

What you link pleasure to and what you link pain to – will determine your motive for action (your motivation). The secret to feel motivated to learn is to train yourself to link pleasure to learning and pain to not learning, or procrastinating. Let’s say you have a test coming up and you don’t feel like studying.

In order to change this, ask yourself the following two questions:

  • What will it cost me in my life if I don’t succeed?
  • What will I gain in my life if I do?

Try to come up with as many answers you can to this. Just overdo it. The more pain you link to failing and the more pleasure you link to succeeding will determine how motivated you feel.

What you focus on you feel, how you feel will determine the actions you take.

How we learn

The beliefs “some people are just naturally smart” and “some things I just can’t learn” mentioned in the previous text usually comes from an experience when someone where trying to explain something to you, and you just couldn’t get it!

You just didn’t understand what they where saying to you. Here you will learn why that was.

The key is understanding what learning actually is. This is useful when you are trying to learn something hard, and I also think it’s invaluable for being a good teacher.

So what is learning?

Learning is creating a relationship in your mind between something you don’t know (what you want to learn) – and something you already know.

In other words, you need to describe what you want to learn using known references in your mind. The more references you can find – the better you will understand it. A useful metaphor is a table.

If the tabletop is the new piece of knowledge – the legs are the reference points ensuring the table can stand on its own. The more legs the table has, the more stable it will stand (usually a table need at least three legs to stand on it’s own).

When we know this, learning something new simply becomes the act of answering one question: How does this relate to something I already know?

When we don’t understand what is being explained to us, it’s because the person explaining it is using references we don’t have. You then first have to learn the references.

Let’s say for example we want to know what the Pythagorean theorem in mathematics is.

The following may be explained to us:

In a specific triangle called a right triangle, the length of the hypotenuse (c) equals the square root of the sum of the squares of the two other sides (a and b).

This can’t make sense to a any human being if we don’t first understand: what a right triangle is, what a hypotenuse is, what square root and square of «something» means.

Always remember, if you don’t understand what is being explained, it’s not because you are stupid, but because you haven’t first understood the references.

Here’s a practical example of how this technique may be used. Let’s say you want to know what Aprendizaje is/means. We ask, how does this relate to something I already know?

  • The obvious first thing our brain tells us that it is a word. We already know what a word is so now we have established one relation, but we need more.
  • After some research we discover it’s something Spanish. Ok, so it’s a Spanish word then.
  • Finally we discover it means learning, aha! Now that we have three references related to this new word we understand it quite well.
  • “Aprendizaje” is the Spanish word for learning.

This was a rather simple example, but having this understanding can be especially useful when trying to learn something more abstract like mathematics or physics.

Mind maps are a great tool for learning because you can visually see how separate pieces of knowledge group together in order to form a understanding. The reason this is so powerful is because this is actually how our brains work.

Our brains are simply a web of neurons (nerve cells) representing experiences from our senses that form a understanding/meaning.

Taking control of your time

Learn to say “no” to yourself.

For you to succeed in your rapid learning program, learning has to become a high priority. This means you might have to say “no” to yourself more. Saying no is the voice inside your head that means “No to party” or “No to procrastination”.

However, this does not mean that your life will be boring when you are learning something new or you are studying. It only means you have to control yourself to ensure that you can accommodate both serious time for studying and fun.

Here we will focus on giving you tips on time control. After learning all these, you can now come up with your own flexible learning and study schedule.

It is ideal that you follow a schedule for at least two to three weeks until it becomes your routine.

Make minor adjustments as the need arises then stick with your new and good habits.

The tips will be presented in a form of question. In addition, this can also serve as your checklist.

Check each item once you have done the strategy.

  • Do you use a calendar?

Write all the important activities, tasks, deadlines and exams on a monthly calendar. A recommendation is to acquire a huge physical calendar. Hang it on a strategic location such as inside your room or office. Use assorted colors for your codes – red pen for deadlines or green pen for important dates.

  • Do you have a study plan for the week?

Each week you should have a clear idea what is going to happen. Use an electronic calendar or download from the internet a blank weekly study schedule. Write down all your learning sessions, seminars or classes. Block the time slots for your usual activities such as studying, working, sleeping, and eating.

  • Do you allow some time to plan before a learning session?

Spend time for preparation before your seminar, class or learning session. Spend as much time as you can doing this so that when you attend a learning session it becomes repetition rather than learning something completely new.

  • Do you plan for time off?

Keep in mind that you should not be studying straight for more than one hour. Devote at least 10-minute breaks to keep you fresh to absorb the information you are studying and learning. Plus, this will allow your mind to rest for a couple of minutes.

  • Do you give yourself enough time to play and relax?

As they say, all work and no play is not good at all. Playing is therapeutic. Without play, your life can become boring and lifeless. Make sure to mark in your weekly plan a time to play. Also, relaxation is an excellent activity to start or end your busy day. Think of it as recharging yourself.

  • Do you give yourself rewards after accomplishing your goals?

Save some money to reward yourself no matter how tight your budget is. Have a movie date with your partner or eat your favorite ice cream after a job well done. Just remember not to give yourself a reward if you were not able to meet your target. Whatever gets rewarded gets repeated. Don’t reward bad behavior.

  • Do you make a list?

One of the good habits that you must start doing is creating and keeping a list. Mark your priority items on your list. Ensure that you are going to accomplish and complete first the most important items. If for some reason you were not able to accomplish the tasks on your list, make sure that you are going to carry over these activities the following day.

Exercise: Prioritize Your Time

Make a list of the five things that you have to accomplish before tomorrow. Mark an item “A” if it is a top priority; “B” if next in priority; and “C” less urgent item.

Start making your priority lists today. List making must now be part of your routine.

SEE ALSO: How To Improve Memory Power Naturally: 19 Science-Backed Methods

Strategies in Note Taking

Whatever position you are holding – a student, a teacher or a manager, here are note taking tips that you must keep in mind.

Like emphasized in the previous part of text, always prepare. Read your book, your previous notes or any material for the learning session you are going to attend. Coming unprepared to any learning session should sound totally unfamiliar to you.

Look for a seat near the speaker or instructor. Sitting up close will give you a better view of the board, you can see the facial expressions of the instructor, hear better and you will less likely have a chance to snooze or daydream.

Identify from your classmates or from the audience who are serious and have “do not waste my time” attitude when it comes to learning. Get to know them better.

They can be your ally to understand better the lecture or the subject. Get their contact details in case you need to clarify some topics or if you have questions.

Take note of what your instructor writes on the board. Most instructors write key words and important information that you have to know such as examples, formulas, solutions, definitions, and outlines.

Organize your notes with tabs. If “open notes” during the exam is allowed, you are ahead of the game.

Warning: It is a no-no to write everything that the speaker, facilitator or instructor is saying. Listen to the main ideas. Abbreviate when you write.

Specific steps in note taking:

Get organized. Purchase a notebook. Avoid choosing loose leaf folders.

Set-up your preferred outline format.

Keep in mind the things that you must take note.

  • Definitions, lists, solutions or formulas
  • Diagrams, symbols and drawings that simplify ideas.
  • Arrows that indicate correlations between ideas.

Listen carefully.

  • Be involved during class discussion. Save chatting with your side mate for the break.
  • Be observant to the non-verbal cues of the speaker
  • Changing of voice volume and dramatic pauses signals key points
  • Repetition of words cue a critical idea
  • Gestures also show important point
  • Use diagrams, symbols

Exercise: Sharing of Ideas

While studying on your own is critical, having someone to discuss and share ideas with is equally important as it helps you better formulate your own ideas and you get to experience other views.

So start noticing who in your class may have the same attitude towards learning as you and try to establish a study group. Beyond that – just strive to be friendly with everyone. It will help you thrive in your learning setting.

Practice Effective Reading

Better reading skills (1) can be improved and developed. Here are the five steps to enhance your reading skills by becoming a critical reader.

1. Survey

Spend 10 minutes to get a sneak preview of the reading material you have been given. This is an important step in forming a new good habit. Previewing will allow you to get a bigger picture on how the author organized the chapters or each section.

2. Question

Start with the first part of the chapter. Always keep in mind the reasons for reading – you intend to answer a question. Use the words how, why, where, when, what and who.

3. Read and Underline

Read the portion with the question you formulated; after which go back to the start and highlight or underline the material. Read aloud or move your lips as you read.

Take note: Speed reading strategies are not appropriate if you are reading a technical material because you might miss important details.

4. Recite and Write

After forming the questions and reading the answers to your questions, it is time to recite the answers.

Make use of the markings and the cues you made on the reading material as your guide.

Recite now the answers out loud. Make some study notes as well that will assist you in encoding the information easier during the final exam.

In case the material is extremely difficult for you to understand, compose a sentence to summarize the paragraph.

5. Review

After reading the whole chapter and all the sections, you are set to review the said chapter. Here are the final three steps to understand the material.

  • Reread every heading of the chapter.
  • Review the highlighted and underlined ideas.
  • Answer all the questions you formed for every part of the chapter. Use your notes to make it easier when you review.

Exercise: Reading Skills

Get a book you have been planning to read. Apply what you have learned.

Remember, practice is your secret weapon in improving your reading skills.

SEE ALSO: How To Boost Your Memory Fast: Here Are 13 (Effortless) Strategies

Steps in Training Your Memory

Many experts believe that the memory skills of a person are not only inborn ability but can also be improved and developed through considerable time of practice and using various techniques. Use the following eight steps to improve your memory retention.

1: Spread out your memory sessions

Most people think that the more they spend time studying or learning for the day, the more they will learn. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately), this is not true. Around two hours is the ideal time for your memory to work at its full potential.

Start a new habit – distributed practice. The best strategy in spending more time studying better is following the ideal pattern below:

  • Review your notes within 24 hours after the lecture or learning session
  • Maximum of two hours review after sleeping overnight
  • Review after one week
  • Review after one month

If you start following this study schedule, you have greater chances of retaining the information in your long-term memory for about 88 percent.

2: Recite the material to yourself

When you are memorizing and studying, recite to yourself the answers of the study questions. It will not help if you are just reciting it in your head.

Results of researches show that answering the questions aloud to yourself increases your chances of recall at least by 80 percent.

Utilize your senses during the learning process to help you remember longer.

See it – Read the material.

Say it – Answer the guide questions aloud.

Write it – Write your answers on the study notes.

Repeat it – Repeat the whole process until you mastered the topic you are studying or reviewing.

3: Claim that you are going to recall

Decide that you are going to recall. There is what you call the power of recall. If you really want to remember, you definitely will recall. The secret is your positive attitude. Believe that you have the capacity to learn.

4: Organize your materials and notes into a self-made pattern

People who are capable of recalling tons of information and long lists found a relationship or a pattern on the reading material.

Cognitive psychologists say that a person can recall not more than seven chunks of information at one time. If you find a way to organise your material into smaller chunks, you will have an easier time recalling it in the future.

5: Test and always retest yourself

Let’s say you need to memorize 10 new definitions for your class tomorrow. What would you do to test yourself? Are you going to write or read the definitions to yourself over and over again? Neither tactic is the best way.

Follow this pattern instead to test yourself:

  • Memorize the first and second items on your list.
  • Repeat step one using your memory.
  • Once you know the first two items already, proceed to the third item.
  • Memorize the third item and repeat steps one and two.
  • Do the same steps until you have finished learning all the definitions.

Remember: Do not forget to use all your senses when learning – Read it. Write it. Say it. Imagine it.

6: Overlearn

Review your material and notes (2) for several times right after the learning session. When your final examination day arrives, you have almost mastered your materials which you have encoded within yourself for long-term memory recall.

For classes that involve formulas, solve the problem at least five times to encode in your long-term memory the correct formula and solution.

Just look at the marketing strategies of most companies. Concrete examples are the television commercials. These companies come up with jingles and taglines to make it easier for the consumers to recall their products and services.

Consumers will have the possibility of availing certain products and services because of the constant repetition and recall of jingles and taglines running in their heads.

7: Use rhyming, hooks and catchwords


For words that need to be remembered in specific sequence, rhyming is a perfect tactic to easily recall.


You put hooks to ideas in your memory bank by using a letter to associate with information. Many people were taught “ROY G. BIV” to easily remember the different colors of the rainbow – red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet.


Here is a practice exercise: Create a bizarre or strange word through scrambling the first letter of the steps in training your memory. Make sure to spend only five minutes thinking.

8: Study before going to bed and upon waking

To get the most out of the entire process, review before going to bed. Cut off all sorts of distractions such as browsing the internet.

As you wake up in the morning, you review again.

Thank you for reading this article about how to become a more effective learner and I really hope that you take action my advice.

I wish you good luck and I hope its contents have been a good help to you.

Przemkas Mosky
Przemkas Mosky started Perfect 24 Hours in 2017. He is a Personal Productivity Specialist, blogger and entrepreneur. He also works as a coach assisting people to increase their motivation, social skills or leadership abilities. Read more here