Repetition is the key to success when it comes to studying, but just what type of repetition works? I’ve asked myself that very question and many like it before, but now I have an answer and I’m happy to share it with you.
These three ‘R’s of repetition will help you understand and apply what you are trying to study, and will increase your overall proficiency in a given subject:
Before you start with the other types of repetition, you must fully understand what you are doing by completing problems by rote. This is, frankly, the worst step because it is, for me, the most difficult and it seems like you are making the least progress. However, you are making progress and you need to familiarize yourself with the problems you are attempting to solve and the process for solving them. One common problem I see is that people think because they intellectually understand how to solve a certain type of problem, they can do it. This is not the case. You must be able to complete problems and go through the solving process without thinking about it significantly. A good example of this is a martial artist doing his/her pattern (like this one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8DnuxeJ7vlc). The person doing this pattern is not actually thinking about each specific move! He has practiced it enough to where he doesn’t have to think about it, so all he has to do is tell his muscles “go”, and they go. That is what you want in martial arts and also in solving problems. You want to have done the problems enough times to know exactly what you are dealing with and the process for solving it, and all you have to do is tell your brain “go”.
You need to find rare problems, and I mean just downright weird problems to solve. The idea of this is to train yourself to see if you can use the concept, formula, or theory that you are trying to reinforce in different situations. Find problems that are different than the ones you practiced in Rote but still utilize what you are trying to learn. Example: Let’s say you are trying to fully and proficiently understand the Pythagorean Theorem. In this case, you would start looking for “rare”, or just different, problems, such as the application of the Pythagorean Theorem to trigonometric problems or using the law of sines. The point of practicing rare problems is to see how you can use the concept you are studying in many situations, and more importantly, when not to use it.
The more in-depth you go into your studying, the more in-depth your understanding will be. This leads to the final step of the repetition process, rules. Try to find rules for solving a problem. By rules, I mean helpful connections that you draw between things to help you understand them not only more deeply, but quicker as well. It is harder to provide an example of this because they are specific to each person and how they think. One that comes to mind, however, is how I made a rule for naming acids: ‘ic-ate ite-ous’ (I found out later that other people had already made this, but it still applies as my rule, because I understand it). I drew a connection between the suffices of the ions and acids, and this became a rule that allowed me to complete problems concerning acid naming faster and better. It is important to note that rules do not have to be made by you, you just have to understand them. Maybe after you finish Rote and Rare, Google “tips for solving ___”, and see what you can find.
Any one of these alone will not give you the desired result, but if you practice all of them then success isn’t far away. Also remember that these all revolve around repetition. It’s not enough to intellectually understand what I’m saying here, you have to do it!
Here’s the recap: if you want to be proficient in something, get some repetition in. Bodybuilders don’t get buff by doing one rep and calling it a day; they get lots of reps and in all different parts of the body in all sorts of ways! Your brain is not much different, so remember to repeat by rote, repeat using rare problems, and repeat with your own rules. I hope this helps you in your studying journey!