I’ve never been a great student – I’ve always just gone off of what I can remember from lectures and simply reading assigned pages.
That approach typically allowed me to recall facts well enough that when it came test time I’d do well enough – usually Bs and Cs but hardly ever As and it didn’t do much for application (although I could often extrapolate well enough to deduce a decent amount of things requiring application).
What I want is to build an actual career on what I’m learning now (only a couple decades late) and that’s going to require a depth of understanding – not just simply being able to recite facts and interesting bits – probably the biggest reason why I failed algebra 1010 twice – I couldn’t apply the operations in a larger context on tests!
One of the useful things I did get from college was to learn about priming or readying your brain to learn new information (might also be referred to as scoping). The basic idea is to get a high-level overview of the concepts you’ll be learning about – what this does is give your brain something to hook new information to.
A basic method to prime your brain – particularly with book sourced information – is to read the summary (that generally comes at the end of the chapter) first – then read the chapter.
When I was taking notes from lectures or reading in college, I would simply copy things verbatim from slides or quotes from the book – this is horrible for real understanding.
Something I’ve been trying after looking at some study strategies – is to write questions instead of simply copying text – questions force you to think about and remember what you read and learned and you have to build context – an anchor for hooks to really set into.
Another part of Active Recall is to give yourself a brain dump – actively write about everything you can remember from the subject – I haven’t tried this yet, as fortunately/unfortunately I know about 90-95% of what’s been in the few chapters of the study guide I got – but the idea tracks.
I remember learning that you should only study a single subject a small bit a time and then you need to review the next day before moving on to the next bit.
Neurologically, it takes time to build connections (which is why sleep is important!) and re-treading the same information helps reinforce the connections – the more you use an established neurological pathway, the stronger the connection becomes (a process called myelination takes place that insulates the neurons with fat which makes the transmission across them easier/faster).