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How to learn your entire syllabus in 20 hours

It’s 3.45am and I am in dire straits. I have to be at my next exam within the next five hours, and I’m less than halfway through memorising the materials. Surely there is another way to do this?

Procrastination at its best, I come across a Ted Talk on how to learn anything in 20 hours. While obviously this didn’t help for that impending statistics exam, it has helped me master the art of absorbing maximum content in minimum time. So as abbreviated from Josh Kaufman, here is how to learn something, quickly.

Bin the 10,000-hour rule

You may have heard this golden number floating around, but thankfully it’s not what we’re doing here today. To equate that number to real life- 10,000 hours is a full-time job for five years. Luckily, this number came from K. Anders Ericsson who was studying people who were experts in their field. I’m not trying to be an expert statistician- I just need to pass, maybe get a credit.

If you’re looking to be an expert then I’d look for some reading on the 10,000-hour rule; but if you’re satisfied with mediocrity, or on a serious deadline and it’s the only option, then read on.

The learning curve

So the story of the learning curve goes that when you first start learning something, you’re grossly incompetent; but as performance time progresses, as improves your performance- until you hit a plateau. This plateau is where I want to shoot for- the point of being reasonably good, but not elite.

Josh Kaufman (the Ted Talker) thinks this point is around the 20-hour mark. 20 hours of focused, deliberate practice. Now THIS – 45 minutes a day for about a month (even skipping some days) – is manageable before my next exam.

The 20 hours

Now don’t just go diarising your intent for 45-minute study blocks all across your study plan, you amateur. There’s a way to make these 20 hours as effective as they can be; and it goes a little something like this.

  1. Deconstruct the skill

“You need to decide exactly what you want to be able to do when you’re done, and then look into the skill and break it down into smaller and smaller pieces.”

As you break the skill apart, the more you’re able to decide what are the parts of that skill that will actually help take you to the next level.

As a non-academic example, ever remember learning to dance or play basketball, or tennis. How many times did your coach make you serve, repeat forehands, a pirouette, before you were actually put into the game or onto the stage?

Practice the most important parts first, and they’ll help you improve your performance overall in the least amount of time possible.

  1. Learn enough to correct yourself

Find yourself some resources (three to five) that will help you with what you’re trying to learn. These could be books, DVDs, courses- anything; but don’t let these sidetrack you to procrastination.

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“I’m going to start learning how to program a computer when I complete these 20 books“. No. That’s procrastination.

The aim of the game here is to learn just enough that you can self correct yourself as you practice. Using these resources will ensure you’re noticing when you’re making a mistake, not just doing something a little different.

  1. Remove barriers to practice

Distractions. This 20 hours has to be focused to work, so you’re only cheating yourself if you’ve got a movie playing the background or you’re in a group of friends ‘working’.

  1. Practice for at least 20 hours

You’re more than welcome to be better than average- don’t let me hold you back – but sometimes you just need to get by when things are all piling up. At around this 20 hour mark, you might start to feel frustrated with what you’re doing- you know that point where you realise how bad you are at something, and you genuinely balance the idea of one hour more of study or not graduating and working at Macca’s for the rest of your life?

No one likes to feel stupid, but just keep going. If you’ve already told yourself that you’re going to do 20 hours, it will be easier for you to break down this frustration barrier and put your head down long enough to actually learn something. Furthermore, go back to step one and break the skill down further if you’re really ramming your head against a wall.

I get it, four steps sounds really easy in theory, but practice can be different. A huge part of your barriers to studying are mental, and this 20-hour rule (NOT 10,000!) rule, makes the concept of learning it a whole lot more approachable!

Are you more game to walk up to the 10/10 looking guy at the party, or the 6?

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