Jan 09, 2015
This article is going to introduce a simple but powerful principle that can help you study more effectively for any given class or exam and achieve academic success. The principle is called “deliberate practice” and research has shown it to be the key to learning new things and building all types of skills: academic, athletic, musical, and more.
But first, let’s address two commonly held views about studying and academic success in general.
1. Some people are just “naturally” talented and intelligent. For them, school will be much easier.
My view is that this is more false than true
2. The harder you work, the more successful you’ll be.
My view is that this is more true than false, but potentially misleading.
Research has shown that many geniuses – I’m talking about people like Mozart, Albert Einstein, Michael Jordan, Bobby Fischer (the chess champion), actually spent 5%, 10%, 20% or more time studying their craft than others in their field. Anders Erickson, an expertise researcher with a PhD in Psychology, who has been frequently referenced in many popular books about the true nature of what we call “talent” came up with a rule (which he’s subsequently admitted can be off base in some cases), but which in general he still stands by, which says that people striving to become experts invest 10,000 hours of practice before becoming experts. That’s why point #1 above is more false than true. The kid sitting next to you in class who seems to just naturally understand everything without really trying is, much more likely than not, going home and studying a lot every single night. He may want to make you think he’s “just smart,” but he’s probably been diligently studying for most of his life.
But Erickson’s research, also stresses that, perhaps more importantly, the key to developing expertise and acquiring knowledge isn’t just putting in the time and working hard. You must work hard and in a specific manner, which he calls “deliberate” or “deep” practice. The idea, in its simplest form, is to be highly intentional and focused on learning – active, not passive.
The general expanded “deliberate practice” formula has five or so components:
And then, repeat.
Interestingly, because deliberate practice is supposed to be very hard and mentally draining, you can only do it for short bursts of time, otherwise you’ll lose focus.
Incorporating Deliberate Practice Principles into Your Study Routine
As CEO of MyGuru, I run into many types of students. Some really have the class or topic nailed, and are just looking for extra help to go from an A- to an A or A+. But, the most rewarding cases are those in which someone has been diligently putting in hard work, but is still struggling to achieve academic success. Oftentimes, they might already be following points 1 and 5 above. They are focused, and they are pushing themselves. But, they aren’t able to navigate points 2, 3, and 4 effectively, so they aren’t progressing. Common mistakes include struggling to just “get” concepts that are relatively advanced, when you aren’t 100% clear on 2-3 more fundamental concepts, or doing large numbers of practice problems without checking for accuracy, and in effect, actually building bad habits (i.e., doing more harm than good by studying more!)
By introducing a private tutor or an Executive Function coach to the equation, concepts and questions can be explained in different ways (point 2 above) and immediate accurate feedback can be provided (points 3 and 4).
Ah, but private tutoring and academic coaching can be expensive. Fortunately, there are relatively simple, free ways to accomplish much of what I just described above without a human coach or tutor.
Here are six ideas for incorporating deliberate practice into, for example, the process of studying for the mathematics portion of the SAT.
I recently wrote a free eBook called The 7 Rules of Academic Performance, and studying deliberately shows up as rule #2, and although the rules aren’t necessarily in order in that book, consistent deliberate studying is absolutely one of the most important components of academic success.
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About the Author
Mark Skoskiewicz is the CEO of MyGuru, a provider of 1-1 tutoring and test prep for many standardized tests, including the ACT and SAT. He’s passionate about empowering students to develop their academic skills independently, and believes the evidence is clear that intelligence can be built methodically over time.
Find out more about academic coaching versus tutoring.
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