Or how to understand what the teacher says without going mad trying

“The ten thousand questions are one question. If you cut through the one question, then the ten thousand questions disappear.” Zen proverb

If you are a student or you simply are planning to learn something and you don’t want to spent countless hours trying to memorize things, this article is definitive for you. I call this series of posts Minimalistic Fast Learning for two reasons. First off, the Minimalistic points that this model for learning forgets about useless stuff and gets to the core of the information; secondly, is Fast because you only focus on the important things, because just enough is JUST ENOUGH. And yes, it gets incredible results. Paradoxically, you get way better results with less effort.

Why I call this chapter ‘Uncluttering Information’

There is a phenomenon about home organization going around. I am myself an amateur unclutterer. If you didn’t know about uncluttering, start by reading this. As you could see, basically, uncluttering is about getting rid of the clutter, not only in your house, but also in every area of your life.

What has Unclutering Information got to do with learning fast? Everything. Although there are are really good teachers that will hammer into your mind the principles and actually teach you the righ way, the sad truth is there are not a lot of this teachers. Most teachers will spent classes spreading disorganized and totally out of context information.

The Golden Rule

If this series of articles could be summarized in just one sentence, that would be focus on understanding, not remembering.

In fact, all I’m telling here apart from that is just how I deal with the topic, but if you understand that rule you could come up with your own personal system. Do you want to know how I approach Minimalistic Fast Learning? Awesome, keep reading then.

Life, and exams won’t be an exception, are dynamic. You don’t know what situations you are going to be asked, or what you will need to remember. So don’t remember anything, at least not on purpose. A basic trigonometry example:

You could memorize this:

0 = 0° π/6 = 30° π/4 = 45° π/3 = 60° π/2 = 90°
sin θ 0 1/2 √2 / 2 √3 / 2 1
cos θ 1 √3 / 2 √2 / 2 1/2 0
tan θ 0 √3 / 3 1 √3 undef.


OR you could squeeze your mind a little and put your grey matter on work. The steps would be:

1. What does this all mean?

You first need to have a notion of everything. You ask yourself what is that table about, and you discover it is about common acute angles ratios. Then you need to know what is a sine, a cosine and a tangent.

2. What are the connections?

Sine, cosine and tangent are related. And each trig ratio means something.

3. Is there anything I already know that I can relate to these?

So, thinking and thinking you end up relating this to real triangles. And instead of learning the ratios, you understand how to find each by knowing what means. A rectangular triangle which minor article is 30º, a equilateral triangle and a rectangular triangle. But this is not maths class and I’m getting off the topic. You get the picture.

Processing Information

Another skill you need to unclutter information is to actually unclutter information ;]. You need to discriminate between useful and not useful information. For example, in that sentence you could only read the underlined words and still get the information.

You need to discriminate between useful and not useful information.

We’ve uncluttered the sentence in a 70% percent without losing important information. Imagine all the things you need to ‘study’ reduced to its 30%. I will write another article on underlining, but this serves as an introduction.

Cool things that will help you:

  • Doing mental summaries, and extracting just the core idea instantly.
  • Knowing what’s useful and what not fast.
  • Working with models.
  • Reading ‘Learn more, Study less’
  • Analyzing and structuring ideas.
  • Thinking in lists and diagrams.

Do you want more?

Don’t worry, in the next months I’m going to write 3 or 4 posts about my personal approach to learning, because it’s giving me amazing results with almost no time. I’m not sure how I’m going to organize the next posts of this series, so if you have particular interest in one topic, or you have some doubts you want me to cover on the next post make sure to comment. If you don’t mind the order, make sure to check the blog often or simply suscribe if you find it more convenient ;].

Update: Check out Matt’s article about Speed Learning on Life of Matt