John, a very bright fifteen-year-old, consistently scored a B-minus or lower on his tests at school, even though he claimed to spend several hours a day in study.
When a counselor evaluated John's methods, however, she discovered that he studied in environments that worked against effective reading and note-taking. In the first place, John spent several hours a week in the company of his girlfriend while "studying." Predictably, he accomplished very little. On one such occasion, for example, he covered only five pages in a history text during a two-hour period, and he could remember practically nothing of what he read.
Second, John devoted an hour a day to "studying" in the school library. But in those sessions, he was halfheartedly trying to read or work at a large common table, where jokes were constantly cracked, notes were passed around and other distractions got in the way.
Third, during the few hours he managed to work at home, John either opened his books in front of a television set or in the presence of loud rock music. Consequently, the boy made little headway in his assignments.
The only time John really began to move with his reading was just before his exams, when the pressure was on and the fear of failure loomed large. Because he was intelligent, he managed to cram enough information into his head at the last minute to pass, and sometimes he even scored in the low honors category. But he never reached his full academic potential.
The first corrective step for John, as for any other mediocre student who wants to make it to the top, was to find a better study space. He needed a well-equipped, comfortable "cockpit" which would allow him to do his job without unnecessary distractions. A pilot confronted in his working environment with as many interruptions and distractions as John faced probably would have lost control of his craft, and might have crashed.
In the previous chapter, we've already considered some of the important ingredients of an effective study space. A good place to study becomes even more essential for those who hope to hit the fastest academic speeds. So let's consider in greater detail what space needs the best students typically require for top performance.
A quiet, secluded table or desk. The greatest sustained speeds in study—and often the most successful academic performances—are usually achieved by students who prepare in some degree of seclusion.
This doesn't mean that you have to be completely isolated, out of sight and sound of other students. When siblings are around at home or classmates are in libraries or study halls, total isolation may be impossible.
But still, with a little effort it's always possible at least to find a semisecluded spot. In the library, for example, our best students usually try to find the table, desk or carrel farthest from the "action," the socializing and horseplay that often exist in any school setting.
What about the fear that such an approach to study may seem antisocial?
At some point, the serious student has to make a decision about priorities. Let's face it, you only have a limited amount of time each day. Extra study time at school can be a real gift for those who want to do well academically and have some time for extracurricular activities. In the long run, those who study when the time is available, and play when study is finished—and do well in both—will gain the respect of most of their classmates.
Some of these same considerations may apply at home, where there are brothers or sisters, or where living space is limited. But most good students manage to find quiet times and places at home, and when they do, they take full advantage of them.
A study space devoted entirely to the task at hand. For many people, a desktop cluttered with extraneous items, unrelated to the designated job, makes it much harder to concentrate.
If a girl has a couple of her basketball trophies or a picture of her boyfriend in front of her, she's more likely to fantasize about basketball or her boyfriend than to study.
Or suppose she's studying math, but her history and English homework is piled underneath. In such a case, it's easy to lose the math materials in the academic "archeological dig" on the desk. Speed and efficiency become impossible if the physical environment works against them.
A study area should be devoted entirely to study, if that's possible. And when one subject has been completed, you should remove the materials and then store or file them so that the study space is clean and ready for the next project.
Good lighting and furniture. I've already mentioned this point in some detail in the previous chapter, but let me reemphasize one thing: If you can't see your study mate rials clearly, or if you are distracted by an uncomfortable chair or a rickety table, your ability to reach high reading speeds will be seriously limited.
Assemble all necessary study materials before you begin. There's nothing more disruptive to efficient learning than constantly having to rummage around to find pencils, paper or text materials that you forgot to lay out on your desk.
To help with this process, you will do well to write down a brief list of the required materials for a study session before starting. Then, when these things are assembled in plain sight, you can proceed with the assurance that you have at hand all the basic items necessary to do your best work.
This procedure is especially important for those who are about to leave home and head for the library. If you get to the library but then find you've left a needed book or a pen and pencil at home, the urge to study that day may vanish entirely.
Soft background noise or music may be helpful. Some people prefer total silence when they study, but unfortunately, this sort of quiet is hard to find anywhere, except perhaps in a soundproof chamber. As a result, I recommend reading and studying in a spot where there is steady, soft background noise, such as traffic or soothing instrumental music. This kind of unobtrusive sound often helps absorb and mask more disturbing sounds, such as honking horns or occasional loud voices.
Some studies have suggested that certain types of instrumental music can actually help readers pace themselves and concentrate better. This is an individual matter which you must work out for yourself.
On the other hand, it's important to avoid noise that distracts, such as loud music or any other recordings that tempt you to listen or sing along. Another offender is television, which engages the eyes as well as the ears.
In any case, remember that your main purpose is to promote reading and learning speed and efficiency; so if background music helps, fine. But if every type of recording you try seems to work against your main purpose, stay away from them.
When you have your special space in order, the next important consideration is the management of time.
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Today I'm going to teach you a fundamental Mentalism technique known as 'cold reading'. Cold reading is a technique employed by mentalists and charlatans and by charlatan I refer to psychics, mediums, fortune tellers or anyone that claims false abilities that is used to give the illusion that the person has some form of super natural power.