Making study easier

As an educational, vocational and industrial psychologist, my hate is that any student should dislike his or her education. In this article, I summarise some easy ways in which students can be helped to maximally absorb their educational opportunities.

THE proportion of students who hate school will vary according to educational systems, teacher talents, support from the community, the family in particular, and the experiences of the student. But this proportion is as high as 30%.

As an educational, vocational and industrial psychologist, my hate is that any student should dislike his or her education. In this article, I summarise some easy ways in which students can be helped to maximally absorb their educational opportunities.

The use of maps and diagrams

As the human brain thinks with diagrams and maps and visualisations of various kinds many students can help themselves to absorb information by learning how to convert written and numerical material into maps and diagrams.

Phil Johnson-Laird, a very talented fellow student in London, was reputed to have achieved his success by using “conceptual frameworks”. Phil is subsequently enjoying a successful career as a university professor and writer. His major research topic has been “mental models”.

At about the same time, Tony Buzan, also a psychologist, developed his “Mind Mapping” approach to study. He popularised it, and made himself a millionaire due to the popularity and success of his method. For information and as an illustration of artificial intelligence (AI), I have consulted Bing as follows:

I sent Bing the following query: “In the 1960,s Phil Johnson-Laird developed mental model theory and at about the same time Tony Buzan patented his popularised ‘mind maps’, please compare and contrast these two approaches to conceptual frameworks.”

Within two minutes Bing had done a huge amount of research and put together the following response:

Mental model theory and mind maps are two different approaches to conceptual frameworks that emerged in the 1960s. Here is a brief comparison and contrast of them:

Mental model theory is a psychological theory that explains how humans reason, infer, and communicate using mental representations of situations, events, or objects. According to this theory, developed by Phil Johnson-Laird, people construct and manipulate mental models in their minds to draw conclusions, make predictions, and understand language. Mental models are based on the principle of truth, meaning that they only contain what is true or possible in a given context, and not what is false or irrelevant (,

Mind maps are a graphical technique that helps people organise, memorise and generate ideas using visual elements, such as words, images, colours and symbols. According to this technique, popularised by Tony Buzan, people can create and use mind maps to enhance their learning and thinking skills, such as creativity, concentration, memory and problem-solving. Mind maps are based on the principle of association, meaning that they connect various concepts and information in a radial and hierarchical structure, and not in a linear or sequential one (,

Some similarities and differences between mental model theory and mind maps are:

Both approaches aim to improve human cognition and performance by using effective and efficient methods of representation and processing;

Both approaches acknowledge the role of visual and spatial aspects of cognition, and the importance of using multiple modalities and perspectives;

Both approaches have been applied to various domains and disciplines, such as education, psychology, logic, linguistics and computer science;

However, mental model theory is more focused on explaining and predicting how humans reason and communicate, while mind maps are more focused on helping and enhancing how humans learn and think;

Moreover, mental model theory is more based on empirical and experimental evidence, while mind maps are more based on anecdotal and experiential evidence; and

Furthermore, mental model theory is more concerned with the accuracy and validity of mental models, while mind maps are more concerned with the creativity and flexibility of mind maps.

You will note in the above that being plays down the possible conflict. This is a common failing. It is the product of Bing’s guiding algorithm, which might have been “ensure that our response keeps clear of extreme controversy”.

A degree of caution appears often in AI responses. However, the subsequent half of Bing’s answer does a good job of comparing and contrasting.

If you “prompt” or query it you will receive more. An interesting feature which should appeal to you is the fact that if you have queried Bing and received a response, you will almost certainly vastly improve your interest in the topic, and you will always remember much of what you have received. This would probably be a significant learning outcome. I strongly recommend that maps and diagrams should be used as part of your study activities.

It is also a valuable technique to be used in communicating with teachers in essays and examinations, because information conveyed into a model, conceptual framework, or mind map, is a very effective way of interacting with the text, and of providing the teacher or examiner with relief from interpreting your handwriting.


Your brain is almost constantly working on the knowledge that you are acquiring each day. Some of this processing is conscious, that is, you are aware of actually thinking about the matter.

However, our minds carry on thinking unconsciously, even if we are sporting, having a bath, or in company. We often found that we suddenly solve a problem that we were working on consciously several hours earlier. This process has come to be termed mental “incubation”.

The delight of this approach is that your mind carries on thinking about what you have studied even when you are not conscious.

 Working on what you studied without having to spend more time or effort on it is surely a wonderful way of making academic progress without the tedium of forcing oneself to ignore other activities and get down to study. I therefore recommend that every student should attempt to learn something about every topic being studied, every day. You do not have to learn much in order to get the brain thinking.

The brain will carry on processing even if you stop studying at the point where you are not entirely certain about the solution. This continuation of studies is referred to as the zeigarnik effect, named after the psychologist who first discovered it.

I urge any person hoping to master information intellectually to use the frequency approach is an easy way of making progress, enhancing brainpower, and achieving academically.

Speed of processing information

Handwriting speed is one area of performance which every student could improve upon with a little practice, as handwriting speed limits the rate at which we can record our notes during lectures and also the amount of information per unit time that we are able to present in the restricted periods of examinations.

It should not be the case, but there is usually a strong correlation between the amount written in response to exam questions and the marks allocated. Take advantage of this bias.

Of course, you will usually get more marks if you answer the question concisely and eliminate the addition of information just for the sake of giving the impression of being knowledgeable.

An intelligent teacher or examiner will see through such attempts. As a university lecturer, I spent many hours exhorting students to answer the questions during their examinations because technically no marks should be given for irrelevant information.

However, when at the end of our course I examined the extent to which students had followed this advice, I frequently found that about 30% of examination responses were unfocused.

So write a lot, but make it all relevant. Practice handwriting speed by learning to hold the pen in an efficient and relaxed grip, and by timing your progress. Aim for at least 70 words a minute.

Reading speed

The speed at which we take in information is also important, of course. Many students have never received lessons on improving the speed of their reading although there are many techniques for enhancing both speed and comprehension.

I strongly recommend that any student interested in improving handwriting speed and reading speeds should refer to information readily available, and free, from the internet.

Follow the advice and attempt the tests offered, but beware the inevitable offer of a further, even better service, together with a request for payment. You will already have had for free the best they can offer. So you might be disappointed and you will certainly be less wealthy if you pay for the extra.

Use free resources of the internet because there are huge advantages which every modern student holds over the much more tedious requirements of study 40 years ago.

  • Harrison is managing director and senior consultant with Human Resources (Pvt) Ltd, an internationally qualified psychologist, ex-professor and lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe. For an e-book on Careers & Self-Development Handbook, e-mail: [email protected] or phone: 0772 400 220 or 0773 615 839.

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