HOW TO PASS WITHOUT “STUDYING”
Benny Lewis, polyglot and speaker of 8 languages, recently took up the task of learning Thai in two months. One of his first jobs was to memorize a phonetic script (Thai has a different alphabet than English). How did he do it?
“I saw [a Thai symbol] and needed to associate it with ‘t’, I thought of a number of common words starting with t. None of the first few looked anything like it, but then I got to toe! The symbol looks pretty much like your big toe, with the circle representing the nail of the second toe (if looking at your left foot). It’s very easy to remember and very hard to forget! Now I think of t instantly when I see that symbol.
It took time, but I’ve come up with such an association for all  symbols. Some are funny, or nerdy, or related to sex, or something childish. Some require a ridiculous stretch of the imagination to make it work. Whatever did the job best to help me remember.”
The famous British savant Daniel Tammet has the ability to multiply 5 digit numbers in his head. He explains that he can do this because each number, to him, has a color and texture, he doesn’t just do the straight calculation, he feels it.
All of these people believe in the power of connecting ideas. Connecting ideas together, as Minsky describes. Linking ideas with familiar pictures, like Lewis. Or even blending familiar shapes and sensations with the abstract to make it more tangible as Tammet can do.
Some Techniques for Learning by Connections
Here are the some of the most popular tactics I’ve experimented with and suggested to other students:
1. Metaphors and Analogies
Create your own metaphors for different ideas. Differential calculus doesn’t need to just be an equation, but the odometer and speedometer on a car. Functions in computer programming can be like pencil sharpeners. The balance sheet for a corporation can be like the circulatory system.
Shakespeare used metaphor prolifically to create vivid imagery for his audience. Your professor might not be the bard, but you can step in and try them yourself.
The goal here is to envision an abstract idea as something more tangible. Not just by imagining a picture, but by integrating sounds, textures and feelings (like Tammet does).
When learning how to find the determinant of a matrix, I visualized my hands scooping through one axis of the matrix and dropping through the other, to represent the addition and subtraction of the elements.
Realize you already do this, just maybe not to the same degree. Whenever you see a graph or pie chart for an idea, you are taking something abstract and making it more tangible. Just be creative in pushing that a step further.
3. The 5-Year Old Method
Imagine you had to explain your toughest subject to a 5-year old. Now practice that.
It may be impossible to explain thermodynamics to a first grader, but the process of explanation forces you to link ideas. How would you explain the broader concepts in simpler terms a child would understand?
Mind-mapping is becoming increasingly popular as a way of retaining information. That’s the process of starting with a central idea and brainstorming adjacent connections. But mindmapping is just the skin of the onion.
Creating diagrams or pictures can allow you to connect ideas together on paper. Instead of having linear notes, organized in a hierarchy, what if you had notes that showed the relationships between all the ideas you were learning?
5. Storytelling to Remember Numbers and Facts
Pegging is a method people have been using for years to memorize large amounts of numbers or facts. What makes it unique isn’t just that it allows people to perform amazing mental feats (although it can), but the way it allows people to remember information–by connecting the numbers to a story.
Pegging is a bit outside the scope of this article, but the basic idea is that each digit is represented by the sound of a consonant (for example: 0=c, 3=t, 4=d…). This allows you to convert any number into a string of consonants (4304 = d-t-c-d).
The system allows you to add any number of vowels in between the consonants to make nouns (d-t-c-d = dot code). You can then turn this list of nouns into a story (The dot was a code that the snake used…). Then all you need to do is remember the order of the story to get the nouns, consonants and back to the numbers.
The Way We Were Taught to Learn is Broken
Children are imaginative, creative and, in many ways, the epitome of this rapid learning strategy. Maybe it’s the current school system, or maybe it’s just a consequence of growing up, but most people eventually suppress this instinct.
This article is by Scott Young of scottyoung.com (with additional editing by Capu), Scott is an author who teaches people rapid learning techniques. His website is dedicated to this and subscription for is currently sold out. Check out his website now for more details on these tactics