Learn more about the book, Brainpower Smart Study

The term “studying” brings to mind the all-too-familiar caffeine-riddled cramming sessions, reading and highlighting random sections of a textbook the night before the big test. The student just wants to remember enough facts to score well, caring little about retention. This is memorization — here today, gone tomorrow–not real learning.

Nina Sunday proposes an alternative strategy in her slim self-help guide, Brainpower Smart Study. She maps out a method of learning that enables students to absorb the material and retain it. Her organized system is designed to supercharge the brain so that students not only score well for their big test, but retain the information for years to come.

A chart with some eye-opening facts sets the stage for Sunday’s guide. It shows that students retain only five percent of lecture material and only ten percent of reading material. This begs the question, how do students really learn? Sunday shows it’s through demonstrating, practicing, and discussing the material. Teaching trumps all other activities. Tell a student to teach the subject to the class, and her memory shoots up to 90 percent.

All of these factors play into Sunday’s eight-step guide. It begins with a little speed reading (Sunday is a speed reading coach). The steps that follow involve note-taking, reading for comprehension, reading to grasp the main points, rereading those points, self-testing, more note-taking, and finally telling or teaching the material. As anyone can see, there’s no real magic here. It’s more or less a combination of techniques students have used for generations.

On the other hand, there’s real ingenuity to Sunday’s plan. This is a building block approach. Each step builds upon those previously taken. Skip a step, and the whole tower may crumble. For instance, self-testing and teaching may be impossible.

But that’s the point, isn’t it? Learning takes time. Skimming or speed reading works well to see the big picture, and that’s a great starting point. After that, the student needs to dig in, slow down, ruminate, draw connections, absorb and synthesize the material. Ultimately, he or she needs to know the material well enough to explain it to someone else. That’s a new level of understanding, which I, as a teacher, fail to see happening with the majority of today’s students. They’re smart enough to read the words, but they don’t want to spend the time to consider the meanings behind them, weigh the concepts, the context, and the ramifications. That takes time and effort that they don’t want to invest. So I applaud Sunday’s efforts, and I plan to implement some of her ideas into my own lesson plans to crete an atmosphere of better learning.

On the other hand, the eight-step program requires time, methodology, and organization–in other words, maturity. Having worked with hundreds of 18- and 19-year-old students, I’m afraid to say that you could buy this book for your teenager and it would end up in the back of the closet where it will stay until you donate it to the next library book sale. No teenager is going to read about studying, even if it’s only sixty pages and would likely boost his or her grades up a notch or two.

Ideally, this book should be used by parents or educators who will lead and monitor students’ study habits. It could be the basis of small study groups or learning center projects. Or it might help the student who’s exceptionally driven to excel.  Again, however, this process requires a level of self-motivation and maturity.

The other shortcoming I see in this book is the final and most critical step: retelling. Again, teaching is the most effective way of learning; thus, Sunday wants to maximize this opportunity by proposing that the student teach someone else (even the cat or dog) the subject on which she is to be tested. Let’s be real. That’s not going to happen. You can’t even get a teenager to talk to you, let alone teach you something. They’re too self-conscious to teach Mom or Dad or a college roommate a history lesson. Instead, I’d propose that step eight be a self-lecture. Perhaps the student could tell the story to herself in the mirror. This more or less achieves the same goal, but self-empowers the student.

All in all, I really like Brainpower Smart Study. I see a number of great applications for this book, such as preparing a lecture for the classroom or preparing for a job interview. Anyone who wants to know a topic thoroughly and be conversant on it in a short amount of time will find it helpful. This is going on my teaching bookshelf.

Brainpower Smart Study: How to Study Effectively Using a Tested and Proven 8-Step Method
By Nina Sunday
Brainpower Training Pty Ltd.: July 5, 2011
Paperback, 60 pages

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