9 Tactics for Rapid Learning (That Most People Have Never Heard Of)

Whenever the subject of why some people learn faster comes up, I get a whole host of common answers:

  1. Some people are just naturally smart. (Often implying you can’t improve)
  2. Everyone is “smart” in their own way. (Nonsense, research indicates different “intelligences” often correlate)
  3. IQ is all in the genes. (Except IQ changes with age and IQ tests can be studied for, like any other test)

There may be some truth to these claims. But, I don’t believe that means that average learners are doomed to mediocrity. I’ve met and heard of many people who went from middle to spectacular students after changing their learning habits and finding motivation.

Considering the upcoming launch of my rapid learning program, I wanted to share my favorite tactics to learn faster, retain information better or just enjoy the process of learning more:

Genius (or Crazy?)#1 – Pegging (or How Mental Magicians can Perfectly Recall Hundreds of Numbers)

One of my favorite learning tactics, that is rarely mentioned, is pegging. This is a great tool for remembering numbers, provided you practice it.

The systems I’ve seen typically work with a special cheat sheet. This is a list of the digits 0-9 which each correspond to the sound of a consonant. All you need to do is memorize the corresponding consonant and digit match (e.g. 0 = t, 1 = s, 2 = k, 3 = r, etc.)

From there, you can translate any series of numbers into a series of letters. Now all you need to do is make groups of letters into nouns by adding vowels between the consonants. So 201 becomes, k-t-s, which can become “kites”, for example.

Then, once you have your string of nouns, you just need to create a story that combines each of the nouns in a sequence. To translate them back you only need to remember the story and decompose the objects back into their original digits.

#2 – Metaphor (Juliet is the sun… or is she a chemical formula?)

Here’s a quick way to separate the rapid learners from the average learners. Ask them to give you an analogy for whatever they are learning. The rapid learners probably have already thought of at least one analogy, application or metaphor. Slower learners usually are baffled by the question.

Linking ideas allows you to retain them longer and understand them better. Shakespeare isn’t the only one who should be making connections between ideas.

#3 – Total Immersion (Or How a Guy Can Become Fluent in 8 Languages)

Benny Lewis became fluent in eight languages in under a decade. More, his current goal is to become fluent in a new language in under 3 months. When I asked him how he achieved this his answer was straightforward: “I stop speaking English. I do everything in the language I want to learn.”

When you’re totally immersed in a subject (or language), even if you’re lost, you’ll learn far faster than everyone who just dabbles.

#4 – Visceralization (What does a derivative look like?)

When we were kids, we played with crayons and drew pictures of fantastic things that never existed outside our imagination. What happened?

Now most of us feel embarrassed if we try to imagine anything exciting or creative with what we learn. This is, I believe, a key reason many people struggle scholastically. They try to memorize exactly the way they were taught, instead of visualizing the material in an inventive way.

When I recently had to write a test on international labor law, a key topic was the International Labor Organization. Rather than memorize facts, I drew a picture of a creature which had three heads for each of the sections of the ILO, one with 4 mouths for each of the different delegates. In all, I managed to incorporate a page of notes into one picture.

Learning only needs to be boring because you make it that way.

#5 – Linking (Or How to Remember a Grocery List Without the Paper)

Like pegging, linking is another trick mental magicians use. The idea here is that you form a chain, linking each item in a sequence to the next item. You form these links by imagining bizarre and surreal pictures which combine the two elements.

For a simple list like Milk -> Honey -> Apples, you would need to form a link between milk and honey, which you could imagine a giant cow that had bees which came from its udders instead of milk. For the honey and apples, you could imagine an giant apple beehive swarming with tiny apple seeds.

Like pegging this technique can go far beyond the scope of this article. I’ve used it successfully to remember lists of abstract principles that need to be memorized in a sequence for tests.

#6 – The 5-Year Old Method (Try explaining quantum physics to a first grader)

Most rapid learners know how to simplify an explanation. Obviously, actually explaining your masters thesis to a first grader might be impossible. But the goal is to reduce the complexity, by explaining, breaking down and using analogies, so that someone far below your current academic level could understand it.

If you can teach an idea, you can learn that idea.

#7 – Ambiance Catalysts (Or How Drinking a Pint Can Improve Your Studying)

Cal Newport, wrote about the importance of context when studying. If you lock yourself away in a library to get work done, no wonder you’re going to hate it. If the ambiance is appealing, it can push you to get working.

He suggests even going to a quiet bar with your reading material and ordering a beer.How’s that for a more inviting study setting?

#8 – Diagrams (Who said doodling in class was wrong?)

It turns out doodlers perform better in mental retention tests than non-doodlers. I would add even that if the drawings you create in a class are related to the course material, you would probably learn even better.

#9 – Speed Reading (Or How to Read 70 Books in a Year)

Speed reading is less about speed and more about control. Just as racecar driving is more about controlling speed for tight turns, rather than just hitting the accelerator.

If you want to speed read, the basics are:

  1. Use your finger as a pointer to underline the text as you read it. This reduces the impact of saccades and distractions in slowing your reading time.
  2. Practice reading books faster than you can comprehend, by moving your finger faster. This “practice skimming” helps you improve your comprehension at higher reading rates.
  3. Stop subvocalizing. Practice reading faster than you can say the words aloud in your head. Subvocalization can help at slower speeds, but if you require it to read, your top speed will be reduced.

As a quick side-note, Learning on Steroids now has close to 900 people on the pre-launch list. Despite this, I only have room for 100 people when we go live in January. If you want a chance to get in on the program, you better put your name in now.

Merry Christmas Everyone!


  • Stefan | StudySuccessful.com

    Total immersion sounds great. I wrote a post about why you need to watch television in other languages when you are studying another language. But total immersion is even better. Stop thinking in your native language, just do everything in the language you want to learn!

    Great tips here Scott, your upcoming book sounds good already!

  • Siddhesh

    It would be great if you could expand a bit more on Ambiance Catalysts.Overall,I really liked the article.

  • Owen Lake

    You can see an example of the linking method at http://hubpages.com/hub/How-to
    In this example you can learn all the American Presidents

  • Richard Shelmerdine

    I always use Pegging since reading Derren Browns book. When you are intelligent you find metaphors just coming to you in every day life whilst you’re looking at things like snowfall. I wrote a detailed post on this EXACT subject (pegging) over at my blog if anyone wants to check it out. http://richardshelmerdine.com/

  • Christopher

    Hi Scott

    Since reading your blog I have developed a keener interest in speeding reading. In my job as a lawyer I have to review lengthy documents and the key is to make sure the provisions of the document work (high level of comprehension required) and I also have to proof documents (i.e. typos, spelling, commas out of place, incorrect numbering of provisions etc). I am wondering if it is possible to speeding read and effectively achieve the type of review explained above?

    Keep up the great blog

    Christopher

  • Armen Shirvanian

    Hey Scott.

    I sure hadn’t thought about that method of pegging before. That sure would help for those who memorize hundreds of digits of pi, or such. I could make a few sentences to memorize, and then I could get 100 digits of pi down. I know about 50 right now, for no reason, but I got them down by rote memorization.

    These are some very strong methods. Good call about analogy, because I had noticed that when I had trouble making an analogy for something in the past, for a joke or comment, it was because I didn’t full get it. I think this is why some jokes are held in high regard, because they represent an upper level of thinking.

    I have done more in 2 hours in an immersed state than I have done for the same activity in 20 hours when I wasn’t immersed in the task or concept. Immersion is a big win for the long-term.

    Scott making knowledge-gaining methods palpable here.

  • Scott Young

    Christopher,

    I don’t know of any method for speed-proofing. But if you find one, let me know, I’d definitely like to use it myself!

    -Scott

  • Alina

    Hey. I liked the learning languages part. =)!

    Merry Christmas.

  • Amity

    I totally agree with No 3 and No 6.
    These two have been the secrets of my academic & career success. First, I get totally involved in the project and then I simplify it so much that I start to share it with others in an aesthetic way.

    Speed reading is a myth. It is nothing but reading minus sub-vocalization. No need to read books about it or use speed reading software.

  • Scott Young

    Amity,

    Well I completely disagree with you that speed reading is simply reading minus subvocalization. I think you illustrate one of the least important parts of speed reading, as using a pointer has, in my practice, been a far more important tool than the strict elimination of subvocalization.

    -Scott

  • David

    Hey Scott,

    For your “Learning on Steroids” program, how are you prioritize, when deciding who gets a spot? Will you give priority to those who signed up earlier?

    -David

  • Jake

    What’s your GPA now?

  • Scott Young

    Jake,

    As a Canadian, I don’t have the same GPA system as the United States. However, my GPA currently sits between an A and A+.

    -Scott

  • Chris Wardle

    Scott-

    Thanks for a great article. I agree with you and your rebuttal to Amity to speed reading. It is not a myth at all. There are certain programs out there that are effective in not only increasing your reading speed, but reading comprehension as well. Not only does it show those two great qualities increase but it also shows a increase in brain power, enhancing the right side by up to 1500%. For more information, check out http://www.eyeqadvantage.com. It’s a great site that has great content and information on speed reading, but also great complimentary articles and games.

    Thanks again for the great article

  • J

    Is it still a 4.2!? You’ve been at the same GPA for a while. Well great job anywho

  • Scott Young

    J,

    No, not exactly the same. I believe it’s a 4.09, but honestly I don’t really pay attention to specifics when it’s in that range.

    -Scott

  • TerraByte

    Great list. I like visualization (as opposed to visceralization) too. If I do something once that I need to remember, I’ll visualize doing it again and again until it sticks. I also visualize doing things before I actually do them, like building something or grocery shopping. I make most of the mistakes in my head rather than in action. I like diagrams and good analogies, too.

    Keep up the good work.

  • Dana

    Do you know any methods for law students? The students of an entire year all failed in a recent exam, because the exam questions required that one knew a book of 1000 pages by heart.
    If you know any tactics for this kind of exams, it would be great…

  • Prasanna

    Hey Scott, this is a good list you’ve got here. It more or less covers everything one would need to be a rapid learner.

    Also one thing that really works is…paying attention in class and reading up on the topic taught right after the class.

    My prof. in collge told us, the human brain retains any new information for about 148 minutes after being exposed to it first. So better reinforce it before it starts slipping from your mind.

  • koeio

    A thing that is very important while you are learning is that your mind consumes a lot more glucose then is very important to eat something like an apple or banana (avoid chocolate or things that are too high in sugar) to re-energize the brain and avoid mental fatigue.

    Physical exercise is essential too…

  • Jeo

    All that and nothing on spaced recall? Supermemo, Anki, or Mnemosyne can amp up your learning dramatically.

  • Mohan Arun L

    You could add flash cards and mind maps to this list of speed learning techniques.

  • Mohan Arun L

    I forgot to add, you can use visceralization and visualization for learning the meanings of new words (for improving your vocab for competitive exams like SAT, GMAT, IELTS, etc.) Simply construct a story around the phonetic representation of the word and associate the story with the meaning of the word. See the site MnemonicDictionary.com they have ready-made memorizable stories that can help you remember meanings of new and difficult words. You can also add another learning technique to this techniques of rapid learning list: that is, Mnemonics/Acronyms where you take the first letter of the things in the list you wanna remember and form a coherent sentence or acronym with it. For example for remembering the order of planets in the solar system, you could use ‘Mother Very Eagerly Made Jam Sandwiches Under No Protest’. The first letter of each word would represent, the planets Mercury Venus Earth Mars Jupiter etc. in that order… More mnemonics for learning are here: http://www.fun-with-words.com/… and here: http://www.mnemonic-device.eu/…. I am not affiliated with both these sites (standard disclaimer).

  • juliana

    you have a typo… “Subvocalization can help at slower speeds, but if you require it to read, you’re top speed will be reduced.”
    it should be your
    I wish I had read this article 10years ago…

  • Jonathan of Speechmastery.com

    I can still remember some of the images that got me through anatomy and physiology in nursing school, almost 20 years ago.

    The Coronal suture, Lambdoid suture and the Squamosal suture – were easy to remember as the Colonel gave a Lamb to the Squaw.

    I was a C student and three of us got together to review for the final. We employed several of what you spoke about here.

    We each got the three top grades. The A students on the other hand all got B’s and C’s. They did not want to join our group.

    I do not know if this is typical of all schools but we also studied for providing the answer that the instructors wanted and not necessarily what was right.

  • fajas colombianas

    Everyone is smart, its just that not everyone learns quick enough

  • Nick

    I’m really all about #5. If you can’t understand something in it’s most simple form, than you have not truly mastered it. Take any concept you’re trying to learn and break it into its smallest components. Because once you understand the foundation, all the intricate parts will come easier. Great post.

  • sparky

    Hi Scott,

    Great article. I make up lots of analogies for my daughter, particularly for Mandarin and Science. To this day, I still remember that Jonas Salk came up with the cure for polio. He contracted polio because he wore dirty “salks”. Also, Ribosomes are responsible for protein in cells = ribosomes = ribs =meat = protein.
    thx

  • Glory

    Sounds cool to me. I usually sing things in my head, or just suddenly remember. It is said that music moves everything…for me, it does. Not screaming crazy stuff, but classical…I find myself even inventing some!

    Thanks
    Glory

  • Health complex

    Yes, this is how I memorized square roots 1-99. Just have to review the peg every once in a while. There’s also a MentalCalculation group that specializes in memorizations of all kinds of stuff with numbers.

  • P.V.SATHI.

    Thanks a Lot. You are an Eye and Brain Opener for me.
    I am working on to Improve my Reading Speed and share them with my
    Grand Children. Your Techniques and Visceralization comes very Handy.
    God Bless You for your Big Heart of Sharing Knowledge to the Under-previled.
    P.V.SATHI.
    Bangalore, INDIA.

  • Hypnotherapy London

    Thanks man, I was looking specifically for how I could learn to remember large sections of text verbatum. (I need to know 25 long answers to questions in 12 hours and learn and deliver a presentation!) I hope you do a more in depth post in the near future! Thanks! 😀

  • Janien

    I love this website! I initially began on a road to discover how to learn fast (I’m learning Spanish), but what I have discovered in your site is even better! Like shooting for a cloud and landing on the moon 🙂 Love it and thanks for sharing. BLESSINGS

  • Reema

    I loved this article! I’m an avid user of the metaphor and the picture in place of any complicated concepts that need to be studied. For my history class last year, I successfully compared Hiter’s relationship to Stalin with Cady and Regina in Mean Girls.

  • colorthewind

    That is interesting! I am trying to search your website for articles on how to take a test, like how to finish it quickly, if double checking your answers necessarily, if time is equally distributed between all questions,…etc.

    What is your advice about that?

  • Robert Rogers

    Consistency seems to be a generally theme to all the learning techniques. As you consistently implement these ideas, you will increase you ability to learn and retain information.

  • Jeremy DePrato

    I was curious about your link on my way to Rapid Learning for a Physics and Statistics session. You don’t know how much I appreciate people with the type of information posted on this page. I am 32 yrs of age, started college at 28, and I’m excelling in my classes. It was not always like this. When I was younger, you couldn’t make me believe that I would be where I am today. I was a below average student, hated school, and my lack of education reduced my quality of life in every setting. I was convinced that I was stupid, hopeless, and incompetent…until I met someone who shares the same perspectives as you. Through a little one on one and months of persuasion, I decided to give college a go. Just last month, I was accepted into a selective program at the local university and I’m nervous, but excited. It’s taken a lot of hard work, and even more to come, but I’m confident I can do it. I am looking forward to learning and applying the valuable information you have to offer.

    – J. DePrato

  • regret

    Searched for pegging for more techniques on mnemonics.i tell you,it cant be unseen

  • Andrew

    Wow, I must try that speed reading method 🙂

  • Ron

    I’m always looking for new ways to learn languages, and I think a lot of these (pegging, linking, immersion, and ambiance catalysts) would be good for vocab learning. Some of the other stuff (diagrams and the 5-year-old method) would be good for learning meta-info about the language you’re learning, like formal grammar and linguistic info. Any thoughts on how any of these might help one rapidly learn the practical application of grammar–i.e., learning how to put words you know together meaningfully?

  • Michael Bradham

    Nice list. I studying Mandarin and not speaking English much. Finding easier than last year when was speaking much English. Heres to 20 Days Meditation for New Year: http://llavealhighway.com/20-d

  • Mpho

    I have been getting along just fine [but who wants to be “just fine”] with the rote memorization but after reading about all the above interesting and very user friendly methods, realized that there was really no need for one to suffer and fall mercy to the rote method. Taking a new twist and all thanks to you!!

  • Tmomma47

    What about my 7th grader. She’s struggling in school – she is smart – but like her mom, and 3 other siblings has a ADD. She has matured to control her more impulsive actions (which annoys others) but is in danger of failing in classes that require her to ‘focus, read, process, understand, and recall for a text. If she focuses while we are studying – she might remember 1/4 of it – rarely ever passing. The ideas sound good – but will she be able to come up with the mental pictures and connections she needs. She’s pretty ‘down’ and discouraged about her lack of progress.
    Thanks.

  • Wirriam

    Many people look at me as a smart person, yet i find myself as a slow learner(I’m smart but it wasn’t easy getting there basically.). I want more motivation to learn, but it’s getting harder and harder to stay focused. I wish to learn faster, so i can go over it again and be able to know it 100%. Hopefully the tips that were supplied prove miracles on me. I had a 3.5 GPA last year, and I was slacking, so now you have a good consciousness of helping a person in becoming a full on future genius (If tips work, which is most likely.). 🙂

  • joshuagenes

    On Speed reading it helps to vocalize key words like “NOT” that change the context of the sentence. Sub-vocalization happens use it to your advantage.

  • joshuagenes

    On Speed reading it helps to vocalize key words like “NOT” that change the context of the sentence. Sub-vocalization happens use it to your advantage.

  • Diagrams are really really useful. Maybe the best method ever used.

  • mind-globe.com

    Diagrams are really really useful. Maybe the best method ever used.

  • Teodor Jovanovski

    I need help for an exam tomorrow. Can you help me learn 80 pages of info?

  • Teodor Jovanovski

    I need help for an exam tomorrow. Can you help me learn 80 pages of info?

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