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Incremental Reading in College

November 26, 2009

I had an email from Sweden this week, the questions asked have been something I’ve been working on since I accepted the SuperMemo Method. I’ll try to answer this questions to my best knowledge and experience. As always feel free to comment further.

Is it possible to outsource the complete learning process to supermemo?

I believe it is, but doing it takes a lot of time, from acquiring the necessary skills to make the input to supermemo worth the time invested. Currently the bottle neck of outsourcing this leaning process to supermemo, is the time needed to make the questions and this also means making questions trough Incremental Reading.

Incremental Reading is a way of learning with out the need to absorb every data in a text from the first time, you go to the text several times and you only worry about what is important at that moment, as you are sure this same text will come later in your daily repetitions you don’t have to strain trying to understand, let alone memorize from the first reading. However when studying in college this process would probably take a lot of time. Time is a precious commodity you don’t have in Medicine studies, so sadly I would not recommend Incremental Reading for every material you read, I would absolutely not use it for reading upcomming exams, you might leave something behind and not able to check it out before the exam, and even if notting is missing you’ll probably stress your self thinking it might be better to check it out.

I use a combination of the traditional reading and Incremental reading, every thing is done in the SuperMemo collection. As the time has passed, I have a huge enciclopedia in it.

Some text are read from top to botton, later on I summarize main point in the top of the article and only make questions of this summary. But I keep the rest of the text in my collection, this allows you to check previous information you read someday.

Incremental reading is use for some more leisure reading, and any topic of my interest, including medicine, but which has no time deadline of any kind. I make questions of this text but using the incremental method.

I was thinking about scanning relevant chapters in my textbooks and the OCR them and add them to supermemo.

If you are able to scan and OCR text to Supermemo with out much lost of time, I support this approach, as you can latter search very easily any information, I previously lost much time searching something to review on paper books. Be sure you include information that is vital, moderation is the clue to SuperMemo.

Traditionally I read my books and underline the stuff that seems relevant. The next logical step would then be to move that info from the books to SM. However, a lot of underlines tend to be forgotten and it is a tedious process.

A lot of the information you are tested on medicine school is only needed for, well, the tests. This is a reality we can’t deny. So as bad as it sounds a lot information must still be crammed to pass some tests, this includes a lot of biology numbers and other kind of related info.

Make sure whe reading your book, you use marks not underlining, underlining looks good, but also takes time (believe me, I’ve timed my self using marks vs underlining is much much faster, and is no less effective). After marking make the commitment to extract the 10 or 20 most important fact to supermemo, go for speed while typing this questions not form, but ALWAYS include some reference that lets you go back you text book any time later. This question should be made after you finish the section, chapter or lecture, as this also helps you consolidate more effectively you memory of the whole lecture.

Is there any possible time savings in using IR on i.e neural science and physiology books?

Neural Science requires two aspects a lot of mnemonics and visual imagination, you have to remember pathways a lot. Using pictures in Supermemo is great for this. Physiology is more about undertanding process, understanding the humanbody as a machine, if you understand the principles (and make relevant questions about this principles in Supermemo) it all comes much easy.

Summary:

Incremental Reading is a great tool but I would not recommend it for any reading with a time deadline.

Read, sumarize and supermemorize only the most important.

OCR if possible any reading you want, except texts not suitable for IR

Use the Supermemo Method progresively, start with the least demanding courses, this will build confidence in the method without building much stress from using a new aproach.

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. Fredrik permalink
    November 26, 2009 17:15

    Hi!
    I am most greatful that you took the time to answer my questions.
    It is really valuable to have the possibilty to discuss these matters with people who already knows the innerworkings of Supermemo.

    I have some follow-up questions:
    “I use a combination of the traditional reading and Incremental reading, every thing is done in the SuperMemo collection. As the time has passed, I have a huge enciclopedia in it.”
    Do you mean that you enter more or less everything in to supermemo, the difference is just that you don´t use IR on all the material?

    “Use marks instead of underlines”. I feel a bit stupid here, but what is the difference between the two methods. How do I mark in the most effective way?

    While we are on the subject of reading. Earlier in life I have always read a lot of stuff. Digesting text from a variety of sources, internet, books and magasines, however I have never felt any pressure to remember what I read.
    Now in medical school with textbooks that are extremely dense in details i often get a feeling after reading a paragraph that I don´t remember a single detail on my first pass.
    Should I worry about this fact? Or should I just mark up the text and transfer the details to SM and have faith in the SM-11 algorithm that the details will be commited to my memory?

    I have been experimenting with reading something like half a page while trying too use mnemonics to remember what i read and the writing it down without looking in the book. But it feels like a blunt and time consuming tool.

    Sometimes I get the feeling that I am the only one in college who can´t photoread and then directly transfer stuff to permastore. Of course I know this is not the fact, but I hope that this thought forces me to perfect my study technique.

    I can´t really grasp the fact that supermemo makes you remember stuff forever. With this fact in mind I guess I have to be even more discplined in only entering the most essential stuff in SM.

    My last question is regarding cardinal sin #1 in learning, cramming. I am starting to realise that cramming is a necessary evil.
    What is the best approch towards cramming? Should I start a seperate collections for cramming? Or should I think about using a different flashcard program for the cramming part? What about mind-maps, are they an effective tool? I have tried them out, but I have a tendency to never get past the alpha phase when I test new stuff. Therefore I have few things at the moment that I really know works for my learning, because I am always looking for something different and better.

    Best regards
    Fredrik
    Medical student from Sweden

    • gersapa permalink*
      January 1, 2010 16:00

      Wow, we hit 2010 and I wasn’t able to make a new post. Any way I’m starting out again just now.

      “Do you mean that you enter more or less everything in to supermemo, the difference is just that you don´t use IR on all the material?”

      Yes, almost everything I consider that could be useful in the future goes into SuperMemo (I prefer a safe approach here, “When in doubt trow it in”). IR is used for certain kind of suitable text, specially if is related to some course, hence medicine related.

      “Use marks instead of underlines”. I feel a bit stupid here, but what is the difference between the two methods. How do I mark in the most effective way?

      The time lost from underlining results of the process it self, you normally read, choose, underline, which takes even more time then underling. I use a group of mark, which have a special meaning, I came to them by experience, such as #1 = first argument, >– <– start and end of the idea. I would recommend you make some conventions on a piece of paper, dated, and modified it as time goes by, after a while you'll add or modify what best suits you.

      “Should I worry about this fact? Or should I just mark up the text and transfer the details to SM and have faith in the SM-11 algorithm that the details will be commited to my memory?”

      If you believe this piece of information is important feed it to your SM, you can later deleted, not doing so will increase the time you take to search for it, if you later find you needed. But as always be very careful on not wasting to much time adding to many items. Is much better to use time doing the repetitions than typing them.

      “I have been experimenting with reading something like half a page while trying too use mnemonics to remember what i read and the writing it down without looking in the book. But it feels like a blunt and time consuming tool.”

      In fact this technique is very useful, you read something and after wards you try to remember what you read. Of course understanding should come first, if you don't understand it at the begging of a chapter, marked and follow on, usually this gap gets filled after wards or you find out that this wasn't really that much important. Time is the clue in medicine school. I would not suggest writing it though, make a couple of key words only. The task to trying to remember what you’ve read is a great mnemonic tool. You can also take a review of what you read, even if its only mentally, your forgetting rate will decrease.

      “Of course I know this is not the fact, but I hope that this thought forces me to perfect my study technique.”

      I haven't ever meet some one how could in photoread to permastore, but a lot of people did memorize really fast, usually though they also forget faster. But the more you know the better you get at memorizing the subject area you're most expert on.

      “I can´t really grasp the fact that supermemo makes you remember stuff forever. With this fact in mind I guess I have to be even more discplined in only entering the most essential stuff in SM.”

      Is a mathematical fact the supermemo will make you remember at the desired forgetting rate. Although the basics of the algorithm is explained in its web page, the real principle of how it works is reserved. I wouldn’t recommend searching for this as it will only make you lose valuable time.

      “What is the best approch towards cramming? Should I start a seperate collections for cramming? Or should I think about using a different flashcard program for the cramming part?”

      Use a separate program more suitable if you now already how to use it, or won't lose time learning to. But include it first on SuperMemo database, on a separate category (you migh use course, or semester name), some of this migh-be-crammable is useful later, is better to type only once. You can use SuperMemo to cram, but if affects somewhat the statistics so at the beginning I wouldn't suggest you cramm info in SM.

      “What about mind-maps, are they an effective tool? I have tried them out, but I have a tendency to never get past the alpha phase when I test new stuff. Therefore I have few things at the moment that I really know works for my learning, because I am always looking for something different and better.”

      Mind maps are useful specially to understand certain subjects that follow a hierarchical pattern, but you'll have to keep it simple. Bear in mind that MindMaps are no better then traditional learning or mnemonics tools, when researchers though the technique and later tested vs control group (using traditional study techniques) there was no gain, but disadvantage either, to get a wide view in some topics, like biochemistry, pharmacology, microbiology, they are really useful.

      I tend to apply a time management rule from GTD sytem, if it take less then 30 seconds I'll add the element to SuperMemo when I have doubt, if not I marked for easy retrieval.

      If you build a good knowledge base, everything will become easier as time goes by, the more you know the more you can learn, the faster you'll learn, the better you'll memorize, the less effort it will take.

      I have reference on almost everything commented in case you would like to read it.

      From time to time is important to trim down on the information you have in your SM database, many things will become either not useful or even outdated, that is way I always include references with the info on SM.

      The is a nice set of recommendation about how to handle the overload in "SuperMemo Pedia: Dealing with material overload in medical school". I use a similar approach now, probably would do it also if I was in college again. Although I don't believe in the arguments about to much information going above the limits of human capacity. I think they feed us a lot of information, because we must learn how to handled it as a requirement for a very time constrained profession. Only the fittest should thrive. In this path to become fitter in learning SM has been one of the best tool I've ever encounter.

      • LittleFish permalink
        January 1, 2010 16:10

        The suggestion about taking 30 seconds or less to make a SM item is interesting…
        So if it takes less than 30 seconds to make the flashcard, you just simply make it?

        • gersapa permalink*
          January 2, 2010 06:37

          Congrats for your nice blog Nattan. Yes, experience and my need to make SM input really fast has showed me that when ever I’m in doubt about adding some information to SM but takes little time is better to do it immediately, perhaps it will get deleted later, but taking time to search for this info usually is more time consuming.

  2. LittleFish permalink
    November 26, 2009 23:12

    Nice to see another post, I’m glad to hear your learning is going well. Just a few things:

    I should hit 33,000 tomorrow 😀

    I was just listening to a podcast of the show “60 minutes” and learned about studies conducted to show the impact of sleep on learning. I haven’t listened to all of it, but from what I have listened to, these two points stand out:

    1. Sleep is IMPORTANT. Rather than sleeping only a few hours a day and wearing it like a “badge of honor” among our peers, depriving ourselves of a good night of sleep has a very negative cognitive impact. Our ability to think, recall and learn becomes much worse. Because learning is an essential part of our lives (It is clearly a hobby we are pursuing), sleep should not be neglected.

    Also, 2. Studies have shown that if you try to learn something, sleep, then try to recall the learned material, the grasp on the material was better. So if there are certain equations or raw data that must be memorized (Mnemonics will only take you so far sometimes), then it might be a good exercise to try and learn that information before going to sleep, then review it the next day (Maybe “activate it” in Supermemo the next day).

    Also, I have created a blog to talk about my various Supermemo habits. It might not be updated regularly, but I want to have a place to store my thoughts so that others can read them. Here is the address: http://supermemoadventures.blogspot.com/

    Hello, Fredrik.
    I think the difference between “mark” and “underline” is that when you “mark,” you simply put a dot or dash on the outside margin, near the interesting sentence. I, too have realized this same thing. Instead of underlining sentences, it is easier to mark a little dot on the outside margin of the page when I’m reading a book. It doesn’t mark the book up too badly, which I like.

    As far as using Supermemo to remember stuff forever; all humans forget things in a predictable pattern. Supermemo knows what these patterns are and it has measures to figure out your unique pattern of forgetting knowledge. Using this pattern it can show you information JUST BEFORE you are about to forget it. If you get the answer correct, this means that Supermemo has successfully guessed the time, and results in you being able to recall the information even better than before. If you get the answer wrong, then the algorithm has just figured out a bit more about how quickly you forget, so it improves itself using this information.
    Therefore, the more you use Supermemo, the better your memory becomes. It also means that you rely more and more on Supermemo to aid in your memory (Like a “vitamin for the brain”). If you stop using Supermemo, you will eventually forget whatever information you remembered using Supermemo.

  3. CrayFish permalink
    January 1, 2010 09:46

    I like reading your posts LittleFish. Thanks for making a post on your progress.

  4. LittleFish permalink
    January 1, 2010 13:22

    Thanks 🙂

  5. marjur permalink
    May 18, 2011 19:15

    Do you manually set high/low priorities for items too, or only for topics? Also, how do you choose high priority material – by changing the forgetting index if items/topics or changing priority of items/topics?

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