Falling Behind in Lectures? Do these 3 things ASAP.

3 Things to do if you're falling behind
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Many students within the first couple weeks of University are actually starting to fall behind.

If you’re one of these students, you know it because:

  • Each lecture leaves you a little confused
  • Every few days you feel like your list to revise is growing
  • You feel like you’re losing control
  • The lectures feel like they are more challenging
  • You enter the “catch-up” game

And you may even miss studying a lecture (or more).

Here’s what you need to realise

Whatever system has created this problem for you is not going to be the system that fixes it too!

Without changing that system, there’s very little chance that you’re going to… improve. And generally speaking… trying harder is not going to be the solution… Even if you were to try 20% more… (it’s) probably not going to cause a 20% increase in result.

So without further ado, here are the main issues students face with their studying that cause them to fall behind (and solutions).

Problem #1 – No Priming

If you’re not priming to even begin with then this is a major problem. Priming is one of the most efficient things you can do during your study and an hour spent priming can take off 10 in the long run.

Learn more about priming in our study smarter course or in this article.

Unfortunately, when you start falling behind, pre-studying and priming are one of the first things to go.

Of course, if he knew how completely vital this is for your overall study efficiency, you would never make this decision.

Priming should not be optional for the efficient learner. If you’re falling behind, it means you need to be spending even more time with your priming. There are actually a couple of reasons for this:

  1. Inadequate or insufficient priming may have been one of the reasons why you started falling behind in the first place. In order to prevent yourself from falling further behind, it is necessary to plug this weakness.
  2. Because priming is able to shave off so much time in the entire studying journey, removing this is likely to be the first step in a downward spiral of falling behind more and more every day.

💡 A golden rule when you’re falling behind is to not fall any further behind.

That means that catching up is actually second in importance to staying ahead. This is a little counterintuitive, but it’s much easier to stay on track with future material, while creating opportunities to catch up on missed work, than it is to do the opposite.

Shifting the focus from catching up to staying ahead is pivotal.

Imagine you’ve got a sinking ship. Do you think it is more important the bucket of water or to stop more water from coming in?

Problem #2 – Overwhelm

When there is a lot of information to cover, it is easy to feel swamped. In the situations, it is critically important to understand exactly how you are behind. In other words what type of information are you actually missing?

There are broadly two ways that we can separate this.

Are you behind on details?

Details are the leaves on the tree. There the facts and figures and pieces of terminology the haven’t quite been committed to memory.

When you’re behind on the details, you have a good understanding of the big picture. You understand how the topic all fits together and the lecture generally makes sense to you. However, you’re aware that there is a large amount of information that you don’t know because there are certain details that you just can’t recall from memory.

This is an easy and good position to be in.

Unfortunately, it’s also the rarest position of the two.

💡 Dangerously, most people who are actually behind in the other way, incorrectly think that they are behind in terms of memorised details. We can actually see this when we start to solve the problem.

The best way to solve the problem of being behind with details is to go through the previous material and simply create flashcards for all the memorisable facts. We then allow a sophisticated spaced-repetition algorithm, built into whatever flashcard at you’re using, to take over and allow us to memorise those details over time.

We only need to set aside a couple of hours every three or four days to create all of these flashcards. If this is the way that you’re behind, there’s no need to stress because the solution is relatively straightforward.

This is the way most memorisation should be done. But it isn’t the way most learning should be done.

The tricky part is that many people learn through mostly memorisation. And this is how we can figure out that some people are behind in the other way.

If you’re needing to make more than 20 to 25 flashcards per lecture, there is a high chance that you have an inefficiently high proportion of memorisation.

Most information should be logically understood.

Not only does building logic make information intuitively “make sense”, which increases the speed at which we are able to comprehend difficult concepts, but logic building also teaches our brain various mental models and pathways that repeat throughout that subject. This makes the entire topic, even new information, much easier to learn.

💡 These mental models can be applied and reapplied to multiple different contexts. It’s the reason why experts in a field are able to learn new information so much faster than beginners. They are able to make sense of information much faster, because it is easier for them to apply an existing logical framework to quickly understand it.

Are you behind on logic and concepts?

Students that I privately coach will be very aware that I split learning into the logical understanding of concepts versus memorisation of facts.

The two go hand-in-hand and complement each other when studied the right way. Memorisation is necessary as the concrete detail that nails in an otherwise abstract, conceptual understanding. On the other hand, those conceptual understandings provide a logical framework to make sense of those little details.

It gives them a clear place to be nailed in.

Problem #3 – Not enough logic building

Most students fall behind due to a high amount of memorisation and not enough logic building.

💡 Memorisation is innately inefficient over time and so students who depend on this heavily will find that the progressively fall further behind as the content builds up.

This logic-deficient position of being behind is actually a double-header of danger.

  1. Developing logic is a more difficult skill and often requires more time; time that you don’t have.
  2. A week logical foundation reduces the ability to learn new, more advanced information, which may make you fall even further behind in later lectures.

The solution to this is a little bit more nuanced and I highly recommend checking out our study smarter course for the correct execution of this technique.

What we want to do is learn this logic as quickly as possible. Fortunately, we only need about 15% of the total information to build a basic logical framework. That means that if you’re five lectures behind, it should only take 30 or 40 minutes to build a big picture logical understanding of the main concepts in all five of those lectures.

By doing this, we sacrifice a huge amount of information, most of it within the fine details, while removing the biggest danger of falling further behind.

Recall our golden rule when we are falling behind.

Even if we were to stop here, we would significantly mitigate our losses. With a basic logical understanding of the big picture concepts in those lectures that we missed, we can probably get at least a quarter of the marks for those concepts in an exam. Maybe even more.

But we’re not done yet.

Now go over all of that material again in progressively more detailed layers of learning.

That means learning those five lectures all over again, but this time letting ourselves go more in-depth to a finer level of detail. However, because we have a big picture, logical understanding, this process should actually take much less time than we might anticipate. In fact, this is really what priming does for new information.

As I said, big picture logic gives fine concrete detail a place to be nailed into. It helps that make sense.

It’s incredibly important that we study the entire topic in layers of detail rather than going through each lecture at maximum detail in a linear fashion.

It will be better to cover five lectures to a 60% level of detail, then the first three lectures to 90% and the remaining two lectures at 20%.

This is because there is a diminishing level of return with detail.

After a certain point, most of the important detail relating to the most important concepts will have been covered. These are also the most highly examinable. But if it took us three hours to get to this point, it would take us an additional six hours to learn the hundreds of extra details that might pop up in a multichoice question here and there.

From an efficiency and strategic point of view, we want to catch up on these lectures in the safest way possible, which means:

  1. Learning the basic logic
  2. Learning the most important details
  3. Learning the secondary details (potentially via flashcards)
  4. Learning the very fine details (almost always with flashcards)

And we want to do it in that order. If we have time to go over the material again and a third and fourth layer, we can cover those less important, but still assessable details.

In summary

Being behind sucks. Especially after just a few weeks.

But what sucks 100 times more is not doing anything about it and letting yourself spiral into failure.

We tell students the right way to approach the year and how to study efficiently countless times throughout the year. Unfortunately, a very small proportion of students will take this to heart and integrate it into their approach.

Most students are either too afraid or too unwilling to admit that a meaningful change needs to be made and are happier to stay within their comfort zone even if it means inevitable failure.

Look at your current situation. What needs to change?

What do you need to do to take control of the situation?

Or (if you’re one of these people) will you let your own stubbornness or preference for comfort control the situation for you?

We designed our online Academy to cover content faster and more efficiently in the lectures. It includes information from the textbook, as well as information from discussions between peers.

We anticipate almost all questions the students have about a subject and answer them in advance. And any questions that are unanswered don’t stay that way for long thanks to our online Classroom.

If you’re looking to catch up will get ahead, have a look at some of the free material we have on our Academy.

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About the author
Justin Sung
Justin Sung
Justin is a medical doctor, University of Auckland graduate, published research author, certified teacher, and founder of JTT. He has assisted thousands of students into healthcare careers since 2011, making him New Zealand's individually most experienced medical entry expert. He regularly works with schools and organisations to help students and professionals learn more effectively.

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