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  • Writer's pictureIan Gibbs

Student Tip 22: Overlearning

As well as personal learning strategies, I also help people with their public speaking.

It’s a useful skill.

Giving a presentation to a large audience in a clear and appealing way is not something most people find easy.

Often, if someone has to prepare a speech, they write down what they want to say and then practise it until they can remember the words without looking at their notes.

That’s as far as they go.

But this is a mistake.

The mistake is to stop practising once you are able to remember.


Because if you do this, when the time comes to give your speech, you’ll find yourself in front of your audience struggling to remember your words, looking worried and feeling like a fool.

This happens because when you give a presentation, you get nervous.

Being nervous makes it more difficult to remember stuff.

You find yourself struggling.

This makes you even more nervous.

It gets even worse when you realise the stuff you could (just) remember during practice has now mysteriously disappeared from your mind.

It’s a common problem.

It happens to everyone who has to talk in public.

It also happens during exams.

You’re sitting at your desk, absolutely certain you knew enough to answer the questions last week. But now... it’s gone.

The way to avoid this situation is to do what I get my students to do: keep practising even though you can remember it.

By doing this, you ingrain what you need to learn.

It becomes second nature.

You don’t have to think about it, you just do it.

With my public speaking students, I get them to continue practising, until they get to the point where they can give their talk while washing the dishes, cleaning their teeth or making a sandwich.

This process is called overlearning.

It’s continuing to study stuff you more-or-less already know until you REALLY know it.

You know it so well, you can do it without thinking, without making an effort, without struggling or getting stressed.

For average students, it’s normal to be in the middle of a test only to discover that what they thought they knew has vanished.

Avoid this by overlearning.

Once you think you understand, go over it again. Rewatch the explanation on YouTube. Do a few more exercises. Redo the same exercises. Explain the whole thing again to your study buddy.

Whatever you do, allow the stuff you’re learning to really seep in and become fixed.

This way, when you are in the stressful situation of really needing to remember what you’ve learnt, there won’t be a problem.

When the teacher has asked you a question and all the class is staring at you, you’ll be able to answer calmly and concisely.

When it’s exam time and you’ve only got a few minutes left, you’ll be able to produce the goods without a moment of hesitation.

Overlearning is the way to make sure that the stuff you know when you’re relaxed and have plenty of time stays learnt when you’re stressed and in a hurry.

That’s when you can tell that you’ve been learning stuff better.

Tip 22: Don’t stop when you’ve more-or-less got it. Keep practising till it becomes automatic.

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