How To Learn Twice As Much In Half The Time

At the age of 60, I decided to do something my friends thought was insane... take the Arizona bar exam. I graduated from law school way back in 1974, but my father developed emphysema, so I decided to help him manage his real estate firm instead of practicing law. I later went on to found several real estate firms of my own.

Fast-forward 35 years to 2009. I had been in the real estate business all my life. The real estate market was in shambles, and it just wasn't fun anymore. I thought "yes," this is my opportunity to become an Arizona attorney.

Time was short. The next bar exam was in February, less than five months away. The competition was tough. The pass rate is typically 60%-75%. In other words, 25%-40% of freshly-minted, super-prepared law students flunk the exam.

Most gave me no chance. I'll never forget a challenging day just after I enrolled in a bar exam crash course. The instructor (now a good friend) called me into her office and kindly, but firmly, let me know that I was too far behind, had no chance to pass, and "at my age," why waste the time.

After that, I recognized that effort alone would not be enough. I'd have to find a way to learn faster and remember better. So I put together a 5-step study process I call "LX4" that I hoped would accelerate my learning. I figured I had nothing to lose. Well, the darn thing actually worked. When I took the bar exam, there were 259 bar sitters (test takers). The pass rate was 63.3%. I received the #1 score!

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So when you or your kids want to learn more and remember it better, give this system a try. Please feel to share if you think it might help someone else.

1. Start with Questions. Most people read the material first and then test their comprehension by answering questions at the end of a chapter or on a practice exam. You learn faster if you do it in reverse.

Take the detective approach. One at a time, start with the test questions and then go search out the answers. In many cases you won't have a clue as to the answer, and that's great. This approach opens your mind and makes it more receptive because it creates curiosity. It also provides purpose and focus to the knowledge quest, a key to memorability.

2. Learn in Definitions.Most people learn mushy... kind of, sort of. They don't "know it" (the material) with absolute word-for-word precision. That's why it often takes someone paragraphs to explain what should be said in a succinct sentence. When they're finished babbling on and on, you're still not clear what they were trying to say because neither were they.

I remember when Dad starting teaching me real estate at age 14. He insisted that I boil down and memorize precise, word-for-word takeaways for every important real estate term before he would teach me the fun, profitable stuff like how to market and sell homes.

For example, he made me start with this word-for-word definition of real property, "the land, what's beneath it (like mineral rights), what's attached thereto (like trees, shrubs), what's erected thereon (like houses) and the right of light and air above."

Dad wouldn't let me move on until I could recite everything perfectly, without hesitation, word for word. No offense, but I've never met a Realtor or attorney who knows real estate as meticulously as my father made me learn it. Thanks Dad.

The point? To learn effectively, take the time to polish concepts down to their essence (one-sentence takeaways). This is really, really good advice. When you can say it with brevity, you know it with clarity.

3. Build a Reverse Pyramid.Picture an upside down pyramid. To support the base you need a strong tip. This means you need to learn foundational concepts first - perfectly.

For example, if you are studying the Civil War you should memorize the begin/end dates, states, issues, key battles, politicians and generals before you even open the first chapter of the book. Everything else will have context when you know the basics like your ABCs. My father made the tip of my real estate pyramid an impervious diamond I could build on for a lifetime.

4. Become a Student Teacher. The best way to learn is to teach. This is the #1 takeaway from L4X. I often teach real estate to Realtor groups. They usually think I am just going to stand up and teach. What they don't realize is that after I teach, I sometimes call on them to teach it back to me. It's remarkable how much better they learn when they have to make the transition from student to teacher.

After I scored #1 on the bar exam, I was invited to teach at a local law school. I often asked my students to swap roles with me. I'd sit in their seat and they would go to the front of the room to teach a particular concept to the class. Yes, they were scared, but as the semester progressed, I heard over and over that it was the best learning reinforcement tool they had ever experienced.

When I speak at colleges, I recommend that students trade roles with each other in study groups to see who can stand up and teach the material in the clearest, most concise way. It's not only a fabulous way to learn, it's a great way to gain experience speaking in front of others.

5. Produce A Podcast.Podcasts are audios covering specific topics. Every time I want to learn something well, I produce a series of 5-10 minute podcasts summarizing the material for myself. I then listen to them while driving, exercising, etc.

Producing a podcast is as simple as recording into your computer or your smart phone using an app such as SuperNote or Dictate. When I was studying for the bar exam, I took my iPhone to bed so I could listen to my self-produced podcasts with my eyes closed while falling asleep and then again when I woke up each morning. This allowed my brain to absorb in absolute solitude.

Podcast learning has three big advantages:

  • It forces you to give a crystal clear explanation of what you need to know. Remember my 'student teacher" learning idea above? These podcasts are like being student teacher to yourself.

  • You can record only the material most important to your success. When you listen to commercial audios from others, you may waste a lot of time on material that isn't the most important or listening to what you already know.
  • You can leverage dead time. Think of your car as a classroom on the road. Podcasts allow you to learn while driving, exercising, brushing you teeth, even walking to class.
  • I call my learning system L4X because I believe it multiplied my learning capacity four times. I hope it helps you or someone you care about ace the next exam. It's also a great way to prepare for a presentation or meeting.