How to Study Effectively – The Pareto Principle

This principle is named after the famous Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto . Analysis of this rule can be used to select a small number of operations that are likely to produce a significant overall effect. In fact, using this principle, by doing 20% ​​of the work it is possible to generate 80% of the benefit of doing the whole work.

Or, by applying it to time management and problem solving, you will be able to see things more creatively. It will help stimulate and organize your thoughts, actually enhancing your learning. From the Pareto analysis it can be deduced that 80% of one’s learning activities can be completed in 20% of the available time. And the remaining 20% ​​of the tasks will take up 80% of the time.

If you look at your study methodology, 20% of your time can be used to manage 80% of your learning activities.

Then, using the Pareto principle, it is possible to sort the learning tasks into two parts:

  • Category 1 : 80% of the tasks that can be easily achieved if 20% of the study time is used
  • Category 2: 20% of homework that can only be achieved if 80% of your study time is used.

With the understanding of study patterns and learning skills through Pareto analysis, it will be necessary to assign a higher priority to the activities that fall into the first category. Spend the first 20% of your study time mastering 80% of the topics you find easiest to achieve.

As for the activities belonging to the second category, it will be possible to assign them a lower priority and spend the rest of your time studying those subjects that you consider more difficult to master. However, if you manage to wisely and effectively optimize 20% of your study time, you will usually then be able to pass or even excel in any subject of study (also read How to study for a university exam – 10 useful tips ) .

In practice, to achieve 80% of your study goals, you must first focus on the 20% of the most important actions that will allow you to achieve them. By understanding the 80-20 rule, you’ll understand why some students don’t seem to spend a lot of time in their studies and are also performing well.

If we were to apply the Pareto principle to studying, we would get something like this: for example, to pass an exam with 24 (80% of a good 30), we must study at least 20% of the material. Below I will try to better explain this principle and its practical application.

In essence, it will be necessary to schematize the study of a certain topic into 4 main categories:

1. Primary Concepts

It is the most important information that we need to study! Generally, they are few and easy to find. You absolutely have to memorize them. This important information is often found in the chapter and sub-section titles—a great place to start looking is the book index. Another trick to find the key concepts is to read the first and last paragraph of a section, identify sentences with words in bold or italics, read the heading of bulleted lists, etc.  

2. Secondary Concepts

This is the kind of information that serves to deepen the previously memorized primary concepts. They too must be studied well, because they serve to give substance to the primary topics.

3. Outline concepts

This information serves to further enrich the primary and secondary concepts, making it easier for you to understand them.

4. Marginal Concepts

It is duplicate information, repetitions or simple turns of phrase. They only make “volume” and are useless. They are generally found in the central paragraphs of a section or in sub-sections for more information. In this case, I advise you to safely skip studying these parts.

In summary, the best strategy to study effectively is to focus on the most important material first and then supplement it with secondary content that helps you memorize it better. By following this principle, you will learn to study better… by studying less!

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