Welcome back, grab yourself a cuppa and a biscuit and come join me as we talk about study techniques.
If you followed along in our previous meetings you should have a pretty solid foundation to begin your study, you have a breakdown of what you need to know, a good understanding of your learning preference (visual, auditory, or kinesthetic), and a collection of resources that you can use to study in your preferred style.
Now we have that information we have to make the best use of it, it's time to work smarter, not harder. There are various techniques that you can use to help improve the effectiveness of your learning which we will explore. These techniques help you retain more information, understand the concepts more clearly, and most importantly, allow you to apply them to the real world through that deeper level of comprehension.
Before we dive into the techniques I want to make a quick disclaimer. There are no shortcuts, nothing worth doing comes easy and if you think that these techniques will mean you only need to spend a minimal amount of time preparing for an exam before you ace it, I’m afraid you will be disappointed. The end goal should be learning and understanding the content, not memorisation, there is no point holding the certification and then not being able to do the job. It's a recipe for disaster and it's highly unlikely that you will be able to pass without actually understanding the information! I have shared these techniques based on my own subjective and personal experience so while they work for me, they may not for you.
Now I’m done with my warning, here are the techniques that I personally use. I’ll explain what the technique is, why I use it and an example to help solidify your understanding and avoid any misunderstanding.
In order for your study to be effective, you need a plan, for that plan to be effective you need to put it into action. When you study make sure you are clear of your objectives, what is it that you want to gain from this study session? How will you achieve that? When you answer these questions before you study, you prime yourself with a clear vision of your intentions which turns into a highly effective study session. If the purpose of your study session is to understand Organisation Wide Default settings, then you will approach your time with a singular focus that by the end of the session you want to ensure that you feel comfortable explaining how OWD’s work and the impact they can have on an Org. When you don't set your intention, you can often end up switching between completely unrelated topics which makes for a highly ineffective study session.
Regardless of your learning style, hands-on experience is incredibly important and I would argue that this is the single most important study technique of them all. While you can read all the documentation and watch all the YouTube videos around, unless you get your hands dirty by building, testing, and breaking the concepts you are learning, you will not get a full understanding. Furthermore, as you spend more time working with Salesforce either through the Trailhead Trailmixes or in your own Dev Org, you will start to build muscle memory which helps speed up your learning and create the associations that you need between the concepts and the actions required to utilise them. While you can read about the impact of changing field types, nothing really sticks in your mind more than when you want to change a field type and run the risk of losing data or are unable to change it, the experience of hitting this roadblock will stick in your mind stronger than simply reading about it.
Learn the Concepts First
I find that learning the concepts first and how to build them second to be the most effective way for me to retain them. By learning the concept first, I have a basic idea of why I should be doing something when it comes to building them in a Salesforce Org. For example, by knowing the purpose of an approval process, the various options, and what the limitations are, I was able to grasp the order of configuration and the requirement/use case for each aspect of it quicker, than if I had just built one and not really recognised the best way to build it.
I hate to break it to you, but cramming isn’t an effective method for long-term information retainment, sorry! While cramming can work short-term to give you a small boost, long term it is pretty useless I’m afraid. Spaced repetition is the exact opposite of cramming, rather than trying to cram all the information into one or two marathon study sessions the night before the exam, you space out that information over a period of time so you can go over it multiple times. You can combine this with revisiting information that you are struggling to remember more often than the information that just seems to click and stick in your mind, this helps you push that information from short-term to long-term memory. For me, I found formula fields and validations difficult to grasp as I’ve never really delved into formulas or coding before, whereas the sales side of things came naturally to me as that's my background. I therefore focused more time learning about formulas and validation rules than I did on lead or sales processes.
This might not be for everyone but for me, it's a really important step in my learning. When I read through documentation I highlight the key parts as I go along. I’m selective in what I highlight so my page doesn't look like a 90’s rave party and the only information highlighted is what I believe to be key information. After I have finished reading through the documentation for the subject/concept I will then go back through the highlighted parts and transfer them into my own notes, in my own words. I find the physical act of writing something down, particularly when I think about what I am writing such as transferring highlighted text that I convert into my own words is a great way to lock that information in.
The Pomodoro technique is more known as a time management tool rather than a study technique, however, I have found it incredibly useful when studying. The way it works is that you study in 25 minutes blocks, taking a 5-minute break after each block and a longer break of 15 to 30 minutes after 4 blocks. I find this incredibly useful as it gives me a timeframe to work to so that I can focus on what I can accomplish in that block, and rather than wondering when my next break is, I know exactly when it is. Working in shorter periods allows my concentration to remain high and helps prevent my mind from wandering, it also helps tie into the primacy and recency effect.
Primacy and Recency Effect
A well-known psychological principle is the primacy and recency effect, it states that when presented with information we tend to remember the first part and last part, often forgetting the middle. Think back to the last conversation you had, you can easily remember how it began and how it ended, but trying to recall the exact information in the middle can be troublesome. Try and think of your mobile number, I bet you could remember the first 5 digits and the last 3 easily but the middle 3 wasn't quite so easy. Using the Pomodoro technique prevents this middle ground where information is lost into the ether and never retained. This doesn’t apply to everyone and there are people who can focus for 4 hours without a break and do not suffer from the primacy or recency effect, I am not one of them, unfortunately.
The Compound Effect
This is based on my learning from ‘The Compound Effect’ book by Darren Hardy, it's also sometimes referred to as the latte effect. This is the principle that small changes made every day have a huge impact in the long term, I don't think there are many people who would disagree. The way that I suggest using this principle, is by committing to at least 30 minutes of study a day, more if you can. Two things will generally happen, one is that when you get into the rhythm of studying you won’t want to just do 30 minutes, you’ll start tagging on an extra 10, 20, or even 30 minutes each time, which will speed up your learning process. The second thing that will happen is as you are studying every day, your brain becomes more accustomed to it and will begin to retain information better (google neuroplasticity to find out more) and in turn, your study will be more effective and your learning will be turbocharged. A great example of this is when you want to become fitter and so start running, the first time you run you may only run 1 mile and feel absolutely shattered. After a week of running this 1 mile a day, it almost becomes effortless so you stretch it to 1.5 miles, next week you lengthen it again. All those days of running compound to create a fitter, stronger, faster you.
Teach Someone Else
Teaching someone else is a fantastic way to lock in that new knowledge, if you learn with the intention of teaching someone what you have learned you will approach your study differently, usually with more focus on deeper understanding. Even more important is that as you teach someone else they may ask questions that you have not thought of that cause you to question your understanding, this will cause you to form a more rounded understanding as you find the answers to the questions. Furthermore, as you teach what you are learning, you will sense where your knowledge is weakest and where you should focus your study. It's also pretty fun which helps engage your mind more! When I study for any exam I usually have a study buddy or if that isn’t possible I treat my dog as my study buddy, I may seem a little crazy trying to teach a German Shepherd the pricing calculations for CPQ, but it helps me understand and remember the steps.
So there you have it, the study techniques that will help you retain, comprehend and use the information you gain in a more effective and constructive way. While some of these techniques may work for you, some may not, simply use the ones that work and discard the rest. The next time we meet we will talk about exam techniques and how through using a deliberate thought process you can improve your chances of passing your Salesforce exam.