When you study, do you output as well as input?

Hollywood is remaking the classic 1986 movie, ‘Short Circuit’, about a robot called Number 5. When speed reading, the robot declares  ‘Need input . . . more input, more input!’ (at 0.53).


Input is the action of entering information. Reading during study is a stream of input.


Output is the action of retrieving information from memory. Answering a question is output. Exams are all about output – testing memory and understanding.

To make room for new information, our brains continuously remove unneeded data. To remember information we have to spend time learning so data moves from working memory to long-term memory.

Here are 5 ways to add output to your study process:

  1. Do past exam papers.

This replicates exam conditions. By self-testing you find out both what you know and what you don’t know. You can then relearn your weaker areas and close the knowledge gaps.

2. Notes from memory. During study, start your notes from memory after reading. Only after you’ve retrieved as much as you can, then continue adding notes open book.

3. Retell.  After studying each chunk of information, retell from memory a summary of what you’ve just studied. Simply verbalise aloud all you can remember.

4. Discuss. Discussing the topic with a fellow student from the same course aids memory. Face to face, phone, email, SMS, Messaging, online, social media – any way is fine.

5. Ask questions. Start a group quiz. Fire off simple, quick quiz questions, and ask others to do the same. Have fun with it.

Then take it to the next level – interact with the new information by asking meaningful questions i.e. deep questions about the topic that makes people think.


What percentage of your time spent studying is input vs. output? Remember the 80/20 rule. Make 80% of study time doing input, and at least 20% doing self-testing or output.

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