5 steps to study with Obsidian

Overview

I have to study for a British Computer society exam.
The exam covers topics from a textbook plus four different courses that I have attended. Each of those courses comes with printed slides.
To study for this exam, I wanted to create a workflow that will incorporate the following techniques to help me pass the exam.

1) Creating mind maps to provide an overview of the subject.
2) Create a study plan to structure my study task and track progress
3) Use the Pomodoro method to work through my study tasks.
4) Using the outlining method to create notes that summarise content into revision notes so I can understand the content better and I can explain it to someone else.
5) Using spaced repetition and active recall to remember my notes and recall it in the exam

In this blog I will describe how these techniques can be incorporated into Obsidian and help you develop your study workflow for your particular subject.
Please remember my workflow is adapted to help me pass the exam I am taking, and you need to adjust yours accordingly.

Study workflow

In my workflow, I get information for my revision from different sources these include:
1) Textbook
2) Course slides
3) Previous exams questions
4) Finally Google to fill in the gaps

Using these sources, I first create a mind map to provide an overview of the topic using MIRO.
Using the sub-topics of the Mind Map, I will create a study plan for me to follow in Obsidian.
For each subtopic, I create Obsidian revision note to summarise content I consume from different sources.
From each revision note, I will create an Obsidian question set note which lists out all the questions related to the subtopic.
The questions sets will be stored in my NeuraCache or Anki question bank to practise as part of my revision.

Mind map

In this stage, I create a mind map for the topic.
I have used MIRO to create my mind map.

The reason I create mind maps are:
1) It gives me an overview of a subject on one page and helps me organise different concepts
2) It helps with long term memory recall
3) It helps breakdown the topic to create a study plan. With each sub-topic becoming a revision note in Obsidian.

Once you have created your mind map, you can embed the mind map into Obsidian via iframes.
The MIRO board needs to be set to public view to make it accessible in Obsidian.
You need to get the code from MIRO board embed option and copy it into your Obsidian Note.
Once copied in it can be displayed in the Preview mode of your note.

Study Plan Note

I have started creating a study plan which lists out the sub-topics that I have to learn.
The benefits of creating a study plan in Obsidian are:
1) All your notes and schedule are in one place
2) Obsidian supports tick boxes in the markdown language so you can track your progress
3) The Study plan becomes a table of contents to link to other notes.


I created a study plan note in Obsidian; it provides links to other notes for easy access.
I added a tick box for each sub-topic using the open bracket, space, close bracket. You can activate the tick box in the preview mode.

As you build out your revision notes and questions sets, you can see them in your local graph view.

I have also added a Pomodoro timer from pomofocus.io into the plan note so I can use the method for studying.
Again this is embedded using iframes using the follow code:

<iframe src="https://pomofocus.io/" height="480" width="400" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" allowfullscreen></iframe>

Revision Notes

Revision notes are my notes related to that subtopic.
Ideally, these would have been notes I created during the classroom sessions, but instead, I have to do it as part of revision
The revision notes covers:

  • Details about the source of information, e.g. book name, page number or website link
  • Notes – which is the summary of the essential information I want to learn and remember
  • Comments covers how the subtopic relates to my experience or any additional knowledge I have.

I have a revision note template that I use. The purpose of this is to remind me of the structure I should follow.
You can activate the templates via the plugin settings.
Once set up, you need to select a folder where your templates are stored.
You need to create a template note with the content you want to use.

This is my template for revision notes:

# Source Details
Book:
Pages:

# Summary Notes: 

# Comments on Source:

As I am writing my revision notes, I think about questions that the exam could ask or definitions I need to learn.
I mostly try and capture bullet points via the outlining method as it is easier for me to see the relationship in the subtopic and to review later.
I try and find diagrams that I can include that might explain concepts better than words. These can be screenshot and copied directly into the note.
If I am working with a physical textbook, I try and find PDF version that I can use as it is a lot simpler to copy and paste the notes than typing them out.
After I complete the first pass, I think about how I can explain the ideas and concepts to someone else.
If there are gaps when I try to explain it, I use Google to fill it in.
I finally think about how it applies to me and my experience.

Question Set Notes

These are a list of questions that I have created from my revision notes.
The structure is usually a question with an answer.

I use a question template to keep the question structure.

Q: What is ?
	A: The answer is
	TAGS:
	
---


I have added tags to help me group questions together and make it easier to find in search.


I link questions set notes to the revision notes, so I know via backlinks the source of the question.
I use the fold indent functionality of Obsidian to help me practice the questions without seeing the answer.
You can set the functionality by activating the Fold indent option in settings.
I store all my questions in its folder.

Question Bank

To practice spaced repetition and active recall techniques, you can import the question sets to apps which will test you based on the time between queries and your confidence in answering the question.
Spaced repetition is a technique that schedules questions based on how new they are and how difficult they are to you.
Active recall is a technique that uses questions to actively make you remember the answer as opposed to passively learning by reading a book or viewing a video. By making you recall the answers, it helps your mind store them in long term memory.

The two apps I have looked at to support these techniques are NeuraCache and Anki.
NeuraCache is a mobile app on both iOS and Android.
It can import data from many different sources, including Markdown.
To ensure the markdown file is readable, you need to add flashcard hashtag after your question and ensure you add three dashes after the answer.
You can add additional hashtags after the flashcard hashtag if you want to group up questions in the NeuraCashe app.

You can then select the folder with your questions set notes or the individual note.

Over some time, the app will remind you to go through the question.
If you know the answer and feel confident about it, NeuraCache will remind you after a more extended period. If you are not sure, it will replay the question sooner.

NeuraCache has a free service, but there is a premium service you can subscribe to which adds additional features.

The developer has done a great job with the app, and I enjoy using it.

Another app that I see people using is Anki. Anki had been around a long time and has a great many features including synchronisation between systems, supporting different media types and free questions decks to access.

To get the questions into Anki, I created a python script to make a text file from my question set note.
I run the script via Alfred and import it into Anki manually.

import sys
import datetime

def generate_template():
    query =  #file name
    directory = #source directory
    directory1 = #destination directory
    f = open(directory+query+".md", "r")
    fields = ""
    i = 0
    for line in f:    
    	sys.stdout.write(fields)
    	if(line.startswith("---")) :
    		fields = fields+"\n"   
    	elif line.startswith("Q:"):
    		fields = fields+line.rstrip("\n").lstrip().replace("Q: ","")+";"
    		i += 1
    	elif line.lstrip().startswith("A:"):
    		fields = fields+line.rstrip("\n").lstrip().replace("A: ","")
    		i += 1
    	elif(line.lstrip().startswith("TAGS:")) :
    		fields =fields+";"+line.rstrip("\n").lstrip().replace("TAGS: ","")+";"
    		i += 1	
    	else : 
    		fields = fields + "<div>"+line.rstrip("\n")+"</div>"	
    f.close()
    template = fields
    
    text_file = open(directory1+query+".txt", "w")
    n = text_file.write(template)
    text_file.close()
    template = query
    return template

s = generate_template()
sys.stdout.write(s)

The script follows the same structure that I have used in my question template
It looks for a line that starts with Q colon for a question.
It then looks for A colon for the answer.
It also looks for Tags colon to find the tags.
If it finds the three dashes, it will start looking for a question.

It uses this information to generate an import file using the semicolon for each section so avoid using semicolon on your question set.

There are other more sophisticated scripts which add a lot more features. I recommend using these for better integration with Anki.

This one is the best I have seen created by Pseudonium:

https://github.com/Pseudonium/Obsidian_to_Anki

Once in Anki, you can group the questions into different decks, and Anki will schedule it for you. You can also create custom study decks if you want to review on your schedule.

In my implementation, I have stored each question set in separate decks and have Exam deck over it.

Anki is available as a desktop app for free but costs extra for a mobile app which goes to supporting the development of the product.

Both these tools do a great job of implementing spaced repetition and active recall techniques.
Both have phone apps which makes it easier to test on the go.
At the moment I am finding NeuraCache the easiest to use.

Summary

In this blog, I have shown you a workflow for studying using Obsidian.
– Mind maps help you to have an overview of the subject and break it down to manage and plan.
– A study plan with Pomodoro helps you keep the focus on the revision notes.
– Revision notes help you bring in different sources and idea about a topic.
– Creating questions helps you prepare for your exam and actively thinking about the subject.
– Using a question bank like NeuraCache or Anki helps you use spaced repetition and Active Recall to improve your memory of the subject and gets you ready for the exam.

If there are techniques that could help with my studying, please let me know in the comments.

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