Bernardo Saravia has a role model: his grandfather, a retired doctor with a deep love of books who is still reading and writing in his 90s.
Aspiring to be as sharp as his grandpa at that age, Bernardo is also an avid reader and learner. We are highlighting him today as part of our series of passionate self-learner profiles, where we take an in-depth look into the people who are using and benefiting from Quizlet every day.
Born to learn
Mexican-born Bernardo credits the upbringing provided by a family of educators, as well as an enduring love of books, for his lifelong learning obsession.
“I was a voracious reader as a kid,” he said. “It probably is part of the reason that I’m open and always trying to learn new things.”
The family moved to Kentucky when Bernardo was young. As an immigrant kid who was absorbing an entirely new culture in the early 2000s (and who didn’t know who Britney Spears was, to the utter shock of his classmates), he learned to ask questions to fill gaps in his knowledge. He also devoured series like Harry Potter, Artemis Fowl, Wheel of Time, and many other fantasy titles.
When Bernardo was 15, his mother stumbled on an opportunity for generous financial aid at Phillips Exeter Academy while looking for summer programs for him and his sister. They applied, were accepted, and the family moved to New Hampshire in pursuit of their education.
Bernardo studied mechanical engineering at Yale and spent some time traveling in Mexico after graduation. He landed his first job working for Dean Kamen, the entrepreneur who invented the Segway, promotes science and robotics, and runs a medical device company.
After that, he joined a 3M manufacturing program, Optimized Operations, where he worked in process engineering, which further developed his analytic side.
“One of the things I really like to do is observe various processes around me and then optimize them as much as I can,” he said.
Recently Bernardo pivoted in his career and is now a passionate product manager.
“I’m kind of obsessed with learning and I think being a product manager, in a way, helps me do that,” he said. “As I strive towards a better product, deeper understanding of the customer, and resolving complex problems, I am exposed to new and interesting ideas in a dynamic environment full of learning.”
Making a habit of lifelong learning
In his free time outside of work, Bernardo makes a discipline of daily reading, including every night before bed. Drawing on his affinity for optimization, he is currently exploring more efficient ways of learning and studying.
“For a long time … I was maybe a little bit too obsessed with the quantity of reading, learning, just amassing knowledge,” he said.
Now, his goal is not to read a book just to check it off a list, but to actually assimilate the information, absorb the knowledge, and become fluent in it so that he can put it to good use.
“I’ve tried to take a step back and really ask myself, ‘What is a better way to learn and connect ideas in new and interesting ways?” he explained.
Bernardo took the popular Coursera class Learning How to Learn and was surprised to find out that research has shown that highlighting or underlining, the practice of diligent students everywhere in the pre-digital age, is not actually an effective way to learn. Active recall and repeating the information at spaced-out intervals are much more useful techniques that consistently yield better results.
Bernardo cited Donald Hebb, a Canadian neuropsychologist who did work on associated learning more than 70 years ago, and who coined the phrase: “Neurons that fire together, wire together.”
“If you exercise the brain by trying really hard to recall, obviously you’re not going to get it right every time. But that act of recalling, that’s literally the neurological mechanism by which you learn,” he said. “It’s really important to practice active recall, and that’s something I didn’t do enough throughout all my formal education.”
So what is Bernardo studying now? Whatever he wants!
With formal schooling out of the way, the world is his oyster. In addition to reading books about how to learn and create good habits, among others, Bernardo has used Quizlet to learn the flags of the world. He’s also very interested in behavioral psychology and behavioral economics.
“I think it’s fascinating to hear why we make certain choices and behave the way we do.”
The right tools for the job
In his search for tools that will help him learn effectively and efficiently, Bernardo is a frequent user of Quizlet Plus.
Some people skim past unfamiliar words while reading. Others make a guess based on context and move on. But Bernardo always asks, “What does that word mean?” It’s a habit he thinks he picked up from his father, a Spanish teacher, or perhaps is rooted in the fact that he learned English as a second language in his youth.
“A few years ago, I just decided to come up with this very simple rule, which was, anytime I read something, if I come across a word I don’t know, I just write it down. Then later, I look it up,” he said.
As it turns out, this little habit isn’t so simple. Actually, Bernardo has found that it’s a lot of work. To help himself along, he tries to get on Quizlet daily to go over the words he has jotted down and looked up. He uses the Learn feature to quiz himself on his vocabulary list, challenging himself to recall their definitions as it presents him the words. He notes that Quizlet seems to present him each word every few days, which he notes is a far more effective way to study than to just look at the word many times in a row on the same day.
“The main thing is to keep it habitual. Make it so you’re actually recalling and really going through those steps,” he said.
With over 25 years of learning under his belt, Bernardo has a few tips for those who, like him, want to optimize their study time.
Bernardo’s tips for study success
- Establish a habit of learning. Bernardo recommends setting aside a dedicated time to study and sticking to it, rather than trying to shoehorn it into an already-jammed schedule. If that seems challenging, he highly recommends the book Atomic Habits.
- Set up an effective learning environment. This can be hard if you’re stuck at home, but do your best to set yourself up for success by creating a study area. It should be comfortable but it's crucial to separate it from where you entertain yourself on your phone or the TV.
- Minimize distractions. Lock that phone in a box out of reach! If it helps you, put on music or if you own noise-canceling headphones, use them to create a quiet environment.
It’s not a marathon. Don’t try to study for three hours straight. Check out the Pomodoro technique and set a timer for 25 highly focused minutes.
- Sleep! Sleep deprivation is enough to undo all the best study habits in the world. As hard as it might be to put into practice, you are nearly always better off getting sufficient sleep than trying to cram in more studying.