The Most Effective Studying Framework to Ace Exams

Simple, and effective. These are two words that aptly describe Cajun Koi’s three-step framework for learning popularized in their YouTube videos. Their system nails many of the things I’ve mentioned in past blog posts on evidence-based learning techniques, and is a great starting point for anyone interested in diving head-first into the efficient learning world.

The Three C’s: Construct, Connect, Challenge

Cajun Koi Academy advocates for a cyclical three-stage learning process, aptly named the “Three C’s”: Construct, Connect, and Challenge.

  • Construct: The first stage involves identifying the most crucial concepts within the material. This requires actively engaging with the information to understand its core principles. In short, it’s the filtering stage.
  • Connect: Once you’ve grasped the key concepts, it’s time to connect them. Here, the goal is to create a mental schema, essentially a model that outlines the relationships between these concepts. Mind maps are a valuable tool for visually representing these connections.
  • Challenge: The final stage is all about testing the schema you’ve formed in the “connect” stage, and seeing whether it holds up. You can do this by applying the acquired knowledge with practice questions, real-world applications, or even explanations to someone else. Through this challenge, you identify areas that need further clarification and solidify your understanding. Additionally, if any connections were incorrect, you can use this stage to find where you went wrong, and form new, improved connections between the concepts.

THIS PROCESS IS CYCLICAL. Please, do not forget this.

Initially, I believed that I had to construct, connect, and challenge all ideas I encountered on my first pass. I was creating a schema, but I reached cognitive overload dealing with too many specific terms (called 2nd details; more on that in a moment). However, the cyclical nature of the Three C’s allows you revisit more specific details later in the process––this way, you can focus more on the high-yield important concepts for a more solid foundation.

Chunking Information for Optimal Retention

They then break down information into three distinct layers: Concepts, 1st Details, and 2nd Details.

  • Concepts: These are the foundational building blocks of knowledge. They are high-yield, meaning they offer the most return on invested study time.
  • 1st Details: These details provide context and support for the core concepts. Understanding them strengthens your grasp of the bigger picture.
  • 2nd Details: These are the most granular details within the material. While valuable, they should be prioritized lower compared to concepts and 1st details. Anki flashcards are a great tool for solidifying these lower-level details.

The key takeaway here is to categorize key terms within these three tiers. Once categorized, mind mapping each layer can further solidify understanding by visually representing the hierarchical structure of the information. Start with one chapter at a time and gradually increase the scope as your skills develop.

Combating the Cramming Craze

Many students fall victim to the temptation of cramming: intense, last-minute study sessions. This method offers a much better alternative.

  • Prioritize Concepts and Relationships: Focus on understanding core concepts first and how they relate to one another. This high-yield approach optimizes your study time, since these core concepts will be used in some way or another most often on the exam compared to 1st or 2nd details.
  • Practice Makes Perfect: Engage with practice questions and thoroughly analyze your answers. Don’t just check the answer and move on. Find precisely where you went off-track, and understand what the thought process should have been. A great post-mortem technique is to reword the question so different answer choices become “correct.” This way, you can come to better understand the thought process behind each answer choice, and further strengthen your understanding.
  • Don’t Get Bogged Down: If you encounter a concept you haven’t grasped completely, prioritize a basic working knowledge and move on. You can revisit this concept later on.
  • Embrace Breaks and Sleep: Regular breaks and adequate sleep are essential for optimal learning and memory consolidation. I’m sure you’ve heard this before, but don’t burn the candle at both ends.

The Power of Artificial Intelligence (AI) as a Study Partner

The rise of AI presents exciting possibilities for the learning process. Cajun Koi Academy suggests leveraging AI tools in the following ways:

  • Identify Important Information: Utilize AI to locate the most relevant information within your study materials and highlight its significance.
  • Connecting the Dots: Employ AI to discover connections between seemingly disparate concepts. Remember, however, to critically evaluate these proposed connections and solidify them through your own understanding.
  • Mind Mapping with an AI Twist: Let AI suggest connections for your mind map, but remember to personalize these connections and add your own insights and organizational structure.


I wish I had learned about this method earlier. Before I had explored the world of learning science, I relied heavily on rereading textbooks and rote memorization with flashcards for review. While these methods have some value, a deeper engagement with the material through mind mapping, practice questions, and spaced repetition would have offered me a much more efficient path to long-term retention.

Even after I did some research and watch some videos––most notably, those from Justin Sung––on more efficient learning methods, I had yet to grasp the cyclical nature of learning. I tried creating a schema, connecting ideas, and reevaluating from time to time, but only in one cycle. If I had gone through multiple times, prioritizing concepts first, I would have had a much easier time creating higher quality mind maps, and would have seen less discouragement as a whole.

TLDR: Great study technique, great philosophy, covers all your bases––give it a shot!





One response to “The Most Effective Studying Framework to Ace Exams”

  1. […] to it later to delve deeper into the specifics of each war within a chunk. Remember: learning is a cyclical process. To fully learn a group of concepts, you need to approach it in multiple passes, starting with just […]

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