Pareto’s Study Method

March 20, 2009  |  Educational Theory, Study Method

I recently had an encounter with an old professor of mine. As an expert in Environmental Science she is always quick in to remind me to view the whole picture, never to look at a certain pollution as an endemic phenomenon but instead as intricate part in a bigger cycle.

Thus, she claimed that a student as brilliant as myself (her wording was a little different) would benefit more if I actually attended her classes (what an outrageous statement, don’t ya think?). She -much like most teachers- claimed that the best way to study is by engaging all senses into the process, the more the merrier.

Here’s where I disagree.

I prefer to view it from an engineers point of view, why differentiate and diversify when you can assimilate and optimize. If I learn more by reading lecture notes in the privacy of my home, then why on earth should I be forced to sit through long and tiresome lectures.

Here’s where the Pareto principle comes into the picture. The Pareto principle basically says that 80% of your results comes from 20% of your efforts.

So let’s say you were to try to study by using all your senses; attending lectures (hearing) and by reading (sight) and by taking notes (writing) and you were to discover that almost all of your results stem (only) from the reading that you did. If that is the case, I would recommend you optimize that outlet and allocate most of your (if not all) time pursuing that method.

It should be noted that my argument is not to say that you should leave lectures all together (some people learn best by mixing all outlets), I’m simply saying that if you notice that one method works a lot better than the rest, you should focus on that method. Always optimize, even if it means you wont diversify.

About the author

ABDERISAK ADAM is an author, blog writer and a PhD candidate in the institution of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Chalmers University of Technology. He is also the owner and webmaster of, a website dedicated to the discussion of study techniques in the context of higher education. Adam is the author of a number of publications including 'The Study Guide PRO'. You can connect with him through Google+, Linkedin or by submitting a form.


  1. Interesting story there.

  2. Indeed 😀


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