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Learn How to Study Effectively: Study Smarter, Not Harder

Were you one of those kids who excelled at school and never learnt how to study? Or is studying just not your cup of tea? Whatever it is, we’ve got you covered! Hitting the books is a part of every student’s life, so today, we’ve put together these tips on how to study effectively at home and in college, prepare for exams, and even (PSSST!) cram at the last minute.

StudySmarter Magazine Study Effectively

Crack Your Books and Study Effectively – Tips and Tricks

The most effective way to study is to create a lasting habit. Now, don’t you roll your eyes! If you adopt a positive mindset and form consistent habits, you will find it much easier to learn and retain new information. So, before you actually put your nose to the grindstone, follow some of these tips when learning how to study effectively:

Make a Schedule

It is not a big brain that guarantees success – it is organisation. Get yourself a homework planner. Start off by writing down important dates for tests, projects, and deadlines and noting how much work each of them would take. Divide the workload into reasonable chunks and assign them to time slots leading up to the big day (extra tip: don’t just go by page count, go by reasonable units like ‘French Revolution’ or ‘Equations with Two Unknowns’). Don’t forget to add revision days, too. Writing your tasks down gives you a tangible plan that won’t disappear into the ‘I’ll do it later’ or ‘I’m getting to it’ void.

Pay Attention in Class and Take Notes

Jotting down important notes from lectures activates kinetic memory and engages your brain during class. Trust me, it is much more time-effective than staring into space, yawning, and panicking before the exam! After lectures, it only takes one or two reviews to memorise a good deal of presented materials.

Engage with the Topic during Class

No skiving off lessons! Be there or be square, and ask all the questions. Don’t be afraid to add your own examples and ask for clarifications. You can also illustrate your notes with vignettes and stickmen to drive the point home or add stickers to mark key concepts. After class, go back to your notes and supplement them with details from your textbooks. An active approach like this to materials will ensure that you understand the main points in class, which will help you revise them faster later.

How to Study Effectively in College without Going Nuts

Once all your notes and studying schedules are laid out, the actual fun begins. There are different circumstances you’ll have to work under, but you can make your life easier by following these simple steps:

1.   Get some highlighters and decide what they represent. Don’t just go about turning your notes into a colouring book and put a predetermined system in place instead. For example, a pink highlighter stands for important concepts that you should know at any time, yellow for additional elaborations, and green for fun facts. Don’t paint the whole page, only highlight keywords, and read the rest multiple times. When you get back to your notes, your colour-coding will alert you to the crucial facts (and the fun ones will probably remember themselves!).

2.   Get ready to work. If you catch yourself copying notes multiple times, colouring them, and arranging and rearranging, you must be honest with yourself – you are not studying, you are procrastinating. To weed out this habit and save a lot of time, be prepared to work once you open your books. You can make additional notes, but don’t end up in a vicious cycle of avoidance – you are only harming yourself.

3.   Study in short bursts and take regular breaks. Evidence has shown that our brains work best in short and intense bursts. Aim to study for 30 minutes to an hour before taking a short break to get up, stretch a bit, grab a snack, or drink something. As a result, you’ll be able to cope with extended, sustained periods of intense studying.

4.   Create flashcards when you’re done with each unit. Activate your interpretive tools by creating several items for every topic that you cover. Flashcards can be made as questions, lists of keywords, or simple images, which you can use to quiz yourself later on.

Note-Taking Is Not Just for Class – Learn How to Study Effectively from a Textbook

Textbooks can be daunting. Mean, small font, no pictures, not even paragraph breaks sometimes. But don’t worry, you can make your textbook learning effective and efficient in three simple steps:

Mental Priming

Before taking the bit between the teeth, you should skim through the chapter, check out headings, indented paragraphs, keywords, and indicated definitions. This helps you prime your brain and grasp what the main topic of the chapter is.

Active Reading

Exactly as it sounds, you should read with your brain on the topic (and not just going through the motions). Underline and highlight sparingly (only keywords), take some notes (always paraphrase), and try to retell what you’ve just read at the end of the section. Divide the materials into sensible units instead of ploughing them for hours without remembering anything.

Reflection

When you’re done with active reading, consider what you’ve just learnt. Revisit key concepts, try to think of your own examples, and answer practice questions that are usually found at the end of each chapter.

To Study Effectively for a Test or Exam – Revision Is the Mother of Memory

If you want to pass your exams with flying colours, you have to revise regularly. Half-baked learning is one of the main culprits for those exam freezes, brains going blank, and succumbing to crippling anxiety. Don’t wait for that to happen, review your materials with some of these techniques:

  • Don’t just study for an exam, study for knowledge. It may sound trite, but it’s actually true. Cramming for an exam and forgetting it afterwards is ineffective in the long run. Consider that your education does not end with this exam and that you’ll probably need these concepts later on, so do yourself a favour and approach your learning with comprehension and dedication.
  • Work on memorable revision tactics. Mnemonics are a great tool for remembering and organising knowledge. When you have a long list of items, you can memorise them by arranging the first letters into a sentence (e.g. ‘My very excited mother just served us nine pies’ for the order of planets of the Solar System [and yes, Pluto is a planet]).
  • Try associative recall. Similar to mnemonics, you can sing your materials to catchy songs, learn lists to specific beats, or even use particular gestures to signify some concepts. My roommate used to twirl her coffee spoon in specific patterns, and in the exam, she only had to revisit the motion and she would know what to say.
  • Create a mind map. Mind maps are excellent tools for compiling, rationalising, organising, and systematising a great deal of information. They can be as simple as a single bubble in the centre of the page with branches to different sub-topics or as complex as an FBI investigator’s pinboard.
  • Pretend to be a teacher. If you can’t explain it to yourself, you don’t understand it well enough. When revising, pretend to be teaching the materials to an invisible audience, paraphrase them, and add your own examples. It will help you stay focused on the task and think in a structured way.

When Libraries Are Closed – Study effectively at Home

Sometimes life gets in the way and you can’t go to the library to study. Or maybe your favourite corner at the university is taken and you find yourself forced to learn at home. While it can be challenging to accomplish much, especially if you live with your parents, siblings, or noisy roommates, some mitigating factors can improve your study sessions:

  • Always have a designated study space. Deep down, our brains like routine, and having a particular place where you study will put you in the right mindset when it’s time to get some work done.
  • Find a good study playlist. Classical music, with no lyrics or bass drops, has been shown to improve concentration. And it’s certainly more pleasant than listening to your younger brother imitate a rocket. For the tenth time today.
  • Make an arrangement with your family or roommates. Compromise is a wonderful thing and you can always let your cohabitants know when you’re in a study crunch so they can respect your time. Find several hours when you know you will have peace because others are napping, reading, or out.
  • Have healthy snacks at hand. Don’t go for endless energy drinks or get distracted by your fridge, coffee-maker, or stove. Prepare some healthy and nutritious snacks beforehand. Nuts, fruits, protein bars, and biscuits can do wonders in your study breaks.

Last-Minute, Life-Saving Study Hacks

So, you didn’t heed our advice and you need to study at the last minute? Here are some life-saving hacks:

  • Pick your battles. It makes no sense to try to learn everything at the eleventh hour. Instead, focus on two things: main concepts and the ones you know the least. Minimise time spent on aspects of the topic you’re reasonably familiar with.
  • Active approach. Just like any other studying, now is even more important to study actively. Think of the concepts you’re examining, add your own examples and paraphrase, and retell as many times as you can.
  • Make mind maps. As I said, mind maps are a time-saving tool for organising a lot of information. It only takes a few minutes to make them, and the visual mapping of concepts will stimulate your brain in multiple ways.
  • Find old exam questions. The student community of your university must have procured old exam questions and shared them on social media (heck, half of the information is often more available on Facebook than the university website). While not everything might come up again in the exam, you will get a good sense of what to expect and focus on.
  • Prepare concise, last-minute revision notes. You won’t have enough time to go through all your notes the night before an exam. Prepare a list of the most important ideas and have them at hand when the hour strikes.
  • Find ways to control your stress levels. We get it, last-minute cramming is stressful, but it doesn’t help to start counting down the hours (or worse yet, minutes) until the exam. Instead, find ways to relax and keep your emotions in check. Go for brisk walks, do some exercise, drink herbal tea, or play your favourite music during breaks. Relaxing study music helps a lot, too!
  • When you get tired, stop. No good results will come from forcing yourself to slog through your books if you’re exhausted. When your focus drops, take a break or a nap or simply go to bed. Believe it or not, the world does not stop over this one exam, and your mental well-being should always come first.

May the Force be with you!

How to Study Effectively: Frequently Asked Questions

How can you study effectively for exams in a short time?

Focus on your weak spots and key concepts. Actively engage with your materials, make notes, highlight, and revise multiple times. Get enough rest and study in small bursts.

How can you make studying fun and effective?

Make flashcards, mind maps, and creative notes. Instead of reading a hundred pages at once, read reasonable units and pretend you are teaching them to your bedroom. You can also lookup fun facts about the topic and add them at the end of every unit.

How can you make studying effective?

Skim through your materials to get a sense of what the topic covers. Engage actively with the text, make notes, add your own examples, and paraphrase key concepts. Revise with mnemonics, catchy tunes, and quizzes.

How can you study more effectively?

Read your materials and think about them actively. Write down the most important points and highlight keywords. After each section, repeat what you remember and do the same at the end of each unit. When you study, think of additional examples and consider how this might be useful in the future.