The chief occupation of college students is, well, studying. At least we believe so, even if our schedules are crowded with part-time jobs, side-projects, extracurricular activities, social events, hobbies, or even plain procrastination. Time is limited, so taking advantage of every second can change your student life. Being able to learn more, study more and get more done in less time is an invaluable skill to have. That doesn’t necessarily mean studying harder, just smarter. Here are some tips to help assure you study smarter.
To a certain degree, most students plan their studying for the semester, varying from a mental to-do list to an actual schedule of study sessions. To study smarter, be sure to scan the contents of your subjects and establish objectives ahead of time. Try to get your hands on exams from previous years, ask around to see how difficult the subject is and gauge how tough the teacher is by his or her lectures. Based on this information, you can get an idea of just how much dedication and effort a given subject will take. Doing this will avoid getting overwhelmed 2 weeks before finals week because you just found out that subject X is much harder than you originally thought.
Some sets of skills and knowledge are unlikely to be acquired over the course of a few days. You need weeks, if not months, to get really comfortable with complex concepts or elaborate practical skills. On the other hand, we know how hard it is to keep up a steady rhythm of studying when there’s no pressure to do it. And then we try to cram everything in 1-2 weeks before finals. In this situation, stress is to be expected. Instead, discipline yourself to study your toughest subject for 20-30 minutes a day or to solve 5-10 problems of your textbook every single day. A small daily effort piles up – after 30 days, just 5 problems a day pile up to 150 problems solved!
Regardless of your major or field of study, there is always a smarter way to get things done. Memorization intensive courses ask for mnemonics and memorization techniques, concepts from hard sciences need to be well understood, and practical skills should be trained daily. Make sure you read up on smart studying techniques, such as memory palaces, association lists or number codes. For concepts that need to be thoroughly understood, luckily we live in a time where explanations from the brightest minds of the planet are available at your fingertips. YouTube science channels, Khan Academy and other excellent resources can complement your textbook information and contribute to your understanding of natural phenomena.
Too many students study mindlessly, pulling all-nighters and stressing themselves out until the final moment. How can you study smarter without stopping for a second and re-evaluating your position? Take the time to realize how many chapters you’ve covered, how well you understand the concepts and how solid your grasp of the knowledge really is. This is not only motivating, but also informative, as you will notice that some topics need to be reviewed.
Educational psychology shows that actively practicing what you studied is the best way to learn. Above highlighting, note-taking, repetition, and recitation, active practice yields the best results. It’s logical if you think about it. From solving problems to being asked questions about the content to viewing the contents under a new light, there’s no way that information will run away from your hippocampus like usual. Practicing includes solving practice tests, writing down answers to textbook questions, reciting your notes, group quizzes (+1 for group studying), solving problem sets, or going over a deck of flashcards. To study smarter, never stop practicing.
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