Categories: Academics

10 Tips To Help You Study Smarter

Happy Fall everyone! Now that we are freshly into pumpkin spice season, and syllabus week is in the rearview, testing is upon us. Every year we say we’ll do it differently, we won’t stress ourselves out, or wait till the last minute. We swear off all-nighters and hope for a fresh start. Then we get busy, our assignments begin to stack up, and we put it off all over again. Maybe you’re successful like this, but what if you could save some of that stress and get a little more sleep the night before that test? This is what I aim to do, and I hope these tips can do the same for you. They are in no way more time-consuming than spending the night in Strozier, so let’s get started:

1. Don’t procrastinate

Procrastination is our kryptonite and ultimate supervillain. Therefore, we must begin by renouncing this habit. If there is anything you take from this article, let it be this. Instead, practice repetition. The idea of repetition is backed by multiple studies, showing that your ability to remember the information increases more with each time you review it. The study recommends reviewing the material for a little bit of time each day. Begin by taking the notes, this is the first review. Then in class, you will go over the material once again. Then, read it after class at some point that day. This is one way. Another possibility is to set aside five to seven days in advance of your test, and then read the material through once a day. This is far less time consuming than cramming it all into one night, attempting to teach yourself the material and memorize it. Each review increases your chances of a higher grade.

2. Teach it

If you have an imaginary friend, teddy bear, or willing roommate to listen to you talk about the material, now would be the time to use them. The ability to teach the material you have learned demonstrates full comprehension of it. If you can tell someone in detail how to complete a math problem or how photosynthesis works, it demonstrates an understanding and ability to repeat what you have learned. This will also reinforce what you know. If you are unable to teach it, then you don’t understand it, and you know that you must review it again. This is especially helpful for tests with short answers and essay questions.

3. Quizlet

Quizlet is the perfect way to practice your memorization of the material, for example, if you are studying terms and processes for a language class or a science. Quizlet utilizes an array of practices that are perfect for the way that you learn best. If you are better at memorizing through writing, matching topics, flashcards, or practice tests, they have all of it. Plus, there is a section titled “learn”, this allows you to do a mix of writing, multiple-choice and matching. If you are not a fan of Quizlet but would still like to practice through online tools, there are plenty out there for every topic, such as Gocoqr (similar to Quizlet), and Marinara Timer, which is used to keep you on track so that you can time study sessions with breaks included.

4. Write it again

I know writing isn’t fun; well, it’s fun for me, but it’s not fun when you’re rewriting the process of the generation of new cells three times over. However, writing is a great way to commit information to memory and work through what you learned all over again so that it is fresh in your mind. When I was in fourth grade, my mom made me write the words of the week, all ten, three times every day until the test on Friday. I hated every moment, but I got an A every time. I don’t believe it is necessary to rewrite everything or even to rewrite it three times over. It is up to you how much you think you should write it and which areas you need to work on more than others. 

5. Organize your notes

Your notes are your ultimate study tool, so if they are chaotic, illegible, and ugly, you are not gonna like having to review them several times over. Keep your topics organized and separate them from each other so that topics are not running together. Color coding is another useful tool; utilize different colored highlighters and pens for different chapters and subtopics. When your notes are more appealing to look at and clearer to understand, it will make studying simpler. I also use sticky notes to mark where certain topics are in my notes so that I can quickly flip to that section in my notes in a hurry. It saved so much time. Your notes should be as useful as the textbook itself; if they’re not, that needs to change.

6. Take breaks

For a time now, it has been understood that effective studying involves a balance between material and breaks. These breaks are to ensure, first, that your brain can take time to process the information, and second, that you don’t become overwhelmed or overloaded. Plus, instead of constantly checking your phone and becoming interrupted by social media, breaks are a good time to do these. When the break is over, set it aside and continue working. Avoid checking your phone in between breaks so that you make the most of your study time. Also, keep track of the time, do not take a break for an unnamed amount of time because then you may not go back to it. A good ratio would be 5:1. For every five minutes you study, that is one minute toward your break. For example, studying for 25 minutes would give you a 5-minute break.

7. Utilize practice problems

Putting what you have learned into practice is a good way to recognize what you know and what you need to study further. Not to mention, this is perfect for applying what you learned and demonstrating that you have not just memorized your notes. In math, look up or ask your professor for practice problems. In English classes, ask your professors what kinds of questions could be asked and in what format (multiple choice or essay). This technique is especially helpful for essay formatted exams because, oftentimes, the teacher will ask you to connect multiple readings and their ideas–memorization would not be enough for this.

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8. Have a distraction-free study space

When studying is the last thing we want to do, we must distance ourselves from all the things we want to do instead. These means don’t study in your bed–in case you try to sneak in a nap–and don’t have electronics nearby such as your television and phone. I know you want to watch another episode of Friends but, let’s be honest, we’ve all already watched every season more than once. Try finding a comfortable, quiet space, preferably at a table or desk (stay away from your bed). I suggest playing music, it’s good for getting in the zone and blocking out everything else. Personally, I listen to whatever I’m feeling that day and blare it in my headphones until I’m practically deaf. Studies suggest music that’s more instrumentally focused so that you think less about what you are listening to. It is a matter of personal preference and how you work best.

9. Look at the information one last time before sleeping

I know, I just want to go to bed too. However, recent research has shown new information that students who study when they are tired actually retain the information better. Your brain enters into a cognitive process where it is going through its memories. Studying and reviewing information at this time means that your brain will go through it while you are sleeping, leading to you remembering it better. Crazy, right? Our brain is always hard at work. 

10. Make a plan

Plan out your studying so that you are not overwhelmed or struggling with where to start. For example, if you have four chapters to review, break them over over the five days we discussed earlier in the article. Try to go over the notes for each at least two to three times. This might look like two chapters a day for two days and then practice tests and teaching on the last three days to see how much you have retained and what you might need to review one more time before the test. This plan should be centered around the techniques we have discussed above. I know what you’re thinking, that was a lot, how could I possibly be saving you time? Well, setting aside an hour a day for five days should be enough to memorize the information–instead of spending an entire day dedicated to studying, combined with your other assignments. Cramming into one day also means that you may have to add a few hours because you haven’t seen the material for a while and may need more refreshing than if you had started earlier.

As they say, study smarter, not harder. I may be just an English major but this is how the math looks to me: Cramming equals harder, breaking it up equals smarter. Good luck during this testing season, I’d love to know how these techniques work for you; let me know in the comments below. Oh, and grab yourself some pumpkin spice while you’re at it.

Featured image source: Pinterest
Taylor Saathoff

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