If you want to achieve solid marks at school, you need to be strategic. Ditch your highlighter pens. Stop re-reading your books and notes. These are incredibly boring and passive ways to study. You need new study strategies. Below are 5
highly effective study strategies that can be applied to any subject area.
1. Spaced practice Rather than doing 5 hours of study right before your exam (i.e. cramming), it’s much more effective to space out those 5 hours of study over 2 weeks. You learn more by spacing out your study. Now if you’re used to the cramming approach, spreading out your study over 2 weeks will probably feel strange at first. It will require a little planning. But the more you do this, the easier it gets. Before you know it, it will become a habit. When you sit down to do spaced practice, keep in mind you only need to do 15-20 minutes of study before taking a break (not hours and hours of study). The spaced practice approach usually means you’ll: Be less stressed Get more sleep You’ll remember the information for a lot longer Why? Because you won’t need to stay up late or pull an all-nighter to study for your test or exam. 2. Pretend to be 4-years-old Have you ever spent time with a 4-year-old child? If so, you’ll notice they ask Why? a lot. It’s this natural curiosity that makes 4-year-olds like sponges, soaking up information from absolutely everywhere. When you sit down to read your textbook, you want to ask Why? and How? Ask questions such as: Why is this the case? How does this idea relate to the idea that was mentioned earlier? How does this work? How do these ideas relate to my own life? Asking questions will help you to stay engaged with the material. 3. The power of examples For some subjects (e.g. economics and psychology) you’ll need to learn lots of definitions of abstract ideas and concepts. If you’re like most students, you probably memorise these definitions by repeating them over and over again. But if you do this, two things are likely to happen: 1) You’ll probably feel like a robot; and 2) You won’t fully understand the concept, which will make it hard to remember. We can get ideas on how to learn definitions more effectively by looking at how professional actors learn their lines. Professional actors don’t learn their lines word for word. Instead they try to understand the character’s motivations and needs. Gaining a deeper understanding of these factors helps the actor to learn their lines more efficiently. Similarly, gaining a deeper understanding of an abstract concept will help you to learn and memories it. So the question is, what is going to help you to deeply understand the abstract concept? Good examples. And lots of them. Whenever you have to memories an abstract concept, collect as many different examples as possible. Get examples from your teachers, from your textbooks, etc. Plaster those examples over your wall and in key locations in your house (e.g. on the mirror and fridge).
4. Take notes by hand Want to remember more information? Ditch your laptop and work with pen and paper. A study called The pen is mightier than the keyboard found that students retained more information when they took notes by hand than when they took typed notes on their laptops. When you take notes on your laptop, you tend to write word for word what the teacher is saying. This is because you can type at the same speed the teacher is speaking at. But when you take notes by hand, you can’t write as fast as the teacher speaks. This forces you to put the information in your own words. This makes it easier for you to understand the information, which explains why you tend to remember more of it.
5. Get a good night’s sleep Okay, so this isn’t exactly a specific study strategy but it’s critical to all of the strategies listed above. You see, when you sleep, your brain doesn’t just turn off. The opposite actually occurs. Your brain gets busy doing the following: Clearing out toxic waste products that have accumulated while you’ve been awake Rehearsing tougher information you’re trying to learn Strengthening and consolidating important information This is why going over important information before you take a 90-minute nap or go to sleep at night can be beneficial for learning. Your brain is more likely to rehearse this information and strengthen it while you sleep. Most importantly, it’s critical that you get a solid 8-10 hours of quality (undisturbed) sleep each night. If you’re sleep deprived, these effective study strategies cease to be effective. Getting sufficient sleep will ensure that you can concentrate and recall information more easily in your tests and exams. So if it’s approaching midnight and you’re thinking, Maybe I can squeeze in another hour of study … think again. Always prioritize sleep over study. Your brain will thank you for it the next day.