How to Get Good Grades: 7 Scientific Study Tips & Techniques

GoodNotes Blog
Published in
8 min readJul 25, 2022

So, you want good grades?

You already know the basics — get enough sleep, don’t cram, and so on…

But what are some practical ways you can make sure you’re making the most of your study sessions?

Here are 7 study tips and study techniques backed by science to help you ace your exams and get good grades.

Study Tip #1: Pre-test yourself

Find yourself unable to absorb information when you study? Try quizzing yourself before you get started.

Pre-testing before revision has been shown to improve how well you retain information.

What’s more, according to a review of several studies from Scientific American, getting answers wrong can help you remember the right answers better in the long run.

Even the act of trying to guess an answer tends to help cement the information in your brain once you finally get the answer.

There’s also something called the hypercorrection effect. Researchers at Duke University found that the more confident you were in an incorrect answer, the stronger you tend to remember the right answer afterward.

Tips for this study technique:

  • Before you start revising, take a practice test.
  • Before reading a new chapter in your textbook, look to the back and try to guess the answers first.
  • When taking notes, leave questions and prompts for yourself. Then, when you go back to revise, first try to guess the answers to the questions you wrote, before diving into your notes.

Study Tip #2: Use the Cornell note taking method

Ah, Cornell notes — every ace student’s favorite note taking method.

This simple yet efficient way to take notes increases comprehension and helps future you revise without headache.

Here’s how to take Cornell notes:

  1. Divide your page into 3 main sections like above
  2. Write succinct notes on the right, and pull out keywords, key points, and questions on the left
  3. Finally, take a step back and reflect on the material. Summarize what you’ve covered at the bottom

(Here’s a free Cornell notes template to get you started)

The act of summarizing your notes prompts you to pull everything together, reorganize the information, and draw out the main point. You are actively thinking about the information.

When it comes time to revise, your notes are organized in a skimmable, logical, and easy-to-understand way. You’ve even created a little TL;DR for yourself too!

Tips for this study technique:

  • Write questions in the right column that you can revisit when reviewing your notes, which can be prompts for little quizzes, and help focus your attention on the main points
  • Be succinct. The point is to be mindful about what you note down
  • Your notes are created to be easy to review — so make sure to review them

Study Tip #3: Use flashcards to trigger active recall

Using flashcards to test yourself is one of the best ways to learn and retain information.

The whole process of flashcards — from creating each card, to putting them into action — requires you to actively think about the material you’re studying.

When you’re testing yourself, you have to search your brain to produce an answer — and this is the kicker.

That process of trying to remember is called active recall, and activating that cognitive stress has been shown to increase long-term memory.

Using flashcards is a fun and straightforward way to put your brain to work, so that when exam time rolls around, remembering what you learned is no longer a challenge.

Tips for this study technique:

  • Avoid multiple choice questions. Recognizing the right answer is not the same as producing it
  • There are several digital flashcards apps on the market, which make it easy to create a whole collection of questions
  • If you prefer to draw or handwrite your flashcards, but still want them digital, check out GoodNotes’ digital flashcards.

Study Tip #4: Study in multiple short sessions (spaced repetition)

Cramming the night before is famously known to, well, not work — but why?

In addition to stressing yourself out by trying to “learn” too much information at once, the information just doesn’t really stick.

Part of that has to do with active recall (see tip #3!), and how you have to work harder to recall something if you’ve taken a break from it.

When you cram, all the information you’re reading is fresh. It doesn’t take a lot of brainpower to recite a definition you’ve only just read.

That’s why learning researchers advise using spaced repetition — for example, instead of going through your flashcards for 3 rounds in one evening, test yourself 3 times throughout the week.

In this way, each time you revise, you’ve taken a break from the material (thus forgetting some of it) and need to actively recall it back again. This (also called retrieval practice) is what makes information bury itself into your brain.

The forgetting curve (the rate at which you forget information) flattens the more you review material over time.

Tips for using this study technique:

  • Allot specific study days for different subjects or courses. For example, Monday and Wednesday can be course A while Tuesday and Thursday are for course B.
  • Combine this technique with pre-testing (see tip #1). Each time you review your notes again, try quizzing yourself first
  • The Leitner System is a great way to set up flashcards with spaced repetition in mind (see below!)

Study Tip #5: Strategically organize your flashcards according to the Leitner System

There’s no point spending the same amount of time studying material you already thoroughly understand.

Make your study sessions more efficient by using the Leitner System. This is a way of grouping flashcards, which prioritizes cards you need to practice more.

Here’s a simplified way to get started:

  • Create 2 boxes, and label them “difficult” and “easy”
  • Go through your flashcard deck
  • After answering each flashcard, rate how easy or hard it was to answer, and then sort the card into the right box

Now, the idea is to review the cards in the difficult box more often than the easy box. You might review the difficult cards every day and the easy cards only every 3 days.

If a card becomes easy, sort it into the easy box. If you find yourself forgetting the answer to an easy card, put it back into the difficult box.

This method helps you manage your time better, and easily allocate more effort towards the concepts that are difficult to grasp.

Tips for this study technique:

  • You can have more than 2 levels of difficulty — most systems actually have 3 or 4.
  • Sound like a hassle to set up? We thought so too, so we built it into the GoodNotes flashcards feature. Create your flashcards and test yourself with the Leitner System already in place.

Study tip #6 Teach what you just learned (the Feynman Technique)

Picture a ten year old child — now explain what you’re studying to them.

(Don’t think it’s possible? See here for examples of quantum computing, musical harmony, and black holes explained at 5 levels of difficulty — including to children.)

That’s one of the first steps of the Feynman Technique, which is used as a method of organizing information so that it’s easy to learn and communicate.

  1. Learn your topic/concept
  2. Explain it to a child (or imagine to do so)– be brief and use simple language
  3. Identify your knowledge gaps. Is there something you find difficult to simplify? What question would the child still have? Revisit the material and try to fill in the things that are missing
  4. Refine your explanation

By looking for different ways to pare a difficult concept down, you’re slowly reorganizing the information in your head, and deepening your understanding of it. You’ll start to see the gaps in your knowledge where you keep turning to jargon.

Tips for this study technique:

  • Pair this with Cornell notes (see tip #2). Use the Feynman Technique when writing up your summaries
  • If you find something too difficult to explain, try to find an analogy. Drawing connections and identifying patterns and relationships is also helpful to understand a concept better yourself

Study tip #7: Take advantage of study groups or studying together

Let’s face it — studying probably isn’t your ideal way to spend your spare time.

Simply having other people to study with can help motivate you to actually take your books out, and make the time pass quicker.

What’s more, some study techniques are simply more effective when it involves another person.

For example:

  1. Test each other. You can pre-test each other at the beginning of the study session, or simply run through flashcards together.
  2. Collaborate on flashcard decks. Here’s where two (or more!) heads are certainly better than one. If you’re studying the same subjects, everyone can contribute new questions and you can build a more comprehensive set of flashcards than you could alone.
  3. Teach each other using the Feynman technique. This is especially effective if your group mates aren’t studying the same subject as you. You won’t be able to rely on jargon in order to explain your study concepts to your partners.

Tip: Using a collaborative note-taking tool like GoodNotes can help facilitate your study sessions whether you’re together or apart.

Can’t gather a group of people to study together? Not to worry — there are several virtual communities you can join too:

  • Study Stream — hop on a 24/7 livestream and study together virtually with other students all over the world.
  • GoodNotes Community — a notes-sharing platform to get inspired and take better notes. You can find lecture notes, flash cards, and other useful material from other students studying the same courses, and even upload your notes to help others too.
  • Studygram Discord — started by @hara.studies, a study blogger on Instagram. It’s a place to exchange study tips, resources, and discuss all things student life.

Get ready to get good grades

Good luck studying!

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