9 Scientifically proven Ways to Study Effectively
How to Study Smart not Hard.
Is your current study method reading a textbook repeatedly, hoping something will stick? If so, do you find yourself stressed out because you can’t memorize such a vast quantity of information in such a short time?
To improve your grades, you can either spend more time studying, or you can learn to study smart.
168. That’s how many hours there are in a week.
If you’re a student, you probably feel like this isn’t enough.
After all, you have so many assignments to do, projects to work on, and tests to study for.
Plus, you have other activities and commitments.
And you want to have a social life too.
Wouldn’t it be nice if you could study smarter (not harder), get good grades, and lead a balanced life?
Of course, it would. That’s why I wrote this article.
The main aim of education isn’t to get straight A’s. But learning how to learn is a crucial life skill.
How to study smarter and more efficiently
Studying smart essentially means learning how to learn.
This includes how to learn faster and more efficiently while retaining information for longer. Go into the new year with a new strategy and try some of these effective study tips below.
Learn the same information in a variety of ways.
The research (Willis, J. 2008) shows that different media stimulates different parts of the brain. The more areas of the brain that are activated, the more likely it is that you’ll understand and retain the information.
So to learn a specific topic, you could do the following:
- Read the class notes
- Read the textbook
- Watch a Khan Academy video
- Look up other online resources
- Create a mind map
- Teach someone what you’ve learned
- Do practice problems from a variety of sources
Of course, you won’t be able to do all of these things in one sitting. But each time you review the topic, use a different resource or method — you’ll learn faster this way.
Review the information periodically, instead of cramming.
Periodic review is essential if you want to move information from your short-term memory to your long-term memory. This will help you get better exam grades.
As the research (Cepeda, N. 2008) shows, periodic review beats cramming hands-down.
The optimal review interval varies, depending on how long you want to retain the information. But experience — both my own and through working with students — tells me that the following review intervals work well.
- 1st review: 1 day after learning the new information
- 2nd review: 3 days after the 1st review
- 3rd review: 7 days after the 2nd review
- 4th review: 21 days after the 3rd review
- 5th review: 30 days after the 4th review
- 6th review: 45 days after the 5th review
- 7th review: 60 days after the 6th review
Take notes by hand, instead of using your laptop.
If you want to learn how to study efficiently, write your notes by hand.
Scientists recommend this, and not just because you’re more likely to give in to online distractions when using your laptop. Even when laptops are used only for note-taking, learning is less effective.
Because students who take notes by hand tend to process and reframe the information.
In contrast, laptop note-takers tend to write down what the teacher says word-for-word, without first processing the information.
As such, students who take notes by hand perform better in tests and exams.
The data is conclusive: Multitasking makes you less productive, more distracted, and dumber. The studies even show that people who claim to be good at multitasking aren’t actually better at it than the average person.
Effective students focus on just one thing at a time. So don’t try to study while also intermittently replying to text messages, watching TV, and checking your Twitter feed.
Here are some suggestions for how to study smart by improving your concentration:
- Turn off notifications on your phone
- Put your phone away, or turn it to airplane mode
- Log out of all instant messaging programs
- Turn off the Internet access on your computer
- Use an app like Freedom
- Close all of your Internet browser windows that aren’t related to the assignment you’re working on
- Clear the clutter from your study area
Sit at the front of the class.
If you get to choose where you sit during class, grab a seat at the front. Studies show that students who sit at the front tend to get higher exam scores (Rennels & Chaudhari, 1988). The average scores of students, depending on where they sat in class, are as follows (Giles, 1982):
- Front rows: 80%
- Middle rows: 71.6%
- Back rows: 68.1%
These findings were obtained under conditions where the seating positions were teacher-assigned. This means it’s not just a case of the more motivated students choosing to sit at the front, and the less motivated students choosing to sit at the back.
By sitting at the front, you’ll be able to see the board and hear the teacher more clearly, and your concentration will improve too.
Now you know where the best seats in the class are!
Read key information out loud.
What’s the reason for this?
When you read information out loud, you both see and hear it. On the other hand, when you read information silently, you only see it.
It isn’t practical to read every single word of every single set of notes out loud. That would take way too much time.
So here’s the process I recommend to study faster by reading aloud:
Step 1: As you read your notes, underline the key concepts/equations. Don’t stop to memorize these key concepts/equations; underline them and move on.
Step 2: After you’ve completed Step 1 for the entire set of notes, go back to the underlined parts and read each key concept/equation out loud as many times as you deem necessary. Read each concept/equation slowly.
Step 3: After you’ve done this for each of the underlined key concepts/equations, take a three-minute break.
Step 4: When your three-minute break is over, go to each underlined concept/equation one at a time, and cover it (either with your hand or a piece of paper). Test yourself to see if you’ve actually memorized it.
Step 5: For the concepts/equations that you haven’t successfully memorized, repeat Steps 2, 3, and 4.
Take regular study breaks.
Taking regular study breaks enhances overall productivity and improves focus (Ariga & Lleras, 2011).
That’s why it isn’t a good idea to hole yourself up in your room for six hours straight to study for an exam.
You might feel like you get a lot done this way, but the research proves that breaks help you to study faster in the long run. So take a 5- to 10-minute break for every 40 minutes of work.
I recommend that you use a timer or stopwatch to remind you when to take a break and when to get back to studying.
During your break, refrain from using your phone or computer, because these devices prevent your mind from fully relaxing.
Reward yourself at the end of each study session.
Before starting a study session, set a specific reward for completing the session. By doing this, you’ll promote memory formation and learning (Adcock RA, 2006).
The reward could be something as simple as:
- Going for a short walk
- Eating a healthy snack
- Listening to your favorite music
- Doing a couple of sets of exercise
- Playing a musical instrument
- Taking a shower
Reward yourself at the end of every session — you’ll study smarter and learn faster.
Focus on the process, not the outcome.
Students who succeed in school concentrate on learning the information, not on trying to get a certain grade.
Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck’s research shows that these students:
- Focus on effort, not the end result
- Focus on the process, not on achievement
- Believe they can improve — even in their weak subjects — as long as they put in the time and hard work
- Embrace challenges
- Define success as pushing themselves to learn something new, not as getting straight A’s
Not-so-successful students tend to set performance goals, while successful students tend to set learning goals.
What’s the difference between these two types of goals?
Performance goals (e.g. getting 90% on the next math test, getting into a top-ranked school) are about looking intelligent and proving yourself to others.
In contrast, learning goals (e.g. doing three algebra problems every other day, learning five new French words a day) is about mastery and growth.
Most schools emphasize the importance of getting a certain exam score or passing a certain number of subjects. Ironically, if you want to meet — and surpass — these standards, you’d be better off ignoring the desired outcome and concentrating on the learning process instead.
Make sure you just enjoy yourself learning and don't beat yourself up if you can’t do everything on this list. I wish you the best. If you loved this article make sure to follow me for more.