Top students come in all shapes and sizes, and from all walks of life. Some are born with the ability to understand complicated ideas, and some pick it up along the way. But all have one key thing in common: they know how to study effectively, and make the best use of their time.
Using your time effectively while at the study table is a cornerstone of good academic performance, and brings balance to your life so you can spend your time doing other things as well. The old adage ‘work smarter, not harder’ has never been more relevant: you can learn more in 30 minutes of good, focused study than you can in hours of distracted, aimless work. Doesn’t that sound like something you want to try?
We think so too, so we’ve collected 10 of our top tips to help you optimise your study. Whether you’re a primary, intermediate, high school, or even university student – read on to learn how to study the EduExperts way!
Create a comfortable, quiet study environment.
It’s well worth taking a few minutes before you start studying to ensure that the place you’ve chosen is conducive to doing good work.
First of all, you should never study in your bed – this removes the separation between work and rest in your mind, and can lead to increased stress or anxiety in the long run. Find a desk or table, and clear it of everything that isn’t related to the work you’re doing.
Most people will find they do better work in a quiet environment such as their room. However, not everyone will have their own space in which to do work. You may find that you need to work at the kitchen table, for example. If this is the case, you might want to work something out with your parents, so they know to not distract you with loud noises or requests to do chores while you’re working.
Block out time every day to study.
The philosopher Will Durant said: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” You can create a habit of excellence in your study, and this begins with finding some time every day to devote to it.
Now, this doesn’t mean devoting hours and hours every evening to studying, at the expense of everything else in your life. Remember, we said that you can get more done in 30 minutes of effective study than hours of ineffective work! Rather, it means making at least a small amount of time to study every day, so that it becomes ingrained in your routine.
For example, on days where you have nothing after school, you may come home and put a couple of hours into homework and reviewing what you’ve learnt. When you have sports practice until late at night, perhaps you can only manage 15 minutes. It’s not the length that counts – it’s the consistency.
Remove distractions from your study space.
If you’re wanting to study effectively, you’ll have to get rid of everything that could potentially be a distraction. When you get ‘in the zone’, even a momentary distraction can waste valuable minutes of your time mentally returning to where you were before.
So turn your phone off, close any other tabs you don’t need on your browser, and make sure you’ve got a glass of water and visited the bathroom before you start studying. As previously mentioned, it’s helpful to let your family know when you’re studying, so they can avoid interrupting you.
Review new material the same day you learn it at school.
One of the reasons teachers set homework is because of the mental benefits you get from reviewing information less than 24 hours after you first learn it.
From a basic psychology perspective, our brains are bombarded with vast quantities of useless data every day, and it’s a constant effort to sort the information we need from that we’ll never use again. One of the ways we can tell our brains to remember something is through repetition. Specifically, repeatedly exposing your brain to a concept shortly after you first learn it helps to solidify the synapses in your mind.
It might sound like a strange concept to be convincing your own brain that something is important, but that’s exactly what you’re doing. So even if your teacher doesn’t set homework on a new topic, take a few minutes to go over your notes and remind yourself what you learnt. You’ll remember a lot more than you will by cramming your study just before exam time!
Use proven techniques to improve information retention.
Part of effective studying is using techniques that have been shown to work. As a hint, simply reading through your notes, or a textbook, is NOT a technique we recommend!
Focus on areas of weakness.
One bad study habit which can be easy to fall into is only studying parts of a subject you’re already comfortable with. Sounds strange, right? It’s more common than you think!
This habit is born from the theory that it’s better to study for hours and hours, rather than study effectively. If you buy into that idea, you’re likely to measure your success by how long you spend at your desk, rather than how much you learn. You might spend that time doing a hundred questions on a topic you’re familiar with, and get them all right. But after all that, are you really any better than you already were?
Instead of wasting your time learning to do something you already know, you should use the beginning of your study sessions to create a plan of attack for the areas you don’t know so well. Write down the parts of the subject you don’t know, to keep yourself on task. It takes effort, and mental energy, to do this – but it’ll save you hours of wasted study time!
Utilise past papers where possible.
If you’re studying for a subject where you can access past exam papers, make sure you use these. They are a valuable resource, and are the best way to check your knowledge against what will be required in the actual exam.
One of the best ways to simulate exam conditions is to do an entire past paper under timed conditions. This can be difficult, especially in subjects with longer tests, but it’s a great way to check whether you can get through everything in the allotted time. Remember, it doesn’t matter how well you understand a concept – if you miss out a question in the exam because you couldn’t get through it fast enough, you won’t get the marks! Use past papers to learn how to pace yourself on the day, so you can prevent this from happening.
If you’re doing a subject without easily accessible past papers, then speak to your teachers. Often, they’ll be happy to provide papers from previous years, or a set of questions which simulates the exam conditions well.
Got something wrong? Make sure you understand why.
Nobody likes getting an answer wrong. But when you’re studying, a mistake is a learning opportunity! As the old saying goes, the only true mistake is not learning from what you did wrong.
A bad habit which many people fall into is moving on too quickly after making a mistake. This is especially common if you think you’ve made a ‘silly mistake’ – these happen to everyone! The best course of action, though, is to go back and analyse this mistake. Figure out exactly where it happened, and make a note of how to avoid it in the future. You may even want to keep a logbook of errors, so you can see at a glance where you’re most prone to making mistakes.
It’s better to make mistakes while you’re studying than in the final exam, so make sure you see every mistake as a chance to prevent the same thing happening again!
Make sure to sleep!
We’ve talked quite a bit about working smarter, not harder. When it comes to crunch time, it can be tempting to sacrifice sleep for a couple hours of extra study.
Firstly, if you’ve used our techniques, hopefully you’ve prepared well enough before the exam that you don’t need to stay up late cramming the night before! More importantly, though, missing out on sleep will actually have a detrimental effect on your ability to think in the exam, and often won’t be worth the extra study.
If you’re regularly losing sleep over an entire exam period, your performance is likely to be severely inhibited by the time you’re halfway through. This will affect your exam performance. So make sure you get enough sleep – at least 8 hours per night, and sometimes more if you’ve been working hard all day. It’s worth it!
Talk to people who know what they’re doing.
Sometimes, despite your best efforts, you can get well and truly stuck on a concept. In this case, it’s helpful to turn to people who can point you in the right direction.
A good first step would be to talk to your teacher at school. Remember, they’re there to help you out, and will usually be more than happy to give you some one-to-one help on a problem! Your parents, friends, or an external tutor might also be a good resource in this case.
Our teachers at EduExperts have years of experience guiding students through all levels of schooling, and are an invaluable resource for improving overall performance. If you want to supercharge your education, get in touch with your local centre today!