I think you were taught to study wrong.
As soon as we are born we have to learn things quickly. I've sat hundreds of exams, learned thousands of new concepts in five years of medical school and had to study smarter, not harder for postgraduate surgical exams during my time as a doctor.
Along the way, I've read, experimented, and learned so much when it comes to the way that our brains store, recall, and forget information.
Here are 42 study tips with a bonus 43rd at the end!
Let's get straight into it.
1. Understand Metalearning
Metalearning means learning how to learn and it's the single most impactful skill I have ever learned. Once I understood that the top students were using active methods of studying like self-testing rather than passive methods like simply reading a book my grades went through the roof.
One of the best books on this is called Make It Stick and this massively helped me understand that being a top student isn't about intelligence it's about understanding how to learn and using effective study techniques.
2. Create Your Perfect Study Space
There’s a delicate balance when it comes to the best study spot: You need a place that’s comfortable without being so relaxing that you end up falling asleep.
For some people, that means working at a desk. Others do better on the couch or at the kitchen table. Your bed, on the other hand, may be too comfy. Surrounding yourself with peace and quiet helps you focus. If your kids are being loud or there’s construction going on outside your window, you might need to relocate to an upstairs bedroom, a quiet cafe or your local library.
3. Use Background Sounds & Lofi Music
Turning off the television, talk radio and your favorite pop song doesn’t mean that you have to study in total silence. Soft background sounds are a great alternative.
Some people enjoy listening to nature sounds, such as ocean waves or cracks of thunder. My personal preference is lo-fi study tracks on spotify and there is evidence to show that this relaxes our brains and helps us get into a flow state.
4. Snack on Brain Food
A growling stomach can distract us from studying, so feel free to snack as you work. Keep your snacks within arm’s reach, so you don’t have to leave your books to find food.
Fuel your next study session with some of the following items:
- Lean deli meat
- Grapes or apple slices
- Dark chocolate
Go for snacks that will power your brain and keep you alert. Steer clear of items that are high in sugar, fat and processed carbs.
Mindlessly reading through your notes or textbooks isn’t an effective method of studying; it doesn’t help you process the information. Instead, you should use a proven study strategy that will help you think through the material and retain the information.
5. Pick a Reading Method That Works for You- SQ3R Method
With the SQ3R approach to reading, you’ll learn to think critically about a text.
There are five steps:
- Survey: Skim through the assigned material. Focus on headings, words in bold print and any diagrams.
- Question: Ask yourself questions related to the topic.
- Read: Read the text carefully. As you go, look for answers to your questions.
- Recite: Tell yourself the answers to your questions. Write notes about them, even.
- Review: Go over the material again by rereading the text and reading your notes aloud.
6. Pick a Reading Method That Works for You - PQ4R Method
PQ4R is another study strategy that can help you digest the information you read.
This approach has six steps:
- Preview: Skim the material. Read the titles, headings and other highlighted text.
- Question: Think through questions that pertain to the material.
- Read: As you work through the material, try to find answers to your questions.
- Reflect: Consider whether you have any unanswered questions or new questions.
- Recite: Speak aloud about the things you just read.
- Review: Look over the material one more time.
7. Pick a Reading Method That Works for You – THIEVES Method
The THIEVES approach can help you prepare to read for information.
There are seven pre-reading steps:
- Title: Read the title.
- Headings: Look through the headings.
- Introduction: Skim the intro.
- Every first sentence in a section: Take a look at how each section begins.
- Visuals and vocabulary: Look at the pictures and the words in bold print.
- End questions: Review the questions at the end of the chapter.
- Summary: Read the overview of the text.
Ask yourself thought-provoking questions as you work through these steps. After completing them, read the text.
8. Summarize Properly
One good way to get information to stick in your brain is to say it again in your own words. Writing out a summary can be especially effective but there is a correct way to summarize content. Just copying information is very passive wheras if you close your book or laptop and then summarize back without any reference materials this is much more active and will force you to test your understanding of what you have learned so far.
You can organize your summaries in paragraph form or in outline form.
Keep in mind that you shouldn’t include every bit of information in a summary. Stick to the key points.
9. Create Your Own Flashcards
For an easy way to quiz yourself, prepare notecards that feature a keyword on one side and important facts or definitions about that topic on the reverse.
Writing out the cards will help you learn the information. Quizzing yourself on the cards will continue that reinforcement.
The great thing about flashcards is that they’re easily portable. Slip them in your bag, so you can pull them out whenever you have a spare minute. This is a fantastic way to squeeze in extra practice time outside of your regularly scheduled study sessions.
As an alternative to paper flashcards, you can also use a computer program or a smartphone app to make digital flashcards that you can click through again and again.
10. Improve Recall with Association
Sometimes your brain could use an extra hand to help you hold onto the information that you’re studying. Creating imaginary pictures, crafting word puzzles or doing other mental exercises can help make your material easier to remember.
Try improving recall with the following ideas:
- Sing the information to a catchy tune.
- Think of a mnemonic phrase in which the words start with the same letters as the words that you need to remember.
- Draw a picture that helps you make a humorous connection between the new information and the things that you already know.
- Envision what it would be like to experience your topic in person. Imagine the sights, sounds, smells and more.
- Think up rhymes or tongue twisters that can help the information stick in your brain.
- Visualize the details with a web-style mind map that illustrates the relationships between concepts.
11. Absorb Information in Smaller Chunks
Think about how you memorize a phone number: You divide the 10-digit number into three smaller groups. It’s easier to get these three chunks to stick in your mind than it is to remember the whole thing as a single string of information.
You can use this strategy when studying by breaking a list down into smaller parts. Work on memorizing each part as its own group.
12. Make Your Own Study Sheet
Condensing your most important notes onto one page is an excellent way to keep priority information at your fingertips. The more you look over this sheet and read it aloud, the better that you’ll know the material.
Furthermore, the act of typing or writing out the information will help you memorize the details. Using different colors or lettering styles can help you picture the information later.
Just like flashcards, a study sheet is portable. You can pull it out of your bag whenever you have a spare minute.
13. Be the Teacher
To teach information to others, you first have to understand it yourself. Therefore, when you’re trying to learn something new, challenge yourself to consider how you’d teach it to someone else. Wrestling with this concept will help you gain a better understanding of the topic.
In fact, you can even recruit a friend, a family member or a study group member to listen to your mini-lesson. Reciting your presentation aloud to someone else will help the details stick in your mind, and your audience may be able to point out gaps in your knowledge.
14. Know When to Call It a Day
Yes, you really can get too much of a good thing. Although your studies are important, they shouldn’t be the only thing in your life. It’s also important to have a social life, get plenty of exercise, and take care of your non-school responsibilities.
Studies show that too much time with your nose in the books can elevate your stress level, which can have a negative effect on your school performance and your personal relationships.
Too much studying may also keep you from getting enough exercise. This could lower your bone density or increase your percentage of body fat.
15. Take Regular Breaks
Study sessions will be more productive if you allow yourself to take planned breaks. Consider a schedule of 50 minutes spent working followed by a 10-minute break.
Don't try to push through for hours on end. Every hour, take a pause for a few minutes.
Breaks are beneficial for your mental health. They also enhance your attention span, creativity and productivity. During a break, it's ideal to exercise and get moving around.
Taking regular breaks from studying is important. When you need a break, get up and do something simple like stretching or drinking some water. You can also use this as an opportunity to check your phone or respond to emails. When your 10 minutes are up, however, it's time to get back to work. At the end of a long study session, try to allow yourself a longer break — half an hour, perhaps — before you move on to other responsibilities.
16. Exercise Before Studying
Before studying, consider exercising first. Scientists have shown that exercise has the potential to grow your brain. It's most effective at generating new brain cells when it's immediately followed by learning new information. There are also short term benefits to exercising before studying, as physical activity helps wake you up and make you feel alert.
To boost the flow of blood to your brain, do thirty minutes of aerobic exercise prior to sitting down to study. Cardio exercise provides your brain with oxygen and fundamental nutrients which may help you think clearly, remember facts and produce your best work.
17. Practice Mindfulness Before (and after) Studying
There are lots of studies that show that just 5-minutes of mindful meditation before and after a study session can help to boost our memory retention from a learning session while also reducing our stress and anxiety levels.
It may be hard to include it in your hectic agenda, but setting aside time for mindfulness practices can be hugely beneficial. Meditating during study sessions has been proven to improve test results and attentiveness.
Mindfulness applications can assist you in beginning this practice.
18. Prime Before Class
After class, it's a good idea to review and revise your notes. If they are incomplete, take time to fill in the missing details. Rewriting your notes can help you retain the information better, and adding helpful diagrams or pictures is also effective. Additionally, if there are concepts in your notes that you don't understand, ask your professor for help.
19. Start With The Toughest Concepts
It's best to start with your toughest assignments first when studying. Trying to get your least challenging tasks done first helps to avoid having them hanging over your head all study session. Furthermore, if you end with your favorite assignments, it will give you a more positive feeling about your academic pursuits.
20. Focus On Understanding Not Cramming
When prepping for a test or exam, it's important to study for understanding, and not just to be able to regurgitate information the next morning.
Cramming the night before might help you get a decent grade, but it won't help you really learn the material. To really understand the subject matter, focus on key vocabulary, look up words, and make study sheets or flashcards. Commit yourself to long-term learning by studying throughout the semester.
21. Begin Studying at Least One Week in Advance
You may need to put in extra time before a big test, but you shouldn't postpone it until the night before. Instead, during the week prior to the assessment, reserve a designated hour each day for studying. Persistent learning will aid you to truly understand the material.
22. Spend At Least One Hour per Day Studying
One week ahead of a significant test, study for an hour each evening. In case you have two major exams coming up, expand your daily study time and parcel it between the two topics. The day preceding the assessment, devote as much time as possible to studying, even the entire day.
23. Create a Study Outline
Early on in the week, come up with a comprehensive outline that encompasses many details from your notes. Rewrite it few days later, however cut the content in half. Close to the test, compose it again; only this time, include just the most essential information. Test yourself on what is missing.
24. Do Sample Problems and Worked Examples
This tip will get you top grades if you're finding certain topics difficult. Instead of trying to figure out complex problems by yourself try and find sample questions and worked examples that walkthrough how to solve a difficult question.
Worked examples help to reduce our cognitive load by simplifying the steps to solves a difficult question and you can then apply what you've learned to similar questions.
25. Study Right Before Bed
Although you should not pull all-nighters, studying right before bedtime can be beneficial. Sleep assists in solidifying information in your mind. Studies suggest that you are more likely to recall the information 24 hours later provided you went to bed shortly after learning it. Right before bed, peruse your study sheet, question yourself on flashcards or pronounce lists of information.
26. Study Small Chunks at a Time
If you want to remember the information in the long run, don't attempt to cram it all in during one interval. Rather, utilize an approach named spaced repetition: Break the information into parts; learn one new part at a time over the course of days or weeks; review your earlier knowledge each time you study. The brain stores data that it deems important. Therefore, when you regularly go over a topic at set periods over time, it solidifies your memory of it.
27. Tell a Story
Occasionally, you just require to make the information entertaining in order to assist it to stick in your mind. To remember a list of items or the exact order of events, come up with an amusing story that interlinks those terms or words. It does not necessarily need to make sense; it just has to be unforgettable.
28. Change Study Locations Often
Studying the same information in numerous locations aids the details imprint in your memory better. Consider some of the following places: your desk at home, a coffee shop, the library, your backyard, a park. It is preferable to alternate between multiple different study spots instead of continuously studying in the same place.
29. Swap Topics Regularly
Continuously focusing your brain on the same information for longer durations is not advantageous. It is wiser to switch between one subject and the other a couple of times throughout a long study session. Along those same lines, you should study the same material in multiple ways. Studies indicate that using diverse study approaches for the same topic assists you to perform better on tests.
30. Quiz Yourself
Test yourself to see what you can remember. Quizzing yourself is like practicing for the exam, and it is one of the most effective methods of memory retention.
31. Go Old-school: Use a Pen and Paper
The process of writing answers can aid in remembering the information. Here are a few methods for using writing while studying:
- Rewriting your notes
- Writing out the answers to flashcards
- Creating a study sheet
- Practicing writing essay answers
Writing by hand is particularly advantageous since it requires complete concentration and focus.
32. See It & Hear It
Speaking information out loud increases the likelihood of remembering it. By doing this, you are engaging your eyes to read the words, your mouth to pronounce them, and your ears to hear yourself.
Scientists refer to this benefit as the 'production effect'.
33. Form a Study Group
Working with a study group keeps you accountable, making it more difficult to delay your work. Studying together enables you to fill in gaps of understanding, as well as quiz each other on the material.
Moreover, studying with a group can be enjoyable!
34. Grab a Coffee
Consuming coffee (or whichever energetic beverage you prefer) while studying could help keep you awake so that you don't drift off in the middle of a session. Additionally, research demonstrates that caffeine can enhance memory skills.
Avoid sugary drinks, however, since they could cause your energy level to plummet soon after.
35. Reward Yourself
Studies show that giving yourself a reward for accomplishing your work makes the effort more enjoyable. Do it straight away; don't wait until after the test to celebrate.
For instance, after completing a three-hour study session, you could treat yourself to an ice cream cone or a calming bath.
36. Play Some Music
Listening to music can help you focus. Studies show that the best study music is anything that includes a rhythmic beat. Pick a style that you like - if you prefer classical that's fine, but electronica or modern piano solos are also suitable.
37. Grab Some Walnuts
A diet abundant in omega-3 fatty acids helps your brain do its best work. Source of omega 3 fatty acids include:
- Fish: cod liver oil, salmon, mackerel
- Vegetables: spinach, Brussels sprouts
To lessen pre-test anxiety, consume a combination of omega-3 and omega-6 foods.
38. Get Some Sleep
Although studying is essential, it can't replace sleep. Sleep provides your brain a chance to process the information that you've learned throughout the day.
If you don't get enough sleep, you'll have difficulty focusing and remembering information. Even during busy testing weeks, aim for seven to nine hours of sleep each night.
39. Use The Best Study Apps
Do you digest content quickly, or do you need time to let the material sink in? Only you know what pace is best for you. There’s no right (or wrong) study pace. So, don’t try matching someone else’s speed. Instead, through trial and error, find what works for you. Just remember that slower studying will require that you devote more time to your schoolwork.
40. Ditch Your Phone
Interruptions from your phone are notorious for breaking your concentration. If you pull away to check a notification, you’ll have to refocus your brain before diving back into your studies. Consider turning off your phone’s sounds or putting your device into do not disturb mode before you start. You can also download apps to temporarily block your access to social media. If you’re still tempted to check your device, simply power it off until you’re finished studying.
42. Focus On Quality Rather Than Quantity
Instead of trying to do a set number of hours of studying research has shown that it's much more beneficial to set intentional learning goals. This might be challenging ourselves to do a set number of questions correctly or being able to speak a sentence in a language we're learning without mistakes. These goals are linked to the quality of the work rather than simply spending hours in the library and leaving unable to remember anything.
43. Schedule Study Sessions Around Your Life
You have to be intentional about planning set study sessions. On your calendar, mark out chunks of time that you can devote to your studies. You should aim to schedule some study time each day, but other commitments may necessitate that some sessions are longer than others. Harder classes require more study time.