Lectures, assignments, projects, records, homework, exams… The list of things to do as a student is long and endless. Afterall, there’s no end to learning. On top of these things, there are numerous other activities, commitments and events to attend to. Who said a student’s life is easy?
With everything demanding your time and attention, it becomes so important to make the best use of whatever hours you squeeze out of your day to study. But, we know how that’s easier said than done.
Time is one of the most important resources at hand and hence, scientists have extensively researched for ways to maximise the output from the hours that we put into studying. If you often think – “How to study effectively for exams in a short time? How to study smart and effectively?” – this article will help you out.
The last thing you want is to be the person who sits on the study desk all day and yet ends up accomplishing very little. Studying effectively will not only improve your grades but also will give you ample time to lead a balanced life.
Let’s look at some well researched scientific ways to study more effectively.
1. Follow the Study Cycle
The study cycle which was developed by Frank Christ breaks studying into different parts – previewing, attending class, reviewing, studying, and checking your understanding. Although they seem pretty obvious and intuitive, very few people actually follow them.
For instance, you might overlook the need for previewing a course material before class and think that you can make do without it as the teacher will cover the concepts anyway. But, when you preview your concepts, you end up learning through two different modes – reading and listening. The repetition and distributed practise that you get from both reading ahead and attending class will make your study more effective.
Also reviewing after the class will help you remember the data for longer periods. After studying, you need to check to what extent you have understood the topic (using different techniques like flashcards etc..). If while checking your understanding you realise that you didn’t grasp the concept well, you should get back to your teacher and clear your doubts before moving forward.
2. Take Planned Study Breaks
Studying effectively doesn’t mean you need to study continuously for hours together. Short study sessions are more effective and help you make the most of your time by improving both focus and attention.
You have to take a 10 to 15-minute break for every 90 minutes you study. But, taking a break doesn’t mean you surf the internet, check facebook, twitter, celebrity blogs or google chats. They are purely meant for you to breathe, stretch and refocus. So, go out, take a walk or take a shower or meditate phone a friend or cook a healthy meal during your break.
3. Choose Your Study Area(s) Wisely
Choosing an effective area to study is also one of the most important things you have to keep in mind when you want to study effectively. “You need to choose a quiet, well-lit and distraction-free place.” Sounds like a familiar advice? Well, it doesn’t work for everyone.
The needs from a study area differ from person to person. Some may want a pin drop silence while concentrating. Some might feel comfortable with some background noise. Some people like listening to classical music to improve their concentration while others find it distracting. So, it’s important to identify what works better for you and to stick with.
In one interesting experiment conducted in 1987, psychologists found that college students who memorized a list of 40 vocabulary words in two different rooms did far better on a test than students who studied the words twice, in the same room. That’s another hack for you to make your study even more efficient!
If possible, find not only one but find several study areas so that you can change up your space whenever you get bored of it. Studies have found that instead of sticking to one study location, simply alternating the room where a person studies improves retention.
4. Teach What You Learn
Do you have a friend who studies all the topics beforehand and later teaches them to your entire friends group? That’s the person you should aspire to be if you want to learn better and score better.
The learning-by-teaching method has been studied extensively and it’s found to be more effective than simply revisiting the previously learnt concepts on your own.
Become a teacher and try to explain the material you have studied in your own words. You can teach your friends, family or to yourself. Just as a teacher does, use examples and make connections between topics. This will help you identify your weak areas where you are confused or have gaps in understanding. To work on your memory, try teaching without any study notes in your hand. At first you may rely on it but eventually you should be able to teach without your notes. Also, when you teach concepts to someone using your own voice and words, it retains better in your memory.
In the process of teaching yourself, you might be asked some questions that you don’t know the answers to. Note them down and carry them with you so you can review those questions and answers periodically throughout the day and across several days. This helps you in retaining the information and making corrections in your memory when they are needed.
5. Recall Tests Are Your Friends
How do you usually study a concept? Do you understand the key topics and revisit them after sometime or a few days to check how you remember? Or, do you test what you’ve learnt at the end of your study session?
A research revealed that while it seems like you remember concepts better when you revisit them, that’s not how memory works. In order to retain what you learn, taking a recall test right after studying a concept works the best. This phenomenon of increased retention is called test-enhanced learning.
Start looking at tests not as a means of assessment but as a powerful tool for learning. Whenever you learn a new concept, test how well you understood it by following it up with a recall test.
6. Work With Mixed Problem Sets
For technical subjects like mathematics, physics, economics, etc., working and re-working on the problems is very important. While solving, you should be able to explain yourself the steps of the problem and why they work. This is more effective than simply reading the text.
But even when you are working with problem sets, it’s important to choose mixed problem sets that require the use of multiple types of strategies instead of just one. If you just practice problems that involve use of one strategy, then your mind doesn’t have to work much. It already knows what steps to follow.
The mixed problem sets closely mimic the pattern of assessment tests and hence it’s more effective to use them to study. If you don’t have mixed problem sets to work with, create your own. During exams time, prepare a large mixed pool of questions from the course material that you think might appear in the exam and work on them while focusing on the strategy you use to solve each question.
Scientifically, practicing problems from the same lesson is known as blocked practice and practicing mixed problems is known as mixed review. The latter strategy is found to be more effective for learning.
7. Use Note-Taking Strategies
For an effective study in shorter times, proper note-taking is very important. The process of making notes by hand helps in retaining the concepts. It also gives you an understanding of what topics and sub-topics are important to study. Hence, it’s strongly recommended that you form the habit of making good notes.
SQ5R and Cornell Notes are the two scientifically proven methods of note-taking that work like wonders. SQ5R is a short form of Survey, Question, Read, Record, Recite, Review and Reflect. In this method, firstly, for about 7 to 10 minutes, you need to skim through the textbook and mark all the important areas. Then, jot down all the questions that can be asked in the sides of the marked important areas. Now, read, record and recite all the content. Lastly, test yourself by asking yourself the questions you have noted.
The Cornell notes is a three-column configuration of taking notes. It helps memorizing and recalling the information much easier. The left column will be the Cue column and the right column will be the Note-taking column. And, the last section at the bottom is the summary section. Cornell note taking strategy is most widely used as it emphasises on ‘Do it right the first time’. So, when revising, you can easily cover the right column to get an idea of the main concepts and go in depth of the questions and details about the same mentioned in the left column.
Reviewing the notes within 24 hours of making them is a strongly recommended study practice.
8. Shift Between Subject Categories
Our mind tends to avoid making any effort at learning. To counter this tendency of mind to get lazy, shifting between subjects has been found effective. This method of studying where you divide your time between various subjects/skills while learning is known as interleaving or spacing. This strategy forces the brain to continually work hard because each practice attempt is different from the last. Hence, you are able to retain whatever you learn.
For example, you can divide your study subjects into various categories.
- Memory dependent subjects – like Biology, History, Geography
- Problem Solving Subjects – like Maths, Physics
- Interpretation based subjects – like English
Each of these subjects require different part of your brain to be active. This avoids your mind from going into a passive state of learning. You make the best use of your time and learn as much as possible.
How to study effectively for long hours?
Studying effectively requires a very scientific and systematic approach to studying. You can not just sit on your desk to clock in study hours and expect great results. How you study makes all the difference. Not only this, you need to keep your mind working actively while you study. When studying for long hours is needed, you must do the following things to keep your mind working at its best capacity.
1. Avoid multitasking
There are many studies which indicated that multi-tasking does not improve efficiency and actually negatively affects results. In order to study effectively without much hard work, you need to avoid all of your distractions during your study sessions.
Multi-tasking (like texting while studying) will increase the amount of time needed to learn material and decrease the quality of the learning. Turn off your phone and don’t use the computer unless you need it for study purposes. Use applications that help you in setting up a time limit on other applications during the day.
2. Exercise daily
To study effectively for longer hours, have a 30-minute session of vigorous, sweat-inducing cardiovascular exercises everyday.
Exercising not only improves your physique but also helps in boosting learning ability and long-term memory. It also improves concentration, alertness and motivation. A research by the University of Texas say that the Physical activity can have both immediate and long-term benefits on academic performance. Almost immediately after engaging in physical activity, children are better able to concentrate on classroom tasks, which can enhance learning.
3. Maintain good health
And lastly, eat healthy and maintain a positive attitude towards your studies.
You brain guzzles over 20 per cent of the daily energy intake even though it only constitutes 2 per cent of the total body weight. Also, studies have shown that academic learning is one of the non-pleasurable mentally exhausting tasks. Therefore, it is very important to eat according to the sustainability of the energy levels when doing such tasks. You need to consume higher proportions of low Glycemic Index (GI) foods like oats, porridge, low-sugar muesli, granola bars, low-fat dairy, soups, salads, yoghurt with seeds/ nuts, wholegrain, and most fruits.
Knowing different tips and hack to study smart and effectively will benefit you for a lifetime. They help you in retaining large amounts of information and learning it quickly. However, as discussed above, not all work for everyone. So, it is your job to try each and every hack and find which will work for you and study accordingly.