For many people, studying means pouring yourself into your textbooks and notes for hours and hours only to end up stressed, exhausted, and with not much progress made.
The first step to studying smarter is to figure out how you learn. Everybody is different and one person’s method may not be as effective for another.
1. Don’t miss a class
‘A’ students never miss a class. They also never miss the beginning or end of a class, because important announcements about exams and projects are often made then. If you find you lose concentration during lectures, record them on your phone or a simple voice recorder and listen again later.
2. Review your notes quickly and often
After a lecture or class, read through your notes quickly again. It helps store the information in your long-term memory.
3. Organise your notes visually
It helps to re-write the key points of a class or subject as a diagram – try using a mind-map or flow chart, or colour coding key elements of the topic. Then you can give it a quick glance before you go into an exam.
4. Plan ahead
Make sure you allow enough time for assignments and exam revision. At the beginning of each term, note down due dates and exam dates on a planner, and schedule in time for research, editing and final review.
5. Explain things to others
It helps you get things clearer in your head if you try to explain your answers verbally to people who do not know much about the subject. Your parents and annoying siblings could be useful for this!
6. Study in short chunks
Short study sessions help the synapses in your brain process information much better than lots of information in long sessions. Try setting aside 30 minutes before or after work to dedicate to your study. Avoid all-nighters, start planning and reading early in the study period and make a study schedule.
7. Get in the zone
Create the ideal study space, and gather all the books and items you will need. This prep time also prepares the brain for study. Also, limit distractions – if you must listen to music, choose melodic music without lyrics and of course, leave your phone alone and stay off social media.
8. Sleep well and exercise
You absorb information better when you’re alert, well-fed and rested – and even better after you’ve exercised. It’s important to ensure you’ve consumed nutritious foods to get your brain powered up – things like fish, nuts, berries and yoghurt. It also pays to stay hydrated and get up to move in between your 30-minute sessions.
9. Write flash cards
Your brain stores information better when you’ve written something down after you’re read or heard it. So this means you’ll probably have to lose the highlighter and start writing the essentials on flashcards. A good system to use is the Leitner System, which utilises the principle of spaced repetition and increasing intervals.
10. Connect the dots
Learning to make connections when you consume information pays dividends. While you study, think of the various ways that the information you are reading, watching or listening to is connected to one another. This is called contextual learning. Try to group related information on one flashcard.
11. Set goals
Make a list of study goals and tick them off when you complete them. Not only will it motivate you and give you a sense of achievement, it will help you feel in control and reduce any study stress.
12. Aim to teach it
Tests have shown that people who study material to teach it to others, absorb the information more logically than those who are merely studying for themselves. A US study has shown that students who engaged in peer learning scored significantly higher on a reading test than the students who had not, indicating the effectiveness peer tutoring can have on academic achievement.
Bonus: Be kind to yourself
Try to stick to a regular routine. And get enough sleep — not just the night before the test but for weeks or months on end. “Those things are really, really important for learning,” Nebel says. Exercise helps as well, she says.
Don’t stress out if all of this seems like a lot, she adds. If a lot seems new, try adding just one new study skill each week or two. Or at least space out your study sessions and practice retrieval for the first few months. As you get more practice, you can add more skills. And if you need help, ask.
Finally, if you struggle to follow the advice above (such as you can’t keep track of time or find it very hard to just sit and focus on your work), you may have an undiagnosed condition, such as ADHD. To find out, check with your doctor. The good news: It may be treatable.
Doing schoolwork during a pandemic is a tough situation at best. But remember your teachers and classmates also face challenges. Like you, they have fears, concerns and questions. Be willing to cut them some slack. And be kind to yourself as well. After all, Kornell says, “we’re all in this together.”