8 Ways to Study Smart

Use these tips to study smarter, not harder, for your next exam

8 Ways to Study Smarter

Exams and quizzes make up the majority of the grades you’ll receive in college. They can be extremely stressful and tend to be rather unenjoyable for most of us. Still, doing well is a necessary evil for success in college. But don’t make studying into more of a chore than it needs to be! Use these eight tips to step up your study game and perform better on your exams:

1) Don’t Study in Your Room

Your environment helps form the way you think and process information. Factors like comfort, setting-aesthetics, ambiance, and even lighting can influence your ability to concentrate and determine the ease in which you retain data.

Have you ever tried to study near a window only to be distracted by the sight of others having fun? Or perhaps you’ve tried concentrating in a noisy room as your thoughts wandered due to the influence of sporadic words entering your mind. It happens to the best of us. But this is why your room is a bad place to study.

Although it’s convenient, the potential distraction of roommates, television, and excess comfort can harm your productive efforts. When you can, seek out a place where you can consistently concentrate, undisturbed, for at least 30-50 minutes. Libraries tend to be common but they aren’t always the most optimal setting.

Experiment and find the place that suits you best.

2) Study in 30-50 minute blocks

This may defy contemporary wisdom. Typically, when people study they tend to either study in extremely short sessions or in extremely long sessions. Granted, for some people, a super short or super long time is optimal for the individual. However, for most people, about 30 to 50 minutes is the ideal time for uninterrupted studying.

Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Allow enough time for adequate breaks in order to give your brain more time to absorb the information. Studies indicate that 30-50 minutes of uninterrupted studying at a time works for most people.

This range is optimal for allowing your brain to both process information and maintain it in your long-term memory.

3) Start studying at least 1 week before the exam/quiz date

Cramming is easily one of the most inefficient methods of studying and yet so many college students rely on it. Why is it bad? Well, your brain simply cannot remember large amounts of information in a short amount of time. For this reason, it’s important to give yourself enough time to truly comprehend the information.

By studying at least one week before your exam or quiz date (the earlier the better), you can ensure that you have enough time to absorb the necessary information and all of the potential components that may be required on an exam or quiz. Of course, this typically applies to tests and quizzes that may be more information-heavy and have multiple components.

4) Never pull an all-nighter

While you might think the additional hours are providing you more time to absorb the necessary information, what typically occurs is actually the opposite. Sleep is extremely vital to your brain performing at optimal levels and allows you to retain the necessary information. You need sleep! Also, all-nighters tend to be the least productive means of studying.

The assumption is that by foregoing sleep one can get a few more hours of studying done. Realistically, one might only achieve about an additional one hour, if not less, of productive studying. The reason for this is because your mental capacity is diminished by a lack of sleep and your ability to concentrate and process the information is heavily decreased.

Even if you think you understand it during that moment, you’re merely setting yourself up to blank out during the exam itself (if you’re pulling an all-nighter, you’re probably also cramming which only allows you to memorize items for the short-term).

5) Don’t Just re-read the notes you took

Admit it. You know you’ve done this before. To prepare for a test you simply glossed over the notes you took in class or highlighted them from the textbook until they stuck in your short-term memory.

It’s alright. Many of us are guilty of this studying crime.

The truth is, however, that this technique is self-defeating and leads to a false sense of comprehension. Rather than just re-read the notes that you took from class, extrapolate from them.

Don’t just scan your notes and try to memorize. Your goal should be to truly comprehend the information and also be able to apply it

Try to dissect the information and recall the significance of the notes and how they apply to the chapter or section as a whole. If taking a science or math class that’s heavier on processes, try to visualize the information and work through the process mentally.

Trust me, this works far more than simply attempting to memorize steps. You’ll thank me when it comes time to take your test. By doing this, you’ll be more prepared for your test/quiz as you’re applying the information rather than simply attempting to memorize and regurgitate.

6) Use Acronyms

While I don’t recommend simply memorizing concepts (since they don’t equate to direct comprehension), I do think there are times when memorization is critical. For example, if you have to memorize the steps of a process it helps to have a guide. This is where acronyms become useful.

In case you weren’t aware, acronyms are abbreviated forms of a word or words used for simplicity. You’ve certainly used these before (A.M, NASA, LOL, NFL just to name a few). Acronyms can essentially take the guesswork out of a process or steps by creating a unique word that can easily be memorized or referred to.

For anyone that’s taken high school algebra, you may be familiar with PEMDAS, which refers to the order of operations one needs to take when completing a basic math equation. Acronyms don’t need to be so ambiguous. Have fun with them! Make something interesting that easily sticks. During my senior year of College, I had to take a genetics course. As part of the course, we had to understand the exact steps of Mitosis. To help memorize the steps, the professor suggested the acronym: Pass Me Another Tequila, Crazy! This stood for Prophase, Metaphase, Anaphase, Telophase, and Cytokinesis.

As you can imagine, this was a pretty effective way of memorizing the steps (I still haven’t forgotten). But don’t be afraid to get creative and funny with your acronyms. The easier they are to recall, the more effective they’ll be.

7) Teach other people

The philosopher Seneca is credited with saying, “While we teach, we learn”. Arguably one of the most effective manners of studying is actually by teaching others (also known as the Protégé Effect).

Why’s this method so effective?

It forces you to adapt the material to whoever you’re teaching so they can understand. Furthermore, in order to teach others, you’re forced to learn more about the material yourself and understand it from different levels. In other words, you’ll need to truly be able to comprehend the material rather than simply have it memorized (remember, memorization is mostly an inefficient way to learn and study for a test).

8) Abide by the 8-hr rule

This rule is extremely important and refers back to my earlier gripes with cramming. The 8-hour rule indicates that you should be prepared for a quiz or test 8 hours before the test date. If you find yourself still stressing or cramming for an exam 8 hours prior then that’s a telltale sign that you need to re-evaluate your study habits and plan ahead better next time.

Your last 8 hours should be for mental preparation. You shouldn’t be cramming material during this time period

During the 8 hours prior to the test, you’ve probably learned the bulk of what you could for the test. While you might be able to learn a little bit more, you certainly won’t be able to learn all of the content for an exam within 8 hours.

BONUS: Talk to your TAs

This tip isn’t foolproof so I wouldn’t recommend relying on it. However, at times your TAs might be your biggest asset when preparing for a test. TAs tend to be younger and inexperienced (when compared to your professor) and less likely to withhold information. In many cases, your TAs might also be a fellow student or perhaps a graduate student.

While your professors will attempt to steer clear of providing unnecessary details to the exam, the TAs might be more willing to provide more insight to what will specifically be on an exam or how to tackle specific questions. If you’re totally clueless, try to seek some advice from your TA. With this being said, don’t expect a TA to simply give you an answer.

Hopefully, these tips help you ace your future exams. I guarantee that if you stick to these eight steps above, you’ll kill your future exams and quizzes. As usual, thanks for reading! If you think this information could benefit someone else feel free to share using the social media buttons on the left side of the page! Also, if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to shoot me an email or leave a comment. I’d be glad to hear from you! Thanks again. And stay positive!