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How to Study Effectively: Tips for Motivation and Preparing for Exams

You could be putting all the time in the world into your studies, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you are studying as effectively as possible. Studying smart, instead of studying hard, is the key to maximising your efforts.

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to studying effectively. There are countless methods and hacks to getting more from your studies. This guide is here to help you find some new ways to organise, motivate and maximise your learning outcomes.  

Girl studies in class

How to Study Effectively: 5 Ways

Finding out what works for you is an ongoing process. If you’re coming up to an exam period, or just need to mix things up, try out these five proven methods for effective study and see which works for you.  

1. Switch everything up

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity can be applied to your studies. If the information just isn’t being retained in your mind, you need to switch up the way you’re taking in information.

You can do this in any number of ways. For example, change up your surroundings by either moving seats in the class or changing rooms if you’re studying at home. Discover which learning environment suits you best. It might not be that the silence of the library is most effective for you – a natural hum of noise in the background may help you concentrate.

Switching up the medium of learning is important too. Endlessly reading pages of notes may sometimes hinder rather than help your efforts to retain information. Instead, consider engaging different areas of the brain with different types of media. Branch out to watching videos, creating mind maps, solving problems or completing online quizzes. The more areas of the brain you engage, the more chance you have of success.

Finally, change up your subject. Research from the University of South Florida shows that studying two subjects a day is more effective than just one.

2. Don’t cram everything in

There’s no point being taught theories, ideas, and events if you’re just going to forget everything tomorrow. Retaining information is difficult, but one mistake many make is to try and cram information into their heads over a short period. It takes time for things to seep into your long-term memory, and you need an effective strategy in place to ensure it does.

A study from York University shows how periodic learning is a more effective tool than cramming. It involves spreading study of a subject over the months after it has been initially taught to you. Return to the information several times to refresh your memory, giving you more chance to remember it in the long-term.

It could be that you study better in short, intense sessions too. One effective studying strategy involves spreading learning out over several 30-45 minutes sessions, rather than sitting down for a two-hour haul. This way, your brain is more likely to be engaged for the whole session.  

3. Be free from distractions

This is one of the most obvious pieces of studying advice to give, yet it is one we are all guilty of ignoring. The modern world is full of distractions – the buzzing of the smartphone from your pocket, the sound of your favourite TV show in the background, the endless possibilities for procrastination on your computer.

Research shows that distractions, and attempts to multitask, are bad for our productivity. To study better you must put your smartphone away and disable any potential distractions on your laptop or computer.

4. Use the study cycle

Studying is much more than just turning up to class, jotting down some notes and coming back to them later. An efficient study cycle features five unique stages, all of which are essential to effective study:

  • Preview

Before you head to class, the study cycle begins by reading up on lesson topics, pinpointing key information and questions you’d like answers to.

  • Attend

Go to class and pay attention, making sure you take detailed notes and ask the right questions.

  • Review

While the information is fresh in your mind, review it. Go over class notes and identify any gaps in your knowledge.

  • Study

These are your intense study sessions that really delve into a subject and ensure you retain it over the long-term.

  • Assess

Regular testing is essential to knowing how effective your study methods are. Self-assess your knowledge to keep track of progress.

All too often, we can be guilty of missing out one of these steps. For instance, you might skip the preview stage, where you would read through the lesson material ahead of time, as you know that the teacher will go over the same material during class. If you do, you’ll restrict your learning of that information from reading and listening to just one format – listening.

There are many other instances like this that prove how valuable the entirety of the study cycle is. Be sure to make use of all of it.

5. Self-testing is crucial

It’s hard to know where you need improvement or how successful your current study strategy is without knowing where you currently stand. For that, you need to learn the importance of self-testing. A study from Purdue University shows how those who use self-testing as a tool for study earn higher marks than those who just repeat over their notes.

As often as you can, you need to self-test to know how effective your studying is and identify which topic areas you need to work on more. Self-testing is the evidence-collecting part of the ongoing evolution of your study strategy.

How to Get Motivated to Study

You can have the best study strategy in the world, but if you aren’t motivated then nothing will get done. Here are a few ways you can give yourself a vital boost in motivation.

1. Break it down

This is especially effective when you’re first sitting down to tackle a new subject. Breaking down everything you need to do into bitesize chunks can help get over a dauntingly large study session.

Simplify what you need to do by making it a series of small tasks you need to complete. Once you see yourself working through the tasks, your motivation will build and you’ll continue to work harder. A task could be something as simple as reading five pages from your textbook. Anything can be turned into a small win.

2. Offer yourself a reward

As you go through these small tasks, reward yourself for completing milestones. It doesn’t have to be anything lavish, just something that breaks up the session and allows you to feel good about the progress you’ve made.

After ticking off five tasks, help yourself to a cup of tea or a five-minute relaxation window. Just be sure to not let your mind wander too much. Procrastination can quickly derail your studies if you let it go on too long.

3. Remember your goals

Goal setting is an important part of life. Nowhere can it be more powerful than during education. Start by making a list of all the reasons why you want to do well in school. They don’t necessarily have to be specifics. Here are some examples:

  • To get into a good university
  • To achieve in my chosen career
  • To develop myself as an individual

If you ever feel like your mind is wandering, refer back to these notes. They can provide you with a timely sense of perspective and awareness of the bigger picture.

4. Train your brain

Your brain needs constant stimulation to maximise its effectiveness. Outside of studying, do some quick and easy brain activities to keep your brain development ticking over. These might come in the form of simple puzzles or brain teasers, but they all contribute to exercising your brain.

With a more finely tuned brain, you’ll be able to concentrate for longer, solve problems faster and ultimately study smarter. These outcomes are all a great source of motivation.

5. Remain active

Exercise is one of the greatest wellbeing-boosters out there. Regular exercise is known to be linked to everything from a reduction in stress, to improvements in memory and a better mood.

Whether in or out of school, take the time to exercise regularly. It will leave you feeling sharper, fresher and more motivated to study than ever before.

How to Make a Study Guide

A lot of learners put all the above into practice and create a study guide for each subject. This can be especially powerful during exam time. If you think this method might be for you, complete these three steps to making any study guide worth its salt.

Step 1: Consult your teacher

Before you go ahead and make a guide, you need to know what content to put in it. Consult with your teacher and ask them what topics are essential and might be included in an exam. Take away a few focus areas and build your study guide around them.

Step 2: Organise your notes

Chances are, you’ve got a bucketload of notes you’ve generated throughout the year in class. It’s time to put these notes together and create a study guide that can help you retain all that information.

There are countless ways you can do this, but a lot of it comes down to how you learn as an individual. For example, if you’re a visual learner you might include plenty of colour or maps to break up information into digestible chunks.

One popular method of visualisation is the “summary sheet”. This is done by splitting a large piece of paper into two. On the right, write down key concepts or events, plus a summary of what they are. On the left, note down questions that correspond to that information. Cover up the right side and answer the questions on the left to test your knowledge.

Throughout, be sure to write down any aspects of your guide and not type them. Typists don’t engage with what they are noting down as well. This also applies to class, where typists are known to write down what a teacher is saying word for word rather than picking out the most important information.

Step 3: Create sample tests

We’ve already covered how important self-testing is, and it also forms an essential part of any study guide. Before you start studying, create mock tests for each topic of study that you can come back to after you’ve completed a few sessions.

You could also consult your teacher on this. They should be able to give you some guidance on the sort of questions to include. They might even have some example questions they can share with you.

 

Hopefully, with the help of this study guide, you’ll be able to hone your strategy and hit your educational objectives. At Nord Anglia Education, we pride ourselves on delivering exceptional study support to children, helping them achieve the grades they deserve. To find out more about how your nearest Nord Anglia school can do just that, head to our schools page.

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