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:
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.
Go to class and pay attention, making sure you take detailed notes and ask the right questions.
While the information is fresh in your mind, review it. Go over class notes and identify any gaps in your knowledge.
These are your intense study sessions that really delve into a subject and ensure you retain it over the long-term.
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.