We’ve all heard the phrase, “Work smarter, not harder.” Usually the person uttering the phrase is trying to sell something, which is why we tune it out. No thanks, we don’t need a magical pill that will immediately improve our brain function by 20%.

But when it comes to studying, there are some very specific ways you can improve your effectiveness without adding loads of extra work. This isn’t really working smarter so much as creating the optimal conditions for success.

In this post, we’re going to give you 12 methods that can significantly improve your study sessions. By implementing these ways, you’ll find that the hours you spend studying are much more effective.

Method #1: Create a Game Plan

Can you imagine a football team going into a game without a plan of attack? You would think they’re crazy. Yet how often do you approach your studies without a game plan?

Before you begin your study session, create a game plan for exactly how you will study. Consider what you will study, how long you’ll spend on each subject and what study methods you will use. Don’t simply wander into your study session with no prior thought.

If you don’t create a game plan, you’ll find yourself wandering from thing to thing without making much forward progress. You can end up spending too much time on one subject and not enough on another.

Creating a plan of attack allows you to have laser focus during your study session and it allows you to study the right materials at the right time. Take at least 10 minutes before your study session to map out your game plan.

Method #2: Use All the Resources at Your Disposal

Don’t forget that you have a massive array of resources available to you in addition to your notes. Consider using:

  • The library.
  • The internet.
  • Audio lectures.
  • Any other resources at your disposal.

Studying using a wide number of resources and mediums allows you to digest the material in a variety of ways.

For example, you may be an audio learner and process information better using audio lectures. You may be a visual learner and study more effectively by mapping your notes out on a whiteboard at the library.

One caveat: beware of distractions as you switch between resources, particularly when using the internet. The internet is a cesspool of distractions and can easily derail even the most dedicated student. One minute you’re studying, the next you’re taking a quiz about which movie character from the 80’s most fits your personality.

Use your resources but stay on track.

Method #3: Study in Chunks

The human brain is like any other muscle: after extended use it gets tired. Just like you can’t pump iron for hours without getting exhausted, you can’t study endlessly without your brain giving out.

You’re effectiveness in learning and retaining information dramatically diminishes as time goes on. We recommend taking breaks every 25 to 30 minutes for maximum learning efficiency.

Using a method such as the Pomodoro Technique helps you stick to a schedule of intense study sessions followed by breaks. This ensures that you maintain a high level of concentration and energy throughout your entire session.

Method #4: Come in with a Positive Mindset

It’s easy to comment to a study session with a negative attitude, dreading the hours you’ll spend in the books.  The last thing you want to do is bury yourself in a mountain of books and flashcards.

However, a negative attitude significantly reduces the effectiveness of your study. It turns the entire session into chore and makes you want to stop.

As much as possible, maintain a positive attitude both before and during your study session. Some ways to improve your attitude are:

  • By reminding yourself that you’re preparing for an outstanding career and that this is one step along the way.
  • By avoiding worst case scenario thinking. Rather than dwelling on the fact that you don’t have much time to study and might fail the test, focus on the fact that you’ll probably get much more studying done than you thought possible.
  • By not comparing yourself to others. Set personal goals and strive to beat those goals. You’re not trying to be someone else, you’re only working towards becoming your best self. At the risk of sounding like a Tee Ball coach, doing your best is what matters.
  • Don’t think in black and white terms. If you got a low grade last time, don’t say to yourself, “This always happens!” Rather think objectively in terms of simple steps you can do to improve this time.

Method #5: Write Out Your Notes by Hand During Class

It may seem like a tedious task, but studies have shown that those students who write out their notes by hand do significantly better than those who write out notes on the laptop.

As Cindi May wrote in “Scientific American“:

Mueller and Oppenheimer [the authors of the study] postulate that taking notes by hand requires different types of cognitive processing than taking notes on a laptop, and these different processes have consequences for learning. Writing by hand is slower and more cumbersome than typing, and students cannot possibly write down every word in a lecture. Instead, they listen, digest, and summarize so that they can succinctly capture the essence of the information. Thus, taking notes by hand forces the brain to engage in some heavy “mental lifting,” and these efforts foster comprehension and retention.

In other words, taking notes by hand forces you to think deeper and harder about what you’re learning.

Yes, writing by hand may seem like an old-school method of studying, but it forces your brain to slow down and contemplate what you’re being taught. It also keeps you from getting distracted on your laptop.

It’s true that those who type their notes generate more overall words, but those who write them out by hand learn concepts more effectually.

Method #6: Find the Right Study Spot

Finding the right study spot is essential for effective study. Too many people choose loud and distracting environments for their studies, greatly minimizing their efforts. Sure, it may be fun to study in the midst of a raucous student center, but how much will you really be learning? Repeated studies have shown that quiet is best for focus and peaceful productivity.

Speaking of open office plans (which would be similar to studying in a loud student lounge), Belle Beth Cooper wrote in “Fast Company“:

Between interruptions, distractions, background noise, and general lack of calm and quiet, the noise of the office can be harmful. With a buzzing office around you, a bustling street out the window, and something distracting you every three minutes, it’s almost impossible to create anything of value.

Find a quiet spot in the library, a secluded nook in a student lounge, a peaceful coffee house or even create your own spot. Don’t pick a spot simply because it works. Choose a spot that will enable you to achieve deep levels of focus.

Method #7: Only Bring the Essentials

Too many people bring non-essentials to their study sessions and quickly find themselves distracted. For example, you may feel like you want to bring your laptop so you can type notes. Unfortunately, computers offer a huge number of distractions such as social media, websites, email, chat and a host of other things. The same goes for smartphones and portable video game devices.

Before your study session begins, ask yourself what resources you truly need and then only bring those things. If you only need a notepad and pen, that’s all you should bring. If you can bear the thought of leaving your phone at home, do it. The fewer things you bring to your study session the fewer distractions you’ll have to fight.

Method #8: Outline Your Notes

Taking the time to boil your notes down to a standard outline can help you grasp the overall concepts you’re studying.

You certainly can borrow or copy someone else’s notes, but you must work hard to put everything in your own words. If you don’t, you’ll fail to understand the larger concept. Many times, understanding the big picture is just as important as remembering all the individual facts. Outlining allows you to file individual facts under larger ideas.

Method #9: Use Memory Devices

Memory devices allow you to remember complex bits of information with simple words or sentences. Many times, people string silly, nonsensical words together to remember related pieces of information, with the first letter of each word representing something else.

For example, if you ever took piano, you probably learned the sentence “Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge.” The first letters in the sentence—EGBDF—helped you remember the five notes of the treble clef.

Try creating your own memory devices to help you remember certain related facts or ideas. Many times, the more outrageous the sentence, the easier it is to remember.

Method #10: Stick to a Rigorous Study Schedule

You shouldn’t study only when you have spare time, when you feel like it or when you eventually get around to it. Ideally, you should create a rigorous study schedule, just as you maintain a schedule for attending classes. This will set you up for success instead of panicked late-night cramming sessions.

It’s a terrible feeling to be staring at a pile of index cards at 4 a.m., knowing you only have a few hours to learn months worth of material.

Your study schedule should be consistent. It doesn’t need to contain massive chunks of studying. Rather small, consistent study periods will yield higher results than infrequent large study sessions. Shoot for regular 30-minute sessions rather than a single 12 hour all-nighter.

Method #11: Create a Reward System

Creating a study reward system can help you stay motivated even when you don’t feel like putting in the time. It can also create a positive reinforcement cycle around your study sessions.

For example, after a period of studying you could:

  • Treat yourself to your favorite coffee drink.
  • Spend time with friends.
  • Watch your favorite television show.
  • Take a well-deserved nap.

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy and usually leads to exhaustion and burnout. Create a system of rewards to keep you on track and motivated.

Method #12: Maintain Balance

Balance can be difficult to maintain in school but it’s crucial for success. Don’t spend all your time studying or all your time hanging with friends. Seek to implement a balanced life.

Make sure to maintain a social life in the midst of your studies and work hard to maintain rigorous studies while still keep deep relationships. Develop hobbies outside of school and make time for those hobbies. Stay in touch with your family and keep them apprised of your school progress.

It’s certainly a challenge, but living in balance will keep you on the path to success.

Accelerate your studying

There’s no way to get around studying. If you want to do well in school, you simply have to do it. But there are specific ways to study better. To make the most of your limited time. To keep from spinning your wheels.

By implementing the methods above, you can raise the quality of your studying sessions without necessarily increasing the quantity.

At Cornerstone University, we’re passionate about student success; so we offer several academic resources both onsite and online. From online, 24/7 tutoring to workshops to library resources, our PGS students are well supported in their academic endeavors.

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