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Study Smarter, not Harder: Embracing Efficient Studying Methods

Study Smarter, not Harder: Embracing Efficient Studying Methods photo

Published: | Categories: Blog

Do you think that your current study habits are falling short? Do you ponder ways to excel in class and exams? Many students discover that their high school study methods do not quite cut it in college. This is understandable, given the notable differences between college and high school. Professors’ involvement is reduced, class sizes increase, exams hold more weight, reading intensity heightens, and coursework becomes more demanding. Rest assured, it does not indicate a personal failing; rather, it signals a need to adopt more effective study skills. Fortunately, numerous active, effective study strategies have proven their worth in college settings.

This guide offers a range of insights into effective studying. Incorporating these recommendations into your study routine can enhance your grasp of course material in an efficient and effective manner. Experiment with these strategies to discover which ones resonate with you.

Distinguishing Reading from Studying

Merely reading and rereading texts or notes lacks active engagement with the material. It amounts to the reiteration of your notes. Solely completing assigned readings does not suffice as studying. It equates to fulfilling the reading requirement. This habit leads to quick forgetting.

Consider reading as a preliminary step in your study process. Yet, truly learning necessitates active interaction with the material.

  • Active engagement means extracting meaning from text by forging connections to lectures, creating examples, and managing your own learning.
  • Active studying is not synonymous with highlighting or underlining text, rereading, or rote memorization.

While these actions may maintain engagement, they do not qualify as active study techniques and hold weak links to improved learning. Active studying strategies include:

  • Compiling a topic-oriented study guide. Formulate questions and challenges and provide comprehensive answers. Create a personalized quiz.
  • Stepping into the role of a teacher. Verbally articulate the information in your own words as though instructing a class.
  • Devising relatable examples drawn from your experiences.
  • Crafting concept maps or diagrams to elucidate the material.
  • Inventing symbols that represent concepts.
  • For non-technical courses (e.g., English, History, Psychology), dissecting the major ideas for explanations, comparisons, and reassessment.
  • For technical subjects, solving problems and explaining the steps and their rationale.
  • Applying the framework of question, evidence, and conclusion: What query does the instructor/author pose? What evidence do they present? What conclusion emerges?

Organizational and Planning Proficiency

Effective organization and planning pave the way for active study sessions. When preparing for an exam, commence by organizing your materials and subsequently initiate active reviews organized by topic. In many cases, professors provide subtopics on the syllabus. Use these as guidelines to structure your materials.

As an example, group all materials pertaining to a single topic (e.g., PowerPoint notes, textbook notes, articles, homework) and arrange them as a cohesive unit. Label each collection with the topic and then engage in topic-based studying.

Understanding the Study Cycle

Frank Christ’s Study Cycle dissects studying into distinct components: previewing, class attendance, review, study, and self-assessment. While each step may seem apparent, students often attempt shortcuts that compromise valuable learning opportunities.

For instance, you might skip pre-class readings, assuming the professor will cover the material; this approach misses out on diversified learning modes (reading and listening) and the reinforcement and spaced practice obtainable through both pre-reading and class attendance. Embracing all stages of this cycle ensures that no opportunity for effective learning is overlooked.

Picture shows the 'Study Cycle' - a 5-step method to help students learn better.

The Power of Spaced Practice

One of the most potent learning strategies is “distributed practice” – spacing out your study periods over multiple short sessions across days and weeks. The most effective practice is allocating brief intervals to each subject daily. Despite the total study time equating to that of one or two marathon library sessions, this method leads to deeper understanding and long-term retention—ideal for acing finals. Focus on the quality, not the duration, of your study sessions. Extended sessions result in waning concentration, thereby hindering learning and memory.

To disperse studying across short sessions spanning days and weeks, you must master your schedule. Compile a daily task list to allocate time for regular active study sessions in each class. Strive to devote time daily to every class. Be precise and realistic about the time allocation for each task; do not overburden your list with more tasks than you can reasonably accomplish in a day.

For instance, tackle a few math problems daily instead of finishing all of them the hour before class. For history, dedicate 15-20 minutes daily to active study of your class notes. Although the total study time remains unchanged, this approach ensures preparation for all classes through shorter, effective stretches. This sharpens focus, maintains task control, and enhances information retention.

In addition to fostering deeper understanding, spacing out work curbs procrastination. Instead of confronting a daunting project for four hours on Monday, allocate 30 minutes to the project each day. Breaking down a dreaded task into shorter, consistent intervals makes it more manageable and reduces the risk of last-minute delay. Lastly, for memorization-intensive content (names, dates, formulas), create flashcards and review them periodically throughout the day rather than cramming during a prolonged memorization session. For additional insights, refer to our memorization strategies handout.

The Impact of Intensity

All study sessions are not created equal. Intensive study sessions yield more productive outcomes. Short, intensive study periods enable efficient work completion with minimal wastage. These sessions, often spanning 30 or 45 minutes, should integrate active study strategies. Self-testing, for instance, is an active technique that amplifies intensity and learning efficiency. Nevertheless, aiming for exhaustive self-testing is liable to induce distraction and hinder concentration.

On the contrary, designing 45-minute quizzes followed by break bolsters sustain focus and information retention. The shorter, intensive sessions foster the pressure required to fend off procrastination.

Strategic Noise Management

Identify your optimal study environment. The hush of a library might not align with your needs. Factor in the noise environment that aids your concentration. Background noise might enhance your focus. Some find classical music enhances concentration, while others deem it distracting. The key is to recognize that library silence can be as disruptive, if not more so, than the ambiance of a busy space. Therefore, if silence proves counterproductive and you still prefer the library, explore the first or second floors, where a subtle hum persists.

Remember, active studying is rarely silent, as it frequently involves verbalizing the material.

Embrace Problem-Solving

Diligently working on problems and then reworking them holds significance for technical courses (e.g., math, economics). Grasp the problem-solving process and its rationale.

In technical courses, practical problem-solving often outweighs text reading. During class, meticulously record the professor’s illustrated practice problems. Annotate each step and seek clarification when needed. At a minimum, document the question and answer (even if the steps are missing).

During exam preparation, assemble an extensive list of problems from course materials and lectures. Work through the problems while elucidating each step and its rationale.

Reassess Multitasking

Extensive research demonstrates that multitasking does not enhance efficiency and indeed detracts from outcomes.

To study smarter, not harder, banish distractions during study sessions. Social media, web browsing, gaming, texting—these diversions severely compromise study intensity if allowed! Research establishes that multitasking (e.g., responding to texts while studying) elongates learning time and degrades learning quality.

Eliminating distractions facilitates full engagement in study sessions. If your computer is not indispensable for your assignments, avoid using it. Utilize apps to set time limits on specific sites during the day. Power down your phone. As a reward for concentrated studying, grant yourself a brief social media break (with strict timing). For additional insights, explore our technology management handout.

Variation in Study Setting

Identify several on-campus study spots and rotate your environment if your current spot loses effectiveness.

Discern when and where you excel in studying. Your focus might waver at 10:00 PM but sharpen at 10:00 AM. A coffee shop’s ambient noise might boost productivity, or perhaps your dorm’s study lounge. Even your bed, though comfortable, might induce sleepiness.

Cultivate an array of suitable study locations around campus. This ensures an optimal setting wherever you are. Over time, your preferred spot might become too comfortable, signaling the need for a change.

Embrace the Role of an Educator

Strive to interpret material as a teacher would, using your own words. This can be achieved individually, with a study partner, or within a study group. Vocalizing the material exposes areas of confusion, prompting further clarification, and enhances information retention. As you expound on concepts, employ examples and forge connections between ideas, much like a teacher does. Initially, you might rely on notes, but eventually, you will be capable of teaching sans prompts.

Creating your quiz aligns your mindset with that of your professor. What must you comprehend, according to your professor? Self-quizzing proves highly effective. Maintain a study guide to review questions and answers intermittently throughout the day and across days. Identify questions you struggle with and quiz yourself exclusively on those. Voice your responses. This approach bolsters retention and allows for corrections. For technical subjects, solve sample problems and elaborate on the process from question to answer. Revisiting problems that challenge you prompts active mental engagement and significantly elevates memory.

Master Your Calendar

Regulating your schedule and distractions is pivotal for goal attainment. Knowing your calendar facilitates the timely completion of assignments and on-track coursework. Consider the following steps to take charge of your calendar:

  • Reserve a designated day each week (e.g., Sunday nights or Saturday mornings) to map out the week’s schedule.
  • Review each class and outline your goals for each week.
  • Assess your calendar to determine available hours for your work.
  • Evaluate whether your tasks align with the available time. Consider specifying the time required for each task. Make adjustments as necessary. For instance, if the projected time for task completion exceeds your available hours, prioritize readings. Thoroughly read and note the favored class source (most referenced in class), which could be the textbook or a reading directly related to the day’s topic. You can skim supplemental readings.
  • Mark your calendar for task completion periods.
  • Prior to bedtime, plan the next day’s tasks. Starting the day with a plan enhances productivity.
Infographic on Effective Time Management: Master Your Calendar

Leverage Downtime

Be wary of “easy” weeks—they are an indicator that something heavy may come next. Lighter workloads offer a prime opportunity to get ahead or initiate extensive projects. Capitalize on these additional hours by advancing assignments or commencing lengthy projects or papers. Aim to allocate time for every class each week, even if no submissions are due.

In fact, working on every class every day, even for just 30 minutes, across six days is more advantageous than cramming it all into one lengthy three-hour session. Once you have completed work for a particular class, invest the 30 minutes in progress or a new project.