Everyone wants to know the secret to getting good grades. Here it is: The surest way to academic success is knowing how to maximize your study time.
If you have study routines that really work for you, stick with them. But if you think your study skills could be better, keep reading. We’ve gathered scientifically-proven study tips to help you master the art of studying.
Study Skill #1: Don’t cram
When you learn information over time, your brain is much better at storing things away neatly. Your mental locker is cleanly organized, so it’s easier to locate information when you need to—like on test day.
This phenomenon is termed the spacing effect, and it has been studied extensively by neuroscientists and psychologists. By reviewing things bit-by-bit and revisiting it over time, you can better remember and recall the information.
When you wait until the last minute to cram for a test, you put unnecessary pressure on yourself that can easily build into anxiety. When you cram, you don’t fell totally prepared for the test. That self-doubt builds into stress. The combination of being less than perfectly prepared and being a ball of nerves is not exactly conducive to a great test score.
Instead of spending five or six hours cramming for your test the night before, spend an hour a day over five or six days studying. You’ll learn more efficiently AND avoid a common testing anxiety trigger.
Study Skill #2: Be healthy – exercise, sleep, and eat right
This tip is easy to overlook. You’re young, you’re healthy – you’ve got your whole life to worry about things like diet and exercise, so why bother now? Science proves that healthy lifestyle choices make you smarter.
A study out of the University of British Columbia found that regular cardio literally makes your brain bigger. Specifically, regular aerobic exercise was associated with a bigger hippocampus, the part of the brain that deals with verbal memory and learning.
Sleep is almost as important to your grades as studying is. Studies show that sleep is necessary for you to be able to coordinate and access previously learned information. When you sleep, your brain processes and stores everything you learned that day. If you don’t sleep, all those things you studied don’t get properly stored away. It’s like going grocery shopping and then leaving the ice cream you just bought sitting on the counter to melt.
It’s not the just the location that you should switch up – you should also switch up the material itself. Instead of spending an entire study session working on memorizing the battles of the Civil War for history class, mix it up. In one study session, spend some time studying the battles of the Civil War, then spend some time doing practice free response questions about Reconstruction, then spend some time studying important terms from the relevant chapters. This kind of mixed practice helps the brain pick up on deeper patterns, leading to better quality learning and easier-to-access memories.
Take this study method to the next level and actually teach the concepts to someone else. Ideally, you’ll find a classmate or friend to teach it to – someone who can ask questions and force you to really roll the information around in your mind. If not, teach it to your dog, to a stuffed animal, or to the wall. By forcing yourself to explain the information and all of its nuances, you’ll force yourself to better understand it.
So take practice tests, even if you have to write your own. Look at the headings in your text book and make yourself recall the information contained in that section. Use flashcards to quiz yourself. Do anything you can think of to routinely test yourself on the things you’re studying – not to see whether you’ve learned them yet, but to help yourself learn them better.