Academic success is often associated with immense dedication and hard work.
Hard work is admirable, but there is more to it:
The truly successful people are those who know how to work smart.
We’ve put together all the advice and techniques you’ll need to take your studying game to a new level and boost your academic performance.
Tips for picking the right classes.
College is different from high school in many, many ways.
One such immediately recognizable difference is that college students get to choose their own class schedule.
The nuances vary among institutions around the world, but most universities require only a few core classes for their matriculates, leaving the choice of electives up to the students themselves.
Though this newfound independence is exciting, it can also be intimidating if you don’t know where to begin.
Signing up for courses with more enthusiasm than prior knowledge and planning can turn into a complete disaster a couple weeks into the semester.
However, a well-constructed curriculum from semester to semester can actually boost your academic performance.
So how do you decide which classes to take?
- Think about what you want to study.
There might be several conflicting thoughts in your head at this point:
- If you’re a freshman, you probably won’t know what you want to major in yet—which is absolutely fine. Think back to high school. Which classes did you enjoy the most? Start from there.
- Don’t base your decision simply on what you think will get you a better-paying job after graduation.
- If you’re not actually interested in business at all, for example, becoming a business major can become your personal hell, and your performance will suffer.
- Students who take classes they are genuinely interested in will almost always earn better grades than students who take classes that bore them to tears.
- If you can’t decide on electives, stick with the “core curriculum” classes.
Most universities, and all liberal art schools, have core classes.
They include topics in general education like history, literature, science, and math. For freshmen, core classes can provide a smooth transition out of high school and into college.
Taking these classes as a freshman is a sound idea because:
- They help you develop a basic set of critical thinking and academic skills.
- They lay the foundation for success in subsequent advanced classes.
- They help you figure out what subjects you’re actually interested in.
- Assess your strengths and limitations.
To set yourself up for success, be as honest as possible about your personal strengths and weaknesses. For example, if you have difficulty picking up new subjects quickly, you don’t want to take many classes in entirely unfamiliar subjects at once. If you aren’t sure about your strengths, ask a mentor or family member who you trust.
- Don’t bite off more than you can chew.
Only take one or two challenging classes simultaneously, and balance out your schedule with more reasonable courses. If you’re not sure which courses will be most challenging, ask an academic advisor, faculty member, or upperclassman for advice.
- On the other hand, if you are an exceptional student, consider seeing your academic advisor to discuss the possibility of taking a heavier class load.
Loading up on courses may help you graduate earlier and save on tuition. At the very least, this option can get you out into an internship or a real job that much earlier.
- Consider the time of day at which classes are offered.
If you have difficulty waking up before noon, it’s a terrible idea to sign up for a 9 am class. You’ll only end up missing classes and receiving a poor grade.
Whenever you have a choice, do not hesitate to pick classes that are held at times convenient for you.
Tips for keeping yourself motivated.
Procrastination is human nature; there’s no way around it.
Trying to find inspiration or get into the right mood to start working may take hours.
So in order to stay consistently motivated to do your schoolwork without wasting time, consider the following proven methods.
- Think of something even worse than homework.
Dishes? Weeks of dirty laundry? Renewing your driver’s license? Stop looking for excuses not to do homework, and use homework as an excuse for not doing something else instead.
- Divide the work into smaller parts.
If a task seems too complicated, simply divide it into smaller chunks. Then tackle each of the smaller portions individually.
- Make a schedule of work and rewards.
One more way to get motivated to do homework is to bribe yourself. Treat yourself to something you love as a reward for completing your work.
- Imagine the worst consequences.
Fear is a great motivator. If other ways of staying motivated don’t seem to be working, stick to the fear of failure.
Study tips backed up by science.
Numerous studies have shown that you can study faster and easier if you do it right. Take advantage of the following scientifically proven study tips to ace your tests and still have a life.
- Study before sleeping.
Time your study sessions so they end right before you hit the sack. The trick? During sleep, your brain strengthens new memories, so the material you absorbed right before bed is processed better.
- Study right after sleeping.
When you first wake up, your brain has a lot of space for absorbing new information. You can learn new information much more quickly in the morning than in the afternoon or evening.
- Don’t study in bed.
Bringing textbooks to bed can result in insomnia and headaches. Plus, you’ll only be all the more tempted to ditch everything for a nap.
- Move around.
Studying in different places allows you to commit information to your memory faster. Choose a quiet location, such as the library or a park, and remember to change scenery from time to time.
- Study with friends, but pick your study mates wisely.
Group study can be effective if you form a successful team in which every member is interested in a shared learning outcome. Avoid studying with friends who don’t really care about their work or who will distract you from the task at hand.
- Test yourself.
Find quizzes online to answer questions about what you’ve learned. This will serve as a sort of warm-up activity and boost your performance during the exam.
- Make connections.
The ability to connect what you’re learning with what you already know makes all the difference between quick learners and slow learners. As you work through material, ask yourself questions and try to relate new information to topics or subjects you’ve studied in the past.
- Write things down.
Recent studies have shown that taking notes by hand helps you commit information to long-term memory. So, put aside your laptop for a while and warm up your fingers.
- Read your notes out loud.
When you read something aloud, you perceive the information through two channels simultaneously: your eyes and your ears. A recent study reveals that it’s better to read aloud only the most important pieces of information.
- Mix up different topics.
Despite the notion that it’s better to stick to one type of information (e.g. only formulas, theorems, or historical dates), research suggests that studying a mix of various chunks of information is more effective.
- Stay nourished and hydrated.
Keep yourself well hydrated while studying. Drinking 2 – 3 liters of water a day is all you need.
- Eat nuts.
A well-known brain-boosting food, nuts are arguably the best snack you can find for study sessions.
- Snack on seeds.
Second only to nuts, seeds can also stabilize your mood to help you keep calm while studying for and taking your tests.
- Choose veggies over carbs.
Leave fast food behind in favor of raw or cooked vegetables. Your body will reward you with more energy and better concentration.
- Berries. Berries.
Blueberries and strawberries can work magic when it comes to improving your concentration. Recent research has shown that they are not only a pleasant treat but also a new brain food.
Tips for improving your memory.
Your memory is like a muscle that you need to constantly exercise under the right conditions to strengthen.
Here are some proven tips for improving your cognitive abilities and boosting academic performance.
- Get enough sleep.
One of the most pleasant and effective ways to improve your memory is to improve your sleep schedule.
Getting enough sleep is better than cramming at the last minute. The strong connection between quality sleep and positive study outcomes is the perfect excuse for not throwing another all-nighter. When you’re fed up with it all, just go to bed. Enough is enough. Seriously.
- Take breaks.
Your brain needs time to process the information you squeeze into it. Use the Pomodoro Technique to schedule breaks between your study sessions.
- Consider exercising.
Regular exercise increases blood flow to the brain. Ever heard the proverb about a sound mind and a sound body? You can add a better memory and an improved mood to that list, too.
- De-stress yourself.
Excessive stress and a pessimistic outlook are the worst enemies of effective study.
Try to de-stress yourself so your body can function at its full potential.
Yoga? Bubble bath? Scented candles? You decide.
Use mnemonic techniques to improve your memory.
Improve your memory and boost your academic performance with modern mnemonic techniques.
- Listen to your own voice.
Read out loud or listen to a recording of yourself reading to help you remember information more easily.
- Use rhymes.
People have used rhyming to help memorize information for thousands of years. Before writing was developed, legends were passed on orally from generation to generation through songs and poems.
- Use analogies.
Compare the information you’re trying to memorize to something you already know. These analogies and connections can help you better recall the information later.
- Create a story.
Reimagine the information you’re reading as a story. You’ll help yourself remember better by assigning particular pieces of information to certain points in your story, effectively creating a roadmap of your topic.
- Sing it.
In part, this tip goes back to the power of rhymes, but also the power of a melody. Ever noticed how you effortlessly memorize the lyrics to your favorite songs? You can remember any piece of information by singing it along to a melody.
Tips for doing academic research.
Academic work can be challenging, especially from a research standpoint.
Not only does a vast amount of research typically exist for any given academic topic, but the research itself changes constantly—what has been proved this year may be disproved next year, and vice versa.
These useful research tips can help you boost your academic performance, save time, work efficiently, and stay focused on the goal of achieving the highest possible grades.
- Stick to your topic.
Though this may seem obvious, sometimes focus is the most difficult aspect of research.
Once you have chosen your research topic, focus exclusively on that topic and your interpretation of it to the exclusion of all other information.
Narrow your research to always relate exclusively and directly to that topic.
- Use key words and phrases:
Sit down with your topic, and list five or six key words or phrases that relate directly to it.
For example, if your topic is 19th-century labor in Britain, some appropriate key words and phrases to utilize in your research might be chartists, Industrial Revolution, British working class, Factory Act, Cooperative Movement, trade union, and the London Trades Council.
Your key words and phrases are valuable tools that can help you maintain focus on your topic, saving you hours of research time.
- Evaluate potential sources.
Use your carefully selected key words and phrases to search for books, journals, and magazines that relate to your topic in the catalogue of your school library or online in such databases as JSTOR, Proquest, and EbscoHost. Look through the results for each bibliographic citation entry.
The entry provides a brief overview of the text: the abstract, author information, publisher, and date of publication.
At this point you will have to answer three questions.
- Is this source relevant to my paper?
Scan the abstract for your key words and phrases before you download the source or take the time to find the book.
If your key words and phrases don’t make an appearance at all, you know that the source is not useful to you.
- Are the author and publication credible?
You can’t base academic arguments on non-academic sources, so stick to academic sources for your paper. That means you’re only looking for peer-reviewed journal articles and books or monographs published by academic presses. Easy tip: university presses are academic presses.
- When was it published?
Look for sources published within the last eight to ten years. If there has been no academic research published on the topic since 1978, that most likely means that your topic has been covered well and has truly run dry. You’ll have to pick something more relevant.
- Don’t reinvent the wheel.
Resist the urge to research everything from the beginning of time until now.
Use your key words and phrases to conduct a preliminary internet search, paying most attention to the major works associated with your topic over the last ten years.
Focusing on recent and timely research will save you endless hours and ensure that you do not accidentally plagiarize anyone else’s interpretation of your topic.
- Keep the final result in mind.
It’s easy to get sidetracked or distracted during the research process, even with defined key words and phrases.
Make sure your point hasn’t already been proven so that your entire project doesn’t end up being redundant and a waste of time.
And once you’re sure that you’re bringing something new to the table, make sure your paper proves what you want it to prove, not what you think other people want you to prove.
A good tip is to periodically check that your research backs up the point that drew you to your topic in the first place. If thorough research doesn’t seem to back it up, though, consider altering your thesis so that you are making a credible, research-backed point.
- Keep track of your thoughts and ideas about your topic as they come.
The sixth research tip which can help improve academic performance is to keep an idea file handy at all times.
It can be an electronic file on your computer or mobile device, a notepad, or a combination of both.
As you synthesize your research, ideas will begin to occur to you outside of the normal bounds of class, such as first thing in the morning, in the middle of the night, or while you are out with friends.
Always keep your idea file on hand so you can jot down thoughts and ideas as they occur to you, fresh and in the moment.
- Remember that complicated doesn’t always mean best.
The ultimate goal of any academic work is to offer a meaningful contribution to the existing body of knowledge surrounding a given topic.
To that end, our final research tip is to avoid the seductive pull of complex language and jargon when you are searching for the sources that will eventually support your paper.
In the vast majority of cases, the best and most elegant ideas are those that are stated simply and plainly. Choose the research that best serves your vision and your voice.