Are you looking for study tips that actually work?
Are you frustrated because you aren’t getting the results that you want, even though you study regularly and are using the same strategies as everyone else?
You may be surprised to know that many common strategies for studying aren’t as effective as you may think. So check out these 22 science-backed study tips that are sure to help you get the results you want. By the end of this post, you’ll have a better idea of which strategies actually work and which ones are doing you more harm than good.
Having more time to study isn’t always better. If you think that sleeping less so that you have more time to study will help you improve your grades, you should reconsider. Many people associate good studying with staying up late and studying longer, but research shows that a lack of sleep can have negative effects on your attention, working memory, long-term memory and vigilance.
So try to get the recommended 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night. You may be tempted to stay up late the night before a big test, or even pull an all-nighter, but you should still make sure you get enough sleep. Those extra few hours of studying won’t do you much good if you turn up to the test struggling to keep your eyes open.
Another study tip involving sleep is to study right before you go to sleep. Not only does research show that sleep is important for memory, it also shows that sleeping shortly after learning new information can greatly benefit your memory. So try to fit in some studying before you go to sleep, even if it’s as little as 10 minutes of revision.
Here are some suggestions for how you could fit in some studying before you go to sleep:
- Read over your study notes, preferably handwritten ones, as you should avoid looking at a computer screen right before going to sleep.
- Record yourself reading your study notes aloud, then listen to them as you fall asleep.
- Go over your flashcards.
We can’t stress this enough. No matter how much you think you need to stay up all night to study more, don’t do it. It will only make it more difficult for you to focus during a test, and writing assignments without enough sleep can cause the quality to suffer. It’s not worth the negative effects.
Of course, if you haven’t finished an assignment and only have 12 hours until it’s due, you may not have a choice. So, here are some suggestions to help you avoid having to pull an all-nighter before a test or assignment due date:
- Create a study plan at the start of the semester, and stick to it. This will help you to start a regular studying routine and organize your studying into more manageable chunks, so you can pace yourself instead of cramming it all into the night before a test.
- Break up your assignments over the semester and plan to finish the rough drafts with some time to spare. Working on your assignments a little every week will be much easier than pushing it all to the end.
- Do most of your studying during the time of day when you’re most alert and productive. For instance, if you always wake up early, then study in the morning, but if you’re more of a night person, then study at night. Find what works best for you.
- If you have no choice and you have to pull an all-nighter, try to leave at least a few days between it and the day of the test or assignment due date. This way, you can still get more work done, but also have time to recover before the actual day.
You probably listen to music to relax when you’re not studying, but what about while you’re studying? Have you tried listening to classical music because you keep hearing people say “classical music makes you smarter”, but it hasn’t made a difference?
Just listening to classical music won’t make you smarter, but it may help you to reduce stress while studying or even help you to focus. But not everyone finds listening to music helpful, so it’s really up to you. Experiment and find out what works best for you. For example, do you find that you’re easily distracted by music and that you study better in total silence? If you study better with music, is there a specific genre of music that works best, such as heavy metal or classical piano music? Or do you prefer listening to white noise?
Whether you’re studying at home or taking notes in a lecture, try to limit the amount of distractions near you. For example, turn off your mobile phone when you’re studying or in a lecture. This immediately removes numerous distractions, such as texts, emails, social media, games and app alerts. Simply putting it on silent or vibrate and leaving it next to you isn’t enough, as research shows that it will still disrupt your attention.
You should also limit your internet use on your laptop until you’ve finished studying or until the lecture ends, as multitasking on laptops in class can distract both you and other students who are sitting near you. If you need to use your computer but don’t want any online distractions, consider using a tool that blocks the internet completely or only allows you to visit certain websites until you finish studying. For example, you could try StayFocused (for Chrome), SelfControl (for Mac), Cold Turkey (for Windows), or LeechBlock (for Firefox).
Don’t just reread passages in your textbook. Try putting it in your own words and explaining it to someone else. This is a great way to find out if how well you understand a topic, as you will find it must easier to teach someone else about it if you have a clear understanding of it, rather than simply memorizing the information from a textbook.
For example, you could explain it to friends, family, or even other students in your class if they’re having trouble understanding the topic. You could also write down notes in your own words and use those to study instead of reading directly from a textbook.
Do you highlight important information in notes and textbooks? Does it help you learn better, or do you tend to highlight almost everything and forget that you should only highlight the most important information?
Of course if it does help, then you should continue highlighting, but you may be surprised to learn that highlighting is not as effective at helping you study as you may think. Consider using flashcards instead. Not only do they involve repetition to help you memorize information, but they also allow you to organize the relevant information into different piles of flashcards, which is much easier and quicker to go through than entire chapters of textbooks. And, unlike rereading a textbook chapter, flashcards require you to remember information out of context (i.e., the textbook chapter it’s from) and out of order (i.e., you mix up the flashcards each time you use them).
Here are some suggestions for how you could create flashcards:
- If you only need a few flashcards to help you memorize small pieces of information (e.g., dates of historic events), you could make them by hand.
- If you need a large quantity of flashcards to help you memorize more detailed information, you could use a flashcard tool, such as StudyBlue, Cram, Quizlet, or GoConqr.
It may be tempting to leave most of your studying to later in the semester when you have exams, but this will only make it more difficult for you and add more pressure. Instead of cramming all of your studying into just a few days, spread out your study sessions. This will help you to better remember the information, instead of forgetting it all after the test.
Here are some tips to help you spread out your study sessions over the semester:
- Create a study plan at the start of the semester. This will help you to start a regular study routine and organize your studying into more manageable chunks.
- Pace yourself. When creating a study plan, keep in mind that the point is to spread out your study sessions. Don’t try to cram too much into each week.
- Strategically place your study sessions throughout the semester, so that you can study more efficiently and you don’t find yourself having to cram for your final tests.
A study on effective learning techniques highly recommends practice testing as an effective learning technique – it found that this technique consistently boosts students’ performance. So if you haven’t already included practice tests in your study plan, you should. You don’t need to wait for the final exam. Just look for past test papers and test yourself to find out how you can improve.
Here are some tips for taking practice tests:
- Try practice tests first before checking the answers.
- Complete practice tests under the same conditions of the actual test. Find somewhere quiet, set an alarm to let you know when the time is up, don’t read the questions beforehand, and don’t use any books or notes if it’s not an open book test.
- Use the practice tests as a way to experiment with test-taking strategies to find what works best for you. For example, how do you want to spend your perusal time? How long does it take you to read through the entire test?
- Ask a teacher or another student to look over your answers. It’s more likely that they’ll help you if you ask earlier in the semester, rather than waiting until the week of the test to ask for help.
- Use practice tests as a chance to identify areas that you’re struggling with, so that you can improve.
- Review previous tests you’ve already completed and any practice tests that you completed in class.
Tired of test preparation always feeling like guesswork?
Not knowing what’s on the test is a large part of why test preparation can be so stressful. To help reduce test anxiety, find out as much as you can about the test. This will make studying for tests much easier, as you will have a better idea of what to expect, which will help you to study more efficiently and reduce stress. Try to find out everything you can about the test as early as possible to allow you more time to prepare for it. Here are some important details that you should write down:
- the time, duration, date, and location of each test
- the type of each test (e.g., multiple choice, short answer, short essay, extended essay, a mix of different types etc.)
- the total number of marks for each test
- the percentage of your grade that each test is worth
- the lectures when your teachers will give you more details about the tests
- topics that your teachers confirm will be on the test, as well as any hints that they give you throughout the semester about what to expect
- the equipment that you’re allowed to bring with you.
It can be frustrating when you’re constantly studying but not able to remember as much as you’d like. You could try some of these simple ways to help improve your memory:
- Sleep more. If you can’t sleep for the recommended 7 to 9 hours, at least take an afternoon nap.
- Exercise regularly.
- Meditate and practice mindfulness.
- If you drink coffee, try drinking it after your study sessions. (It’s not certain that this will improve your memory, but a study found that post-study caffeine can enhance memory consolidation.)
And here are some examples of memory techniques that could help make it easier for you to memorize information:
- repetition (e.g., write it again by hand, get someone to test you with your flashcards every day, etc.)
- stories (e.g., make up stories and associate them with the information you need to remember)
- recordings (e.g., record yourself reading your study notes aloud and listen to the recording while you go about your day or before you go to sleep).
Do you study outside or in a room where plenty of sunlight shines through the windows? Or do you study inside with the windows covered and the light turned on?
This study tip can be difficult to try if you do most of your studying at night, but try to study in natural sunlight when you can. Research closely links exposure to natural light in the workplace with improved sleep, activity and quality of life.
This is an especially important study tip if you have trouble getting the recommended 7 to 9 hours of sleep, or if you have no choice but to pull an all-nighter. Research shows that napping can increase productivity, and help with alertness and learning new skills, as well as make people more effective problem solvers.
Just remember to set an alarm before you take a nap. And don’t sleep too close to your bedtime, otherwise you may struggle to fall asleep again later.
Even after you’ve spread out your study sessions, don’t forget to take breaks as well, especially during day-long study sessions. Of course too many breaks can break your concentration, but studying constantly for hours without breaks is not the most effective strategy and will tire you out quicker. And the right amount of breaks can actually help you stay focused.
Try taking a 5-minute break for every 30 minutes of studying, and a 10-minute break for every 60 minutes. Just make sure that you do something else during those breaks. Here are some suggestions for how you could break up your study sessions:
- Go for a short walk outside.
- Eat a snack.
- Do something that involves moving around (e.g., do the washing, make yourself a fruit smoothie, dance to your favourite music).
- Talk to your friends.
- Watch funny YouTube videos.
You may also want to take short breaks every so often to give your eyes a break from staring at a textbook or computer screen.
If your room is your main study space, consider adding some indoor plants. This may not seem like something that should be on a list of effective study tips, but this simple change can bring you many benefits. Research shows that indoor plants can increase productivity by 15%, as well as increase your attention span, lower stress, clean your indoor air of harmful VOCs (volatile organic compounds), and make you happier.
If you’re not sure which plants to choose, here’s a list of top plants – from a 1989 NASA study – that proved effective in removing harmful VOCs:
- Bamboo Palm
- Chinese Evergreen
- English Ivy
- Gerbera Daisy
- Janet Craig
- Mass Cane/Corn Cane
- Mother-in-Law’s Tongue
- Peace Lily
- Pot Mum
Which subject do you find the most difficult? Which one do you dread studying for and put off as long as you can?
Whichever subject you thought of, that’s the one you should study first. Research shows that people’s willpower decreases as the day goes on, so try to tackle the most difficult tasks at the start of the day.
Don’t forget to take care of yourself by taking the time to relax and finding ways to reduce stress. You could read a book, go for a walk, spend time with friends, listen to music, get a massage, meditate or watch a movie. Setting aside time for yourself to relax is incredibly important, so don’t forget this simple studying tip that will make your semester much more enjoyable.
Typing your lecture notes on a laptop may be faster, and you may be able to capture more of what your lecturers say word for word, but it’s doing you more harm than good. Research shows that writing notes by hand is more effective than typing them up on a laptop, as students who write by hand need to process the information and write it in their own words because they can’t write fast enough to write down every word.
Having handwritten notes will also come in handy when you want to revise them before you go to sleep, as you won’t have to stare at a computer screen to do so.
Starting a studying routine is a good idea, but try not to study the same topic in the same way in the same place every time – unless you study better that way. Mix it up. Find ways to make it less monotonous. For example, instead of simply sitting at a desk and reading your study notes on one topic for an entire study session, you could start by listening to a recording of your study notes, then move on to reviewing your new notes from the most recent classes, then work on class tasks from each course that you need to complete before the next week’s classes.
You don’t have to study alone. Sometimes studying with others can help to reduce stress, as you can talk with others who are studying the same subjects as you. And research shows that studying in a group can help you to learn more effectively. So consider organizing a small study group early in the semester with a few students from your class, or invite a few friends from other classes or universities to a study session.
This study tip is just as important as the other tips on this list. Keep in mind that studying is important, but not as important as your health. So eat healthy, and don’t forget the all-important omegas. Research shows that eating the right foods can boost memory, and that a mixture of omega-3 and -6 can even help lower test anxiety.
Don’t use the same studying strategies as everyone else. Experiment, and find the studying tips that are the most effective.
Good luck with your studying! We hope you found these study tips useful and that they help you to improve. If you have any tips to add, please share them in the comments.