Strategies for Studying Smarter, Not Harder

Study Tips for new students

Throughout your entire academic career, you’re told “You need to study” which, makes sense but, no one ever tells you how to study. Well, we’ve got some bad news and some good news. The bad news: you have to find study methods that work for you, no two people study alike. The good news: we have a whole lotta study tips to help you find and refine your own style. Let’s get into it.

Studying: The Scientific Perspective

We know this seems dull (but we are a STEM education site, so here, enjoy some free science) but the first step to finding a study method, is knowing the science behind it. 

Studying isn’t just reading and remembering information from a book, it’s a complex neurological dance that involves some intensive work for your brain. When you make a memory your brain stores that information at the front of your brain, called the prefrontal cortex. Next, another part of your brain called the hippocampus (located centrally in the middle of the brain) takes that information and, if significant enough, will transfer that information from your short-term memory to your long-term memory. When you attempt to remember this information the neurons (or nerve cells) in your brain begin firing and moving in the same pattern as when you first learned the information. In essence, your brain is retracing its steps to find the information! The more you repeat the behavior or take in the information the more cemented the memory becomes.

This is why studying often is so important! Your brain will only be able to encode information if you do the action repetitively. This is why it’s so much more than just reading info because your brain will not only run through what you read but also what was happening around you while you were learning information. Okay, science lesson over, let’s get to the studying. 

First, Set Goals

This may seem self-explanatory but if you don’t sit down and acknowledge the specific information you want to learn in a study session, you’ll be as aimless as a ship without a compass. Before you open your first book, acknowledge your strengths as well as areas of weakness for the subject. Once you identify the information you want to have down by the end of the session, you can then get started.

Take Breaks and Study Small

Study Small

Whenever they show a montage of a hard-workin’ student preparing for the big test in movies or on TV it shows them studying long into the night. We’ll say this once:

DON’T DO THIS.

Studying late and for long hours can actually do more harm than good. Your tired brain will just remember the whole long session hazily instead of a few important details sharply.

Think of it like this: if you watch a whole show on Netflix in one sitting how many specific moments will you remember? The big plot points? Probably! The color of the shirt someone was wearing in a specific scene? Probably not.

However, if you watch one episode 2 or 3 times in a row, you’ll likely remember specific facts down to the little things (like someone whipping too much air into their cake batter on the Great British Baking Show). 

Take Breaks

Again don’t try to do it all in one sitting, you’ll hurt yourself in the long run. Most academic professionals and Neuroscientists recommend studying in intervals: Study for an hour, then take a 15 – 20 minute break where you look at your phone, take a walk, eat a snack, drink some water, etc. 

Quizzing Yourself: The Art of Flashcards and More

Quizzing yourself is such a helpful study method. Almost all students do this in some form or another. The reason? When you quiz yourself you’re not just learning the info, you’re seeing it the same way or in a similar way to how it’ll appear on the test. Remember when we said your brain will retrace its steps when it tries to remember stuff? If you learn the info as a question and answer then your brain will actively begin remembering the info when you start the quiz before you even know you needed the information! (SCIENCE!). 

Quizzing yourself is one part of a method called active learning. This means that you’re actively engaging with the information instead of just passively reading it. Other types of active learning include:

  • Summarizing the material in your own words
  • Creating flashcards
  • Teaching the material to someone else
  • Taking practice tests

When you learn in this style, you’re far more likely to retain the information. Also, did we mention that we just so happen to have a free custom practice quiz feature where you can create your own quizzes and tailor them to your needs by length and difficulty? Definitely head on over to check it out!

Stay Organized

Stay organized. That’s it. That’s the tip.

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Okay, seriously though, the last thing you want is to have to dig through your backpack, locker, desk, etc. to find important notes and information. Maintain folders and notebooks that are dedicated to each class (so you don’t end up with math homework in your English notebook). We guarantee that not only will you look like you’re ready for anything but you’ll feel ready for anything. 

Study with Friends

Studying with friends is 10000000000000000% better than studying alone and it’s actually been proven to improve information retention. Beyond just being more fun, when you study with others it keeps everyone accountable, ensures you’re motivated to succeed (because even if just one of you gets it, there’s a good chance everyone will eventually), and helps you to see the information in a new light. 

It’s important to know that a study group is only as solid as everyone in it, that’s why we wrote this handy guide on How to Create a Study Group That Works for You. Also, you’ll for sure want to check out our free online Study Groups feature. You can create or join a virtual study room with access to Numerade’s suite of proven study tools. 

The Wrap-Up

Studying smarter, not harder, is all about using the right strategies and finding your own method. Consider these tips your launching point and keep in mind that you can adjust as you go! Just remember to be patient with yourself, take care of your mental health, and drink some water while you’re at it (we LOVE hydration around here). With these strategies, you can achieve academic success without burning out.

Author

  • Rob Shield

    Rob Shield is based out of Columbus, Ohio. As Numerade's copywriter, Rob uses their extensive background in education to inform and shape the topics and content posted to the blog for educators, parents, and students alike.