How to Study Effectively

Learn how to study effectively using these specific learning techniques and general tips on good study habits
Allan T
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Nov 4, 2021
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How to Study Effectively

Almost everybody goes to school and has to study. The tragedy is that most schools don't teach students how to learn. They focus on exams and making students memorize information. Having effective study skills reduces the amount of time you need to spend studying and helps you remember information better. This is particularly important considering more and more people are taking classes online where you don't have the benefit of a classroom to ask questions. In this article, you will learn the most efficient way to study using various effective study strategies and general tips to study effectively.

Effective Studying Techniques and Tips 

Scientists and psychologists have been researching the most effective studying techniques for over a hundred years now. Over the past 30 years, a lot of research has been done about the best ways of retaining information. Here are 15 effective study tips proven by science that will tell you how to effectively study.

Elaborative Interrogation (Active Reading)

One of the most common ways of studying is to read material multiple times. Reading is an essential part of studying but it has been shown that just passively reading and trying to memorize information is not the most effective way of incorporating the information. It’s not the ultimate answer to the “=how to study question. Research has shown that there is almost no difference in recall whether students go over material by reading once or twice.


When you try to memorize by reading you are not developing a personal understanding of the material, rather you are absorbing the author’s interpretation of the material. Elaborative interrogation is a method of questioning what you have read and making your own connections so that you have an understanding of the information that is personal. Which will allow you to remember more.


When you read new material and come across new information ask yourself questions that help you understand the material and make connections to information that you already have. Ask yourself why or how questions to further your understanding of the material. Many studies have shown that actively thinking while reading helps enhance memory. This technique takes time to master and will initially slow down your reading time, but with practice, it will become second nature while reading anything. This is one of the most effective techniques for the ‘how to study’ problem.

Retrieval Practice (Test Yourself) 

Retrieval practice refers to the idea of actively recalling information after learning it. Simply put, this means that you should test yourself by trying to remember things as often as possible. Just the act of remembering something enhances the memory of it and trains your brain to be able to recall information. 


One of the easiest ways to practice retrieval is to quiz yourself after you have read something new. This can be as simple as taking the quizzes at the end of most chapters or trying to remember definitions while looking at a definitions list. Remember, the more practice tests you take, the better your eventual recall will be. 


Most students know that asking somebody to quiz you is a great way of checking whether you actually know the information or not. Joining a study group is a great way of finding people to actively test you. 


Another great method for retrieval practice and how to study effectively is to make your own questions a study group or other students have to answer. Creating your own questions means you automatically have to know the answer to them and creating interesting questions shows a depth of understanding.


Flashcards have been a time-honored method of how to study and there's a reason for that. Even before psychological studies were done on learning and the concept of retrieval practice became widely accepted, humans realized that noting down information in a way that is easily tested helps one remember. You might not be using flashcards effectively though! Rather than just thinking you know an answer, it’s better to write your answer down and then flip over the card to check if you were right or not. Very often we think we know the right answer but might not know how to formulate it. Other times we're just plain wrong.

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Spaced Practice

A lot of students tend to cram as much information as possible right before a big test. It's probably not a surprise that this isn't the most effective way of studying. It might help you get a higher grade on the test, but it will not increase the general amount of understanding you have of a subject. 


Spaced practice refers to spacing out your study sessions so that your brain has enough time to incorporate information and you practice retrieval automatically because of the time between studying sessions. By spacing out your study sessions you build more connections between new material and pre-existing information in your mind. 


A study conducted some time ago had students remember some definitions in 30-minute study sessions over 4 days and another group of students spent 2 hours in one day memorizing the definitions. The spaced-out study group performed significantly better. 


Generally speaking the more sessions you study over the better the benefits to memory. This requires a significant amount of planning though since it's easier to set aside 6 hours to study something in one day rather than set aside 1 hour every day for 6 days. The benefits of spaced studying are worth it though since it is one of the most effective and easy study techniques.

Get Organized 

Planning out a study schedule is an important skill to find the most efficient way to study. And a vital skill when you enter the workforce. Schedules allow you to make plans and analyze how much time you have to get certain things done. They also allow you to take advantage of the study tips in this article by spacing out sessions and dedicating enough time for testing and reviewing. Making a schedule can seem complicated. But follow these steps and you will definitely see improvements in your grades.


  • Find a scheduling system that works for you. This could be an online tool like Google Calendar, a physical plan in a notebook, or a whiteboard with a calendar drawn on it.
  • On Sundays, plan out a study schedule for the week. Figure out how much time you have each day to devote to studying and pencil in how specifically you want to use that time. 
  • Don't worry if you fall behind the schedule. It is tough to know exactly how much time an assignment will take. The important thing is to stick to your schedule regarding how much time you want to devote to studying that day.
  • Make changes to the schedule every night depending on how much you need to get done and what tasks are the most important.

Interleaving

Another common misconception when it comes to studying is that it is better to master one kind of topic before moving on to the other (sometimes referred to as “blocking”). Modern research has shown that alternating between similar and related topics helps build connections in the mind and is better for memory. 


For example, when practicing math problems, you can either do all the division problems together first and then move on to multiplication problems, or do a batch of division problems, then a batch of multiplication problems, then back to division, etc. Blocking can be problematic because repeating something several times helps you master the technique but does not promote understanding and when you know what to expect, your attention decreases. Alternating has two major benefits. The first is that by taking a short break you are actually spacing out your study sessions. And the second is that by simultaneously studying related concepts, you can draw connections between them (in our example, the connection between multiplication and division). 

Background noise

Not everyone is the same, especially when it comes to studying and study habits. Some people need complete silence to focus and might find a solitary room or a library conducive to their study needs. Other people enjoy some form of background noise, whether it be natural sounds, the chattering of people, or the bustle of a city. Studies have shown that listening to certain types of music like classical music and Lo-Fi music can help people focus on a task. Figure out what you like to have in the background when you study, it will help you have more focused and attentive study sessions. 

Exercise

It may seem counterintuitive but exercise actually boosts energy levels and releases chemicals that make you feel good. A quick 15-minute jog or workout can get rid of drowsiness and help you focus on studying. Research has shown that exercising before studying improves memory and reduces stress levels.

Learn From Mistakes

People tend to get annoyed with themselves when they make mistakes but mistakes are actually an excellent opportunity to learn and identify your weaknesses and one of the best ways how to study effectively. When you get something wrong, try to figure out the mistake in your understanding of the material. Mistakes are an opportunity to revisit a subject and think about it in a new way by questioning your current level of knowledge. When you do practice tests, analyze the patterns in your mistakes to see if there is a specific area you need to spend more time on.

Visual Learning

Current research is changing the idea that different people have different learning styles. People are not actually visual or auditory learners, they just think that they are. While the placebo effect may lead to benefits if you believe you are a certain type of learner, research does show that using images and other visual aids helps memory and recall for everyone.


Diagrams, graphs, cartoons, and other visual aids in textbooks and class materials can present information in a new way and make information more clear. Just like reading though, when you look at these pictures don't just try to memorize them, ask questions that connect the picture to the material you have learned. 


When taking notes, drawing your own diagrams and pictures has been shown to increase recall. In a conducted study, some people were given notes without drawings, some were given notes with drawings, some were asked to take notes without making any drawings, and some were asked to take notes including drawings. The group that took notes with drawings performed the best followed by those who were given notes with drawings. 

Mind Maps

Mind maps are an excellent way of organizing information visually. Constructing your own mind map and holding that image in your head helps you understand the connections between important terms. 


Start with the main concept and put it in the center of a page. Write the major terms and ideas connected to it around the main concept. Draw lines to indicate connections to the main concept and each other while adding more terms. Use different colored pens to highlight specific connections or hierarchies. 

Sleeping

Teenagers and young adults usually get less than the recommended eight hours of sleep per night. Not only does this negatively affect your energy levels and health but it also makes studying and recalling information more difficult. Sleep is the time when the brain organizes information it has learned in the day. Studies have shown that people who sleep a full night before giving an exam perform better than those who spend all night studying. 


Studying for a few hours before going to bed helps integrate it into your memory, and sleeping for a full night before giving an exam improves your attention and recall during the test. Make sure that you include 8 hours of sleep every day when you are scheduling your study sessions for a week.

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Note Taking

Taking notes is useful for several reasons. Taking notes in class ensures that you are paying attention to the teacher, and writing information in your own words means that you are synthesizing it. Notes are also an excellent way of reviewing material learned in class later on. If you are somebody who borrows other people's notes or just uses in-class materials, get into the habit of taking your own notes. It will help you immensely when you are reviewing material or studying for tests.


Color coding your notes makes them even more efficient when it comes to studying. Studies have found that warm colors such as red and yellow improve memory and recall. Color coding your notes allows you to highlight specific types of information and quickly understand the relationship between different topics. 

Distractions

Studies have proven that multitasking is not something that humans can do. When we try to do multiple tasks at the same time, it ends up taking longer to do all the tasks and the tasks are not done as well as they would have been. It's tempting to have something playing in the background as you study, but even if it's a rerun of one of your favorite shows, your attention will be diverted by it, negatively impacting recall. 


Phones are another massive distraction. Having a phone nearby tempts you to check messages, browse social media, and just spend time online. Make sure you keep your phone away from you when you have a dedicated study session. This is another reason why short study sessions are better than long ones. Checking your phone can be a reward after studying for 30 minutes.

Take Breaks

Studying requires focused attention which is why you can get tired after studying even though you don't move around. Concentrating for long periods of time is difficult. Most psychologists recommend that after 25 to 30 minutes of studying or work people should take a break for up to 10 minutes. These breaks can be an added incentive to get work done, but make sure you time your breaks!

Time and Place

Some people prefer studying in the morning whereas some people prefer studying at night.  Figure out what times you are most focused and schedule accordingly. During these times focus on the most difficult tasks. Stick to the schedule as much as possible so that your mind and body get used to it.


While it is good to have a specific place where you like to study because just entering that area can set you up to absorb information, it is also important to have a few study locations. Having multiple locations where you can focus allows you to move spots if one is unavailable for some reason. 

Final Thoughts

All these tips will teach you how to study effectively. The most important thing to remember when studying is to not just absorb information but actively process it by asking questions and making connections. Studying takes focus and concentration, so finding the right time to study is vital. A study schedule will help you keep track of everything you need to do and prioritize the most important tasks.


All these tips and techniques will definitely help you study better but sometimes things can get overwhelming and you can fall behind schedule. If you find yourself in this situation and need help with homework, the Studyfy Homework Help ServiceIs is the right place to go. Don't hesitate to reach out!