10 Tips for Studying Smarter, Not Harder

There’s no denying that studying is an essential part of schooling, or that the study habits you develop now will stay with you throughout your educational career. Unfortunately, many students still believe that cramming is the be-all end-all study strategy – but just as many learn (the hard way) that it is definitely not. Luckily, we’ve put together a guide to help you study effectively and productively – without burning yourself out. Test out these 10 suggestions and see what works best for you!

1. Stay Organized
Whether it’s your workspace, your schedule, or your notes, staying organized is essential for effective studying. While studying, you want to maximize your ability to focus, and this can be difficult to do if you are constantly searching for notes or debating which task you should work on. Having a comprehensive organizational system in place allows you to work and study efficiently, increasing your productivity and minimizing your stress.

2. Ask Questions
If you find yourself struggling to understand a concept, it can be easy to get stuck on it and lose valuable time trying to figure it out solo. Sure, you would probably figure it out eventually, and there would be some satisfaction in that if you get it right, but a good principle to follow is when in doubt – reach out! Whether it be your teacher, peer or parent, asking clarifying questions can make even the most complicated concepts clearer. Be sure to take advantage of your teacher’s office hours to receive real-time explanations and feedback.

3. Focus on One Task at a Time
However tempting it may be, avoid multi-tasking – it’s not a helpful study strategy! Our brains just aren’t wired to process two dissimilar tasks at the same time. This is where multi-tasking backfires: studying for two exams at the same time will likely result in your remembering little to nothing about either subject. Instead, focus on one task at a time, and allow your brain to fully process the information you’re working on.

4. Don’t Cram!
Sure, everyone is guilty of procrastinating to the point of last-minute cramming at some point or another, but making it a habit is a recipe for chaos. The increased stress that comes with cramming negatively affects your brain’s ability to concentrate, making studying that much more difficult. Additionally, cramming often leads students to skip out on sleep, which is essential for retaining information. Spreading out your studies over a longer period of time is a far more effective study method.

5. Pay Attention to What Works for You
Different people have different study habits. Unfortunately, there’s no way to know exactly what will work best for you until you test it out. If studying effectively is something you struggle with, it might be time to try a new method. By trying out a variety of different strategies you’ll be able to determine what works and what doesn’t. Here are a few different strategies you can try if you’re unsure of where to start.

6. Time of Day is Important
Are you a morning person or a night owl? Whichever camp you fall under, it’s important to study when you feel most alert. Likewise, it’s also important to keep your schedule consistent. If you try and study when you’re distracted or tired, you’ll end up working harder to retain less information.

7. Test Yourself
Studying is one practice where talking to yourself is a good habit to have! Take some time after each main concept to self-check whether you’ve really learned the information. Put away your notes and explain the concept as you would to someone who had never heard of it before. This exercise may sound silly but it is extremely effective in showing you which parts of a topic you have a solid grasp on and which you need to review.

8. Sleep Well
Never underestimate the power of a good night’s sleep! While you’re asleep, your brain stays busy solidifying new information. When you skip out on sleep, the connections in your brain can’t function properly and it becomes difficult to recall information, learn new information, and think abstractly. Your ability to focus and pay attention is also affected by the amount of sleep you get, so don’t settle for just one z – make sure you get all three!

9. Take a Break
Taking breaks is essential in maintaining your ability to focus while studying. No one can effectively concentrate on new information for hours on end, so allow yourself to step away every hour to give your brain a break. This will also help keep you motivated and increase your productivity during the time you do spend studying.

10. Take Advantage of Downtime
While school (and life) can get chaotic at times, there are also bound to be periods where there isn’t much going on. Whether due dates are far away, or it’s too soon to start studying for tests and exams, take advantage of this downtime. It’s important to give your brain a well-deserved break during ‘slow-season’, but you can also use this time to your own advantage. Tackle small assignments, readings, or get a head start on your study notes together for an upcoming test. Whatever you choose to do, make it something your future self will thank you for come finals season!