For most of us, success is not a haphazard situation, it takes a lot of hard work and an ocean of dedicated time.
So, whether we're learning our ABCs or studying to become a neurobiologist, hard work in the form of routine study is undoubtedly the key to success. If you don't feel like you've mastered proper study habits yet, the good news is this is a skill that can easily be learned at any stage.
Below, you'll find 10 ways to help you study smarter and minimize stress when grappling homework or preparing for important tests.
1. Set up a Study Space
Sometimes, plopping down on the sofa and opening up your textbook is a good way to study. You're comfortably absorbing new information as you read. However, it's not the most optimal setup.
To maintain focus it’s best to sit up at a desk, in a comfortable chair, under bright lighting, and in a clear and organized space. It's true that some people thrive in organized chaos, and if that's been working for you, stick with it. But, if your old habits aren't helping, try the clean and clear route.
At minimum, give yourself enough room to spread out your textbook, notes, and laptop. Then, we can get to the business of a strategic study plan.
2. Ditch the Distractions
Is this asking too much? Perhaps it's better to say minimize the distractions. Let's face it, we're all connected to our phones and social media constantly. The moment we hear a notification, we're done for.
So, at minimum, turn off the TV, silence your phone and close the social media accounts on your laptop for now. If you need to, promise yourself that you can check your phone during a break. You’ll be surprised how much further you read in the text and how many added pages of notes you write.
3. Plan Your Breaks
Believe it or not, taking regular breaks increases your focus and helps you retain information better. So reward yourself for that mighty bout of reading with a 10 minute break every 30 minutes. Try not to break for longer or you’ll find it hard to get back into work mode.
If you want to set the alarm on your phone, that's a great way to help you stay the course, but don’t just spend the break on your phone. In a world of digital distractions, sometimes we need to get strategic about focusing on a task. So go ahead and check your texts if you have to, but walk around while you do it. Go to the kitchen for a snack, or outside for some fresh air. And don’t forget to stretch.
4. Utilize Old Exams
If reviewing the text is starting to make your eyes feel heavy, switch things up a bit. One of the best ways to study is by mixing your resources.
Pull out some old exams. See what the focus was when your teacher designed that test. Refresh your memory on any key terms that are no longer ringing any bells. See if you'd still be able to rattle off a couple answers to the short-answer questions.
Old exams help you stay focused on important topics while stretching out those memory muscles.
Have you ever noticed that, when you write things down, you tend to remember them better? Typing and talking don't offer the same levels of retention as putting pen to paper.
So, try writing down some of the key points in the text. Did the teacher provide you with an outline? Write out some of those key terms and definitions. Going old school and creating a stack of flashcards by hand is also a good idea that will never go out of style.
The good news is all this activity will make those 10-minute breaks come around a lot faster!
6. Get Vocal
Okay, this might bother your roommate or sibling, so you'll have to time this one well. But, much like writing, reading aloud tends to make things stick better. If you're in the mood to read that section of the chapter aloud, do it!
As you read aloud, if you want to pause and take note of key terms and definitions the teacher has referenced in class, pull out that pen and paper! The more you physically engage your body, the more your brain will be on board for retention.
7. Start a Study Group
With the right group of laser-focused friends, a study group can be a real game-changer. Your peers will bring topics to the table that you didn't necessarily think to highlight in your notes. You can quiz each other on key terms and definitions. Don’t stress wrong answers. Whatever you couldn't remember is simply something you need to go home and review. Knowing your weak spots ahead of time increases the likelihood of your success on test day.
8. Set up Exam Day
Much like setting up your study space, be sure to set up your exam day like a pro. Put everything you'll need in your bag the night before. Whatever pens, pencils, or tools you'll need, get them ready to go.
Make sure your text and notebooks are in there after you've studied for the night, just in case you have time for a last-minute review outside the classroom.
Throw in a bottle of water and something to snack on, like a granola bar. Whatever you need to succeed, don't try to stuff it all in your bag and sprint out the door in the morning. Frazzled nerves will only work against all that valuable time you invested in your studies.
9. Add to Your Brain Power
On test day, think about brain power. Stay hydrated with regular water, coconut water, or other electrolyte-rich fluids. Also, take time for a wholesome meal.
If you can make time for some quality carbs, such as wholewheat toast or oatmeal, or protein, like a couple of hard-boiled eggs, along with some mixed berries, you'll be ready to smash that exam.
Also, if you’re going to have coffee make it a cup or two, not an entire vat. Caffeine is a double-edged sword because it can provide a temporary perk but it's more likely to make you jittery and anxious if drunk in excess — two of the worst states to be in for test day!
10. Go Zen
In a perfect world, we might find time for a little zen on the big day. This is different for everyone. If a little yoga or meditation is your thing, dive right in. Elementary or high-school students might find other relaxing activities, whether that's shooting hoops or coloring in. The task doesn't matter; promoting a calm the state of mind does.
So, this all seems pretty attainable, right? Make yourself a cozy yet efficient study space. Schedule your study time, with routine breaks where you can reward yourself for going distraction-free. Make it a whole body experience with some writing and speaking aloud. Quiz your friends on study night, and don’t forget to stay calm!
When you make these tips and tricks the core of your study routine, you're sure to steer your academic career in the right direction.