Whether your pockets are crammed with notecards or you’re a student who struggles to get through the pages of a textbook, developing the right study skills will take you far in your college career. Studying doesn’t have to be a struggle. You simply need to find what works for you. Consider adding these 10 hacks for studying to your arsenal and gain the confidence that comes with being prepared for your exams.
Hack #1: Ditch the Library
The library might be the first place you visit when you need to study for a big exam, but it might not be the most ideal space in which to do so. Scientists suggest that switching your study space might actually help you recall information. Memory sensors in your brain are connected to the location in which you study, so try experimenting with new study locations.
Instead of the campus library, consider any one of the following locations:
- Coffee shop. Most coffee shops offer a quiet, serene atmosphere. Furthermore, you can usually enjoy free Wi-Fi and, of course, a caffeinated beverage.
- Public library. Sometimes the campus library is too distracting, but a public library might offer more space, fewer distractions, and just the change of scenery you need to get to work.
- A local park. A bench at a local park offers an outdoor, tranquil study location.
- An art gallery. Galleries offer a creative atmosphere, which is often conducive to successful studying.
- A hospital. Open 24/7 and accessible to everyone, hospitals offer a unique place to hit the books.
Once you discover the places that encourage efficient studying, revisit them. But don’t forget that changes in scenery are linked to recalling information. Mix up your routine every so often for optimal results.
Hack #2: Show Up To Class
This may seem obvious and not much like a study hack, but it must be said. Attending each class and actively participating is half the work. Take a few moments before each class to review previous notes or skim the assigned reading. Jot down some key points, so you’re ready to raise your hand during class.
Conversations with other students and instructors will help you remember the information delivered during a lecture. Take brief notes of these conversations to use as part of your study notes. Maybe your instructor or classmate will add a perspective you hadn’t considered before taking part in the group discussion.
Meeting people in your class can also give you the opportunity to start study groups outside of the classroom, where the conversations will continue. Reiterating classroom topics and discussions outside of the classroom will help you retain important information.
Hack #3: Don’t Cram
It might seem like your only option is to study a day or two before an exam, but that’s actually one of the worst ways to prepare. Learn to digest things slowly over time. Try implementing 20 minutes of study time every day so that you can review the context of each class you’re taking.
First, read over the notes from previous classes. If you’re taking proper notes, you’re highlighting important terms and concepts. Study hacks are meant to make the process simpler – and simplicity is a definite benefit of appropriate note taking. Don’t rewrite everything you hear in a lecture or read in a textbook. Cut out things you already know and avoid jotting down anything irrelevant or repetitive.
Next, tackle your reading assignments. Even if you don’t get through the entire chapter, you’re making progress – and that equals fewer hours spent reading the night before the test.
Be sure not to lose sleep in an effort to cram in more study time. Getting up too early can throw off your sleep cycle, and pulling an all-nighter can also be damaging. Cram sessions are often a waste of time because you’re not retaining the information.
Ideally, you want to study in short increments during the days leading up to an exam and get a full night of sleep before it.
Hack #4: Plan a Break
Studying for four hours straight might seem like the best use of your time, but you could actually be hurting your chances of success. Forcing your brain to work through the strain is not often helpful.
Some people find great success in following the Pomodoro Technique. This practice of time management uses the 45/15 rule. Spend 45 minutes studying, then take the next 15 minutes to clear your head.
Use the 15 minutes off to explore the Internet, take a walk around the block, do a load of laundry, or make a quick phone call. Whatever you do, be sure to concentrate on something besides the work you’ve been submerged in for the past 45 minutes. When the break is over, get back to studying or use the opportunity to switch to another subject.
Switching from one subject to the next every 45 minutes can keep you from feeling overwhelmed. This type of transitioning actually sends a trigger to your brain that helps it switch gears, making the continued study time more manageable.
Hack #5: Review Class Notes Within 24 Hours
One of the toughest things about studying is that you must transfer the information you’ve crammed in your short-term memory to your long-term memory. Within 24 hours of leaving class, consider creating notecards. Dictate your notes into legible, short bits of information on a notecard, which you can refer to in a snap.
Don’t wait more than a day to do this review. The more time passes, the higher the risk for losing the information in your short-term memory.
If you have the time, it helps to share your notes with another student. Discussing some key terms or concepts will help you better retain the information. While reading through your condensed notes, select a few items and discuss them with your partner. The moment you verbally repeat what you’ve written, you automatically increase your chances of remembering that information in a crunch.
Keep your condensed notes in a convenient place and be sure to review them a few days later. Slowly stretching the time in between references will help you transfer the information from your short-term memory to your long-term brain bank.
Hack #6: Reward Yourself
If you’ve ever owned a pet, you know that positive reinforcement goes a long way in learning a new habit. You offer rewards for good, positive behavior. And as you do so, the positive behavior is likely to continue to increase with time and more rewards. The same is true for study hacks.
Think of studying as your new personal training technique. Did you get through a long chapter in your biology text book? Reward yourself with a favorite snack or single episode of your favorite TV show. Think of a reward you would enjoy in advance and use it as motivation to get through a tough study session.
For example, if you plan to stay on top of required reading throughout the week, splurge on a sugary coffee drink at the mall. Stock up on your favorite chocolate and keep it handy in your desk drawer. As you check off study topics on your to-do list, enjoy a piece of your favorite treat and reward yourself for a job well done.
Hack #7: Pump Some Iron
It’s no secret that exercise relieves stress, but can it help you retain information?
One recent study divided a group of women and had them listen to a new language lesson on headphones. Some women sat quietly and listened, others worked out vigorously and then sat down to listen, while a third group gently cycled while listening to the recording. The group who exercised while studying retained the most information.
Consider taking your textbooks to the gym next time you need a change of scenery. This study hack comes with the bonus of also helping you stay in shape. Between classes, a job, and trying to enjoy a social life, the combination of exercise and a study session could be very beneficial.
One of the easiest machines to use is a stationary bike, although many people find an elliptical or treadmill enjoyable as well. Maintain a steady, slow pace as you engage in a cardio/study session. The idea is to increase blood flow throughout your body, especially to the brain, as you retain new information.
Engaging in a good workout has tremendous other benefits in addition to helping you study. The endorphins that are released during a workout will relieve stress less, regulate your sleeping patterns, and help keep your body in shape. Toss in the better grades, and there’s not much of an excuse not to hit the gym.
Hack #8: Give Yourself a Pre-Test
Giving yourself a pre-test is one of the easiest ways to prepare for an upcoming exam. If you can find someone who took the same class a year or so before, ask them about how exams were formatted. Also consider asking your professor about specific topics that will be on the test. If your professor is willing to help you, be sure to thank him or her for the extra time and insight. Make sure you keep a record of any extra information that was discussed outside of class because the information may have been overlooked during class time.
The next step in the pre-test process is to prepare some questions. It is wise to ask a friend in the same class to act as your partner in this study hack. There are even websites to help you create questions based on material you’ve learned. Be sure to take the pre-test in a realistic test environment. Record your starting time and make the experience as authentic as possible. Resist the urge to peek into your notes or open a textbook. This way, the pre-test acts as an accurate gauge of your abilities. After you grade yourself, make a list of areas in which you need to focus your study efforts before the real test.
When it comes time for the real exam, provide complete answers drawing on information from all aspects of the class. Include information from lectures, textbook readings, and any out-of-classroom discussions you had with your professor.
Hack #9: Find your Study Scent
The smell of tobacco might remind you of your grandfather, or the hint of fresh baked cookies might send you back to your mom’s kitchen. Just as those fragrances hit a nerve in your memory, you can do the same to help you remember what you study.
Pick a strange or new fragrance that is unfamiliar to you, perhaps an essential oil or new body fragrance. When you’re ready to study, spray the new fragrance around you. Take a deep breath and let it sink in.
Afterward, hit the books. As you retain information, your mind will associate that experience with the new fragrance. When it comes time for the exam, spray the same fragrance before going to class. The unfamiliar scent could be enough to trigger what you learned the last time you smelled it.
If you’re worried about a fragrance disturbing others around you, studies suggest that gum or food can do the same thing, but make sure it’s something you don’t normally eat. If you usually chew mint gum, go for a fruit flavor. Chew a piece while you study and have another one during the exam.
Hack #10: Check Your Thermostat
Your study environment can have a huge impact on your ability to concentrate. When it’s too hot or cold in a room, you’re unable to think about much else. Such a situation is not conducive to effective studying. When you shiver or sweat, your body is preoccupied with regulating its temperature, not with retaining a new fact or concept.
A study by Cornell found that offices set at 68 degrees or colder led people to make more mistakes, while rooms set at a more comfortable temperature, about 77 degrees, helped people concentrate.
Don’t waste precious moments of study time by being uncomfortable. Set your thermostat at a temperature that can help you concentrate and retain information.
If you have no control over the temperature in your study environment, head to a public place you know will have a more comfortable setting. Most businesses keep the temperature set comfortably so customers spend time on the premises.
Find which study hacks Works for You
Study tips for college students come in many forms. One of the most important things to remember is that not everything works for everyone. You might find you learn better in a quiet room with no distractions, while others like to place themselves in the midst of busy surroundings to better concentrate.
It is fine to learn from others when it comes to hacks for studying, but don’t become discouraged if something doesn’t work for you. Keep trying until you find a combination that is conducive to your success. Seek advice from your professors or check with students who have already completed the classes you’re now taking.
There’s no secret formula to studying success. The beauty of study hacks is that you can come up with your own, and different hacks will work for different courses and at different points in your education.