In today’s post, I’ve decided to share with you some of my studying tips & tricks. This is one of the most requested topics on my blog and it’s also one that I’ve really needed to think about.
I’ve had to observe myself and reflect on the tactics that worked for me and helped me get good grades, the ones that didn’t, see how other people study and how that differs from the way I study. I’ve talked to my friends about it and have shamelessly stolen some of their tips as well, so, I hope this list is comprehensive and that it’ll help someone struggling with their studies.
1 – Find your “why”
Studying all on it’s own isn’t really why we study, right? Like you don’t just decide to study for no reason, and if you don’t see any reason to study it’s much easier to become demotivated and think this is a waste of time, I’m never gonna need this, this is boring and so on.
In my case, I never study just because the teacher scheduled an exam or because my parents want me to do so. I don’t study for other people or for reasons I don’t find inspiring. I study only for myself – to better myself and make progress.
However that’s just my reason, some people don’t see it that way. Some people think that they won’t get anything out of studying because that’s just not the best way for them to learn or to better themselves. So instead of studying for themselves, they study the day before the exam or stay up all night or do whatever they need to do to get the best grades so they can go to a good university where they can study something they feel will help them better themselves. Some people study because they want to get a high school diploma that’s decent enough to get them a job in the real world. Others just like studying, they treat it like a sport, they like to see how fast they can memorize certain information, they find all sorts of ways to do that and just nerd out.
Some people have multiple reasons, other than reasons concerning their future career or study plans, some people study because it makes them feel like a good student. Some people just love the validation they get from good grades or from their parents or peers when they talk about those good grades. It’s not shameful to be happy when you’re praised for the hard work you put into something as long as it isn’t your only reason for doing that thing and as long as it doesn’t take too much of a hold of you.
These reasons are all totally valid, and that’s what I’m saying. Find your reason for why you need to sit down right now and grab that geography textbook.
2 – Pick a place and time
Another thing to do before studying is to pick the right place and the right time. Some people are night owls and just remember better at night or understand concepts better at night, some people are morning people and study in the morning before class, some people can study anytime but what determines their schedule is what kinds of responsibilities they might have that day and when. In other words, the right time is dependent on your schedule and on your personal preferences, so you should consider if you stay up later to study at night, if you like getting up early and just the feel the most motivated at that time, then consider studying then. If you have trouble with time management it’s okay to look up tips online, make a timetable or schedule and keep tabs on when you need to do what mentally. A friend of mine once told me that she keeps track of every event in the day with generalized timetables she remembers, constantly being reminded of the plan she has that day just through having memorized when what happens.
When it comes to a place for studying, some people pick a certain place for comfort, lack of distractions or simply because that place feels lucky or means something to them. If you haven’t found yours yet, try studying in various places and positions, your desk, bed, maybe a chair you feel comfortable in, study cafe, library, park, etc. Where you study can make a huge difference. There are still people that can study anywhere, but even they would likely agree that studying in the bus surrounded by noise is less helpful than studying in the peace and quiet of your own room.
3 – Discover your learning style
I’m sure you’ve noticed by now that I keep mentioning “some people do this, while others do that”, “some people think this, my friend thought that, I think this” and so on. This is to note that different people would have their own different preferences and much like your preference for staying up late or getting up early, different people also have different learning styles.
The three basic learning styles are auditory, visual, and tactile/kinesthetic learning styles. You can learn more on the internet, for now here’s a short explanation from the YouthCentral website:
- Auditory learners prefer to learn by listening. Try reading your notes aloud and discussing them with other people. You might like to record key points and play them back.
- Visual learners prefer to learn by seeing. Try using colors in your notes and draw diagrams to help represent key points. You could try to remember some ideas as images.
- Tactile/kinesthetic learners prefer to learn by doing. Try using techniques like role-playing or building models to revise key points.
Also for studying in general I recommend the “Pomodoro technique” which is studying with 25 min cycles and 5 min breaks. The cycles are called “pomodoros” and after 4 of them, you should take a bigger break of 10-15 min. Feel free to alter the technique to suit your needs.
4 – Take breaks
As I said in the previous tip, you should take breaks between sessions and give your mind some rest. They shouldn’t be so long that you forget some of the things you’ve learned and/or become too relaxed but not too short that you don’t feel rested and feel like you’re pushing yourself too much.
5 – Review and revise
Revising and repeating can be very useful, there’s a reason they say repeating is the mother of knowledge and that practice makes perfect. It’s because we often learn how to do certain actions through repeating those actions.
If you have to learn a lesson you repeat it, I have a friend who reads each paragraph quietly and without interruption, interprets it, and then says it out loud as though she were giving a lecture on that subject, even adding her own opinions. She then repeats the whole lesson once she’s remembered each paragraph. This is interesting as she gives a little story as to why she’s repeating, it isn’t just that she’s reviewing the material so she can be more prepared for an exam, rather she pretends she’s going to have to give a lecture on it, which is quite an interesting technique in my opinion.
Whatever note taking system you may have, using your notes rather than a textbook could save you lots of time sense you won’t always remember how something was phrased in the textbook but you will remember your own rendition of it in your notes.
6 – Stay motivated
I believe that motivation is an important factor when it comes to studying. I can’t study if I’m not motivated and I know so few people who can just brute force it. Even if I have important exams scheduled, I won’t always find a way to motivate myself. Some people are motivated by the deadline approaching alone or good grades alone but for a lot of us that’s just not the case. So, I’d suggest telling yourself if you make the grade now you’ll have less to worry about later. It can seem tough to have to keep pushing and getting good grades until you come to a point where you won’t have to worry about it, but know that it’s better to worry now and finish it now than worry later and finish it later.
There are more rational logical reasons on why you should stay motivated, but often cold logic or rationality doesn’t work with us as emotional beings. So try to find an emotional motivator as well, a pet, a snack or drink as a reward, a 5 minute gaming session on your phone and so on. Rewarding yourself are an excellent way of staying motivated in the short term, whereas a long term motivator can be thinking about your grade strategy (if I get an A now, I won’t have to worry if I got a B on another exam of the same subject, I got an B last time now if I can just get a B on this one then I’ll have a B for the end of the semester and that will help me get an A later down the line and so on – this is grade strategy).
7 – Ask for help
Most students, especially in the Balkans, are either ashamed to ask questions or ask for help while studying, ashamed to take extra classes because they feel it means they’re dumb or the professor/teacher will judge them for it, or they feel they have to do everything by themselves no matter what.
It’s not embarrassing, it’s not shameful, it’s just practical to ask for help whenever you need it. Ask the professors, ask your parents, ask an older sibling, ask a peer. No one will judge you for not understanding something and needing it explained in detail, wanting company during your study session, or simply being in need of a couple of answers.
It’s always best to find cost-effective (cheap or free) ways to understand the material but if you don’t want to ask a parent or professor/teacher or even a peer, then getting private lessons by professors is the next best thing if you have the financial resources (note: you shouldn’t feel ashamed if you don’t have these resources – they’re not in any way indicative of your intellect or character).
8 – While studying
Do your research, if you can, look up definitions on the internet, look up important terms and concepts, look up study guides, whatever you need to understand and interpret things your way while still knowing how to show the professors your knowledge. Remember: if you’re looking to simply learn, then learning on your own is good but if you’re looking to learn AND get good grades then combining the method of learning on your own and studying the way the professor wants you to is vital. A lot of people don’t realize that there’s learning for yourself (gaining real knowledge and remembering the things that interest you) and there’s learning for the grade (gaining momentary yet extensive knowledge for an exam and remembering everything the professor thinks is important).
Doing your research can also mean finding examples for the things you’re learning about, if you’re learning about a certain type of chemical reaction, finding more than the examples in the textbook can show the professor you know more and that you’ve taken a real interest in the topic.
Use pictures, draw pictures, diagrams, whatever you need to better understand the material or at least use some visual stimuli to help you memorize the concept. If you’re not good at drawing and you really can’t be bothered to think of ways to memorize visually or you’re just uninterested in visually learning that’s fine. But if you want to try this out, looking up images on the internet is a good start.
This goes hand in hand with color-coding your notes, if you’re uninterested in finding images or you don’t need them, the next best visual stimuli are colors, color code different sections with different colors to more clearly remember them or to put different kinds of emphasis on certain parts of your notes.
Practice on old exams and materials, find anything for testing yourself on the internet or ask your teacher/professor to give you materials from the previous years that you could use. Note: not all tests you find on the internet are correct nor are they at the level you’re learning at in your specific class, some tests are going to be much harder and you’ll wrack your brain for no reason while others will be much easier and not prepare you enough. Make sure you know what level you’re studying at and what will and won’t be on the exam if you’re looking to get good grades, if you’re looking to learn then seek out materials and tests that are on a higher level than what you’re learning right now.
9 – Eliminate distractions
Even though I put this at 9 as a tip, it’s actually incredibly important. When you’re not studying, your phone, your computer, a book, things on your desk like pens and paper and journals, don’t seem as interesting and you’re not always tempted to pick them up. However, when you’re studying, suddenly there’s this feeling “if I were doing anything else other than studying a subject I don’t care about – I would be having more fun”. From this, comes a temptation to play with our pens, to fold random paper that’s lying around, to look around and try to find patterns in our rooms, to check our phones often. This temptation wasn’t there when we weren’t studying, and it can be helpful to be mindful of these distractions which often tempt us away from studying.
In other words – we need to get rid of them. Mute your phone, get rid of whatever annoys or tempts you, anything that gives you an excuse to not focus should be away from you. With exceptions being whatever materials you need to take notes or for studying. If you can, try and avoid looking at the back of your textbook and its design, try and avoid looking up any definitions on the internet except those you’ll need for the exam or for learning (this can get you to go down a rabbit hole of other definitions and wiki articles and so on).
10 – Don’t multitask
Some people are good at multitasking, you might be one of those people that are criminally brilliant at it and I envy people with the ability. That being said, when it comes to a task that you need to pay a lot of attention to, you can’t spend the task focusing on other things as well. Either you won’t do those other tasks justice and so do a bad job at them or you won’t learn as much as you could have if you studied without doing the other tasks. It’s important to separate time for your chores or other tasks and time for studying.
A friend recounted the time she was studying geography and prancing around the room, making her bed, reorganizing her shelves, eating her breakfast and reading and reviewing the material to herself. She learned very little from that three hour session and it showed when she got a less desirable grade in her geography class. She’s a smart person and I admire her on many levels but it just so happens that she isn’t good at this type of multitasking – don’t think that not multitasking like this is somehow a show of low intelligence or effort; it isn’t. Be smart; don’t multitask if it doesn’t help you.
11 – Focus on learning, not just the grades
The grades should be your motivation – thinking about when you’ll get good grades and how great it will feel can really help keep you studying and convince you it’s worth it. But, if you focus too much on your grades, you’ll get stuck in your thoughts and you might start thinking about other things. Especially if it goes into self-defeating thoughts about how you’ll never learn the material, you’ll never be a good student or you’ll stop being a bad student. These thoughts not only distract and demotivate you from learning, they’re also not very good for your self-esteem and just not very nice.
It’s better in the moment to focus on what you’re learning, how you’re learning it, explaining it back to yourself, repeating it and seeing if you’ve memorized it and so on. Do this instead of just thinking about the grades.
12 – Use music for studying
Many people, like some of my friends, study without any music and hate being distracted by sounds during studying. However, for those who do listen to music during studying, it’s very important to choose music that is directly helping you understand things and distracts you from wanting to do something, that let’s be honest, can feel much more fun than studying. The music you choose should be fun enough that it makes you want to listen to it and keeps you studying, but not so catchy and fun that you have to sing along or you start daydreaming during it. Personally, I like to listen to some lo-fi beats while studying.
13 – Reading is NOT studying
While studying, you should always keep in mind that reading it alone, doesn’t mean it will get inside your head. When we read, in that moment, that information gets in our head but it doesn’t stick. We can have intelligent thoughts about it and remember some of it, but this is limited. We don’t have the time when we read it once without deliberation, to explain it to ourselves in such a way where we could use it practically or that we could recite it to a teacher well enough to get a good grade.
Some people might have an extraordinary memory and be able to read it once and it sticks so strongly that they constantly and easily get good grades because they remember so easily and can recite it well. However sense most students can’t do this, you’re likely not one of these people with an extraordinary memory. Therefore, you should remember that just reading something in the bus before you get to school, or glancing over it a couple of times before setting off for school, isn’t enough for most people to get a good enough grade.
That’s it for this post, thank you for reading and I hope you enjoyed. If you did, please leave a comment and tell us which your favorite studying tip is. I’d also like to hear which ones you would consider or if you have some tips I haven’t mentioned!