Young woman studying

Study Smarter, Not Harder

posted in: Study Tips 3

The key to succeeding with your studies is definitely to study smarter, not harder.

In fact, working harder by tapping into your willpower rarely works. Psychology studies have found that willpower is a finite resource that can be exhausted through use.

The good news is that a list of powerful techniques to help you study smarter, not harder, is presented right here. Many of the strategies are backed by science.

The secret to being a great student is to make study seem effortless. Set in place supporting structures and habits that allow you to get high grades without putting in many hours.

The 21 tips were extracted from a large essay contest for college students. We asked entrants what most helped them to succeed at study. Then we searched through the essays to find the strongest, most repeatable study methods.

1. Set a Big-Picture Study Goal

Graduation day

To study smarter, set in place a big-picture goal. The objective needs to be something you find personally important and which, hopefully, is both realistic and exciting to you.

A big-picture goal could relate to your family, future career, skill development or a personal accomplishment. Whatever the vision, think about it and believe in it. A goal is a source of energy and motivation, improving study efficiency and how well you retain information.

A study of 311 college students reported in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that grades were improved by both mastery goals (a desire to acquire knowledge) and performance goals (a desire to perform just as well or better than others).

2. Study Like It’s Your Job

Elevate study to the same status as a paid job. In a job situation, you need to get things done. Simple. Take the same attitude when you sit down for a study session. Show up, make a task list and check off each accomplishment one by one. You’re there to be productive and that’s all.

A professional approach may explain why college students who also work some part-time hours achieve higher grades. A study published in the International Journal of Business Administration found that students who worked less than 10 hours per week scored a higher GPA than those who didn’t work.

3. Create a Study Plan

Study planner

Create a study plan for yourself at the start of each term. Incorporate readings, assignments and topic reviews. Be specific about dates and milestones. And adjust the plan as needed as the term goes on.

A hardcopy planner or journal may be quicker and more effective than an app. But it’s up to you. Having a plan keeps you on track, ensuring you do everything that’s required to get good grades.

4. Create a Weekly Study Schedule

Create a study schedule and stick to it. A structured, firm schedule is the smart strategy to manage time. You can make sure you hit your study goals while avoiding stress.

Just draw up a weekly study schedule and follow it. The schedule should allocate enough hours for study while also leaving room for hobbies, social life and down time.

5. Have Dedicated Study Blocks

As part of your scheduling, set aside blocks of time each day to study without interruption. Everyone has a different time of day that works best for them, which could be first thing in the morning or late at night. Find the time where you can consistently put aside a study block and hold yourself accountable for this each day.

6. Study in a Quiet Space

Quiet study

Find a space in your home where you are free from noise and disturbances. Quietness allows for full focus, which reduces how many hours you actually have to put in. Mention your need for quiet time with your family or roommates in advance. Tell them when you will be studying so they don’t disturb you.

7. Prevent Possible Distractions

Remove potential distractions to complete your best work. Turn off your mobile phone and the television while you work. Only use background music if it helps you to relax and focus.

8. Limit Social Media Visits

Social media is a huge distraction when you study that can fritter precious time away. Log out of your social media accounts and switch off alerts on your phone and laptop. Don’t be tempted to get sucked into Facebook or Instagram for example when you should be studying.

A study of 500 university students in Australia found that excessive use of social media, Facebook in this case, put lower achieving students at risk. As reported in Computers and Education, moving from 2 hours to 3 hours of Facebook a day was associated with a 6-point drop in test scores.

9. Make the Most of Online Resources

Use online resources to study efficiently. Look at your college or university’s online library or writing centre for assistance with upcoming papers. Learn how to navigate around your classroom home tabs. A little preparation can make sure you are quick at identifying what you need to do and start tasks with the right information.

10. Break Down Work into Chunks

Chunking study concept

For maximum focus, break down your daily study load into smaller tasks. These chunks should each have a specific goal. Try only to retain a small amount of information at a time, and don’t make your study sessions too long. After each short session, give yourself a small break to refresh your mind.

According to educational psychologist Richard Mayer, “People learn better when a complex continuous lesson is broken into separate segments.”

11. Stay Mentally Engaged

Techniques to stay mental engaged are really important. You only learn when your mind is switched on.

Attention is the first step in learning. We cannot understand, learn or remember that which we don’t first attend to.

Thorne and Thomas

Quiz yourself as you study to ensure you retain the information you are taking in. Say out loud what you’ve learned. If your mind wanders, watch the lecture again or re-read the chapter.

12. Take Notes While You Study

Taking notes while studying

Write down key points when you study to help retain information and ensure your brain is focused and active. For a long video, for example, jot bullet points at regular intervals. Label each set of notes. To find the notes again in the future, you can just use the search function on your laptop.

13. Research with Strategy

Think about your approach to research to make your efforts methodical and productive. Don’t just go surfing for info on a topic for example. Store useful pages using browser bookmarks. Another idea is to use online flashcards to keep your thoughts organised. Create a folder for each of your classes and then make cards for each topic.

14. Find Joy in Studying

Woman smiling while studying outside

Make the study process enjoyable for yourself. Play happy or mellow music to fit your mood, and drink coffee or caffeinated soft drink if that helps. Find a peaceful space to keep you calm and focused and create a welcoming study environment.

15. Take Regular Breaks

You can’t just study for hours at a time without a break. If you do, your mind starts to switch off. That wouldn’t be smart. Take regular breaks to avoid eye strain and overworking yourself. Give yourself time to take a walk away from the computer. A nice tip is to set a timer for 25 minutes, and after that time, take 5 minutes away to rest.

16. Keep Healthy

Healthy cyclists

A healthy mind is a healthy body. Our brains can only take so much. Ensure you exercise, get fresh air, and eat healthy food. Rest as needed and get enough sleep each night. Your mind will be able to think much clearer when you are feeling rejuvenated.

17. Connect with Other People

Connect with other students online via social media, discussion boards and online portals. Find other students in your local area or on your course. They can offer an excellent support system to keep everyone motivated, engaged and on task.

18. Join a Study Team

Study team

When you study solo all the time, the experience can be lonely. Create a virtual team of study buddies to offer you company. Discuss your progress over WhatsApp or Facebook for example, and build relationships to encourage each other through the more challenging times.

19. Ask Questions

Don’t be shy to ask questions and get help when needed. Reaching out to your instructor or a classmate early is better than scrambling for hours trying to grasp something. To get the best response, figure out exactly what you need to know and ask politely and concisely.

20. Beat Course Deadlines

Get in the habit of beating deadlines. If you always have some time left, you avoid anxiety, stress and potentially late nights. You also create time to review your reports and achieve the highest quality.

Pretend everything is due a day before. For a larger assignment, create a deadline a few days earlier.

21. Reward Yourself

Couple dining out

A smart strategy to keep you motivated to study is to reward yourself as you go. When you do well on a paper or test, go and treat yourself with whatever you like to do. You need to have a life outside of your studies. Make sure you add some downtime to your schedule to spend time with your friends and family as well.

3 Responses

  1. Cindy
    | Reply

    IKR? I’d rather be the smartest worker in the room rather than the hardest worker! Reminds me of that picture where 2 people were pushing on a block of cement. The other one carved it into a circle and was able to move it forward much better than the one who worked so hard to push the original block.

  2. Sean M.
    | Reply

    Number two on the list is probably one of the smartest things I have read in a while. It makes sense to take learning as seriously as a job. You will stay focused and you may even end up enjoying it more. At the very least, you will hate it less! Keeping your eye on your end goal helps too.

  3. Jorge Castillo
    | Reply

    I just complete my master’s degree which included a thesis paper and studying for a competency exam (in addition to regular courses) so I can say every one of these tips is useful. I think the most important thing to do is adopt a philosophy that your education is a full-time job. If you are working, that means you’re working part-time or 2 full-time jobs once you start studying. Don’t want to do it? Consider an alternative.

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