Studying is not easy for some people. It is for these people that I am sharing my best study tips, developed through my own personal experiences, through research and through my years of tutoring others. Before you can begin to study properly, I recommend getting your days a little more organized in a planner or weekly to do chart (you will see why this is important soon). Arkansas Tech University offers different outlets to help you get organized such as the tutoring center that offers one-on-one Academic Coaching and Career Services that offers assistance getting you organized for daily life (and beyond college). Now that we have that out of the way, let’s begin.
DO NOT study all at once
I understand that you have a busy schedule but if you want your brain to remember more information, time is key. A 2008 University of Illinois study found that the brain’s attentional resources drop after a long period of focusing on a single task, decreasing our focus and hindering performance. To begin, start with when your test is, look at your schedule the week before and allow a few days to study for shorter periods of time. Make sure you have your study material done before you begin this (such as notecards, mind mapping, etc.). For example, if you are taking an easier test on Friday, study for an hour on Monday and Wednesday with a quick 30-minute refresher on Friday before the test. If you were taking a harder test I would recommend studying at least 1 hour a night the week before the test. Do not go over 2 hours a night ever as this seems to create a negative impact and a reversal of information retention.
Use visual clues to help you study
Visual clues such as notecards and mind mapping help you organize your thoughts in small, concise chucks to more easily recall at a later time. For example, when using notecards write an important word or date on one side, say 1939. Then on the other side keep it simple: World War II begins. That way no matter what side you choose to study from the information is short and connected. Use more than one notecard to connect a large amount of information by breaking it down into smaller bits. For example, when talking about the Holocaust break it down into subcategories such as: Holocaust began, define Holocaust and Holocaust ended. Simple breakdowns help the mind remember more about a complex idea than trying to lump it all together.
Say important words or phrases out loud.
If you find yourself stuck on remembering a certain piece of information, say it out loud. By saying words out loud, we give them a certain power of memory recall that doesn’t work as well if we just say it in our head. Saying the word out loud “helps you keep the visual representation of the object in mind better,” Gary Lupyan, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, said. Basically, we make a connection to the idea that wasn’t there before allowing us to recall it easier. For example, saying 1939 out loud will help you remember that’s when World War II began. However, if you start saying everything out loud the techniques effect will lessen with each new word or phrase so save it for the hard to remember moments.
Practice, practice, practice, Practice
This helps you boost your confidence and your understanding of what you’re going to face. For example, practicing helps you figure out how long on average it takes you to answer a question. So if you have a timed test you already know your pace and how quickly you have to move to best answer all of the questions. This also shows you the importance of skipping a question and coming back to it later. Also, if you study for an oral presentation by practicing hard to say lines, this will help you have a clearer message during presentation time and lessen your chances for a mistake.
Breaks are just as important
When studying, it is important to take breaks. This does not mean study for 5 minutes and take a 15-minute break; in an hour session, you would get 15 minutes of actual study time in. I recommend taking a 5-minute break every 25 minutes. When on your break do not use your phone, television, computer or any other electronic device. The brain uses enormous amounts of energy for an organ of its size “regardless of whether we are tackling integral calculus or clicking through the week’s top 10 LOLcats,” according to Scientific American. My best advice for break time is to go outside, close your eyes and let the sun offer you a break from the indoors (please use sun screen). By allowing your brain to take a break from studying and daily technology input you give it a chance to reset and get ready for the next round of studying.
Lastly, find a buddy
Having a friend, tutor, classmate, etc. help you study makes you more likely to retain the information because they are holding you responsible for knowing it and keep a positive spin on studying (if studying this way turns negative, stop immediately). The key to an effective study-buddy relationship is finding someone with whom you work well. Having a person to help answer questions, to reassure you and to keep you moving forward is beneficial to helping you study. Often times we lack confidence in our self to believe that we know the answer when we are in fact right, by having someone else us study and give us that reassurance helps solidify that answer as truth in our minds. Also, we tend to be our own biggest critic so having someone keep you on a positive, upbeat path while studying also helps us remember information better through positive reinforcement. Issues can arise when we do not fully understand a concept or formula and having a person there to help break it down and not seem so daunting keeps the study session on track and once again positively reinforces the information for future recall.
These are my top six study habits that have worked time and again for not only myself but for those I have tutored. Not all techniques work for every person, find ones that work best for you and use them as tools to succeed. Between getting your weeks organized and incorporating these study habits, college should seem a little less stressful and more useful. I wish you all the best in your upcoming tests and midterms.