Study Smarter, Not Harder: 5 Tips for Successful Study Sessions

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Study Smarter, Not Harder: 5 Tips for Successful Study Sessions

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Have you ever spent hours studying, only to feel like your brain retained none of the information?  Or have you ever been frustrated by dismal results, even though you reviewed your notes several times?  The truth is, not all study sessions are created equal.  Luckily, there are specific strategies you can implement to ensure your study sessions deliver better results.

5 Tips for Successful Study Sessions

1. Plan Ahead: Benjamin Franklin is credited with saying “Failing to plan is planning to fail”.  Those simple words are packed with incredible wisdom that all students can benefit from.  Don’t let exams or assignments creep up on you – use your syllabi to stay ahead of important dates.  I personally use and recommend a physical agenda, but reminders in your phone can work well too.  Whatever system works for you is fine, just make sure you have a system and are using it consistently.  Consistency breeds success.

2. Take a Building Block Approach: Just as prescriptions are given in small doses taken over a period of time, your study habits should be approached in the same way.  Cram sessions won’t give you nearly the same results as studying incrementally throughout each week.  In addition, it’s always important to remember that there is a huge difference between studying to learn and studying to pass.  Cram sessions may get you through a test, but they won’t commit the information to your long-term memory.  Don’t believe me?  Read the research for yourself so you can better understand how the process of consolidation, which involves rehearsal and meaningful association, converts short term memories into long-term memory.

3. Eliminate Distractions: A study conducted by the University of London concluded that “subjects who multitasked while performing cognitive tasks experienced significant IQ drops”.  College can be tough, but why make it any tougher on yourself than it already is?  Don’t sabotage your own success – turn off the distractions.  I personally put my phone in airplane mode, and then set my timer for 50 minutes.  I spend those 50 minutes studying, followed by a 10 minute break to check texts, social media, etc.  After that, it’s back to airplane mode and back to the books.  Try it just once and see the effects for yourself.  Not only will you have clearer thoughts, but you’ll also get your school work done in a fraction of the time.

4. Know and Use Your Resources: The purpose of higher education is to learn more and grow more.  Thankfully, there are a ton of resources to help you do so, and do so successfully.  If you have a big paper due, visit the writing center and let them help you brainstorm.  If you’re struggling with your math homework, don’t get frustrated!  Get the help of a math tutor. . . they’re there everyday waiting and wanting to help.  In fact, peer tutoring is available for nearly every subject, and they’ve got a set schedule so you can plan ahead (Rule #1) and get the help you need.

5. Use Proven Study Methods: If you’ve ever studied your notes, felt like you knew the material, and then been disappointed by your results, then it may be time to switch your study method.  The problem with simply reviewing notes is that it doesn’t give your brain the ability to engage in active recall.  New information is cemented in your memory banks when your brain has the opportunity to recall and consolidate the material repeatedly.  But when you are reading your notes, the answer is right in front of you so your brain doesn’t have to do the work.  However, when you engage in active learning, such as using flash cards or testing yourself, new information is reconsolidated in your mind at a much deeper level, setting you up for better results.  Active learning is where learning, memory and mastery collide, so get yourself some 3×5 cards and give it a try!

Just as one trip to the gym won’t get and keep you fit, one study session won’t get and keep good grades.  Success takes effort, and effort takes time, but implement the five study tips above and you’ll find the time spent is well worth it in the end.

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