Of the many inconsequential things I learned in my science courses, a lesson on how to study efficiently was not one of them. Because most of us do not actually get formally educated about how we learn best and instead have to figure it out on our own through trial and error, it comes as no surprise that the way the average student studies is not the most optimised for exam success.
So throw out that highlighter (it doesn’t really work), stop rereading your textbook (you’re just wasting your time) and read on if you want to learn how to learn better.
Tip #1: Set up a schedule for learning.
Cramming doesn’t work. You need to distribute your study sessions over a longer period of time with at least a 24 hour interval before you restudy the material.
Tip #2: Test yourself on the material.
Now that you have a schedule for learning, what activity do you fill up your study sessions with? Research has shown that testing yourself on the material is the best way to retain all that information. So try answering some textbook exercises, look up some questions on the internet or make yourself a practice test to know how well you’re doing.
Tip #3: Explain the concepts to yourself.
So you’ve done a few practice tests to figure out what areas you need more help with? Great! Now it’s time to improve at those areas. Take out a piece of paper (or a whiteboard) and a pen, then explain out loud whatever you’re having difficulty with to yourself as if you were describing it to a friend. If you struggle at any point with the explanation, then that means that you don’t understand it well enough yourself. At this point, you’re allowed to take a peek at your notes or textbook and figure out the exact point you’re having difficulty with. Then go back to explaining it to yourself. You’ll know you have understood the material properly when you stop having problems explaining it to yourself.
Tip #4: Take better notes.
When you’re listening to a lecture or reading a textbook, it is important to note down the information being presented to you without copying it verbatim. One of the best note-taking methods out there for students is The Cornell Note-taking System. It involves a note-taking column where you take down notes in the form of points and a smaller cue-column where you write down questions based on your notes. It also has you leave some blank space at the bottom to write a summary of your notes after class. This method works better than others because a) you can use the questions you have jotted down to test yourself after class and b) it forces you to actually think about your notes after class as you write your summary.
Tip #5: Use flashcards.
Memorising facts, terms and equations is a chore. Thankfully, there’s Anki to help you remember stuff more efficiently. When you make flashcards in Anki, you can access them anywhere on your computer, smartphone or through the web. Moreover, it has a fantastic algorithm that makes you practice the material you are most likely to forget. It’s also completely customisable.
Tip #6: Move around.
Learning the same stuff in a different place makes you less likely to forget it. So don’t just sit in one place while you revise. Move to library, then to the coffeeshop, then outdoors. Switching up your location means you’ll become less bored with studying and thus get more done without procrastinating.
Tip #7: Listen to the right type of music.
Classical music has been shown to help you learn things better. So play some Mozart or Chopin pieces while you’re studying for a better experience.