10 tips for more effective studying

focus goal-setting learning-techniques memory-techniques planning sleep
· 7 min read
10 tips for more effective studying

It’s never wrong to tune up your habits and routines to make them a little better and more efficient. There are plenty of ways to make studying more effective and easier, and it’s worth at least looking into them. Best of all, if you get your new routines right, you can actually get more done with less effort.

Remember that any new thing takes a little time to get used to, so don’t get frustrated if a new habit doesn’t work or produce the desired results from the start. Sometimes it’s about eliminating unwanted routines, sometimes it’s about creating new ones. Sometimes we replace a routine with a better alternative.

The aim, of course, is to make hard things easier and more fun in the future. Grab a few ideas for yourself from the list below, and if a new routine sticks, pick up a few more.

1 – Plan your learning in advance

It pays to plan your learning carefully and at different levels of time, even if it can sometimes feel like planning and monitoring your progress take time away from the work itself. However, the time lost will be gained many times over in terms of more efficient performance. The effectiveness is based on the following:

  • You don’t always have to think about what to do next.
  • Everything is organized in advance, so you have one less worry.
  • Time management is easier and, for example, panic studying during the exam week can be avoided.
  • A good plan and a calendar create motivation.
  • Balancing your other life with studying is easier with a calendar.

So take a moment a week to plan ahead and be amazed at how easily you can organize what can seem like a complex undertaking.

We have a free lesson on planning to help in planning your work. Why not take a look?

2 – Set yourself clear goals

Would you go hiking in an unknown region without a map? Goals give you a mental map that you can follow to reach your destination. By creating milestones and clear schedules, you’ll make learning more efficient and less stressful. Who wants to wander around without a destination?

Creating goals also improves your motivation to study and helps you focus on what really matters. You can read more about how clear goals help improve study performance in our article on the topic.

3 – Use more active learning methods

One of the most common mistakes students make is spending most of their study time with passive methods such as reading. Of course, it seems efficient to read the material over and over again, but then the information (or crumbs of it) only goes in one direction. A small part of what you learn is stored in long-term memory, but at no point does your brain actually take what you learn and form logical entities of it, let alone link it to existing knowledge.

You should prefer methods that involve genuinely working through what you have learned and recalling it to your working memory for processing. These methods include:

  • Flashcards
  • Summaries
  • Recall, for example through questions
  • Learning diaries
  • Taking notes
  • Doing exercises

It is no wonder that studying for exams or tests, for example, is difficult when the methods are wrong. Learning studies clearly agree that active methods outweigh passive ones.

4 – Spread out your studies - don’t leave things to the last minute

Let him cast the first stone, who has never left a big project or reading assignment to the last minute. For some, approaching the deadline may be the only effective motivator, but for most, it would work much better to move forward with a study project by evenly spacing out study sessions into smaller intervals. This has also been found to be one of the best study techniques in all its simplicity. The benefits are numerous:

  • Better alertness and focus
  • Better information structuring in the brain
  • It is easier to plan your studies and see the bigger picture
  • Less stress
  • Gaining better control of your calendar

Imagine an athlete preparing for a tournament by training for 7 hours straight on the last day. Your brain works on the same logic. You’ll get it done, but the quality will drop in proportion to the length of the study session.

5 – Keep your phone out of reach when studying

Even if you’ve silenced all notifications, the temptation to check your phone can still be irresistible when you should be concentrating on your studies. Make it harder on yourself by putting your device in another room and only permitting yourself to go to it during a break.

There are even separate phone-dedicated safes that only open after a set window of time, but hopefully, you won’t have to go that far.

6 – Reward yourself for successful learning sessions

Our unconscious mind craves rewards, which is why instant gratification solutions are so easy to make. No one can work for six months waiting for a reward to materialize when the job is done.

Instead, it pays to create milestones and short intervals for our primitive brains to follow and get the rewards they crave. The easiest way is to give yourself breaks while you study, so you can do exactly what you want. For example, if a moment of browsing your socials is your reward, allow yourself a ten-minute session after an hour after studying. This will harness a potential time thief as a reward for the unconscious mind.

7 – Get enough sleep to maintain your concentration

Sleep does magical things to our brains:

  • Cleans out waste products and toxins that have accumulated during the day
  • Structuring information into wholes
  • Forming new connections between sets of information
  • Storage of information in long-term memory
  • Helps in maintaining alertness and concentration

Everyone knows what it feels like to try to concentrate on a complex and demanding task after a night of poor sleep. Ensuring that you get enough and regular sleep every night can produce results that even the best study techniques would otherwise fail to achieve.

To improve your sleep, focus on getting at least 7.5 hours of quality sleep every night, going to bed at a relatively regular time, and avoiding extra meals and exercise sessions just before bedtime. If you are interested in learning more, we will go much deeper into quality sleep in our lesson on the topic.

8 – Move more to give your brain time and energy to work on what you’ve learned

Exercise and learning have been found to be inextricably linked. Of course, you don’t learn new facts during a run, but your brain does a lot of processing of previously learned information and makes new connections between information structures. So, in addition to the huge health benefits, exercise also has a wealth of cognitive benefits:

  • Increased blood flow to the brain, resulting in increased brain function and neuronal activity.
  • Exercise activates new neurons in the same way as learning. This means they don’t die unused.
  • The benefits of exercise for learning and alertness outweigh any drug on the market. The same goes for mental wellbeing as well.
  • Regular aerobic exercise slows down the degeneration of nerve cells in the brain.
  • Exercise increases the production of neurotransmitters that help concentration and reduces, for example, levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

So why not treat yourself to some form of exercise every day? We will take a more in-depth look at the importance of exercise for learning in our lesson on the topic.

9 – Study more and more subjects that challenge you

Who doesn’t like the feeling of success when we know all the answers or can do something easily? However, in terms of learning, it would be beneficial to spend as much time as possible out of your comfort zone doing tasks and studying things that are challenging for you. The magic lies in finding a difficulty level that is just challenging enough but not too difficult.

So make sure you don’t spend too much time on subjects you already mastered but plunge boldly into more challenging waters.

10 – Learn a memory technique to help you study

Learning things by heart was last in fashion about a century ago and today’s learning emphasizes understanding, figuring things out and grasping the big picture. There is nothing wrong with this shift in itself, but we may have forgotten the benefits of learning by heart, especially when we use some memory techniques to support us.

The human brain is not adapted to efficiently remember large amounts of theoretical information, read material or figures. These features have not been of much help to the survival of our species so far, although in the future the brain may well evolve in a more ‘analytical’ direction.

Instead, we remember effectively:

  • Places and routes
  • Causal relationships, stories and parables
  • Unusual events
  • Things that evoke a strong emotional response
  • First impressions of people we meet (but not necessarily names or other facts)
  • Concrete things
  • Things we repeat and use all the time in our daily lives

Memory competition champions use techniques based on these very features of our memory. For example, the place method relies heavily on our ability to remember places and concrete and memorable things that happen in those places.

The use of memory techniques in learning is hugely useful, particularly in review and active recall. The techniques themselves do not guarantee that you will understand what you have learned or grasp the big picture, but they do help you to remember the information when you need it. You can’t skip learning, because how can you remember something you haven’t memorized yet? For an in-depth look at memory techniques and how they can be applied to learning, check out our free lesson on the topic.