Studying for an upcoming exam, or even just studying in general can be a long and tedious process. It may sound like a simple thing to do; just sit there and read or take notes.
But it’s a little more complicated than that. Here are 10 simple study hacks to help you retain as much information as possible and get the most out of your revision sessions.
- Find an optimal study environment
- Don’t study where you normally relax
- Exercising before you study
- Discover your learning style
- Learn by “chunking”
- Take breaks
- Stay away from your phone
- Study dailyRevise with others
- Prepare some study snacks
Find an optimal study environment
Finding a good place to study is one of the most effective ways to learn. Some people don’t have a desk or a quiet place to study. Having a busy household filled with pets or noisy siblings are a huge hindrance for effective studying. Try to go to a local café, coffee shop or library. I find that even with my phone with me, I perform better when away from my usual environment.
Having a change of scenery really helps refresh your mind. If you’re not very fond of going to a café or can’t for whatever reason. Plugging in a pair of headphones and blocking out the sounds around you also helps. Classical music is shown to be best for studying. However you don’t have to listen to Beethoven or Bach if that’s not your cup of tea.
Don’t study where you normally relax
It may be tempting to get your laptop and study in bed or your sofa. Yet studying where you would normally relax at the end of the day is a big no – no. Don’t add the stress of studying to your happy place.
Your body may get confused if you’re lying in bed while trying to study, thinking that you need to rest. You might end up losing all of your motivation and just get distracted. Especially if you’re perched on the sofa and in front of the TV.
Exercising before you study
It might sound strange but a benefit of exercise is that it relieves stress. Stress can be a huge damper on your learning and can affect your focus and memory. Exercise is an effective way of relieving all that pent up stress built up in your daily life.
Exercising causes an increase of blood flow to the brain, rich in oxygen and nutrients that your body needs for essential decision making and helping you to focus. The part of your brain called the hippocampus is stimulated during physical activity; the hippocampus is shown to be the part of the brain related to reasoning and memory. Keeping it sharp and healthy also slows down age-related shrinkage.
According to the Department of Health, about 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous activity each week can help relieve stress. Brisk walking or swimming are moderate aerobic exercises and running or cycling are the most common examples of vigorous exercise.
Discover your learning style
Most of us have a specific way of learning; personally I have found that a mix of auditory and visual works best for me and also most people. You however, may be different so it’s important to know and understand what really works for you.
There are three different types of learning:
Auditory learners prefer to learn by listening. Try reading your notes aloud and discussing them with other people to receive feedback. You might also like to record yourself discussing key points and play them back.
Visual learners prefer to learn by seeing. Try using colours in your notes, use flashcards and draw diagrams to help represent key points. You could try to remember some ideas as images and watch entertaining and educational videos related to your topic.
Tactile/kinesthetic learners prefer to learn by doing. Try using techniques like role-playing, group activities or building models to revise key points.
Learn by “chunking”
“Chunking” is the method of taking individual bits of information and compiling them into larger groups, by grouping your data into a larger whole you can increase the amount of information your brain is able to remember. Unlike “cramming” which is something I’m sure a lot of students are familiar with, it is only effective for short term memory. Chunking information can help move things from your short term memory to your long term. A way to overcome the loss of information due to cramming is by chunking your topics together. Research has shown that we are able to remember more information on a list when they relate certain items on the list with others.
Students that end up cramming the night before the exam may be taking in a lot of information, but once their working memory can no longer retain anymore information, they begin to forget most of what they learnt.
So if you find yourself in a situation where you need to retain mass amounts of information, remember to try and group the information based on their characteristics. Or find patterns in the information, which you can use to create sub groups to help you remember.
It may be tempting to just sit at a desk and study until you feel as though you can’t carry on, so you can get everything done in a single sitting. Especially the night before your test. However, this is one of the worst things you can do.
Research shows that the most effective study sessions are an hour long, with a five to ten minute break in between. Imagine doing that throughout the day – with about six hours of studying and a total half an hour to one hour break, you will get a lot more done than trying to complete everything in one go.
Stay away from your phone
This is one of the most obvious ways to ensure that you get the most out of your revision, and it should be the easiest to do. But, I know how addictive that little device is. All that information in the palm of your hand, you think you’ll just go on Instagram or Twitter for five minutes and it ends up being half an hour.
A method that isn’t very common is turning your phone to grayscale, essentially turning your screen black and white. This works because our brains are more attracted to things that are colourful and shiny, according to Tristan Harris, a former design ethicist at Google. Going grayscale removes positive reinforcements you get from looking at your phone and dampens the urge to keep opening up your social media platforms.
Yes, studying everyday sounds horrible. But creating a time slot to split up your studying and social life will help immensely. It’s kind of like exercising, you think that you’ll take a few days break from your morning run or walk and that break ends up over a week long instead of a few days. It’s important to have a schedule and stick to it. Also, studying everyday will help you to recall things better as you will be going over them on a more regular basis.
If you’re finding it difficult to find the time to study you can cut down on the hours, you don’t have to spend five plus hours everyday. Although, depending on your situation, like an upcoming exam, you may have put certain social situations on hold to ensure that you get your study hours in.
Revise with others
Working in a group or just with one other person can help you to keep the revision process in perspective, you can share revision plans and notes. Listening to how other students approach their revision and what techniques they use can help you broaden your understanding of the topic, as everyone is able to bring something to the table. You can work together and may find that one person is better at managing time while the other has valuable advice on how to answer tricky exam questions.
Working together also allows you to quiz or play games with people in your group. This is a great benefit for tactile/kinesthetic learners as you’ll be interacting with each other and doing physical activities to help you memorise things. Instead of sitting there and watching a video or reading.
Prepare some study snacks
Designate a specific flavour of snack for when you’re studying, and only when you are studying. A lot of students like to chew a pungent flavoured gum during their study sessions, such as peppermint or cinnamon. This gives you something to look forward to when you’re preparing for your exams. Snacking on a specific piece of food also signals to your body that it’s time to buckle down and revise. Then, when it’s time for your test, chew on the same flavour of gum. This can help your subconscious recall some of the information you learnt.
So there you have it, ten simple hacks to help you study better and to understand how to improve your revision methods. There are many more out there that can offer similar results. However, this is just a small list. Look around and see if there’s anything else you can add to this list to help you through your exam prep. Check out this section of our site for more useful info to help better your learning experience.