Healthy Ways to “Study Smart, Not Hard”

By Ameerah Angelina

Don’t say you don’t have enough time. You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Pasteur, Michelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, and Albert Einstein.


H. Jackson Brown Jr.

At this time of the semester, it is not uncommon for us to hear others say things like “there’s not enough time to study” or “there’s so much to cover, I wish the days were longer”.

In fact, we might be the ones to say these ourselves. As students, many of us would always complain about not having enough time, especially to study during our finals. 

However, as the quote above points out, we are all given 24 hours in a day. If people such as Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and Albert Einstein can all turn out successful with those same amount of hours per day, why can’t we? 

As students, our main priority is to achieve academic success. In order to do this, it is important for us to use our time wisely and study smart from the very beginning of the semester.

Here are a few ways we can study smart, not hard:

Learn in different ways 

One way to study smart is to learn the same topic through a variety of media. A research done by Willis is 2008 has shown that different media stimulates different parts of the brain and it is easier for us to understand and retain the information as more parts of the brain are activated.

Different ways to learn may include reading the textbook or class notes, watching YouTube videos related to the topic, creating a mindmap, looking up other online resources or teaching others what we have learnt. 

It may also help to connect what we are learning to something we already know. Relating new concepts to concepts we already understand will help us understand new information faster. For example, we can think of white blood cells as “soldiers” that help defend our body against diseases, which are the “enemies”.  

Each time we review a topic, try to use different methods because studies have shown that we will learn faster this way.   

Review a topic periodically

Reviewing an information repeatedly after a specific amount of time is essential to ensure that the information stays in our long-term memory, which will ease studying before exams and help us achieve better grades. 

Optimal review interval varies between people but a study has shown that the following review interval works well for students:

1st review: 1 day after learning the new information
2nd review: 3 days after the 1st review
3rd review: 7 days after the 2nd review
4th review: 21 days after the 3rd review
5th review: 30 days after the 4th review
6th review: 45 days after the 5th review
7th review: 60 days after the 6th review

By doing this, we can avoid the habitual all-nighters before exams as we no longer have to cramp several topics in one night. Pamela Thacher’s research has shown that students who pull all-nighters get lower grades and are more likely to make careless mistakes.

Besides, it is important for us to get at least eight hours of sleep for us to be more focused, learn faster, improve our memory and reduce stress. Getting enough sleep will help us be more productive during our study sessions as we will require less time to understand a topic.

Avoid multitasking

Several studies done regarding this has proven that multitasking not only makes us less productive and more distracted, but also dumber. Doing several things at once shortens our attention span and makes it harder for us to stay focused.

In order to be more efficient, we should focus our attention on only one thing at a time. 

To improve concentration, try to put the phone away or turn it off as this is one of the biggest distractions for students when studying. Logging out of all our social media apps or turning off Internet access may also help us avoid habitually checking our notification. 

On another note, it may also be good for us to find a quiet and clean place to study with minimal distractions in order for us to properly concentrate on the task at hand. 

Take regular study breaks

While motivated, we may be tempted to lock ourselves up in the room for six hours straight to study because we think we can get a lot done this way, but research proves that taking regular breaks is important to enhance our productivity and improve our focus. 

These breaks do not have to be for very long. Taking a 5 to 10 minutes break every 40 minutes of work is enough to help us re-energise. 

However, we should avoid using the phone or computer during breaks as these devices prevent our mind from fully relaxing. Instead, take a few minutes to stretch, walk around the room or grab a quick snack. 

Test ourselves regularly

Study smart by quizzing ourselves on the key concepts after each study session. It is important for us to test ourselves regularly to improve our academic performance. 

Studying through different media can help the brain absorb information faster, but we can further improve ourselves by doing simple quizzes just to test our understanding. We may find quizzes on certain topics on platforms such as Quizlet or Kahoot, or we may opt for practice questions, such as past questions, from different sources. Some of us may also prefer using flashcards or getting a friend that can help ask us questions and correct our answers.   

Focus on the process instead of the outcome

Instead of aiming for a certain grade, concentrate on actually learning the information. Our education system may have thought us that the end result is important, but what is really crucial is to focus on the effort. 

When studying, there are two types of goals: 

  1. Performance goals are about looking intelligent and proving ourselves to others, which includes goals like getting straight A’s or getting into the best school.
  2. Learning goals are about mastery of a certain topic we are learning and growing. This includes setting goals like learning 10 new vocabulary each day or solving five Math questions a day. 

Carol Dweck, a psychologist from Stanford, found that successful students are those who set learning goals and focus on the learning process instead of the end result. 

These are only a few simple and healthy ways to help us, as students, to study smarter instead of harder.

Finals for this semester may be over soon, but try to implement these tips to achieve better results in the upcoming semesters. ***

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