When we think of “studying,” we probably have similar images in mind: long, endless hours sitting in the same spot, pouring over the same material, trying almost desperately to commit it to memory. These tedious study methods are often seen as tried and true, despite no actual scientific evidence proving that they are. Maybe you had some random success after pulling an all-nighter, or your friend managed to get an A on a test they waited until the last minute to prepare for, but these shouldn’t be the study habits you resort to on a regular basis. In fact, always studying in the same room, studying a single subject for long periods of time, and other often-shared study tips have actually been proven to be unhelpful.
So, if those famous study methods aren’t the ones that work, then what methods do? Rather than turning to that tenth cup of coffee or asking your exhausted classmate how they manage to cram for their tests, it might be a bit more beneficial to turn to science instead.
Get Your Blood Flowing
Studies have shown that working in a bit of exercise throughout the week can help you stay fit improve your memory. Try doing some light cardio, like taking a 30 minute walk, a few times a week. Ride your bike rather than driving or taking public transit if you can. While studying, taking short breaks to walk around or do a few jumping jacks can keep your mind alert and blood pumping. The act of taking quick breaks is also important during studying, no matter how you spend them.
Take Your Time
Rather than trying to cram all of your studying into one, long session, break it up over smaller sessions over a longer period of time. Spend a few weeks leading up to a test or exam studying in short bursts rather than solely relying on that all-nighter the night before. For example, if you have three chapters from a textbook to cover, try to spend a few days working through each chapter, or a week per chapter if you can. While it might be difficult to plan your study time well in advance of a test or exam, it could be especially helpful to do so.
Sure, you might have that one specific table in the back corner of the library that you go to every time you study, but science suggests that switching up study locations often is a great way to improve retention. By giving your brain more locations to associate the material with, you’ll be more likely to hold onto that precious information come test time. So, spend some time at your table, but then switch to the cafe, and then to one of the tables out on the patio. Just try your best to avoid staying in one place for your entire session.
Teach Someone Else
Rather than studying just for the sake of retention, try studying with the intention of sharing that material with someone else. By teaching someone else the material you’ve learned and studied, you’re really committing that material to memory, instead of just passively looking over it. Remember it, think of practical explanations and applications, and have a friend or family member sit through a mini-lesson, courtesy of you.
Change It Up
Studying a single subject for long periods of time is not only tedious, it’s also not really helping you in the long run. Instead, alternate between studying different subjects during your study time. Spend 20-30 minutes on each thing, and take small breaks in between. This forces your brain to switch gears and stay alert, instead of falling into a lull from looking over the same material and using the same skills for too long at a time.
Take a Tech Break
It might be easiest to look over your neat, typed notes when studying, but it might be more beneficial to shut off your laptop and look over handwritten notes instead. Not only can our devices cause strain on our eyes and cause us to tire more quickly while studying, they have also been proven to slow down our reading speed, and therefore limit how much we’re really taking away from what we’re reading. Switch to your textbook for a while, and take some handwritten notes instead of typed ones.
Get Good Rest
While those all-night study sessions might seem productive, they are actually inhibiting your ability to perform well on that test you were trying to prepare for. Lack of sleep can have detrimental effects on memory, information retention, and processing. Also, it can take days to feel and perform normally again after a night of no sleep.
Test Your Knowledge
Simply looking over your notes and textbook is important, but it’s not nearly as effective as testing yourself on the material. Try making some flashcards or even creating an online quiz to take. By testing yourself to see what you know, you’ll be able to better identify what areas you’re still having trouble in and then hone in on those when you resume normal studying.