ways to study smarter, not harder

Posted : March 26, 2014
Last Updated : October 1, 2019

ways to study smarter, not harder

You've heard the old adage, "work smarter, not harder." It may seem cliché, but applying this concept to your studies will make you a more productive student. Studying too hard and cramming the night before a test actually defeats the purpose. While making good grades is important, the main goal of your studying endeavors should be to learn and retain information. To do this, you must develop effective study skills and learning strategies. Here are ten ways to study smarter, not harder.

Utilize your syllabus for each class.

Your teachers and professors give you syllabi for a reason: they want you to be aware of the work to expect so you can plan accordingly. As soon as you receive your syllabi at the start of each semester, make notes in your planner or app. Record paper and project due dates, exam dates, important instructions, etc. By planning ahead, you will give yourself more time to complete assignments and study for tests.

Take effective lecture notes.

If you try to write or type verbatim on topics discussed during a lecture, you are working too hard. Take more effective notes by using abbreviations and symbols. Listen for signal words and phrases so you will know when key ideas are being introduced. These phrases may include:

  • "There are two reasons why…"
  • "It is important to note that…"
  • "A key concept…"

Leave blank space in your notes so you can go back and fill in more information after the lecture is over. Try to organize and review your notes right after class while the information is still fresh on your mind. Doing so will help you better retain the information for future projects and exams.

Read to learn.

If you are taking a full course load, completing reading assignments for each of those classes may seem overwhelming. Instead of reading every single word (which you aren't going to remember anyway), you should read to learn. Scan chapter headings, introductions, and summaries. Highlight keywords and definitions. Search the text for the main points and take notes or write summaries about them.

Put the study content in your own words.

As you are studying and reading course material, don't just memorize the information. Your goal should be to be able to explain in your own words the main ideas and concepts of the content that you are studying. If you can't explain it simply, then you don't understand it well enough.

Create study tools.

Create outlines, timelines, charts, graphs, and flashcards from your lecture notes and reading materials. As you create these study tools, you will probably find that writing or typing the content helps you memorize the information easier. Review these study tools on a regular basis when you have extra time between classes.

Test yourself.

By testing yourself, you will become more actively involved in the learning process. This learning strategy will prepare you for exams because you will be retrieving reviewed course material from your memory. Use the study tools that you create to test yourself. Make up your own test questions. Practice writing essays and summaries for possible essay questions.

Participate in study groups.

If you are the type of student who learns better when discussing topics, then start a study group. Discussing course content with other students should help clarify information, as well as, solidify the info in your brain for easy recollection.

Use technology.

If you are tech savvy, you should find that utilizing apps and other technology will allow you to study smarter. There are a multitude of apps for making studying easier. Here are just a few examples:

  • Evernote – An app designed for note taking and archiving. A note can be formatted text, handwritten text, a webpage, a photo, or a voice memo. These notes can be sorted into folders, tagged, and made searchable from a computer or wireless device.
  • Quizlet – An app that will quiz you in a mode that suits your learning style. Modes include: flashcards, learn, speller, test, scatter, and space race.
  • Dropbox – An app that lets you save documents and share files with other students. This app is ideal for group projects and study groups.

Avoid marathon study sessions.

Studies suggest that students learn better when they study smaller amounts of information over longer periods of time. You should be reviewing your study content in short and frequent sessions. Don't wait until the night before an exam to start cramming all the material into a six-hour study session; the night before should be saved for reviewing only.

Meet with your teacher or professor.

If you come across a concept during your studies that you don't understand, don't be afraid to ask your teacher or professor for clarification. If he or she doesn’t have time to meet with you after class, set up an appointment to discuss the topic at hand.

Why study so hard when studying smarter requires much less effort? Modify your routine to include these strategies in order to be more productive in your studies and schoolwork.

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ways to study smarter, not harder

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