Study Hard? Study Smart!

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Study Hard? Study Smart!

Tips on how to study smarter and get things done

As the school year continues, students take on the ever-increasing challenges of working hard, doing well, and attaining highly in their academics. It doesn’t help that we have more and more expectations for our youth than ever before. To be competitive in the college level, K-12 students are expected to be well-rounded in their academics, such as having active participations in school clubs or organizations, extracurricular activities, and maybe take extra or advanced courses outside of their regular classes. This has been the trend for the past few decades, and it can be said that the same expectations continue as people enter college, and perhaps even the workforce. Yet the total number of hours each day is still 24, and we are still far from being bionic humans.

So how do we tackle this growing demand for learning and achievement in today’s world and still maintain a well-balanced (and hopefully, happy and healthy) student life? The answer may be in studying smarter, not harder.

Tips on Studying Smarter

  1. Figure out how you learn best. Are you a visual vs. auditory learner? Or both? For some, the act of writing things down versus typing makes a difference. Some do better when they incorporate drawings, illustrations, or designs to help them remember information. And others hang onto information better when they are played back in an audio format. Whatever way works best for you, do more of that!

  2. Encode the information correctly the first time. When we are presented with novel information, it is a good idea to learn it correctly and accurately the first time we hear it. It is sometimes challenging for our brains to override information that was initially learned incorrectly, and can often cause some confusion if we try to “update” it later.

  3. Try not to multi-task when learning new information. Our attention span is limited and multi-tasking may prevent us from attending to the important details we need to learn because there is so much stimuli in front of us. And if we don’t pay attention to what is being presented, it won’t be learned. So make an effort to be more attentive during class and reduce multi-tasking.

  4. Make a regular time set for studying and stick to it. Look, you probably don’t have all day to bury yourself in books and notes. And cramming/pulling all-nighters isn’t really all that great for your longevity. This is a good way of practicing effective time management and ensuring that you have set aside a specific time of the day to devote to studying (and also prevent procrastination)! Don’t forget to schedule out blocks of time to do both productive AND restorative tasks.

  5. Understanding is key. Don’t rely on memorization too heavily when conceptual knowledge and application is what you will be tested on. After all, learning what makes things function or act the way they do is probably more interesting anyway. Learning for understanding is also a good way of making sure you don’t get lost in poorly-worded or tricky test questions.

  6. Know when memorization is helpful and when it is not. Use mnemonic devices to help you recall information. Mnemonic devices are memory learning strategies, such as using acronyms (ROYGBIV for colors), chunking large information (e.g., telephone numbers), making songs (e.g., ABCs), visual imagery (e.g., an illustration on how we hear sounds).

  7. Test yourself. Use flash cards, take quizzes, and get others to ask you questions to determine your level of deep learning. Testing yourself periodically can help you gauge whether you are successfully retaining knowledge and concepts.

  8. Teach someone else what you know. One of the best ways to learn is by teaching others the concepts and ideas you have been studying. Why? Because it offers you the ability to show your thorough understanding of the material, how it works, and generate new/other questions you have come up with based on what you have learned.

  9. Take breaks in-between study sessions. There is no gain in having you sit for 3-5 hours straight without taking a few minutes of study breaks. Try as you might, your mind (and body) will fight you, by becoming increasingly fidgety, distracted with other thoughts, feeling sleepy/tired, and so on. And did you end up learning much after having to deal with all this for a majority of the time? Perhaps, but more likely not. If anything, this is a sort of punishment behavior training you are conducting on yourself for trying to work hard. Do yourself a favor and get up, take a snack break, and stretch. Reward yourself for a job well done getting through reading those one to two chapters without any distraction and do it all over again.

  10. Don’t forget the “boring stuff”. Eat, sleep well, and exercise regularly to promote better learning. Yes, it’s true! When you study or learn new things, neural cells in your brain send signal from one to another. Over time, this connection strengthens and becomes more efficient, and this results in improved learning. Your ability to access this pathway when you are taking a test or quiz is increased when you have learned to strengthen this connection. And what helps with that, you ask? Exercise! Research studies have shown that exercising a few hours right after studying can boost one’s memory for learned information. Sleep is also helpful in increasing your chances of retaining the information because the act of sleeping helps consolidate the information you just learned to long-term memory. Regular and healthy eating habits don’t just give your brain and body fuel it needs to run smoothly (i.e., increased attention, alertness, processing speed, memory), it also helps improve your mood and energy. And we all know that things only get done when we are in the mood for it, right?

Share these tips with your friends and loved ones. If you have additional smart studying tips, I’d love to hear them!

While smart studying tips may be all that is needed for some individuals, there may be others who have more complex presenting challenges that are impacting their ability to learn effectively in the academic setting. If you think you or your child can benefit from additional educational support either via individual therapy or school psychological evaluations, please do not hesitate to contact me for a consultation.

-Dr. Mayo