What if I told you that you could score in the top 10% of your class while studying less than 15 minutes a night?
The 15 Minute Study Strategy has gathered a lot of attention.
There is a lot of skepticism. It’s natural.
I come out and say “you can score in the top 10% of your class while studying less than 15 minutes a night.” I can’t blame anyone for being skeptical.
I may have heard some skepticism but some student’s have followed by lead and given it a shot.
From the emails I’ve received, it looks like that strategy has worked. I’ve spent nearly a decade now working on particular aspects of the 15 MSS. It started as a general study philosophy based on some obscure scientific studies. I’ve added in a slew of personal study experiments.
Students have taken these lessons and experiments and turned their own grades around. Not only that, but many have flipped their lives upside-down. Instead of hating school they learn to love it. I am so thankful for that.
I think it’s a good time to discuss the whole strategy in a single place.
Naturally, I can’t address every question and concern in a single article. If you want to understand everything then you’ll have to dig through tons of old articles and future ones. (I may write a book on this subject at some point. I would be a good addition to my other 3.)
If you want a simple overview of the whole plan with enough details to get you started, this page is here to help.
Get Your Head On Straight
- There is no magic solution.
- It requires effort.
- It doesn’t include “work.” Only memorization and learning.
- It’s not about perfect grades.
- One (about) 15 minute session a day.
- At the same time daily.
- Absolutely NO DISTRACTIONS
- Absolutely NO POTENTIAL DISTRACTIONS
- I’m serious. Turn off your damn phone.
- Prioritize study material ruthlessly
- Use active recall as much as possible
What It’s Not
The 15 Minute Study Strategy is not designed to provide an exact prescription. It’s better to think about it like a general nutrition of studying. None of the recommendations are exact. Each individual has particular “metabolic” needs. The strategy requires this general nutrition framework throughout all of its recommendations.
For example, even the basic 15 minutes of studying a night is just a general guideline. (In fact, it’s a rather high general guideline.) Most high school students don’t even need their study session to last a full 15 minutes every night. 15 minutes is usually excessive. A particularly gifted student might be able to pull off the same results in 5 minutes a night. The average college student might need the full 15 minutes of studying every night.
In some challenging degree programs and colleges, the time might go as high as 25-30 minutes. (At that point I have other recommendations.)
Most people reading this should be sticking to the 15 minutes a night. It’s essential not to overestimate the challenge of your particular situation. Excessive study time is part of the problem with most students study routine.
Notice how this is not exact. It changes based on individual factors.
This applies to every recommendation. It’s not an exact science.
All study experiments suffer from flaws when it comes to dealing with the individual. Their measurements tend to be more wrong on average than right. (This is particularly true for the type student that researches study strategies. You’re not average.)
This strategy is designed using those imperfect experiments. That leaves this strategy imperfect. Don’t expect precise guidelines. No one can give those to you.
The 15 Minute Study Strategy does not include homework. Every teacher gives a different bulk of homework. It would be insane to try and include such a distinctive factor into this strategy.
This blog gives recommendations on dealing with that homework efficiently. Don’t include that time in the 15 Minute Study Strategy.
The 15 Minute Study Strategy also does not include study prep. Many students take 10-20 minutes to move from planning to study into actually looking at their textbook. It takes them a couple minutes to stand up. It takes them a couple minutes to pick up their backpack and bring it over. It takes them a couple minutes to dig out their book… And on and on. This wasted time is not included.
Ideally, study prep time should be under a minute if you’re using this strategy right. Instead of studying being a slow and painful process it’s a habitual and quick process. Too many students get caught up in the constant drag of pretending to be studying. They waste an hour to “study” but only spending 30 minutes actually interacting with their study material. The rest of the time they’re switching songs, grabbing their stuff, and texting their friends. This is one of the main problems this study strategy tries to combat.
The 15 Minute Study Strategy does not give you perfect grades. It can provide grades around A for the average student. A gifted student will score higher and a struggling student might get a little lower.
Accepting imperfection is part of the power of this strategy. Perfect grades aren’t efficient. Near perfect grades can be efficient.
As a simple example: Let’s say you have a test with 100 questions each worth 1 point. Assume a student scored an 90 on that test. For that student to score a 91 instead of their 90, they would have had to know 1 out of 10 answers. Compare that to a student trying to turn a 99 into a 100. That student would have to know 1 out of 1 answer. Notice how the 90 student has 10 chances to improve their grade while the 99 student has only 1. The 99 student will have to invest way more time to know their last point than the 90 student to learn any of 10 points.
This may be a little hard to understand. Think about it this way.
Moving from a 90 to a 95 might take another 30 minutes of studying. Moving that 95 into a 100 would take dramatically longer than another 30 minutes. In general, I would expect moving from a 95 to a 100 to take at least 2 more hours of studying. That’s because the last 5 are much more difficult than 50% of the last 10 questions.
The 15 Minute Study Strategy is more focused on grades than on knowledge. Being smart is fundamental in life but this strategy is not about that. This strategy is about getting good grades. Gaining more knowledge is a good thing but the vast majority of grading has little to do with it.
I do not recommend letting your education end where school let’s you end it. That being said, since this strategy is about getting better grades, it doesn’t matter.
You can get better grades by getting smarter but it’s not a perfect correlation. More knowledge is not the same as getting better grades. There are a ton of other important factors defining grades.
Grades are affected by a student’s ability to take tests. Grades are affected by semi-related foundational skills like logic. Grades are affected by motivation. Grades are affected by how much their teacher likes them. Grades are affected by priorities. There are countless factors that have nothing to do with individual subject based knowledge.
Some of the most efficient means of improving grades are completely unrelated to a student’s knowledge on a subject. This strategy uses those strategies ahead of the actual learning of the subject.
Learning the subject better is not the only priority. It’s just one of them.
One of the most important aspects of the 15 Minute Study Strategy (15MSS) is the time limit. While the time limit isn’t limited to only 15 minutes, it should not exceed 30 minutes. This time limit is meant to improve your study efficiency.
Once you set a specific time limit for your study session, do not increase it without a plan. When the time is up, you’re done studying. Studying longer hurts this strategy’s effectiveness.
15 minutes should be an acceptable time limit for the average student.
As mentioned earlier, it is not a one size fits all but if there were a one size fits all number, 15 minutes would be it. If you aren’t 100% sure you’re in a super difficult set of courses, I recommend starting at 15 minutes.
After a few weeks of using this strategy, you may notice you don’t even need 15 minutes a night to do well.
If you’re struggling then you may need more time.
The 15 minutes of study time includes all your courses. Yes… This is a point that tends to sound a little crazy. I understand that but it will make sense. There is a logic behind this limitation.
Each of the 15 minute sessions should only study for 1-3 courses. Even 3 is excessive in most cases. It takes time to switch between information you’re studying. That time definitely shouldn’t be included in your study session.
If you plan on studying two subjects in one session, have all the study material prepared before you start. You can move onto your other brain intensive activities quicker when you’re prepared.
The less time between subjects, in this rushed time frame, the better. Generally, try to only study 1 subject every night. That simplifies everything in this process. (It may also reduces the efficiency depending on the student’s ability to focus. It’s usually worth it.)
Assigning Study Sessions
To start, most schools are not particularly intensive when it comes to studying. While the average student may have 5-7 classes, a percentage of those classes don’t need studying.
In general, only a few of these courses will need intensive studying and memorization. Those are the classes that these sessions should revolve around.
That will leave at least one 15 minute study session for each relevant course every week. Assuming you include the weekend for studying, this can be 2 weekly sessions for each course.
The more difficult the course, the more study sessions you should invest in it. I’ve had plenty of courses where I assigned study sessions early in the semester only to reassign them to a different course after realizing studying wasn’t required when I focused in class.
In a particularly difficult course load, you might consider increasing your study time. This is the area that you should focus first. Don’t increase your 15 minute study session into a 30 minute study session. Assign two 15 minute study sessions per day instead. Spread those study sessions out by as long a period of time as you can muster.
That being said, most people should not have to increase their number of study sessions or time to get good grades.
The 15 minute study session requires those study sessions to be distraction free. One of the reasons a student can get away with only 15 minutes of studying is the increased level of focus it allows.
The human brain isn’t a machine that can study for hours straight without a break. In fact, if you’re studying right, you may just feel mentally exhausted after that 15 minutes. It can feel as if your brain got a good workout. This increased level of focus can get killed by distractions.
One of the most common distractions is a person’s phone. Even the faint hum of a text message in the background will interrupt a person’s ability to focus.
If you’re studying and your phone alerts you of a text message and you hear it, you’re distracted. Instantly your brain is off the study material and on the phone. In most cases you’ll end up wondering who it was for 20 seconds before shaking it off and trying to get back into focus. To get back into the level of focus you were before can take more time.
Suddenly your 15 minutes of studying is down closer to 12 with good focus. If you answer the text or get another one your time is cut down again. The phone should be off or far away.
There are similar concerns for every distraction you have.
If you have the slightest bit of concern that something might be a distraction then prevent it. Turn off your computer if you have to. Leave the television off. Don’t listen to music.
(I’ve written a lot on this but to rush the point: if music means you enjoy your studying more then it means it’s a distraction.)
When you only have 15 minutes for studying (or less) you need to focus intensely on the material. You can’t afford to let minutes get wasted doing other things.
You also can’t afford to fall out of focus when you’re in the middle of learning something. The more you practice this distraction free focus, the better you get at it.
After that focus is in gear, you might even start feeling like 15 minutes is more than enough time.
The 15 Minute Study Strategy (15MSS) should be as habitual as possible. The study session should be at the same time, every single day, including weekends. This habitual nature is a significant aspect of the strategy for many reasons.
1. Habits are easier than discipline.
2. Hormonal adaptation
3. Consistent results
To expand on these factors:
First of all, habits are easier than discipline. It’s hard to stop doing what you’re doing and convince yourself it’s a good time to study. You need to fight off procrastination and start from scratch every single time. While habits take time to develop, once you have them, they don’t need any discipline to continue.
I’ve found breaking some of my study habits more difficult than actually starting to study.
Once you have a study habit, your brain can adapt to that habit. The brain does an amazing job of prepping your body for whatever you’re going to do. Hormonally, your brain can prepare you.
For example, if you eat at the same time everyday, you’re much more likely to get hungry right before that time. If you study at the same time everyday, you’re more likely to be prepared for your study sessions.
Consistency is another huge advantage of this strategy. Most study strategies fail to produce results because, let’s face it, studying sucks.
Given the choice between studying and doing nothing, most students would pick doing nothing.
In theory, you could get great grades studying an hour every single night but that hour every single night will turn into once or twice a week when you can muster up the discipline.
This strategy requires this consistency.
Attempting to use this study strategy inconsistently is risky. When you’re only sitting and studying for 15 minutes a night, you have to show up or you will see your grades drop. That knowledge makes consistency a whole lot easier. (That’s why it’s important you don’t let yourself study beyond your allotted time.)
Given you only have to study for 15 minutes, this is a much more achievable goal than most strategies.
Start to study consistently and you’ll be using the brains natural mechanisms for learning. It allows a consistent intense focus during the study period. That also mean you can have long rest periods in-between sessions.
Focus is a fundamental but difficult to measure factor. It’s difficult to know if you’re focusing well until you see the results of your study sessions.
Most students get lost in everything around them while studying. That’s why the study session needs to be as distraction free as possible. External distractions aren’t the only problem though. Internal distractions can be an even bigger problem.
You are not studying if your brain is not going over the study material. Do not sit next to your textbook daydreaming for 15 minutes and wonder why you’re not learning anything.
If you have serious personal problems and your brain can’t stop thinking about those problems then you should not consider it studying.
Once you start paying attention to these internal distractions you’ll realize how common they actually are. They can make studying seem almost impossible at times. (At times, I’d argue it is impossible.)
This is a dense subject to dig into. This study routine is kind of like jumping off a cliff with a hang glider. Once you jump off that cliff confidently you’ll probably be alright but if you’re not careful you might screw up and end up paying the price. It can be terrifying but that terror is a great motivator when it comes to focus.
Think about it this way: when you’re running to the end of the cliff with your hang glider, you’re not going to be thinking about the tone your teacher used with you. You’re going to be too worried about falling to your death.
Most of the 15MSS should rely on a testing style study session. When you’re studying, it needs to feel like a test for yourself.
At the end of 15 minutes, more often than not you’ll either feel invigorated or exhausted. If this doesn’t happen then something isn’t going right.
The most common study strategy students use today is a read to learn style. Students try reading their textbook (or notes.) Then they expect their memory to keep the information.
Sure, most people know this is a bad strategy but they think that it can work. Well… as long as their eyes happen to glaze over the required facts a certain number of times, right?
In reality, this is a miserable strategy. Given the choice between reading to remember or nothing I’d pick nothing. At least then you’d know where you stand.
The only way to know if your study strategy is working is by testing yourself.
The most common example I use of this is flashcards (but don’t get the impression this is the only method.) Flash cards have two sides. When you read one side of the card, you either know what’s on the other side of the card or you don’t. In that instant, you know if the information is sticking. If you think you remember it, you might have to dig in the back of your brain to find it.
When you dig into the back of your brain to find the answer, you’re building a strong memory. This is a testing style strategy.
Another example might be reading the typical textbook but instead of just reading it, pausing, closing your eyes and reciting important facts from each page. You can judge your progress by how many important facts you can get. As long as you’re not cheating, this is a testing methodology.
A good testing methodology requires a testing aspect to it but this testing aspect exists in different degrees.
You cannot instantly pick up a set of flashcards and know how to get through them.
At first, you need to do the traditional reading and trying to remember the information.
The goal is to maximize the testing time and minimize the reading time.
Sure, reading information can help you remember it. Writing information can also help you remember it. Listening to information can help you remember it.
Just because a strategy can help you remember the information, it doesn’t mean it’s worth the investment of time.
Of all memory strategies, testing is the most efficient. The more testing you can fit in your study strategy, the less you’re going to need to study.
In theory, flashcards would be the ideal tool for a testing style strategy. They come with a huge drawback though. Creating flash cards can be a serious time investment for class. To make up for this it may help to test yourself on your flashcards as you’re creating them.
That being said, flashcards may be one of the most simple testing strategies to get started on. They’re definitely not the only option though.
The majority of the information a student spends their time studying is a complete waste of time.
Considering how much information is presented to the average student, and how little of that information is actually tested, that should come as no surprise. This is particularly true in classes that emphasize studying from a textbook.
When a teacher assigns reading certain pages of a textbook for homework, while still offering work outside the textbook, the teacher is setting the student up to studying vastly more information than the test.
If you read the average textbook on any subject you’ll find thousands of facts to study in each chapter. The average test doesn’t have thousands of questions. The vast majority of the information in the textbook is pointless to learn for grades.
Most teachers don’t teach to the textbook. The textbooks are more like accessories to the class than important tools for the class.
In fact, most teachers don’t even test to the textbook. By that, I mean the questions on the test usually are only tangentially related to the points in the book.
Tangentially related is alright but considering how miserable most textbooks are at presenting information in a readable and interesting way, it’s usually unproductive.
This goes beyond textbooks though. Textbooks are just an obvious example of this phenomenon.
Most study time is invested studying information that will never be tested.
One of the most important skills a student needs to develop is the ability to prioritize information for a test. The better a student develops this skill, the less time they end up wasting while studying pointless information.
This is a skill that isn’t easy to limit to a short discussion because it encompasses a huge variety of options. The 15 Minute Study Strategy relies on developing this skill.
When you limit the amount of time you have to study, you can’t just waste your time. More study material isn’t better. You need to develop an eye for good information versus pointless information.
One of the first areas to look in developing this skill is the resources a teacher writes themselves. Teachers are encouraged to teach for the tests they write.
Teachers are judged by the success or failure of their students. If their students fail then they get “in trouble” for it (in many direct and indirect ways.) When a teacher is writing their own resources, they almost inevitably “cheat.”
By cheat, I mean they emphasize the important information for the test. They may not directly say, “this is what you need to know for the test” but they’ll almost always hint at it.
Teachers can’t directly tell you the answers but they can virtually hand you the test indirectly before the test. They just do it in a creative way that needs interpretation on your part.
A textbook is written by a random teacher that doesn’t care if you pass or fail. Individual handouts created by your teacher give you what you need to know for the test. It include class specific details.
Notice how this is far from an exact science. That’s one of the challenging aspects of investing in this strategy. It’s not as simple as a one line success strategy. It requires you pay a whole lot of attention and learn to read the teachers work more precisely.
Once you start getting deeper into the course you can find even more interesting strategies.
Getting used to the teachers preferred question style is one example. After a test or two you can discern whether a teacher is likely to ask some particular questions. Sure, you’ll get bitten occasionally by missing something important but it’s a lot less negative than the results of wasting hours of studying pointless information.
The basic plan for the 15 Minute Study Strategy (15MSS) is laid out through this post.
Studying isn’t the only way to maximize your scores while minimizing your effort. Many of the following strategies have nothing to do with studying but are super helpful.
Studying better is only a small factor in your final grade.
Many classes need significant investments of time in homework, projects, and even attendance. If you get caught up putting too much energy into studying you may see your test grades go up a little while seeing your final score in the class barely budging.
At a certain point, studying better becomes a much worse use of time than addressing the following issues.
It’s important to consider these issues while implementing the 15 Minute Study Strategy.
General Class Prioritization
There are some classes that aren’t even worth studying in.
They may have tests but often those tests aren’t valuable. Getting a zero on them might not even knock you back a letter grade. Tests can be much less valuable than essays or projects. If you don’t account for that then you could invest time studying when it would be better to focus elsewhere.
Prioritization works in many areas.
Use the typical syllabus to get started. Teachers often explicitly state the calculations used to determine a student’s final grade. For example, they might say 10% of the grade comes from homework, 20% comes from tests, and 70% comes from projects. Those percentages are essential to prioritizing.
With those percentages you also need to consider the volume of the work involved in each category. For example, if homework was only 10% of the final grade and there were hour long assignments every night, you might want to consider skipping a huge percentage of your homework because 1 hour a night for 10% is hardly worth it. (Unless you’re competing for an exclusive position, in that case you should probably pick your classes better next time.)
The 15 Minute Study Strategy assumes that you’re avoiding unnecessary work. Sure, you can get away doing it but efficiency increases when a student isn’t stressed from other stupid work.
It also assumes you’re not going to invest a ton of time studying when the test scores don’t matter. Stress is a huge killer for most students. Setting silly priorities creates stress. If you fail to account for that, you may need to increase your time investment to make up for it.
Non-School Year Habituation
This strategy is not required to successfully implement the 15 Minute Study Strategy. It can increase the results notably. It’s a strategy that most students won’t use. The students that do will gain a dramatic advantage because of that fact.
When a student uses a non-intense study strategy like this one, there is no good reason not to continue the study routine all year long.
The typical cram sessions most students put themselves through can be stressful. The intense long hours of studying some students put themselves through is also tough. Having time off these study routines is important for sanity’s sake. When you put so much energy and stress into studying, breaks improve consistency.
The typical results high stress studying students get may be good but it comes with ruts. Low grades show up when the student just gives up caring.
High scoring students falling in a rut have it rough. Teachers tend not to offer too many favors for half assed efforts from them.
A few weeks of overwhelm can cause a massive impact on that overworking student’s grades. Summer break ends up becoming a necessity.
Summer break is not required for a low stress routine like this one and consider this:
Summer breaks are deadly for the average student’s knowledge.
The average student loses around 30% of what they learned the year before during summer break. The first few months of class are often just reviewing stuff from last year.
When you correct this 30% reduction in knowledge, you end up getting a 30% advantage. Teachers design classes for students that forget 30%. That makes it a boost to your final grade.
The 15 Minute Study Strategy (15MSS) takes advantage of this discrepancy. (If you want to know how some students can score 95+ on almost everything while studying with this strategy, this is one of those tricks.)
It’s low stress and unobtrusive to a person’s day (everyone has 15 minutes to spend. Heck, you can just go to bed 15 minutes late.)
Many of the advantages of this strategy take weeks of habitual studying to appreciate. The more consistent you are with studying, the more distinct these advantages become.
Your brain can adapt itself to a specifically timed study routine. Keeping that adaptation continuing through summer helps.
Naturally, most students won’t use this strategy.
I mention it for one reason. There are tons of students that feel a guilt when they use such a short study routine like this one.
They assume that implementing a short study strategy is a sign of laziness. The studies suggest it can provide huge increase in a learner’s recall but your gut may not “get it.”
The 15 Minute Study Strategy can be used in a lazy way or a hardworking and disciplined way.
It’s all about how much you want to invest in it and what you’re looking for. It can give you good grades with virtually no stress at all. It can give you top notch grades while investing dramatically less time than other students.
I’ve implemented both during different periods in my life.
Studying through summer can help you become a top notch scoring student if you want to invest in that. This strategy is about efficiency. How much you want to invest in that efficiency is up to you.
So… there you have it. This is the basic idea behind the 15 Minute Study Strategy.
You can find all kind of information on this strategy and more throughout this blog. If you’re new then I suggest you visit the “Start Here” section.
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Do you want to learn more about how to score higher grades than your classmates while working less? That’s what this blog is all about. Be sure to follow and check out the archives for all the details. Also, if you’re looking to learn more tricks even faster, check out the ebooks in the sidebar.
*Note: Consider this article a permanent work in progress. I spent hours and hours trying to perfect this article when I finally decided that some subjects require an acceptance of imperfection. I will never be satisfied with this article because there are always more objections to handle. I can only do my best to deal with the important ones.
This is a huge subject that likely needs a book to dig deep into. If you’re really interested in learning more then this site (and the old blog) is loaded with hundreds of thousands of words with more clarification. Dig in!