Smart Student Secrets is all about making studying easy.
We’ve published hundreds of articles on studying. We get new readers everyday trying to learn how to study better. They’re looking to improve their grades a little but aren’t sure the best way to use their time.
After hanging out on Smart Student Secrets, they learn this site is more like study judo. We like to focus on study strategies that use your time limitations in your favor. We’re all about taking the challenges of studying and adjusting our behavior to benefit from them.
Time limitations aren’t a bad thing. They just change the way you should study.
Having lots to study isn’t a bad thing. You just need to adjust your behavior.
Every challenge you face can be adjusted to benefit you.
Good studying usually comes down to a good strategy.
Students are always telling me about how long they study. They either study a long time or they don’t study enough. That’s wrong though. (At least it is most of the time.)
The amount of time you study is a minor factor. It’s almost always unimportant. 95% of students study long enough to score amazing grades. What they lack is an effective strategy!
Strategies That Work:
Here are the kinds of study strategies that work…
Do things multiple times with breaks in between.
Don’t study something one time and assume you’ll remember it forever. Most people just can’t do that.
Study the same information 2 or 3 times before the test during different study sessions.
There is a complete science behind the scheduling of these study strategies but just knowing that you need to review things multiple times can make a huge difference.
You need to practice remembering to remember.
You’ll notice most effective strategies for studying require active recall. Active recall can be used in a number of different study strategies.
Scientists have been proving the power of active recall for decades now. It is the most backed-up study strategy in history. Use it!
Flash cards are a great way to understand active recall:
Flashcards are a classic.
They work because they’re a simple and use active recall.
If you’ve ever used flashcards then you know how active recall works. When you read the first side of the card, you need to remember what’s on the other side. If you remember what’s on the other side then you’ve used active recall. If you have to flip over the card to know what’s on the other side then you didn’t use active recall.
Any form of blind review is good for using active recall.
Do you have fifteen minutes alone? Try giving a lecture to your wall about what you’re trying to learn. Explain the complicated concepts. Don’t use your notes. Just try to hit all the important points by remembering them. Or use your notes but don’t just repeat what you wrote. Expand on it based on other stuff you know.
Maybe you can go through your notes and write additional details from the lecture down where they belong. If you struggle to keep up with writing notes in class then this can help you remember all the details your teacher went over.
Take any practice tests you can get.
The great thing about practice testing is that it can get you confident for the test. You may study for hours but it’s hard to know when you’re really prepared for the test.
Did you study long enough?
Will you remember it all?
Can you even pass?
If you’ve taken practice tests then you know the answer to these questions.
Creation & Innovation
Create something based on the stuff you learned in class.
Make a short story. Make a theory. Make a guess to future facts you’ll learn.
What is something that you can create based on what you know about your study material?
Creating good stuff is hard. You need to know a lot about it to do a good job.
Have you ever read a fan-fiction? No? You’re probably not a nerd like me. But I noticed something interesting about them. A great fan fiction requires you know a ton about the story because you need to keep every detail you write consistent with the fictional reality. If you throw a character in the water then you better make sure you know whether or not they can swim.
After you create something. Verify it’s consistent. Ask an expert or look up the details. Find every inconsistency and understand how you can correct them.
This should be your go-to strategy for math.
Find problems and solve them.
The best study strategy in the world is doing.
It lets you use muscle memory. That’s the most basic form of memory you’ve got. It makes everything like riding a bike. If you want to use a problem solving technique as well as you ride a bike then practice using it a while.
One extra tip: Don’t do math problems in order based on the type of problem. Try to mix up the problems you do. This forces you to recognize the patterns in each particular problem. It also helps make the problem solving distributed practice because you’re constantly switching it up.
But The Following Strategies Just Don’t Work:
Rereading study material is the easiest strategy around.
Look at the page and read it. Done. It barely stresses you out at all (other than the time you’re wasting.) It doesn’t require you do much thinking. All you need to do is gaze your eyes over the page and occasionally convince yourself you’re focusing.
Notice that there is very little active recall in rereading study material. It’s just going through the motions and hoping you remember something.
How To Fix This:
Stop reading. Close your eyes. Remember what you read. You don’t need to remember it word for word but hit all the important points in your memory.
After that you can continue.
Highlighting may help you prioritize information but it doesn’t help you learn it.
Many students enjoy highlighting more than they use their highlights. They highlight stuff but never go back with active recall to remember the stuff they highlighted. In fact, when they stare at the highlighting they feel like they’ve already learned it. This just makes it harder for them to learn.
How To Fix This:
If you choose to highlight stuff, always go back to make flashcards of everything you highlighted. Turn them into questions and write the answers on the other side of your card. Use those flashcards to help you study.
Repetition is good but it’s best used distributed.
This pretty much means: When you know something, stop trying to relearn it!
How To Fix This:
If you’ve been using flashcards for twenty minutes then take out the cards you’ve answered multiple times in a row correctly. You can come back to them some other study session. This study session, you’re just wasting your time reviewing them.
Repeating yourself is only useful if you’re still using active recall.
Turning a large amount of information into a smaller amount of information is an ineffective way to learn.
You should build your knowledge up beyond the essential components. You shouldn’t try to knock it down to the basics. Learn the basics first. Then expand them.
Tests aren’t about becoming generally familiar with a lot of stuff. They’re about knowing specific details about specific things. A summary will rarely help you learn those specific details. It may just make the specific details feel less important to you.
How To Fix This:
What did you fail to write down? What can you guess based on what you know? What don’t you understand yet? Learn that stuff.
What study strategies work for you? Leave a comment below to help other students!