Coffee. Snacks. That one special chair in the library. We all have our ways of getting through a good study session — but how do you know that you’re really making the most of your time? It can feel like a badge of honor to say you spent all night reviewing your class notes before a big exam, but that might not be the most productive use of your time.
We’re here to help you tackle your next round of exams with some tried-and-true tips to study smart. Let’s take a look!
Understand what kind of learner you are
We all learn a little bit differently from one another. Generally speaking, humans fall into three main types of learning styles:
- Visual learners: About 65 percent of the population, these people best understand information through pictures, graphs, and other visuals.
- Auditory learners: About 30 percent of the population, these people learn best when they can hear information out loud.
- Kinesthetic learners: Around 5 percent of the population, these people get the most benefit from engaging in hands-on activities.
It’s possible to be a mixture of two, but most of us have a distinct preference for how we take in new information.
If you don’t already know your learning style, take a few minutes to think about it. Do things “click” when you see data presented in a graph? Do you love talking through ideas with your peers and professors? Do you always feel the need to keep your hands moving?
Understanding your learning style can transform the way you study — instead of having to work harder to make sense of your classes, you can work smarter by appealing to your brain’s natural tendencies.
If you’re visual, you can make use of pictures and charts. If you’re auditory, you can spend more time in study groups or even record lectures to watch back again. And if you’re kinesthetic, you can create your own hands-on activities (even flashcards can do the trick) to help you retain information.
Use hard copies and write by hand when possible
Technology is unbelievably convenient. Bringing your laptop along to class and typing notes while clicking through the electronic version of your textbook seems like a great idea — but it turns out that humans actually learn better when reading and writing the old-fashioned way: on paper.
Much of our memory is visuospatial, which means it depends on the way objects are positioned in front of our eyes. In short, recognizing where a piece of information was (left or right side of the open book, top or bottom of the page, in the middle of a paragraph or at the end) can help us remember what it was more easily.
The data is powerful: Proofreaders catch more errors in print than on a screen, reading comprehension is significantly higher when students use a physical textbook, and the absence of screen fatigue has huge benefits in our online-obsessed world.
Find yourself struggling to retain information? It’s worth stepping away from your screen for a while.
Study in the same way you’ll be tested
There’s a difference between input and output. Oftentimes when we’re studying, we take in information by reading through our notes — but when we’re tested on exams, we need to output information onto the page.
It might seem like a small distinction, but making simple changes to focus our studying on output instead of input can have a huge impact on our test performance. After all, practice makes progress: The more we practice what an actual exam will feel like, the better we’ll be able to perform!
Try doing additional homework problems that haven’t been assigned — you can always ask your professor to give you some suggestions during office hours. Look for a pre-made online quiz on your class topics, or create one yourself. And instead of scanning through your notes on a certain concept for the umpteenth time, challenge yourself to rewrite it without referencing your book.
Check in with yourself and take breaks
Finally, one of our favorite strategies: Take frequent brain breaks when you’re studying! Powering through sheer exhaustion won’t help you — in fact, over-studying is correlated with worse performance.
If you feel like you’re losing focus or have had to re-read the same paragraph five times just to make sense of the words, it’s time to switch over to another task for a while. That doesn’t mean you need to give up on being productive altogether — you can always tackle an easier homework assignment, update your resume, read an interesting book, or listen to a favorite podcast if you don’t want to lose momentum completely.
At the end of the day, studying can be hard — and no one expects you to go at it for marathon sessions at a time. Show yourself grace!
Need a place to study?
Pres House Apartments provides plenty of spaces to study smart this semester. Whether you need a quiet getaway or a place to collaborate with a group, our main lounge and lobby are waiting, plus study lounges on floors 3, 4, and 5!
We’re just steps away from Bascom Hill, the Memorial Union, and all the good food on State Street, too — so you’ll never be far away from the perfect study break opportunity.