No one enjoys studying. It’s a long and arduous process that usually involves hours and hours of staring at notebooks and scribbling things down. At the best of times, you’re jotting down just some bullet points you’ll need for an exam and sweeping up problems like the blinds at a good game of online poker.
At the worst, you’re struggling for hours with a single physics problem because your professor is Russian and can’t teach properly to save his life, and oh god, the test is two days away and- um, anyway. The point is that it sucks, you don’t want to do it, and you’d rather be doing anything else.
Well, ya can’t. Sorry. There’s not much else to do. However, how you study is in your control, and there are several things you can do in order to make your study sessions that much more effective. I like Mike Rowe’s twist on a popular phrase, “Work harder AND smarter!”
So here are my five tips for increasing the effectiveness of your study sessions to help you ascend to nerd-godhood, courtesy of a very, very weary nerd.
Table of Contents
1) Copy Everything
…that your teacher writes. Not, like, your neighbor’s test. And cheaters never prosper. Unless you have a lot of money. Then go ham.
No, so what I mean is that you should be copying down everything that your teacher writes down on the board, everything that you need to memorize for your exam, and every problem your teacher walks through.
As it turns out, the human brain retains information a lot better if you write it down. Something about the act of writing helps integrate the information into our skulls. Maybe it has something to do with the amount of focus required to write. I don’t know. I’m not a doctor / biologist.
The important thing to understand is that it works. I’ve noticed that in this era of zoom classes, a lot of students have forsaken writing things down. They take the logic that, if they need to review the material, a recording of the lesson will be made available to them.
The problem is, if you think you can always go back and look at the information, then it just doesn’t sink into your head in the first place. Plus, if the specific information you need is buried in the middle of an hour-long zoom recording, then I wish you the best of luck at finding it. No, writing it down makes for quicker understanding, easier review and is simply all-around a superior method of retaining information.
I don’t mean to sound like an old boomer, but typing the information won’t cut it. Studies show that typing down notes while your teacher is talking doesn’t affect your brain the same way that writing does. I have no idea why this is the case, but bear that in mind.
2) Social Media is Your Worst Frenemy
Dear Lord, I do sound like an old boomer, don’t I?
Social media is addicting. I am no exception to this vice of the modern era. I probably watch far more YouTube than I should. However, applications on your phone- the ones that constantly cause it to buzz with notifications and messages, and a major disruption to effective studying.
I’m not pulling the idea that social media is addicting out of my butt, either. Studies show that the buzz or ping of notifications happens just randomly enough but often enough to trigger a burst of dopamine in our brains (a chemical that makes us feel good).
We’re excited to get messages, and social media takes advantage of this biological fact to keep us addicting to their platforms. That’s why it’s so hard to resist pulling out your phone when you feel it buzz in your pocket, even when you’re preoccupied with an important and / or enjoyable moment.
The solution: Delete all unnecessary social media apps. I used to have Instagram on my phone, but when I was trying to work, I found myself absentmindedly pulling out my phone and browsing through it until I looked up at the clock and realized that ten- fifteen-thirty minutes had passed.
Since the only reason I downloaded the app was to keep up with friends that I have now drifted away from due to life circumstances, I decided to rip that band-aid off and deleted Instagram.
My goodness, you have no idea how much my productivity increased after I did that. I was more attentive in zoom calls, and studying on my own was a vastly more productive experience.
Now, I’m aware that this isn’t a practical solution for everyone. Most people have a far larger circle of contacts that they do keep up with across all these platforms. So in light of that, the compromise is turning on airplane mode and setting your phone aside while you work.
You’ll still have access to these applications after you’re done working, but your phone won’t be pinging or even displaying notifications on the home screen.
3) Get More Sleep
You might have read this one and rolled your eyes. “Yeah, but I don’t get enough sleep because I need to study!”
That’s probably not true. If you’re studying is cutting into your sleep schedule, then either you’re studying far, far too much (which actually will impair your ability to retain that knowledge), or you need to rework your schedule.
Sleep is important for a huge number of bodily functions, aside from relieving tiredness. Muscle growth, weight loss, and your immune system are all affected by sleep. One of the most important things your brain does during sleep, however, is memory processing.
During the day, your brain takes loads of inputs- sights, sounds, tastes, whatever. That all gets stored in your brain as short-term memories. You also recall memories all the time, like how to speak, ride bicycles, or people’s faces and names.
However, in order to recall these memories, they have to be stored in long term memory. This is a process that takes place during sleep. While sleeping and dreaming, your brain is breaking down memories from throughout the day and adding them to long term memory.
It’s sort of like processing information from RAM and saving it to the hard drive, if you’re the kind of geek that understands what the heck I mean by that.
It seems to me that most students underestimate how much sleep they need or else persist in unhealthy habits that cut into their sleep schedule. Adults need seven to eight hours of sleep, but teenagers need eight to nine. Screens, like on your television or smartphone, trigger your brain into thinking that it’s still daytime and keep you awake longer.
It’s actually not a great idea to keep a clock visible from your bed since the anxiety of worrying over how much sleep you’re not getting can actually keep you awake longer. If you’re having trouble falling asleep, find a calming, relaxing activity, like reading, to occupy yourself with until you feel tired and start dozing.
4) Step Outside of the Box
The single biggest obstacle to a good education is often the education system itself. Not every student is good at sitting in a classroom with thirty students with a teacher that lectures from the board. Or worse yet, the teacher is simply terrible and doesn’t actually teach the material in any legible manner.
Well, I could complain about how the education system is government funded and that teachers are often backed by far too powerful unions, thus creating a system devoid of accountability and disincentivizing quality in their product of education- but that’s another issue entirely.
Instead, there are things that you, the student, can do to get around bad teachers. First and foremost, if you have the money for it, private teachers can be an immense boon. They can sit with you as you struggle with difficult problems and point out where you, specifically, are going wrong.
However, for most students, I highly recommend turning to free resources, most of which exist on YouTube.
So I might have been exaggerating slightly when I said that “social media was your enemy”. It’s a tool—a very unwieldy, addicting tool, but a tool nonetheless.
There are thousands of videos online that work through various subjects from high school to college level. You could have a nearly complete education by studying off of YouTube channels like Khan Academy at this point. So why, you might ask, should you go to university?
Well, obviously, it’s to acquire that little piece of paper that says you know what you’re doing. Duh.
5) Keep Organized
This is a fairly simple one, but an important one. Once upon a time, I kept all my notes in a single, disorganized binder with scribbles and notes cramming each page even in the margins, with long boxy lines separating one subject from another.
Obviously, this is stupid.
There are lots of different ways of organizing your notes, depending on what level of organization you think you’ll need. I know girls that use seven different highlighters to emphasize overall subjects, sub-subjects, formulas, answers- everything. If you want to organize yourself to that level of detail, I won’t stop you. Just make sure that you’re actually keeping organized and not just playing around with your markers.
The way I do it nowadays is that I have a different notebook entirely for every subject. Within each notebook, I highlight the title topic with one color (orange). This allows me to quickly and easily locate subjects as I flip through my notebook.
Then, within each subject, I highlight important pieces of information with a traditional yellow highlighter- and only the very important pieces of information. Formula’s, theorems, and the most important lines in paragraphs of text that I have copied (remember tip 1?) down from the board or out of a textbook.
So, if you keep all that in mind, you should be acing tests like a pro! There is no teacher that a clever student can’t workaround, and there is no test devised by the education system that is as of yet unbeaten. Thousands of students survive the ordeal that is Education every year, and you can too. Working harder AND smarter will get you farther in life than you think, and it’s a valuable skill to carry into the real world. So put your head to the grindstone, and get crackin’ at those books.