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How to Study: 9 Study Tips to Boost Learning

A woman studying for a college course in a library and the text Good Study Habits.

You’ve done the work of figuring out what to study in college and have been accepted to a degree program. Now comes the next challenge: learning how to study effectively.

Maybe it’s been years since you last took an exam, and you need study techniques to help you retain more knowledge. Perhaps you just need time-saving study habits that help fit learning into a busy schedule.

Lydia Henry and the text Lydia HenryWhatever your challenges, there are plenty of study tips you can use to remember more, get more done and see yourself succeed in college. So, where can you begin to learn how to study well? Just putting thought into how you study is a great start.

“I tell students to consider how to maximize brain function when making your study plans,” said Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) writing coach Lydia Henry. “In other words, you should think about thinking (called metacognition). Think about where, when and how you study before you begin to ensure you are making the most of your time and effort and engaging your brain.”

How to Study Effectively: Top Study Tips

There are many approaches you can take if you want to learn how to study well. These study tips from SNHU academic coaches can help.

1. Find the Study Techniques that Work Best for You

Everyone is different, and your study techniques can be different too. The key is determining how to study in a way that supports your learning, said mathematics coach Jennifer Gardner.

“Play to your strengths. Every single person has a way to study that works best for them,” said Gardner. “This applies even in the most difficult subjects ... studying is not only nuanced to each person but the subjects as well.”

2. Location, Location, Location

Jenny Gardner and the text Jenny GardnerWhen it comes to studying, location matters – particularly for online students who are working out of their homes and trying to balance learning with professional and family obligations.

“Defining a study space, which is clear of distractions and temptations to multitask, can really help clear your mind for the material you are learning,” said Henry.

Still, don’t be afraid to switch up your study space from time to time.

“If you begin to feel stuck, get out and change your location,” Henry said. “The library or local coffee shop are favorite spots for me.”

3. Start Early to Study Effectively

It can be tempting to put studying for exams off until the day or night before. But pulling an all-nighter is not only bad for your health, but it’s also not the best strategy for retaining information long-term.

“One of the best pieces of advice I have is to not procrastinate,” said STEM peer tutor Claudia Hinojosa. “If you know you have a major project or assignment due, start it as early as possible, even if it’s just to look over the rubric to see what is expected.”

Giving yourself more time to study and practice can even boost your memory. A 2015 study of college students found that learning is better retained when studying is done in smaller, spaced-out chunks of time, compared to cramming for several hours in one day.

4. Test Yourself

Training the brain and learning how to study well is a lot like training the physical body: more strenuous activity yields better results.

One of the best ways to challenge your brain and retain more knowledge is to test yourself before the actual exam, using past quizzes, exams or other pre-test resources.

Research shows that taking a pre-test before you start studying prepares the brain to absorb the information to come and can improve retention – even if you don’t get a single answer right on the pre-test.

5. Teaching Can Be One of the Best Study Habits

The Roman philosopher Seneca once said, “While we teach, we learn.” But this idea is more than just ancient philosophy – it’s backed by science.

Dubbed the “protégé effect,” research has shown that the act of preparing information and teaching it to someone else can lead to better long-term retention and understanding for the teacher.

Claudia Hinojosa and the text Claudia Hinojosa.A Stanford University study reviewed the retention of two groups of students using a computer program that learns based on the information it is provided. One group was told they were teaching the program, and the other was told to use the program as a tool to teach themselves.

The study found that the students who thought they were responsible for teaching the program performed better on tests than students who were using it as a learning tool. The teaching students not only worked hard to synthesize and interpret the information at hand, they were also highly motivated to help the program learn well.

6. Use a Variety of Resources and Study Techniques

Don’t be afraid to change up your routine and use new study techniques from time to time. Accessing your learning in a variety of ways can improve your understanding, said Henry.

“Try reading and taking notes, watching tutorials or listening to lectures and course materials,” she said. “Experiment with flash-card making, mind-mapping or any other strategy that supports your brain’s ability to learn and retain information.”

7. Use Pen and Paper

While technology offers many benefits to learning, don’t be afraid to keep your study sessions traditional with a pen and paper. In fact, research has shown that you’re more likely to remember notes you write by hand than those you type.

A 2014 study found that students who took notes on laptops retained less information than students who took notes with pen and paper. According to the study, laptop users tended to transcribe lectures verbatim, while pen and paper users were more likely to process the information and reframe it in their own words, boosting their learning.

8. Sleep More to Study Effectively

Need an excuse to head to bed early or take a nap? Getting more sleep is one of the best study habits you can adopt to learn more.

One study found that people who had a night of sleep after learning new faces and names remembered more and were more confident in their answers than people who did not get the opportunity to sleep.

“Use your brain’s natural function to refresh and reinforce what you have experienced in the day through sleep,” said Henry. “Reviewing your material right before getting a good night’s rest can strengthen your studying.”

9. Seek Help When You Need It

Sometimes a course just feels overwhelming. If all of these good study habits still aren’t helping you tackle a challenging subject, don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Working with a tutor or academic coach, and taking advantage of additional online learning resources offered by your college or university, can help you perform better on an upcoming exam or project and can even help you learn more about your own study habits.

“Many schools have tutoring, coaching and static resources to help guide students through topics,” said Gardner. “There is nothing wrong with seeking help. In fact, it is a great way to further understand a topic.”

Danielle Gagnon is a freelance writer focused on higher education. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

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