How To Study Smarter, Not Harder

By: Kamryn Fitzgerald

A comprehensive guide on how to come out of those exams with an easy A!

Midterm season is once again upon us, bringing along with it a slew of sleepless nights and a dent in your wallet from all those Venti Starbucks cappuccinos you find yourself relying on to pull through. As a student with rusty study habits and a limited timeline to fix it, you may be wondering; where do I start? Maybe you’re a first year (like myself), who found yourself struggling through fall term exams after being mentally set back two years and are ready for a fresh beginning. Or maybe you’re an upper year student with a couple semesters under your belt, but have no idea what you’re doing when it comes to the dreaded exam season. Point blank: studying can be hard, but it doesn’t have to be. Use our comprehensive guide of tips and tricks to help you study SMARTER, not HARDER, and get that A! 

Some essential tips:

Although these tips are tried, they are still true. Before you hit the books, take a moment to reflect on your self-care habits. Do you get enough sleep? Are you getting the proper nutrition you need to move through your day like a functioning, alert human being? If you find yourself feeling like you just stepped out of The Walking Dead, consider implementing some of these basic steps into your daily life to help make your overall study experience more beneficial for you. Self-care is especially important for students, as it can help you manage your stressors more effectively and maximize your full potential, helping you retain the content you learn.

  • Get a good night’s rest: Did you know that sleep facilitates learning? Yes that’s right, that handful of allnighters you’ve pulled up until now have meant absolutely NOTHING! A good night’s sleep helps you memorize content you learn throughout the day faster, so make sure to hit the hay at a decent time each night!
  • Snack on smart food: It may be tempting to reach for that candy bar when you’re craving a study snack, but you must resist. Studies show that certain foods can actually boost brain productivity. Instead of going straight to the sugar (temporary satisfaction with a lethal crash), stock up on fresh berries, veggies, nuts, and (surprisingly) eggs!
  • Switch up your study environment: Home may be comfortable, but that doesn’t mean it is distraction-free. It’s always when you sit down at your desk that the proximity to your bed and Netflix seem to tempt you the most. Studies show that by regularly switching up your study spot, overall memory retention improves. So if there’s a new cafe you’ve been wanting to try, now is the time to do it!
  • Pick a study method that works for you: Sometimes old-fashioned pen and paper just doesn’t cut it. Scroll down a bit for some of our recommended techniques!
  • Eliminate any and all distractions: Put that phone down! As hard as it may be, silence all notifications and put your phone out of reach. Out of sight, out of mind! 
  • RELAX!: It may be hard to study when you’re already dealing with stress over the thought of studying. Close your eyes and take a couple deep breaths. You got this.

  • Study techniques to try (If you haven’t already!):

    Pomodoro Technique (Our personal favourite)

    If you haven’t already heard of this popular time management technique, the Pomodoro technique encourages you to work efficiently with the time you have – not against it. Using this method, you break up your work into smaller chunks: 25 minute productive periods, with 5 minute breaks. This method works great for students who find themselves struggling to focus on their tasks for long periods of time, but also can’t reward themselves with long breaks. Pomodoro helps you power through distractions, hyper-focus on what you need to do, while also taking frequent breaks to catch your breath and chill. Bonus challenge: you can slowly train yourself to work in longer productive periods!

    Spaced Repetition

    This method may be familiar to you if you’ve ever found yourself on Study-Tok. Spaced repetition enables you to retain large amounts of information, without the stress of cramming days before your exam.The technique includes taking all of the information you need to retain and understand, and spreading out your studying over planned intervals of time. Information that you can recall easily is studied at larger intervals, information that you struggle to retain is studied at shorter intervals. Spaced repetition schedules can differ person to person, and subject to subject, so it is important to find what works best for you individually.

    For example, maybe your schedule follows a format similar to this:

    First Review: 1 Day after learning

    Second Review: 7 Days after learning

    Third Review: 16 Days after learning

    Fourth Review: 35 Days after learning

    Tip: There are many apps on the app store that can help plan and track a personal schedule that best fits your needs. Little effort on your part!

    Active Recall

    Active recall involves retrieving information from your memory by testing yourself through every stage of the recall process. When using this technique, remember the 3Rs: Read, Recite, Review.

  • Read the text
  • Recite as much as you can remember from the text 
  • Review the content that wasn’t recalled and take notes

  • One simple, but effective tool to use during active recall is flashcards! However, in order for this method to work, you must make your own flashcards, and keep it short and sweet. Too many students make the mistake of using someone else’s flashcards, which has been proven to be less effective than creating and using your own.

    Key Takeaways

    Studying doesn’t necessarily have to be difficult or stressful. Effective studying first starts with learning how to take care of yourself – both inside and out. Make sure that you’re getting enough rest, relaxation and nutrients, before focusing on making a solid plan for yourself. Figure out the environments you prefer to work in, the level of distraction you can handle, and the study method that helps you retain information the best. The three methods proposed above have been personally tested and reviewed by us, but there are many more that are not included that you are free to try. It’s all about finding what works best for you. Once you accomplish that, you will be able to fully apply yourself to anything you do, and ace any and all exams you will write in the future! 

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