How to Study Better
We all know how to study - that's why we're here! - but we can all learn to study better.
Like any other skill, you can get better at studying through practice. You can also learn a few tips to help you along the way!
How to Study Better
Brainy & The Sheep Need a Break!
Taking breaks when you study is important for your brain, but what you do on your breaks is just as important.
Your brain gets tired when you study, but your brain also gets tired working at other things, like playing video games or concentrating on a movie. If you do these things during your study breaks, your brain never gets a chance to rest! Remember, when you take a break from study choose activities that rest your brain.
- Give your brain a break
If you were training to be an Olympic sprinter you wouldn't think that the best way to train is to sprint for 14 hours a day. After a while you would be shuffling along like a snail, and probably have a heart attack.
For study , though, it is amazing how many people think they should study relentlessly without a break. As if just sitting at the desk will get the results.
Your brain will work a lot better in short bursts. If you study for 40 minutes, maybe up to an hour, it is best to then take a break - get up, walk around, go outside for a few minutes.Then come back and do some more. After two or three sets like this, have a longer break for lunch, or do something completely different for a while.
At the end of the day you'll have a lot more done than just trying to sit there, getting less and less effective.
- Physical exercise helps your brain work better
There are now a lot of studies that show exercising helps learning and thinking better. A good summary is in the book 'Brain Rules' by John Medina.
In schools that structure regular exercise into the day the students generally perform better. This is despite having less time in the classroom.
Exercise gets more blood flowing to your brain, boosting the oxygen and glucose for energy. It also stimulates Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor, which keeps brain cells healthy, and encourages cell growth and synaptic connections.
- Sleep helps learning & boosts intelligence
Lack of sleep results in a worsening of reasoning skills, working memory and most other cognitive functions. Getting a good night's sleep boost all these things.
If you are a bit low on sleep, the latest research shows that a 'power nap' or 'nana nap' can be of big benefit- but the time you spend resting is crucial. Leon Lack and his colleagues at Flinders University are now suggesting that a short nap between 5 and 15 minutes can allow you to wake refreshed and able to continue working well. A longer nap in fact is harder to recover from and can make it more difficult in terms of getting to sleep later in the day. So have a short rest - but set your alarm -and feel the benefits!
- Some tips for remembering better
- Use pictures and images to help you remember a concept or point- anything that has meaning for you.
- Use mind maps to help you create associations and connect concepts. You can put your mind map onto a large sheet of paper or a whiteboard and keep adding to it. One website which can help you do this online is bubbl .us . This can be a good way to work with others and get input!
- Use Mnemonics to help you categorise material and put it into a more 'memorable' form. Mnemonics are a way of remembering concepts and ideas by using rhymes, associations and patterns to aid memory examples include:
Using a familiar tune - e.g. the ABC song
Using a rhyme to remember a rule or concept e.g. I before E except after C
Create a word association by coming up with a simple memorable pattern - every good boy deserves fruit for the treble clef in music is a well known one.
Using the first letters in a word to help remember a point something that has meaning for you.
- Use note cards to write down key ideas; start doing this at the beginning of semester and add to your cards and change them as you need to over time.
- Focus on the things you don't know first - but then go over things, writing them into your own words and get to the point where you feel almost bored with the material - you will find you can recall things better this way.
- Write and read. Your brain will process the information more effectively if you read, highlight and take notes.
- Diet and Hydration
Your brain is an organ and a physical part of your body; like any other part of your body, your brain needs good food and water to function. See the SAgov website for more information on nutrition . Significantly it is important to remember to stay hydrated and manage your diet around exam time. There is also evidence to suggest that small amounts of glucose close to times of intense study can help (Roy Baumeister).
It can help to picture your desired outcomes and align your thinking with this outcome. Some people may find visualising hard and thinking in the form of words may be an alternative. Visualisation can be thought of as a form of mental rehearsal, so working through what you would like to achieve and then working out what is needed to move towards this.
- Learning Styles
There are lots of different models which look at how we learn. It can help to know how you best learn as you can then develop your study skills and design your study plans to fit with your strengths for learning. One of the simplest models is the Visual- Auditory- Kinesthetic model. Quite simply this looks at whether you learn primarily visually- by seeing, reading and writing, whether you learn best in an auditory way- by hearing information, or if you learn best by doing or experiencing something- which is kinesthetic.
- SMART Goals
Smart goals can help you focus and improve your study. This UniThrive Blog post will give you a great introduction to how to set them.
- Positive Focus
Try to think more positively generally - if you can think of a negative- what is the opposite? To really make this work you might need to write things down and critically look at what you are thinking. So look for the evidence that supports your negative thoughts and the evidence that supports your positive thoughts and then look at what you need to work on to weight things in a positive direction. It can also help to think of the things you are grateful for as this tends to push our thinking in a positive direction. Have a look at our section on Positive Emotion for some ideas around how to make this work.
- The Effects of Napping on Cognitive Functioning; N. Levato and L. Lack in Gerard A Kerkhof and Hans P.A. van Dongen, editors, Human Sleep and Cognition, Vol 185, Oxford: Elsevier Science; 2010, pg. 155-166.
- A Brief Afternoon Nap Following Nocturnal Sleep Restriction; Which Nap Duration is Most Recuperative? Amber Brooks and Leon Lack, Sleep, Vol 29, no. 6, 2006.
- Roy Baumeister, Self Control Relies on Glucose as a Limited Energy Source: Willpower is More Than a Metaphor, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology Copyright 2007 by the American Psychological Association, 2007, Vol. 92, No. 2, 325-336