Almost everyone has a moment in their lives when they need to study for something, and it’s usually pretty important: a history test in high school, a final exam in college, a certification or license test, the list goes on and on.
Fortunately, 5 simple tips for studying can be used to help you study more effectively no matter what you’re studying for.
5 tips for studying
Study tip #1: Start early
All of the research on the science of studying say that cramming isn’t very effective. Leaving everything to the last minute, makes it the only option for you. Therefore, one of the best tips for studying is to space the material out over a longer period of time in smaller chunks. How early you need to start depends on how much material you have to cover and how complicated it is. In general, the earlier the better.
Study tip #2: Test yourself
One of the best proven study techniques is self-testing. This requires more effort than other less effective strategies like highlighting and reading things over and over again, but that effort pays off. If you are studying for a standardized test like the SAT or MCAT, there are lots of practice tests available for you (although some might cost money). You can definitely check for free practice tests online, and if you come up empty, try an exam prep book, which you can find on Amazon for a good price.
SAT 2017, includes 5 practice tests:
ACT 2016-2017, includes 6 practice tests:
A gigantic book of practice problems for the GRE:
If you buy a study book, take advantage of all the practice questions and practice tests in it. If not, you’ll have to be a little more creative. Often, college and high school text books have comprehension questions and practice tests included, which you should absolutely make good use of. Otherwise, put yourself in your teacher’s shoes and try to make up some good questions.
Study tip #3: Take regular breaks
When the clock is running down, it’s tempting to plow through as much material as possible in the time you have left, but this is a recipe for brain burnout. Your brain will retain information better if you let it rest for a few minutes every so often. Get up, stretch, drink some water and have a snack (studying can really drain your energy levels). A 5 or 10 minute break every hour or two will make a big difference in how much information you are able to recall on test day.
Study tip #4: Get some exercise
Your brain needs oxygen to perform at top capacity, and a great way to get oxygen flowing is aerobic exercise. Research has proven that this works: people score significantly higher on IQ tests and memory tests after 30 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise compared to when they didn’t exercise. It doesn’t have to be a long workout time or high intensity – just a brisk 20 minute walk around the neighborhood can make a difference. It will also relieve stress and give you a slight endorphin rush, which you can harness to power through your next study session.
Study tip #5: Don’t neglect your sleep
This tip is tricky if you leave everything to the last minute, but if you start early enough and spread your studying out over a longer period of time (see Study Tip #1), this is an aspect you definitely don’t want to ignore. There are two reasons for this: first, you obviously want your brain working at its best on test day, and sleepy brains don’t think very well. Second, sleeping after studying can actually help imprint that new information into your long-term memory so that it becomes easier to recall when you need it.
Even if you are planning on pulling an all-nighter to study, you don’t have to rule sleep out entirely as long as you’re careful about it. Power-naps can make a big difference in your energy level and sharpness of your mind – if you do it right. I recommend the same technique I use when I start to feel sleepy driving long distances: the caffeine nap.
The caffeine nap works by drinking your caffeinated beverage of choice (energy drink, espresso, anything you like) before you nap. Try to down your beverage quickly, and set an alarm for 27 minutes from now. Why 27 minutes? 20 minutes is the optimum duration for a powernap that won’t leave you feeling groggy when you wake up, and it will take you around 7 minutes to fall asleep if you’re super tired. By the time your alarm starts to go off, the caffeine you drank will be starting to kick in, helping you wake up easily and very refreshed.
Those are my top 5 tips for studying for any test or exam. Follow them all, and you can expect to have more effective study sessions, internalize more material in less time, and perform much better on the big day. Good luck!
And if you have any great study tips you want to share, we’d love to hear them. Just leave a comment!
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