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Effective Study Techniques for University Students

Updated on January 16, 2014

The amount of information you must remember at University is often overwhelming. There are lectures, long textbook chapters and sometimes additional articles which you must read and understand in very limited time. In this article I’ve compiled a list of study techniques that will help you learn & remember information better, while keeping your study time short.

Do your readings!
Do your readings!

Cover relevant readings before going to the lecture

If you know what the lecturer will be talking about the next time you go to class, it’s a good idea to do some background reading on the topic before attending their lecture, especially if the topic is something you know little about. What’s the point? Covering relevant readings before going to the lecture is often the difference between understanding what the lecturer is talking about & having no clue whatsoever.

Doing so will also let you take meaningful notes rather than writing down everything the lecturer has said. Going to the lecture after you’ve done your readings will also reinforce what you’ve just read & make it easier to remember when you come to take your test or exam.

Review material & notes after the lecture

After the lecture, spend 10-15 minutes going over your notes and any ideas presented in the lecture that you didn't quite understand. It’s important if you don’t understand something, you do something about it as quickly as you can. If you don’t, you’ll find you have a lot of holes in your notes when it comes to revision for a test or exam. Assume you didn’t understand an idea the lecturer was talking about in class, here are a few ways you can deal with it:

- Talk to the lecturer after class if they are is still available

- Try to find the idea in your textbook

- Arrange a time to meet with your lecturer

- Send an email to your lecturer

- Ask a friend to explain

- Use Google/Wikipedia to find your answer

Study in a similar environment where you’ll take your test or exam

You are more likely to remember information in a test or exam if you study it in the same environment as where the test or exam will be held. Find a quiet place at University or at home where you can concentrate & study in peace.

Plan short study sessions with regular breaks

Concentration fades quickly with time, so it’s best to focus on your studies for a short period of time, & then taking a quick break before studying again. An example could be studying for 50 minutes then taking a 10 minute break before jumping into another 50 minute session. During the break you can make yourself a quick snack or go outside to do some exercises & stretch off your body before jumping into another 50 minute study session. In the 50 minutes that you study, make a goal to cover a whole topic, or complete a practice paper.

Reward yourself for your efforts

Studying is hard work so it’s important to reward yourself at the end of the day! It also provides you an extra incentive for studying other than getting good grades. Words of caution however, don’t try and do this the other way around or you will lose the incentive & the motivation to study later.

Study a little everyday

Probably the most important study technique is to study for a short period of time every day. This can include the first two techniques presented in this article, i.e. reading before going to the lecture & reviewing the material and your notes after the lecture.

As a guide, try to get at 1-2 hours of study outside of the lectures every day. If you apply the first two techniques, this should be very easily achievable and makes a huge difference when it comes to revision for a test or an exam because you’ve constantly reinforced what you’ve already learnt.

Do not memorize everything

At first this seems counter-intuitive. Isn’t the whole point of study is to memorize everything you’ve been taught in lectures or read in the textbook? Short answer: No. The point of study is to the understand material, rather than repeating the same stuff in your head until it begins to hurt. Make no mistake, you will memorize a phone number by repeating it in your head half a dozen times, but only if you keep repeating it.

Your brain is more likely to hold information for longer periods of time if it’s meaningful. To your brain, a bunch of numbers doesn’t mean a damn thing and as soon as you stop repeating them, it’s going straight to the recycle bin. To make the material that you’re studying meaningful you need to relate this new information to existing information that you already know. The more connections you can make, the more likely it will stick around in your head and the more cues you will have to retrieve it.

What about study groups?

Studying with your friends can be a fun and an effective way to study for a test or exam but everyone needs to come prepared. Here are some tips how to help you organize a successful study group...

- Invite no more than 5 friends

- Invite friends who actually want to study

- Make sure everyone comes prepared to their own study

- Make sure everyone knows where and when to meet

The one thing you need the most!

No matter how much you study, when or where you study, make sure to drink lots of water. Keeping your body well hydrated is essential to keep your brain functioning. It also prevents headaches which can make study extremely difficult. Of course, always remember to take a water bottle to your test or exam.

If you know any study techniques you found useful while you were at school or University, feel free to share them in the comments below!


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