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How to Study Smart, Not Hard

Updated on May 1, 2016

How to top your class:

I have come across many questions on various internet forums basically asking how you can do boost/increase your grades by studying less. In response, I had supplied links to various posts which I have written.

But most people tend to overlook the related links at the end of page. In the process, they tend to get some half-baked information on the various ways to study.

So today’s post, ‘Study Smart, Not Hard’ is a culmination of all the posts that are relevant for you to properly understand the concept if smart studying.

1. Listen to your teacher:

As a self proclaimed lazy student, I don’t believe in either homework or listening to lectures. In fact, 75% of the times, I would simply pretend listening to the teacher when in reality my mind in somewhere else.

But what I make sure I do is to keep one ear half open. With that half-open ear, you register snippets of information. And when a teacher stresses on a particular paragraph or makes you mark/underline a particular content, make sure you do it. Over the years, I have learnt that whenever a teacher stresses on a particular content, chances are that it is going to come for the term paper.

2. Write down Revision Questions:

I am not asking you to do the revision in class because I know that you haven’t studied anything for it. I have never yet studied for a revision and I don’t think I ever will. But do make an effort to precisely note down all the questions.

The revision questions have the highest chance of appearing on your question paper.

Making your own notes is important.
Making your own notes is important.

3. Make your own notes:

The problem with most students is that they copy their friend’s notes. This never works. Those are your friend’s notes, and they make sense to him, not to you.

I know that you are lazy, and making your own notes is the last thing that you want to do. So instead what I do is: I look at the schedule and a week or so before it, I start making notes. And when I do settle down to make notes, I make sure that they are knock-out ones with proper material and grammar.

Here is a link which should help you: http://hubpages.com/education/Answers-from-a-Lazy-Topper-How-to-make-knock-out-notes

If you have a problem making notes, or with your sentence formation and language, you can try a method which I call Copying. Not the best name, but according to this method, I read, and re-read my material, pick out the best lines, and present them concisely one after the other. Here, all you have to do is select the lines that tackle your question and present them in proper sequence with small changes here and there.

4.Try and analyse which questions are more important:

This is one of the main steps in order to score well in your exams. You need to take a few minutes trying to analyse what sort of questions your teacher will set. One way is to (#2) skim through the revision questions. Those questions give a general idea about the topics that you need to be clear about. From those questions, branch out on another set of questions related to those topics.

The other way is to understand mark distribution. Ask your teacher for a blueprint of the question paper. In this way, you will know how many questions will be there for 1, 2 4 or 6 marks, and whether or not you will have options. Try predicting higher mark questions. There are so many questions that can come for 6 marks. So learn all of them, and chances are that you’ll get really lucky. This option has always been very useful for me.

5. Ask help:

There can be times when you don’t understand things. In that case, never hesitate to approach your teachers. They are there to help you. If in case, a teacher turns you down, then go to the brightest student in the class and ask his/her help. That is why, always be good friends with the naturally bright students.

Preparing for the exam
Preparing for the exam

How to Study for an Exam:

Studying for an exam can be very, very taxing. It creates a lot of tension, anxiety, late nights and coffee.

But is this the only viable answer to study for an exam? The answer is no. There are actually plenty of strategies to tackle exams but I have listed only those methods which have helped me. None of them includes late nights or coffee.

1. Sleep sufficiently:

This is very crucial. You can go on studying without sleep, and pull off a late- nighter. But truth is that you won’t remember much. In fact, I doubt people even remember anything at all. I would recommend sleeping for nine hours a day although many specialists claim that 8 or 7 are sufficient.

2. Take breaks in between study time:

When I ask you to take a break, I don’t mean sitting in front of the T.V or computer for an hour. The best way, as many people suggest, is to take short breaks, say a 10 minutes after 50 minutes of studying. But between you and me, I have ever been able to take a 10 minutes break. I would mostly study for 90 minutes at a stretch and then take a break for nearly an hour. Is that useful? No, not really. I wouldn’t recommend it, but, if you are as insincere as I am, then let me help you out with this one. When you do take an hour of break, make sure you don’t sit down in front of the T.V or computer because it will make you forget everything you have learnt. Instead listen to music, talk to your friends over phone (not social media), go for a walk, read a book, squeeze in a bit of exercise or just lie down for a while. Everything works other than watching T.V or going online.

Do you have the habit of taking breaks while studying?

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3. Stick to your Schedule:

If like me, you have a lot of problem sticking to well constructed schedules, then, don’t make a well-constructed schedule which you know you will not follow in a million years. Take out a stand-calendar, and write down the subjects that you need to study next to a date. Write it down for an entire week, and follow that. This allows you to have some flexibility while studying. Because a week from now, you don’t know whether you would want to study the landscape of Europe on Thursday night. So when you write Geography, you will automatically take out the book, and start studying whichever part of the book seems more interesting.

4. Be Physically Active:

One very important advice I would suggest is to remain active when you’re not studying. Because once you are at the table, all you are going to do is sit and work your brain muscles. Physical exercise is also important to make sure those brain muscles work efficiently. So take a walk every morning, or hit the gym or just do some simple stretching exercise at home – the idea is to be active.

5. Organize your notes:

As a student, I tend to haphazardly write my notes on loose sheets and keep them all together. So recently what I started to do is keep separate stick files for each subject, and make a partition after each chapter. This ensured that I didn’t need to worry about organizing my material before exams.

Make sure that you always keep your notes organized, in whichever way it suits you, and use them to review your chapters.

Do you know how to write your paper?
Do you know how to write your paper?

How to write an Exam:

Do you really know how to write your paper You might think you do, but trust me on this one, you don’t.

1. Good Handwriting:

A paper is usually judged by how neat and legible the handwriting is. A lot can be said about a person by simply looking at his handwriting. When the teacher has a bundle of sheets to grade, the last thing he/she would want is to work extra hard to just read what the student has written.

The key is to have really neat handwriting. If you can’t help scrawling on the paper, just leave good amount of spaces between your scrawlings. In most cases, marks are not given for good handwriting. But writing neatly always has an added advantage. The teacher tends to skim through the answer rather than read it word-by-word. It means that incorrect grammar or sentence formation is easily overlooked.

2. Repeating the Question:

There are sometimes one-sentence/word questions which are simply asking you give the correct answer. Sometimes, what we as students do (I used to earlier do it), we repeat the entire question before coming to the answer. For instance, if the question is, Who is the Queen of England?, The answer that some students give is The Queen of England is Elizabeth II. The first four words seem a bit redundant in this case.

Imagine if the teacher had to read that same sentence for over a 30 times. He/She’d go mad. Plus you also lose time writing those extra four words.

However, if your teacher does insist on complete sentences, then make sure that you underline the answer. In this case, the teacher can simply jump to the answer without reading the entire line. Trying to make your answer script more teacher-friendly is the key to scoring better marks.

3. Write in points:

Always whenever possible, write the answer in points. But never do that in an English paper. In an English paper, you are judged on how you express your answer.

While for other subjects, I would recommend concisely presenting your answer in points. Say for a six or eight mark answer, it is always better if you have a heading before explaining your point. That is why, when you do make notes, always jot down the points. This will also help you recall them later.

Do you write your answers in points?

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4. Provide an introduction/conclusion:

Great, so now you write your answer in well-formed, well-supported points. But without an introduction and a conclusion, your answer is incomplete. You need to introduce and conclude your answer smartly.

Like if for instance, the question is: Write down the factors which leads to Global Warming. The introduction will never be: The factors which lead to Global Warming are-. No that is #2 (repeating the question). The key to writing a proper introduction is to give a description of the answer that you are going to present. Now for the above mentioned question, the introduction can be the answer to: What is Global Warming?

However, the line the factors which lead to Global Warming can be a conclusion. But a single well-stated preventive measure would be a better conclusion.

Warning: Only write an introduction/conclusion if the answer is for a higher mark.

Otherwise you lose time.

5. Give dates/timelines whenever needed:

Many students refrain from giving dates or timelines for fear of getting them wrong. If you are not sure, then it is better to avoid giving them. But if you are sure about them, then don’t hesitate. Providing dates and timelines is an important aspect of any knock-out answer.

What to do one day before an exam?
What to do one day before an exam?

What to do 1 day before an Exam?

I am going to go ahead and assume that, by now, you are done with your notes, read the chapter at least twice, memorized what needs to be memorized, and have studied just about everything that needs to be studied.

So now you are sitting in front of the laptop and getting anxious as to What Now? Don’t let the stress get the better of you. I am pretty sure that you are fairly prepared to tackle whatever questions may come.

What are the steps that you need to follow before sitting for the exam tomorrow? Read the post to find out.

1. Solve a complete test paper:

I hope that you have collected a couple of sample papers. And no, I am not asking you to write each and every answer. Go through it from A-Z and orally answer the questions to a bunch of soft toys. Is that weird? Perhaps. But somehow, recalling my answers in front of my teddy bear has always been helpful. It feels like there is a real person whom you need to impress. In that way, I also refrain from stuttering.

2. Go through important topics:

Now you may think that perhaps the entire book is important. In many ways, it is. But mostly there are a couple of questions to certain topics that are repeated every year.

Finding the important topics should be done way before the exam when you are reading the chapter. To know how you should prepare for your exam, click on this link: http://hubpages.com/education/How-to-top-your-class-Even-when-you-are-lazy

3. Revise your notes thoroughly:

Now is the time to revise your notes. When I say notes, I don’t mean the stuff that teachers make you write in class. I mean the notes that you have made, by yourself. The best part about making your own notes is that you will remember at least 50% of what you have written. And when you are revising it, you will automatically start recalling the chapter.

4. Recall every important definition:

There are certain definitions which you can’t, even if you try, recreate in your own words. So it becomes imperative that you learn them by-heart. Word-for-word. If you have trouble remembering them, then use a method which I haven’t yet given a name to. Anyway, according to this nameless definition, I break the definition into parts. It is something similar to the way you learn spelling in your kindergarten years.

Now take this into account:

Assessment refers to the measurement of psychological attributes and their evaluations, often using multiple methods in terms of certain standards of comparison.

This is a definition that I have selected from my psychology book.

So here’s what you do.

Assessment refers to (what?)

Measurement of psychological attributes (and?)

Their evaluations (how?)

By using multiple methods in terms of standards of comparison.

This makes the whole answer easier to remember.

Let’s do the exercise again.

“Intelligence refers to the global and aggregate capacity of an individual to think rationally, act purposefully and to deal effectively with her/his environment.”


Now this is a definition which is given by a certain psychologist and to make even a slightest change to this definition would result in a big Zero.

Intelligence refers to (what?)

Global and aggregate capacity (of what?)

Of an individual (to what?)

To

  1. think rationally
  2. act purposefully
  3. deal effectively with environment.

So here we are. Hopefully this method will help you as much as it has helped me.

5. Wrap up by 9:

I have heard that many students have the habit of studying till 3 in the morning. And then after sleeping for barely 2-3 hours, they come to school to give their exam!

They do that, while I, on the other hand, always wrap up everything by 9. And guess what? I always manage to do better.

While this studying-till-3-in-the-morning works for some, I wouldn’t particularly encourage it. Your brain needs to be refreshed in order to effectively tackle all the questions. You would also notice that these students are the most anxious in the morning and would badger you with Have you done this? Have to completed that? I will fail! And many also seem to think that because I remain so cool, I have studied everything. Which is not true. Whether or not I have touched all the topics, I never study beyond 9 (right before an exam). I get a peaceful 8 hour sleep, ready to appear for the test.

I will soon be back with more updates. Till then, I hope this helps you.

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      Riya Singh 5 months ago

      Thank you so much for the article Priya mam..I am going to start my 9th class this year and I am so nervous and scared after having a watch on the books and course.I badly needed some guidance though online although i get that from my parents as well....You really encouraged me so far though this..I really appreciate! Tysm

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      Priya Barua 8 months ago

      Thanks @nousheenshafia. Hope this helps you as much as it helped me