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Seven Steps to Study Effectively: How to Improve Grades, and Spend Less Time Studying

Updated on December 18, 2014

How to Study Effectively

When I was in university, I had a 4.0 average on undergraduate work, and a 3.97 average on graduate work. And everyone wanted to know my secret, and yes, I had a system for good grades. I've been out of school a while, and yet my system still serves me well every day, for remembering business associates, details of what I read, and much more, and by popular demand, I'm going to share all my secrets with you. I'm not even saving them for an e-book that I'll ask you to buy!

Especially if you're on scholarship, or hope to get a scholarship, you'll know that grades are a very important factor in scholarship awards. Your grades and test-taking skills are also vital in college acceptance, so it makes sense to do everything you can to improve your study skills. And as if that weren't enough, you'll need all that information you're learning in school later--so rather than look up the same information over and over again, and wasting your time in the real world, it makes sense to study it well and learn it once.

How do I know this method works? I used to tutor students in a community college. The students who tried this system saw their grades rise dramatically in just one semester, even with complex subject like anatomy.

If You're Out of School, Keep Reading!

You may think if you're out of school that you don't need these study techniques. However, in the real world, everything about your career is changing, and new information is being written all the time. So by using these techniques, you will be able to take advantage of the new information and have it at your fingertips, giving you a competitive edge over your colleagues or your business adversaries. So keep reading and reap the results!

Time Management

Time management is an essential tool for studying effectively!
Time management is an essential tool for studying effectively! | Source

Step 1 - Managing Your Time Effectively

The very first task you must have is making sure you will have time to study. You do not have to set aside huge blocks of time--in fact, twenty minutes at a time is the ideal amount of time to devote to a single subject. Then you should take a break of at least ten minutes: eat something, get a drink of water, move around. Your brain cannot adequately process an onslaught of information, hour after hour, without breaks, and needs time to consolidate the information you have learned. Do not schedule more than an hour and a half of study time without a significant, longer break.

The second task of time management is allocating your study time effectively. Figure out how much material you must learn, and the deadline for learning it. Then allocate your study time, realizing that some material is more difficult, and will take longer to learn.

Classical for Focus
Classical for Focus

This is the kind of music you'll want playing in the background--softly does it!


Step 2 - Managing Your Study Environment

Be sure that when you get ready to study, you have all the materials you will need--books, highlighters, paper, pen, notecards, and anything else. Ensure that you have adequate light and that the room is a comfortable temperature, and that you yourself are comfortably dressed. Make the room quiet, and try to avoid interruptions.

A useful technique is to play slow Baroque music while studying. The music helps your brain waves (as measured by an electroencephalograph, also called an EEG) move in step with each other, which means your brain will work more efficiently. This is not pseudoscience, or popular opinion--the results have been measured in the laboratory. And since playing this kind of music has been proven scientifically to work, you may as well put it to work for you!

Post-it Notes Cube, 1 7/8 in x 1 7/8 in, Orange Wave, 400 Sheets/Cube (2051-N)
Post-it Notes Cube, 1 7/8 in x 1 7/8 in, Orange Wave, 400 Sheets/Cube (2051-N)

Stick these up around the house, loaded with facts. You'll be amazed at what you can learn!


Step 3 - Managing Your Study Materials

Keep your textbooks and notebooks for a single subject together. Use a different-coloured notebook for each subject, and make sure you don't lose them. I used to even keep a separate set of highlighters, index cards, and sticky notes in each notebook, so that I always had a set handy.

We've all seen textbooks where every single word is highlighted, or where facts are highlighted at random, and this is the result of disorganized use of study materials. But you can make all those highlighters, index cards, and more work for you in helping your study effectiveness, simply by learning to manage your materials.

Assign different categories to colours and use colour-coordinated highlighters, index cards, and sticky notes to categorize information. For example, you might decide that definitions are yellow, locations are blue (use this for dates, too, as dates are locations in time), processes are orange, or whatever works for your courses. With more philosophy-based or analysis-based courses, you will have to figure out over the first few study sessions how to organize material, so don't highlight anything until you are sure of your categorizations.

Once you have decided what is important to remember, and how you are categorizing it, don't highlight anything until you have assigned it a category. Otherwise you'll fall back into your old habits of highlighting everything.

Step 4 - Managing Your Information

Now that you've categorized what you'll need to learn, it's time to begin managing the information in your texts and lecture notes. First: read over the text carefully. Identify any important information (I make a small dot with a pencil). Then decide in which category that information belongs. Grab your assigned highlighter, and a matching colour note card and sticky note. Highlight the information in your book. Then copy that information to both the matching-colour note card and sticky note. Put the note card aside in a stack; put the sticky note aside in another stack. Go on to the next piece of information, and do the same thing for twenty minutes, until your timer goes off and it's time to get up and move around.

While you're moving around, take that stack of sticky notes, and stick them anywhere you pass by in your house several times per day: the bathroom, the refrigerator, etc. Now, each time you pass by the note, read it out loud to yourself.

Put the stack of index cards in your jacket pocket, purse, or backpack so that it is always easily available for you. Any time you have a few seconds, pull out that stack of note cards and read the information out loud to yourself. And we all have many of those few-second spots every day: walking the dog, standing in line, on hold on the telephone, waiting for web pages to load, waiting for a traffic light to change. Use all those spare seconds as productively as you can! 

SONY  ICD PX333 Digital Voice Recorder
SONY ICD PX333 Digital Voice Recorder

Yes, you could record lectures on your phone--but why run down your battery? Use this instead and make copies for everyone.

Coby CX-R60 Voice Activated Cassette Recorder
Coby CX-R60 Voice Activated Cassette Recorder

Sometimes you just want to have a cassette tape. If so this is ideal.


Step 5 - Managing your Resources

Your only resources are not your textbooks and your class notes. You have other resources available to you:

  • Your teacher
  • Your classmates
  • Other adults or experts
  • The library

By using these resources effectively, you will be able to maximize the amount of study effectiveness. Ask your teacher what you don't understand. If you need more help, ask around until you find a classmate who does understand, and is willing to study with you. And finally, use the library. Not only do they have books on your subject there, but the librarians also have a lot of helpful information for you, including resources in other sections you may not be aware of. The reference librarian has saved me a lot of work and effort many times!

If you have trouble taking notes in class, and can't keep up (oftentimes I couldn't), ask your teacher for permission to tape-record the lecture, then once you have permission, you can write in your notebook only what is on the board. Go back and listen to your tapes, and take notes at your own pace.

Step 6 - Managing your Homework

By now, you know how long it takes to write a 500-word paper, do twenty math problems, or whatever your homework is. Schedule adequate time (with breaks) to do the homework, and try to finish it a day or two in advance, so that if you find out more information, you can adapt your homework for a better grade. Always do the maximum amount of effort--write a great 500-word essay, rather than a so-so essay. Do the hardest math problems, rather than the easiest. Your effort will be repaid in better grades and easier learning, many times over.

Take a straightedge (or use a piece of paper) to make sure you don't get off track in standardized test responses
Take a straightedge (or use a piece of paper) to make sure you don't get off track in standardized test responses

Step 7 - Managing your Tests

It will be easier for you in the long run, to spend some time learning how tests are constructed, and make sure you understand your teacher's grading requirements. When it comes to test time, the first thing you should do is look over the test, and figure how much time you have for each question. Then go through, mark the easy questions, and answer all the easy questions first. (If you've studied effectively as I suggested, there should be few hard questions!) Then go back and answer the harder questions, leaving the hardest for last. Keep an eye on the clock to make sure that you're staying on track with your time. 

When you get your test returned, go over it carefully and correct what you got wrong. You will need to set aside extra time to study this material. If you don't understand, ask to meet with your teacher and figure out where you went wrong and what you can do about correcting your mistakes. 

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  • profile image

    Barsha shrestha 6 years ago

    I hope that it'll on me

  • John Sarkis profile image

    John Sarkis 6 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

    Very informative -thanks

  • cupid51 profile image

    cupid51 8 years ago from INDIA

    Very nice and really informative hub. Thanks for sharing.

  • EFPotter profile image

    EFPotter 8 years ago

    Great hub with great, really effective methods. Definitely an up vote.