Study Strategies for Students: How to Study Effectively for Exams
Learn How to Study Effectively for Exams with this Student Study Guide
Looking for study strategies for students? Want to learn how to study effectively? Well read on for a student study guide with plenty of tips and tricks for excelling in your studies.
I studied law at one of the highest pressure universities in the UK, surrounded by some of the smartest and hardest working people in the world. Despite this, come exam time, a lot of them flunk or just don't reach their full potential. Why? The biggest reason is that they just didn't study effectively. That's why I've decided to put together my student study guide with top tips and techniques for effective exam revision, so that you can show the examiner your very best.
Much of this How to Study Guide is going to be most relevant to students of the Arts, but there are lots of tips and tricks which will be just as helpful to Science and Math students. This student study guide is not just for university or college students either; I've been using these revision methods (give or take a few tweaks) since I was 15, and it's always served me well. These are the study tips and exam prep advice that has gotten me through my GCSEs, A Level and law school...
1) How to Get Started with Your Studies
First things first: the earlier you start, the better you'll do. Cramming before the exam won't help you absorb much information, and you'll probably be panicking and stressed out, which won't help your concentration.
The second thing to remember is that revision is not the same as learning. You need to work hard throughout the year to make sure you have the notes from which to revise. Revision is consolidation of existing knowledge, memorisation all the little details you took notes on over the year, and lots and lots of practice applying your exam skills.
Arranging Your Time
Make a Study Plan
The first thing you need to do is make your revision plan. A revision plan is the best way to stay organised and on top of things, which will make you feel more in control and less stressed.
Get a list of all your modules and break them down into smaller topics that are easier to compartmentalise and digest. Allocate each topic to different days and plan out how and when you are going to complete each piece of revision. Be realistic about what you are able to do in a day. If you cram too much into each day you'll remember less and less and your revision will be less effective. Allocate more time to subjects you find difficult.
Repetition and Re-Revision
Don't just study a single topic on a single day and never touch those notes again. As we'll see in the Active Learning section below, you need to be constantly going back over things you revised on previous days, testing yourself to see if it really sunk in, and if not, going back over it again. That's why you should allocate part of each day on your revision plan to testing yourself on old material and re-revising anything you aren't clear on.
Working solidly for 8 hours at a time with no breaks is an inefficient way to revise, and the easiest way to completely burn out and not take anything in. Schedule regular breaks, such as 15 minutes every two hours, or more frequently. Take the time to get some fresh air or make yourself a drink. This will improve your alertness and concentration.
Meals and Leisure Time
When making your study time-table, don't forget when to plan your meals and at least an hour a day where you stop working altogether and do something fun. That way you are less likely to over-work or skip meals.
Arranging Your Space
Make sure you revise in a quiet, well-lit space that is completely free of distractions. If you know you won't be able to resist chatting to your friends, work alone.
Secondly, be organised. Have all your notes ready and in order long before the pre-exam study period begins.
Thirdly, a messy desk piled high with books is going to instantly put you off revising. Make sure your work area only has out the books and notes you need for the topic you are revising, that way you won't be intimidated by all the work you have to do. Have everything you need ready as soon as you start working so you aren't constantly getting up to fetch things.
2) Looking After Yourself While Studying
This might sound obvious, but most of us are guilty of breaking this one. I know I am, and I can attest to how much failing to look after yourself will impact on your studying. Nothing will make you burn out faster and increase your stress levels like not having enough sleep or maintaining a balanced diet. Make sure you do the following:
You probably know by now how much sleep you need to feel properly rested. If you don't, check out the link below. Take that number, and add an extra hour. Stress impacts on the quality of your sleep and your ability to get to sleep in the first place, so you need to give yourself a little extra leeway.
Don't pull 'all-nighters' in an attempt to get more done; your sleep-deprived mind won't take in much if you do.
Avoid things like caffeine pills or chugging endless amounts of energy drinks to stay awake; when they wear off you'll feel like hell, and they'll make it difficult for you to sleep when you finally do hit the hay. In any case, if you started early and planned your revision out properly, you shouldn't need to sacrifice sleep for study.
And not just pot noodles and chocolate either. A quick lunch is fine, but always set aside at least an hour in your revision schedule for the evening meal, and cook yourself a balanced, filling and healthy meal. Also, always eat breakfast, even if you don't normally. This will improve your concentration, reduce tiredness and drowsiness and generally help you work longer and harder.
Some Free Recipe Sites:
Best Student Cookbooks
Here's the cookbook that saw me through exam stress!
One of the weirdest things I've noticed at university is that those in the rowing teams have a higher rate of getting the top grades, even though they were getting up at ungodly hours of the morning and sinking three hours of the day into tearing their own muscles to shreds.
There are plenty of reasons for this (and there's no need to take up an exercise regime that extreme), but the biggest is that by exercising, their brains function far more effectively than their chair-bound classmates. There are hundreds of studies showing the link between fitness and good grades, showing that exercising regularly will increase your concentration, improve your memory, reduce stress and even enhance your creativity.
So schedule some swimming, running, a trip to the gym or even just a walk into your revision schedule.
Here's a handy app that will help you keep track of how much exercise you are getting in every day.
3) Active Learning: The Best Study Strategy for Students
The Great Highlighter Mistake
Every year at law school I had to memorise the names of 500+ cases and what legal principle they decided. If I were to just highlight the names of the cases in my textbook, absolutely none of them would stick. Back when I had to memorise formulas for Math and Chemistry and Historian quotes and dates for history, if I had just highlighted then in a book, I wouldn't have remembered a thing.
And yet, every year people think that simply reading their notes and highlighting the 'relevant information' will help them learn it or remember it or understand it. Top tip: it won't. For effective revision and studying, you need Active Learning.
Active Learning Methods
Active learning is where instead of just passively hoping the words on the page will soak into your brain, you do something active to force your brain to focus and remember. This can be as simple as writing a piece of information out over and over: you focus far more on what you are writing than what you are reading so you are much more likely to take it in. Here are some methods of active learning:
This is a method I always use: convert all of your notes into question and answer format and put them onto flashcards, with the question on one side and the answer on the other.
Test your self over and over and over until you start to take it in. As you pick things up, you can start marking the flashcards you usually get wrong, so that you can skip the stuff you know well and focus on what you don't. You can also get your friends who do the same major to test you, so that you both learn.The best thing is, making the flashcards themselves is an excellent form of revision.
Exactly the same as flashcards, but in quiz format.
Wall Posters and Stickers:
This is where you read through your notes to figure out what the very bare basics are, the skeleton of information that makes up each topic of your course. Then you make a giant spider diagram of this information on a large piece of paper, and stick it on your door, or some other object you look at every day. The door is a good choice, as you can test yourself on a piece of knowledge before you let yourself leave.
You can also write up specific bits of information that you are trying to remember, like a quote, and selotape it to your coffee mug. This is best done in combination with one of the other methods.
You can also record yourself on your phone or mp3 player reading out parts of your notes and key pieces of information. That way, even when you are out on your lunch or exercise break, you can be revising on the go. This is best done as a supplementary revision technique, as you won't take as much in while multi tasking.
Writing Out Your Notes:
This can take forever, so a good way of doing it is to rewrite your notes into a condensed form, containing only the vital information. This is where subject-specific study guides come in handy, as they will help you identify the core information.
A mind-map is a diagram with the key topic at the centre, with branches coming out of it leading to more specific ideas and information. It's best to take these over the course of the year, but they are still very useful to create during the exam study period. Their main benefit is allowing you to organise and link ideas and information in your mind, which will improve your ability to plan and write interesting and original but at the same time spontaneous essays in the exam. Many thanks to DIY-Plan for this tip!
You Be The Teacher:
A great way to solidify your memory is to try to teach what you know to a friend. Use your mind-maps, or make a PowerPoint presentation and give them a lesson! After all, one of the best indicators of truly understanding a topic is being able teach it to other people in a clear and understandable manner. Many thanks to Pitaya for this tip!
Which is your favourite study method?
4) Practice, Practice, Practice
The second most important study strategy is to learn to apply your knowledge. Do past papers. Do lots of them. And when you've done lots, do some more. This is especially important for the Sciences and Maths, but too few Arts students write nearly as many practice essays as they should be doing.
As well as helping your exam technique and timing, writing essays are excellent revision in and of themselves, since they involve applying knowledge. They also help you avoid falling into the trap of being able to parrot lots of facts but not being able to apply them, understand them and evaluate them.
Set yourself a target, such as completing a past-paper a day, or writing an essay a day. Assign problem questions or mini-essays to each topic you study. If you are lucky enough to have a tutor or teacher willing to mark all of your work and critique it, take full advantage of that, if not, look for mark-schemes and model essays written by older students to compare yours to.
5) Strategies for Standing Out From The Crowd
Finished learning all of the basics? Done plenty of practice? Still have some time before exams? Well there's things you can do to add a few extra marks onto your test. Remember, this list comes in after you have done your revision; it is not a substitute for basic studying.
Go beyond the syllabus: in all Arts subjects there exists the potential to go beyond the syllabus. Ask your teacher for extra journal articles on a topic, skim a more specialised textbook for useful extras, and then learn them the same way you learned and revised your other material. Know which academic said what and cite their opinions in your essays. Academia.edu is a useful resource for finding papers if you don't already have access to journals.
Form your own opinion: Don't just parrot the opinions of the articles or textbooks you read either. Sit down, think about everything you have read and what exactly your opinion of a given issue is. Think about which academics agree with you, why they agree with you, and what you have to add to their arguments. Think about how you would refute the arguments of academics who disagree with you.
There are only so many essays they can ask you to write in an exam, and if you have something to say that you have thought about in advance and that represents your unique opinion, you will instantly stand out from the pages of regurgitated notes and parroted journal articles.
Quotes: If you're really ahead of the game, you can even memorise quotes of leading opinion writers in your field of study. Professors say they don't award extra marks for quotes, but what they mean by this is that quoting won't compensate for lack of basic knowledge, writing skill and original evaluation. If you have all of that, it looks really impressive if you can include the odd quote too. Don't ram a quote into any old essay though; just because you put the effort into learning it doesn't mean you should put it in where it isn't relevant, just to prove you know it.
Don't Stop Now: Even if you are confident that you are ready for the exam, don't stop going over things, testing yourself and doing past papers. Things can easily slip out of your head without you noticing!
6) Strategies for Defeating the Procrastination Monster
We all procrastinate, but during exam season it needs to be kept to a minimum. Here's some tips to prevent procrastination:
Turn off the Internet: And the TV while you are at it. If you can, unplug the TV from the wall and move it or unplug the internet from the router. Turn off your phone. If its more effort to procrastinate than it is to work, you won't do it.
Try Something New: If you are procrastinating because you are stuck, don't keep trying the same thing over and over. Try a different method of revision, or move onto a different section of your revision and come back to it later.
Reward Yourself When You Succeed: give yourself a treat (like some chocolate or an episode of your favourite TV show) if you complete a module or finish all of your revision for that day.
Break Your Work Down Into Smaller Chunks: Start setting yourself smaller goals that you know you can achieve for each hour of revision. Reaching your goals, even if they are easy, will boost your confidence and motivation, allowing you to set more challenging goals without getting distracted or bored.
Acceptance: Ultimately you have to acknowledge that the work is not going to get done unless you do it. Try to work out why you are procrastinating. Boredom? Try to rearrange your topics so that you do a topic you like, then one you like, and repeat. Come up with a more interesting way of revising those topics. Is it perfectionism? Acknowledge that even if it isn't the best work you've ever churned out, doing something is better than doing nothing.
7) Strategies for Overcoming Mental Blocks
(And a complete nervous breakdown)
If everything has gone to hell, your textbooks are spouting pure gibberish and you can't think straight:
Put the work down, do something else. Either a lighter, easier bit of work, a different type of work (taking a quiz instead of writing notes), or just stop working altogether and go and do something fun for an hour.
Once you've reached the tip of a mental breakdown, carrying on is just going to push you over the edge and destroy your self esteem. You probably won't learn much while you are in this state either. It's time to stop and take a break, and maybe review how many breaks you are taking throughout the day. Are you taking enough?
Go and Have Some Fun
If you choose to stop altogether, don't just watch TV. You need to do something that involves using your brain, so that you can get the stress out of your system rather than just pushing it to the back of your mind. This might be a good time to take that exercise break and go swimming or walking. Taking the time to socialise will also help you to calm down, and if you can make it a group event that is even better.
This might be a little difficult if all of your friends have become stressed out shut-ins too, which is why it best to plan regular group (or one-to-one) activities right from the beginning of the pre-exam period. Get it into everyone's head that 10pm is movie/chill-out time, or that on Wednesdays you all go out for lunch. Not everyone will be able to take part in every chill out session, but there should be enough people around when you need to take a break.
If All Else Fails
If that doesn't help and severe anxiety is starting to affect your ability to concentrate or otherwise interfering with your day-to-day activities, or you are suffering from panic attacks, get yourself to a doctor, the student nurse or a student counsellor.
As well as being a problem in itself, anxiety can lead to depression, which can destroy your motivation. Your health advisor should be able to help you out with strategies to deal with acute stress.
Thanks for Reading My Student Study Strategy Guide!
So that's all there is to it!. Stay healthy, stay happy, start early, work hard and work effectively. And smile! You're gonna do great!
I hope you enjoyed reading my student study guide. If you have anything to add, any questions to ask or just want to say hi, drop me a comment below.