You sit down and knock out assignment after assignment.
Deadline? What deadline? You’re already done.
And come test time, you’re ready, remembering things left and right.
Sound awesome? The good news is that it’s perfectly achievable. Here are seven things you can do, starting now, to help you study effectively.
Step One: Deal with procrastination
If you’re serious about this study thing, you’ve got to stop procrastinating. I know you already know that, but it’s worth saying.
There’s oodles of information on how to stop procrastinating and start studying. But the bottom line is you gotta pull a Nike and Just Do It.
Whatever that takes, do it.
Does that mean turning off your phone? Do it.
Not using your computer? Do it.
Giving your friend your Wii U controller and telling them to not let you have it back ’til you’ve finished an assignment? Do it.
I got distracted by The Lord of the Rings Online (it’s a game) when I was in college, so I uninstalled it for a couple weeks when I really needed to buckle down. It sucked but it worked.
You know what it is you do when you procrastinate. Cut that out of your life, even if only for a few hours. It won’t be easy, but if you’re serious about this, it’s worth it.
Whatever it takes, do it.
Step two: Assemble the troops (and your stuff)
A major part of studying effectively is not wasting any time looking for stuff.
So go ahead and take care of that right at the beginning.
When you get set to study, make sure you have all the things you’ll need at hand. If you’re going to the library for a math session, don’t forget extra pencils, paper, a calculator, etc.
Think ahead a little bit and plan for what you might need.
This works for everything from math to research papers. If you’re doing one of those, it’s not a bad idea to gather up all the books and resources you might need ahead of time.
More on how to do research for a paper in a coming post – stay tuned!
The point is, you don’t want to ever be looking for things during your actual study time. Look for things before your study time so that your study time can be as effective as possible.
Step three: Make a study plan
If you’re working on a larger assignment, you absolutely need a study plan. Even for smaller assignments, it’s a great idea to plan out your work. No point in studying things you don’t need to study yet. Remember, we’re going for studying effectively here.
I’ve covered how to make a study plan in more detail in another post, but the basic idea is to look at your end goal and then break your work into bite-sized pieces.
For a regular semester, you’ll probably have a lot of different assignments due, in addition to classes to go to and reading to keep up with.
Plan it out!
Get yourself one of those week-view calendars – lots of colleges and high schools have them available – and start by writing in the due date of every single assignment. As you get more throughout the year, write them down. This is super important and I can’t stress it enough. Write down your due dates!
Once you’ve written out all your due dates, you can see pretty easily what you need to have done and by when. Then, it’s a simple matter of planning backwards to see what you need to do on a given day.
Step four: Get focused
This is where the rubber meets the road. It’s time to study!
If you want to study effectively, you need to be in focus mode when you’re studying.
So do whatever it takes to get into focus mode.
The first thing you need is favorable conditions. This means no TV on. Turn your phone off – you’re not so important that whatever it is can’t wait an hour.
Also, don’t study in bed. All the experts agree that you want to keep your bed for just sleep, or else the quality of your sleep will suffer.
Think Goldilocks. Make it juuuust right. Temperature, light, ambient noise … you’ll rarely have the perfect amount, but you want it to be as close as possible.
Next thing you need is a routine.
Study at the same time each day, and at the same place. This lets your brain know it’s focus mode time, which will make it easier and easier to study effectively.
It’s also not a bad idea to make an actual routine. Whether it’s as simple as sitting down and pulling out your study materials in a certain order or as elaborate as a physical routine or dance you do before you start (hey, if it works…), a routine will also help you get focused.
Step five: Make it enjoyable
This can be a little tricky, but a major part of how to study effectively is finding a way to make the studying you do enjoyable. Even when it’s not.
Especially when it’s not.
Start by generating a positive attitude. It sounds nutty but it works: go stand in front of a mirror and tell yourself, with every amount of sincerity and enthusiasm you can muster, that you love this subject, that you’re excited to study and that you’re going to totally rock it.
The mind is a funny thing sometimes, and it will believe whatever you tell it. If you tell it, “ugh I can’t stand math. I’m gonna suck at this quiz,” then you’re going to not enjoy math and you will certainly suck at the quiz.
But what if you tell yourself, “Math is awesome! I’m good at it, too. And I’m going to totally blow this quiz out of the water. Now let’s get studying!”? You’ll do a lot better.
There’s loads of info out there on visualization and the power of positive thinking. Check it out. But for now, just do it.
Another way to make studying enjoyable is to be an active learner. Sometimes this works by using your imagination. I once turned a boring research paper into a fun one by imagining I was doing some sort of military intelligence spy report thing. I don’t remember exactly – it was a long time ago – but it made the paper much more enjoyable to do.
The basic idea is to be proactive, asking questions about your content and going above and beyond what the average student would. After all, you’re no average student. You’re an efficient study master. (See what I did there? #PositiveThinking)
Another way to help make studying enjoyable is a reward system:
If I finish this reading and the quiz, I’ll reward myself with one episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. on Netflix.
The only danger with a reward system is that it’s easy to keep going with the reward instead of getting back to studying. To combat this, always have an end point to your reward. Instead of saying “I’m gonna take a nice walk,” say “I’m gonna take a walk around the building.” Make sure you limit yourself, and then stick to it.
Also, always have a healthy reward. Eating a tub of ice cream is not a good study reward! You can reward yourself with food, but balance those food rewards out with other things. Like most things in life, it’s all about balance.
Step six: Take strategic breaks
A big part of how to study effectively is making sure that your brain is in focus mode as much as possible. But your brain can only do that for at most 40 minutes or so.
A famous copywriter, Eugene Schwartz, would take a kitchen timer, set it to 33:33 and start working. When that time was up, he’d stop working – even mid-sentence – and take a short break.
More well-known is the Pomodoro Technique, which works similarly – a 25 minute timer with 5 minute breaks.
The idea behind taking strategic breaks is keeping your mind fresh and raring to go. I personally find that the Pomodoro Technique works best for me; the short work bits and breaks keep me alert and focused (I actually wrote a post about it you can read here).
If you don’t want to use a regimented system with a timer and everything, at least pay attention to your brain and how you’re feeling. The minute you start to get tired or a little unfocused, stop what you’re doing and take a short break. Five to ten minutes should be enough to reset your brain and get you ready to go again.
It’s important to actually take a break when you take a break. Do something entirely different from what you were doing. I often will physically get up and go somewhere else.
If you’re working on a computer, do something not on the computer. If you’re working with books and paper, maybe hop on the computer for a little bit to check Facebook or your favorite forum.
The idea is a change of pace for your brain.
But remember – stay disciplined! Make sure that when your break is over, you get right back to studying.
Step seven: Review your notes
This is one of the little things that separates the good students from the great ones.
Starting today, make a point to always review your notes.
Whether they’re notes from class or notes from a book you read, strategic, spaced review will make things stick in your brain.
The best time to first review your class notes is right after class, actually. When I was in college, I’d often take notes on paper and then type them up after class. I noticed I’d remember things much better, simply because I’d done that simple review while typing my notes.
So what do I mean by “strategic, spaced review”?
It’s basically a scientific principle called “spaced repetition” (more on this in a coming post!).
The idea is to study effectively by timing when you review things.
So instead of just hammering things into your brain for 6 hours, you learn them once. Then you go over them the next day, briefly, just enough to refresh your memory. Then again at the 3 day mark. Then again at the 6 day, 10 day, 25 day, 45 day and 60 day marks. Then a brief glance every 4-6 months will keep it in your memory for just about forever.
You could have gone over your notes 7 times in one gargantuan study day. But odds are you’d get burned out and really not enjoy the process. And three months later, how much would you remember?
Instead, study effectively – space those 7 times out. Review your notes strategically. You’ll be a lot less stressed and retain a lot more.
My challenge to you
Look back over the list. Pretty simple, right? Not necessarily easy, but certainly simple.
A lot of how to study effectively lies in establishing habits and routines.
Here’s my challenge to you: will you do them?
The only thing keeping you from being that epic, super effective student I mentioned at the beginning … is you.
So starting today, put these seven steps into practice. Give it one month – just thirty days – and let me know what you think.
They’ll change your study life. I guarantee it.
What do you think?
Have you tried any of these steps? How did they work for you? Wondering how the picture relates to the post? (Answer: I don’t know. It’s cute puppies reading a book!) Any other tips to share for how to study effectively? Tell me in the comments below!