I don’t know anyone who was born with an innate ability to effectively study and obtain high grades. An individual may be incredibly smart, but just like our other habits, study habits are acquired over time. These types of skills have to be learned and practiced (or unpracticed) in order to be mastered. Evidence suggests that most of us don’t use the learning techniques that science has proved most effective. Even worse, research finds that some of the learning strategies we do commonly employ, are among the least effective. So what do you do when you’ve spent half your life learning all the wrong study skills? Easy, you read this article and fix them.
1. The Problem: Get ready for some shocking news. According to the study, the least effective studying techniques are underling and highlighting text. Although they are common practices, studies show they offer no benefit beyond simply reading the text. Some research even indicates that highlighting can get in the way of learning. Rather that helping you construct meaning from the whole document, highlighting draws attention to individual facts and may hamper the process of making connections and drawing inferences.
The Fix: Instead of highlighting the entire page, focus on highlighting only the most important information. Write questions in the margin as you read and take a moment to reflect back on what you read after you’ve completed the text. Usually, there will be a helpful glossary of terms from the chapter or a vocabulary section available to you in your text book. Look at that instead. Making flashcards is also one of the best ways to study and the best ways to memorize information.
2. The Problem: Re-reading the text word for word. This can be a huge waste of time, especially if you are a slower reader. If you genuinely didn’t understand what you read the first time around, it will probably benefit you to read it again, but most students will understand the general idea of what they read the first time around.
The Fix: If you absolutely have to read the text again, browse it for main points and for the general idea of the passage. A good way to do this is to read the first sentence or two of each paragraph. You will save time and will have more time to take practice tests, which scientists believe are one of the best ways to prepare for an exam.
3. The Problem: Studying with friends can be fun and relaxing, but you probably won’t get much actual work done.
The Fix: Focus on your grades rather than your social life and I guarantee the reward will outweigh the small sacrifice. If you have to study with friends for whatever reason, make sure they are “study buddies” not just buddies and pick one good friend you know will keep you on track rather than finding a group to join.
4. The Problem: Studying with music in the background works for some people, but more often than not, music can be a distraction and interfere with your ability to comprehend information. Some experts claim that certain types of music go well with those studying math, while English students do better in a quiet environment.
The Fix: If music is your thing and you have to have something playing in order to concentrate, try low playing classical music. It is soothing to the nerves and can help with mental clarity. Music without lyrics or words is always best.
5. The Problem: Cramming before a test is possibly the worst thing you can do, both for your stress levels and grades. Cramming, while you may remember things for a short period of time, doesn’t commit information to memory very well. Staying up all night before a big exam is also bad for your health and the fatigue you feel in the morning will make it even more difficult to recall information.
The Fix: It’s much more effective to dip into the material at intervals over time. Try 20 or 30 minutes a day of hard core, focused studying and you will see that the information sticks to memory better. Also, the longer you want to remember the information, whether it’s two weeks or two years, the longer the intervals should be.
6. The Problem: Drinking is a common practice and a lot of students like to have a beer or a glass of wine while they study. Even in small amounts, this isn’t such a good idea. For starters, wine is known to cause drowsiness and being intoxicated makes it even harder to retain information. There’s a reason why too much alcohol causes short memory loss.
The Fix: Instead of throwing back a cold one, pour yourself some juice or a glass of water. Make a healthy smoothie or have a glass of soy milk. Even coffee, or an energy drink, is better than alcohol. The caffeine will keep you awake and alert and if you don’t think too much of it, you won’t suffer a crash later.
7. The Problem: Studying in bed is one of the easiest ways to ensure you will get absolutely nothing done. Its super easy to get tired and fall asleep while reading anything in bed, let alone reading a science text book. Even if you don’t think you’re tired, getting cozy under your comforter can quickly turn all the letters in your book to Z’s.
The Fix: Do yourself a favor and force yourself to sit at a desk. If you have to study in bed for whatever reason, study on top of the covers or sit against your bed on the floor. Prop yourself up with pillows to avoid the temptation of lying down.
8. The Problem: Studying during a commute may seem like a great way to save time by multitasking. You’re reading on your Kindle or flipping through your notes while on the bus to school and it seems like you’re doing lot’s of great things at once, but you’re really not. Buses, trains, cars, and just about any mode of transportation are filled with distractions. It is also harder for the brain to concentrate while in motion or while trying to remember which stop to get off on. Some people even get dizzy or nauseous if they read while moving quickly.
The Fix: Instead, teach what you’ve learned in class to someone else or explain the concept to a friend or family member in the passenger seat or on the bus. Strike up a random conversation with a stranger on the train about a topic in American history or retell the plot of a novel you need to know for an exam. Not only will you probably meet someone new and perhaps make a friend, but you’ll find it easier to recall what you learned in that subject.