Tired of Studying Hard? Study Smarter

There’s a long history of people perpetuating the value of working hard and studying hard. While there’s nothing wrong with this, thinking that this is all you need to get to your goals can prove tiring and even discourage you from going on. A lot of the time, working hard does pay off, however, with technology and science on our side, why go the traditional route when you can multiply the results of hard work? Why settle for measly results from your gruelling effort when you can have impressive results with less effort with just a few tweaks? 

If you’re a student who can’t seem to run out of things to study, imagine what would happen if you can optimize the amount of time and effort you devote to studying. How would that improve your life? 

Here are some science-backed tricks to help you study smarter, not harder. Try these and find yourself making studying easier!

Dhruvkumar Patel 1563 / CC BY-SA

10 Science-Backed Tips to Study Smarter, Not Harder

1. Plant Seeds Regularly (Do Periodic Reviews!) 

Periodic Review

If you’ve ever tried to study everything a few hours before the exam, you know that you’re unlikely to retain most of what you studied. This is because it’s unrealistic to expect your brain to effectively encode so much information in a short amount of time. Instead, what you should do is plant seeds over the course of days or even weeks. If you wish to do well in an exam, don’t burn the midnight oil for the last few days of review, instead, do periodic reviews in which you perform active recall. 

Active recall is the process of remembering information. When you conduct periodic reviews, ask yourself questions to test your memory. Doing this gives yourself the opportunity to verify how well you’ve committed information to memory. This also gives you the chance to find out which items you haven’t remembered well so you can review them again and test yourself on them at a later time. 

It might be a struggle to undergo periodic review in the beginning because most of us don’t practice active recall intentionally, however with consistent practice, you can improve your memory and make studying for an exam easier. This means, if you perform periodic reviews, you have a higher chance of remembering the things you studied during the exam because you have had more time to practice recalling the same sets of information. It not only takes the stress away during exam review time, it also has the benefit of improving your overall memory!


2. Study After Getting Enough Sleep

Image by press 👍 and ⭐ from Pixabay

It’s a common occurrence among college students to pull all-nighters and be sleep deprived. However, doing so can actually perpetuate a vicious cycle that is detrimental to one’s performance in school. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM), poor sleep in college students are found to negatively affect their academic performance.

Instead of sleeping less during the week and sleeping in during the weekends, students should consider going to bed only to sleep, and sleeping and waking the same time every day even on weekends. If you want to perform your best, study well and get enough sleep.


3. Feed Your Brain The Right Way 

Feed Your Brain

Studying can be stressful and when we’re stressed, we tend to reach for high-sugar and high-fat foods that give us instant relief. Unfortunately, unhealthy snacking can have long term negative effects not only on our health but also on our academic performance. 

According to Healthy Food Choices in Schools, a national cooperative extension resource supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, improving one’s nutrition through a balanced diet can increase brain function, improve academic behavior, and boost academic performance.


4. Switch Up Your Study Environments

Switch Up Study Environments

In Cognitive Psychology, the concept of context dependent memory refers to the ease of recalling memory which was encoded and retrieved in the same contexts or situations. Several studies were able to verify this concept and it has long been prescribed for students to study and take tests in similar environments to help with memory recall. This can be possible during the pandemic if you’re always studying in the same place and also taking your tests in the same place. 

However, it is also important to consider the possibility that you might not be testing in the same environment as you were studying in. Perhaps the location is the same but the situation is not and this may negatively impact your recall. 

According to this research conducted on the influence of the environment on recall, introducing several study environments as opposed to having just one can benefit recall as it can “‘immunize’ learned material against the negative effects of a changed testing context (Smith).” Hence it will benefit you to detach your memory from your environment/ context by introducing several study environments. If you’re studying in your room today, you can try studying in your living room later or even on your porch where you can get some sunlight. The key is to switch things up! As an added bonus, keeping things new prevents monotony which might cause boredom and lack of motivation to study.


5. Exercise To Stimulate Brain Activity

When you’re studying for a major exam, getting an exercise seems like the last thing on your mind. Don’t worry, no one tells you to go run when you have an important test coming up, however, you should consider exercising several times a week in the moments when you have less pressing academic requirements breathing down your neck. 

Although it seems like exercising will drain you of energy, it actually has the opposite effect especially in the long run. According to this article by WebMD, exercise fights off fatigue. By expending energy on exercise regularly, you’ll be increasing your overall energy levels and keeping off fatigue. This means you’ll feel less tired to study on a day to day basis!

Another benefit of exercising is it improves your cognition. If you feel low on memory or your brain is just slow on the pick-up, take a walk or lift those weights. Studies show that exercise greatly improves one’s processing speed, response speed, and working memory. Not to mention, it also helps reduce risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Lastly, regular physical activity helps alleviate one of the most underrated effects of long hours of studying -- emotional stress. When you workout, your body releases endorphins that reduce stress and help you feel better and more ready for your next bout of study sesh!

6. Focus (Don’t Multitask!)

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Do you like to have the TV on while you study? How about texting your friends and scrolling social media while you’re trying to read your textbook? These are tempting to do especially when you’re studying at home, but you should think twice before doing so because not only will doing other tasks distract you, it actually slows you down!

According to a research conducted by Stanford University, multitaskers perform worse in terms of memory, focus and overall productivity. People who engage in several tasks simultaneously have a difficult time ignoring minor information and they could not forget tasks they weren’t currently doing which prevented them from performing well in tasks they were doing. This means if you’re studying, focus on studying and forget other things at the time being. Devote study time and make the most out of those precious hours; then, leave time for yourself to do other things later. This method would allow you to focus on the tasks at hand and lead to better performance.


7. Teach What You Learned

Teach What You LearnedTulane Public Relations / CC BY

Maintaining healthy communication in virtual learning communities is incredibly important when everyone is at home, virtually alone, and studying by themselves. Not only does this foster a healthy emotional support system, it also allows students to work together and improve their learning. If one can’t understand a topic, another who does can step in and help fill the gaps and vice versa. 

While periodic review and active recall help with memory, they don’t ensure a high level of understanding. This is where teaching comes into the picture. According to a study on the benefits of teaching on learning, “when students actually teach the content of a lesson, they develop a deeper and more persistent understanding of the material than from solely preparing to teach (Fiorella & Mayer).” 

So the next time a classmate is having a hard time with a subject, help them out and try to teach them with the knowledge you’ve gained. Doing so will not only help them out, you’ll also enrich and deepen the understanding you already have of the subject. 


8. Write Your Own Notes

Write Your Own Notes

Technology has brought us countless conveniences, one of which is typing and the ease of editing. If you enter a college lecture hall, you’ll also notice that there’s an increasing number of students who use computers for note taking. However, when it comes to studying, various studies prompt us to forgo our laptops and choose to grab a paper and pen instead. 

Research shows that taking notes by hand helped with conceptual understanding because instead of writing what the lecturer says verbatim, they write in their own words which helped with their understanding. 

Do note that these studies have since been questioned and replication has shown varying results with slight favor towards traditional note taking. So instead of choosing a pen and paper which are less eco friendly than taking e-notes, we suggest you focus on the quality of your notes rather than how you take them. Rather than typing what you hear in class verbatim which shows less processing and leads to more difficult recall later on, process what your teacher says and write and type notes with your own words!



9. Read Things Out Loud

Read Out LoudImage by Peggy und Marco Lachmann-Anke from Pixabay

If you notice how some students study better when they read while some do better looking at illustrations or even listening to lectures, this is because people have different learning styles and study best with different strategies

One learning style is auditory learning. Auditory learners prefer to listen and talk when they try to understand concepts and remember information. For them, reading materials out loud helps them learn better.

But even if you’re not an auditory learner, you should consider reading texts out loud because it can help with your focus and improve your memory. In a study that tested the influence of reading material out loud on memory, they found that reading a learning material out loud helps with memory because “one’s own actions are more direct, more distinctive—more embodied—and hence more memorable due to their uniqueness” (MacLeod).

10. Take Study breaks

Study Break Sung Wang sgwang0511 / CC0

Remember when you were in grade school and always looked forward to recess? People always love taking a break when the work they do, in this case, studying, requires much effort and energy. But taking a break isn’t only beneficial to your mental health to help relieve stress, it also helps with your academic performance.

A study conducted to determine the effectiveness of prolonged work or study periods without a break found that “the brain is built to detect and respond to change… [and] that prolonged attention to a single task actually hinders performance (Ariga & Lleras)”. 

Still, not all study breaks are equal. From this data produced by Huffington Post, it appears that engaging in activities relating to social media increases stress. Another article by Harvard Business School shows that using social media only satisfies one side of our need to interact with humans, the seeking need. Meanwhile, our need for bonding and reciprocity are not fulfilled. This imbalance affects our brains by creating mental hyperactivity and reducing our capacity for deeper focus. Not to mention, overuse of social media is linked to poorer academic performance.

Do you find any of these tips helpful? Leave us a comment!

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