How did your studying go last term? Did you spend time learning things as they were being taught, or did you end up having to go through caffeine-loaded, marathon study sessions the night before your finals?
Improving study methods a week before exams isn’t going to help. But if you get the right habits early on in the term, you can save yourself time and agony later.
What are Good Studying Habits?
I’m just another student like yourself. I don’t believe there is one perfect key to excellent grades that will work for everyone. But there are some common themes to improving study habits and not all of them require investing more time. In fact, most of these suggestions will be aimed at reducing your total time usage, by studying smart–not just hard.
I believe learning is a product of investment. If you make small, efficient investments in learning throughout the term you can spare yourself the frustration of cramming near the end. Your grades will thank you and your social life doesn’t need to wither and die to learn more each term.
Here are some tips for improving your study habits next term:
- Use 30-Day Trials. Popularized by Steve Pavlina, trial periods work under the principle that by committing to a change for a month, it will become a habit. Since it is study techniques you want to reinforce, pick one or two habits and work on them for an entire month.
- The Learn-It-Once Approach. Spend your time learning things as they come up in your courses. Attend classes with the perspective that you could be tested at any moment. It should only be material that you were just presented that you might not have had time to fully learn. Waiting before tests, assignments or finals is taking things too far.
- Morning Review. Wake up a half hour earlier and spend that time reading from your textbook. If you’ve already read the chapters, spend the time rewriting the key concepts into a notebook. A half-hour out of your day in the morning probably won’t create a huge impact on your schedule, yet over the entire term it can be invaluable in boosting your understanding.
- Link Courses to Daily Life. Spend some time each week looking for practical ways you can use the information you are learning. If you can find situations from your daily life that are similar to your subjects, they can go from abstract theories to concrete tools.
- Background Reading. Invest some of your time each week in reading the background of the ideas surrounding your subjects. Pick out interesting topics in the news or books that make use of ideas from your field of study. Background reading can reinforce the ideas by connecting them with reality.
- Set Daily Study Times. Set periods of time that you will spend studying each day. Once you spend a month reinforcing these learning periods, it will become automatic. Regular studying times prevent the need for cramming and can give you consistency in your schedule.
- Cut Wasted Time. I’ve had classes where I received an A+, yet I attended less than a third of the lectures. I have had courses where I didn’t buy or read the textbook. Talk to other classmates about how the course is graded (mostly textbook, mostly lectures, etc.) and use that as a basis for deciding where to cut time if you have to. Skipping a class can be a good strategy if it means you could better learn the subject on your own.
- Focus on Learning, Not Grades. Grades are just an artificial marker used to assess how much you’ve learned. While they are useful as a measurement tool, focusing on grades over understanding and learning useful ideas wastes your time. Look for ways you can use the material you are learning and focus on understanding it first, put grades afterwards.
- Read Papers Upside Down. A good editing habit when checking over your essays and assignments is to read them upside down. This prevents you from speed reading the page and missing grammatical or sentence structure errors. This also gives you a better feeling of how an essay might be read through fresh eyes, letting you improve your style.
- The 10-Year Old Rule. Pretend you had to teach everything in your course to a ten-year old. Could you do it? While advanced theoretical physics might not be comprehensible by a young child, the idea is that you should be able to simplify your subject into easily understandable pictures and metaphors. If you can do this for yourself, it will make your job far easier for remembering later.
- Seek Your Professors. A great tip from Tim Ferriss in the 4-Hour Workweek involves what to do if you get a bad mark on a paper. He recommends meeting your professor during office hours and asking for suggestions for improvement. Tim recommends that you exhaust every possible question, staying for an hour or two if you have to. By doing this you will not only have a wealth of information about how papers are marked, but your professor will also hesitate to give you a lousy mark in the future.
- Schedule a Balance. Compress your work and studying into the weekdays and mornings so you don’t need to work all of the time. Good habits also involve taking time for rest as well.