7 Interesting Study Tips You May Find Useful
It’s never too late to try out something new, especially when it comes to improving your studies.
If you’re currently a school or university student, chances are you have certain aims and intentions when it comes to improving your studies; whether that’s “read more”, “do more work on the evening it is assigned” or “no more all-nighters”. We have already covered our suggestions for study resolutions in the past, and if you’re a regular reader of this site, you’re probably quite familiar with what a good study routine looks like and how you can work towards it.
That’s not what this article is about. Sometimes, “get to bed early” and “file your notes neatly” simply isn’t enough. Here are some of the odder study tips and techniques that we’ve come across over the past year. If you’ve tried other techniques and not had much success, or if you are just open to new ideas, try some of these out and see if, just maybe, they end up working for you.
1. Use the Pomodoro technique
We’re starting off with a relatively sensible study decision for the easily distracted. The Pomodoro technique involves breaking down your time into 25-minute and 5-minute chunks. For 25 minutes, you have to do work and nothing else; no quick alt-tabbing into your Facebook, checking your phone or glancing at the news because that seems more virtuous – just solid concentration on whatever work it is that you need to get done. Then, for five minutes, you aren’t allowed to work. That’s when you can make yourself a cup of tea, send a few Snapchats, have a biscuit or whatever other activities you would have been procrastinating with for the previous 25 minutes if you’d been allowed. And then back to work for another 25 minutes.
This works because 25 minutes is a nice, short, achievable amount of time, yet in an hour of work you’re still getting 10 minutes’ worth of break. But because the lure of the 5-minute break helps stop you from procrastinating, the theory is that you then get more work done in the 50 minutes that you’re working than if you’d tried to work for the full hour.
You’ll also find that doing this leads to thinking not in terms of hours and minutes, but in terms of Pomodoros; you’d judge a revision day by the number of Pomodoros you managed. For the extra nerdy or competitive, compare the number of Pomodoros you’ve done with your friends. Far more than counting hours of messing about and procrastination that you’re calling “study”, counting focused Pomodoros lets you compare and compete with your friends – which for some people (usually those with a mindset that adjusts well to Pomodoros) can be highly motivating.
2. Bin your highlighters
Some people swear by highlighting texts as a study technique, but it’s highlighted (pun intended) as a bad way of studying so often that it seemed worth including here. If you have pages and pages of notes in a variety of lurid colours – or have started highlighting the “important bits” of a text only to discover you’ve highlighted the lot – it might be time to ditch the highlighters and find a different way of studying.
There are practical reasons why highlighters aren’t great. They smell funny and if you overuse them on cheap paper they make it soggy and sometimes tear right through. But more importantly, they encourage you to think about studying in terms of short chunks of information to memorise, and that’s not a great way to approach your work, especially after GCSE. And it’s deeply annoying if you highlight books that someone else is going to have to use.
So what are the alternatives to highlighting? If you genuinely need short, easily digestible chunks of information – if you’re trying to find good quotes from a novel for an exam, for instance – don’t highlight them, but write them out instead; you’re more likely to remember them that way anyway. If it’s not information that goes neatly into chunks, don’t treat it that way – instead, write summaries of what you’re supposed to learn. Highlighting is much more passive that rewriting things in your own words, which is why rewriting is a better method for learning.
A sensible study tip is to take turns with your friends to teach each other about aspects of the topic you’re trying to learn. Unfortunately, not everyone has friends who are willing to take part in this. The next best alternative is to try teaching a parent or older sibling, who might have less knowledge of the subject but who might (hopefully) be more prepared to help. But if all else fails, you might want to try teaching your dog, cat or hamster.
It’s true that a pet is unlikely to grasp the finer points of homeostasis or the origins of the French Wars of Religion, but on the plus side, they’re also less likely to lose patience, tell you facts that later turn out to be nonsense or refuse to take part altogether. More seriously, finding a new way to think about the topic can be genuinely helpful in revision. Even if you feel a bit silly explaining with hamster-sized diagrams to Mr Fluffster how he is evolutionarily adapted for the desert steppes of northern Syria, engaging in this kind of nonsense really can help you remember things more than dry book learning will.
Better still, if you can manage it, is to find a small, inquisitive child who is at a stage of asking lots of questions about everything. You might well find that the questions they ask you about your subject are irrelevant or irritating, but answering them all the same will offer new ways of thinking about your topic, and can require a kind of back-to-basics thinking that is useful if your brain feels overcrowded with revision.
4. Use strict test conditions
This is a simple and commonplace tip, taken to what might seem like extremes. It goes like this: if you’re practising a particular test, use test conditions.
The thing is that most people read this tip and think “right, I’ll practise in silence without looking at my notes”. That does not constitute test conditions. You can’t, for instance, practise an exam under test conditions if you’re writing it while lying in bed – however comfortable that may be. Test conditions require you switching off your mobile phone, sitting at a proper desk, putting your notes very far away, working in silence and timing yourself, strictly, to the amount of time that you will be allowed. If you finish the exam quicker than the time allowed, consider whether you’d be allowed to leave in the real exam; if not, check through your answers a few more times (as you would do in the real thing). It’s probably not sensible to sit there doing nothing if you’ve definitely run out of exam-based things to do – but then it’s not sensible to sit there doing nothing in the real exam either.
If you’re prone to deluding yourself during revision (“I checked my phone a couple of times during the hour, so it only really counts as 45 minutes and I deserve a bit longer”), this can be a good method to shake yourself out of it and face facts. It also helps address bad habits that you might not be aware of – for instance, if you have lots of spare time and spend it staring at the ceiling instead of checking through and lose marks for carelessness because of it, it’s best to learn about that and train yourself in good methods of checking before you get into the exam room. And if you get very nervous before exams, practising in conditions that are as much like the real exam as possible will help you get used to it and approach the real exam in a calmer mood.
5. Make up better reasons to study
One of the hardest things about exams can be motivating yourself, especially if it’s a subject you’re not particularly interested in. One way to deal with this can be to make up better reasons to focus on your studies than simply wanting a good grade in the exam. For instance, try pretending that you’re a time traveller about to be swept into the past. If you don’t know the precise ins and outs of – say – the history of the French Revolution, you’ll be in danger of ending up on the guillotine for pledging fealty to the wrong person. Similarly, if your calculus isn’t up to scratch, it will be very embarrassing for you when you go back in time and meet Isaac Newton.
Trying to learn Physics? Remember that this will be vital when you’re abducted by aliens – they might not speak any human languages, but the laws of physics are the same right across the universe, and if you can communicate what you know to them, then they’ll understand that you’re an intelligent being and hopefully not blast the Earth to pieces. Foreign languages are easy – that’s for a passionate love affair on an unexpected plane journey, where you don’t want a language barrier to be an issue for you. Religious Studies is for time travel or teleportation, where you’ll need to know enough of the religious customs of wherever you end up in order not to be burned at the stake.
This might all feel very silly to you – too silly, perhaps, for you to try out in the first place. But remember that the only silly study techniques are the ones that don’t work, even if you might feel a bit embarrassed explaining that your excellent mark in Geography came from fear of being stranded on a desert island.
6. Condense what you really need to know
Have you ever found yourself in the situation where you’ve written notes from a textbook, and when you’re done, your notes are nearly as long as the textbook? That’s an outcome that’s irritating and that renders the note-taking process nearly pointless, as you might as well have reread the textbook as your own notes from it, and you probably wrote out too much information to recall significant amounts of it.
One way of addressing this problem is to condense your notes, and then condense them again. Can you write the essence of what you need to know for the exam in 10 pages? Then try 5 pages. 1 page. The back of a postcard. Every time you shrink your notes, you engage with all of the information, assess it and decide what’s most important. That requires analysis beyond the level of just copying important points from a textbook. You’ll also come to your own conclusions about the topic in the process – you might decide that one point other people see as important can be relegated to a single sentence, or that you’re developing your own theory that you think deserves space to breathe.
When you’re done, and your notes are as small as can be, you’ll not only have looked through your notes several times and engaged with them fully, you’ll also have a very concise set of notes you can go over much more easily ahead of the exam.
7. Write funnier essay titles
In the exam, you might have to deal with something dull, like “To what extent does Claudio obey the rules of courtly love in Much Ado About Nothing?” – but there’s no reason to practise with essay titles that bore you. If you’re making up your own essay titles for revision, make them fun – “Is Claudio a massive jerk in Much Ado About Nothing?”, with proper arguments and references, will probably cover much of the same ground, but be a whole lot more fun to write.
You should keep your essay titles to the same themes as you’ll be asked about in the exam, but if it makes revision more enjoyable, phrase them in whichever ways amuse you the most. This is particularly effective if there’s a character, theme or idea that you avoid revising because you find it frustrating. “Was everything Henry VIII did totally stupid and misguided?” is probably not a question you’ll be asked in the exam, but if answering it is less annoying than answering a comparable question like, “Was Henry VIII an effective monarch?”, then go for it.
What’s the strangest study tip that’s worked for you? Let us know in the comments!
image credits: tea break, alarm clock, highlighters, hamster, lions, girl and window, astronaut, cactus