The new school year is officially here, and with it comes renewed hopes of earning perfect grades. Despite best intentions, this doesn't always happen. Sometimes the idea of having "plenty of time" before exams results in a lot of wasted time, while others simply don't understand how to study effectively and boost their productivity.
Here are 15 scientifically-backed tips that will help any student get the most out of studying time.
1. Get enough sleep.
All too often, sleep is the first thing sacrificed for extra studying time, particularly the night before an exam or a project due date. While it seems like getting in that eleventh-hour studying in would be good for retention, a sleepy brain is actually more likely to forget material, causing a student to do worse on an exam. A lack of sleep can also diminish a person's ability to regulate emotion, which can increase the anxiety surrounding the test.
2. Don't forget to eat.
Proper nutrition is crucial for peak brain performance. While binging on Red Bull and Chinese takeout seems like the meal of champions during study sessions, that's not what experts recommend. Eat small, healthy meals several times throughout the day. Focus on taking in all necessary vitamins and nutrients and avoid sugar that will put your brain into a fog and make it harder to learn material.
3. Make a schedule.
The best defense is a good offense. It's true in sports, and it's true for grades. At the beginning of the semester, mark important dates on the calendar. Set aside time for studying so material is revisited several times, really anchoring in the neural connections and committing the information to memory. Making a habit out of studying is the best way to ward off procrastination and reach educational goals while avoiding last-minute freakouts.
4. Make connections rather than memorizing facts.
Rather than simply memorizing facts or figures, try to make connections between facts; or if it's a math problem, try to understand why an equation works the way it does instead of just learning to plug in the numbers. This makes information easier to remember, and if you happen to draw a blank during an exam you might be able to get to the correct answer another way.
5. Take breaks.
When studying for a test, it can be tempting to start studying and do nothing else until the maximum amount of knowledge has been crammed into your brain. Unfortunately, this isn't the best way. Scientists suggest taking short breaks every 20-30 minutes. Get up, walk around, and don't look at the material at all during this time. Coming back after the break will provide fresh eyes and renewed mindset for the task at hand.
6. Eliminate distractions.
Students today are more connected to others than ever before, which can result in frequent distractions like cell phones and computers that are constantly lighting up with emails, text messages, and notifications from social media. Close out the tabs for distracting websites like Facebook, and set cell phones on Do Not Disturb in order to focus better on the task at hand.
7. Ditch the laptop and write notes by hand.
Taking notes on a laptop is a good way to get down a lot of information in a short amount of time, but the information will be retained better if notes are written by hand instead. To get the best of both worlds, use a laptop during class in order to get all of the information, but rewrite them later to fully commit the information to memory.
8. Choose a study group carefully.
Even the most introverted students can benefit from a study group, or at least one other friend to bounce material around with. This group needs to be selected carefully, as a group that doesn't get much done or doesn't have patience to help someone who is struggling is a waste of time.
9. Don't cram before an exam.
Cramming for an exam is the desperate attempt to retain information at the last minute, and it rarely works. Information will be more engrained in your memory if it's learned well in advance of an exam and revisited several times.
Student-athletes, rejoice! Exercise is a great way to burn off a lot of nervous energy that can build up around exam time, but it's also a good way to boost brain activity. Spending just 30 minutes a day doing aerobic activity before studying can get the brain ready to learn and retain more information than students who are more sedentary.
11. Read out loud.
This one probably shouldn't be done at the library, but reading material out loud really does help with retention. Reading out loud activates more of the brain than merely glancing over notes in silence, and creates more pathways for retaining the material.
12. Study in several different places.
While there's nothing like finding a sacred, quiet spot to study, research suggests that you'll learn and retain more by studying in multiple locations. In addition to the study material, your brain also imprints the location as part of the memory. Reading in different places creates more pathways to the information, making it easier to recall later on.
13. Give yourself tests.
The best way to ensure that information is getting retained is to do practice tests. These can typically be found throughout textbooks, or professors may even provide old copies of the exam for practice. Using flash cards is another easy way to find out what topics are well-understood, and what requires a bit more work.
14. Don't focus on the same subject for too long.
Because studying should be a regular habit and not something that happens at the last minute, it's beneficial to break up the time between multiple subjects. By dividing two hours of studying into three subjects (or whatever the case may be) the brain won't get burned out as easily and the reading that is done during that time will be more effective.
15. Take walks.
Taking short walks can dramatically boost brain activity, so taking a study break to stretch out the legs can be a big benefit. Additionally, having a discussion about material while walking around can add to retention of the material.
[Header image via: iStockphoto]