You know how to study—at least, you know how to study in the context of high school. But college is a whole new ball game, and you'll need to develop a new set of study skills. But it's never too early to learn how to study smarter! So if you're still a couple years away from college, start developing your study skills now so you'll be an expert by the time you get ther. Luckily, we have some insider advice for taking your study habits to the next level.
1. Plan, don't cram
According to a a few different research studies, students who forego sleep to pull "all-nighters" and cram only the night prior to a big test are more likely to perform poorly the following day. Ample sleep is critical for academic success. Students should keep a consistent study schedule leading up to their test by planning out their study sessions. And if you've really done the work, you won't even need to study the night before, and you can instead focus on getting a good night's sleep to ensure a great result.
2. Seek out effective study tools
Whether it's using flashcards or rereading passages in a textbook, all students have their own way of assessing their preparedness prior to a test. However, there are tools available that make the studying process much easier, more engaging, and more effective. (Check out the McGraw-Hill Tegrity Campus, a comprehensive lecture capture system that allows students to "relive" the lectures that aren't fresh in their minds.) Explore different types of study tools and resources to figure out what works best for you and stick with it.
3. Jump around
A majority of students naturally review material for a test or a midterm in the order in which it was taught; that is, going through your notes in chronological order. This type of studying, also known as "blocking," may be effective for some, but research out of the University of South Florida suggests otherwise. If you study "out of order," according to the research, you're more likely to retain standalone knowledge and, therefore, able to recall information in a randomized way, which is how many tests are designed. Studying in sequence is restrictive, and forces you to remember content in the order in which it was studied.
4. Avoid distractions
The 21st-century student is an avid "digital multitasker," capable of answering the phone, reading and sending a text message or email, and listening to music all while preparing for a test. Though this might be considered "the new normal," these distractions might negatively impact a student's ability to retain and accurately recall information, according to research from Stanford University. While collaboration and discussion are an important part of the learning process, when it's crunch time, students should opt for an environment that's quiet and void of any digital disturbances.
5. Books, then bed
A guide on memory issued by the Academic Skills Center at Dartmouth College recommends that students should review difficult material prior to bedtime, provided that a student is mentally and physically strong before hitting the pillow. This is because challenging information is oftentimes easier to remember after a good night's rest, as the brain typically consolidates facts in your memory that are freshly accessible the next day.
Developing smart, long-term study habits is only going to benefit you in the long run. Hardly any student really enjoys studying, but if it lessens stress and anxiety for yourself on test day and thereafter, it's certainly more enjoyable than the alternative. Use these tips to improve your study skills, and good luck on all your future test days!
Check out more advice from Jay and other experts on becoming a super studier in our Majors and Academics—Ask the Experts section!