How to Study Smart: 15 Scientific Ways to Learn Faster
That’s how many hours there are in one week. If you’re a student, you probably feel like this isn’t enough. I know… You have so many assignments to do, projects to work on, and tests to study for. Plus, you have other activities and commitments. And you want to have a social life, too. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could study smarter (not harder), get good grades, and lead a balanced life? Of course it would. That’s why I wrote this article. The main aim of education isn’t to get straight A’s. But learning how to learn is a vital life skill. So I spent hours scouring scientific articles and research journals to find the best ways to learn more effectively.
- Study multiple subjects each day, rather than focusing on just one or two subjects.
- Don’t multitask.
- Learn the same information in a variety of ways.
- Sit at the front of the class.
- Review the information periodically, instead of cramming.
- Test yourself frequently.
- Take regular study breaks.
- Take notes by hand, instead of using your laptop.
- Read key information out loud.
- Connect what you’re learning with something you already know.
- Focus on the process, not the outcome.
- Sleep at least eight hours a night, and don’t pull all-nighters.
- Reward yourself at the end of each study session.
- Exercise at least three times a week.
- Drink at least eight glasses of water a day.
1. Study multiple subjects each day, rather than focusing on just one or two subjects.
It’s more effective to study multiple subjects each day, than to deep-dive into one or two subjects.
Because you’re likely to confuse similar information if you study a lot of the same subject in one day.
So to study smart, spread out your study time for each subject. In so doing, your brain will have more time to consolidate your learning.
2. Don’t multitask.
Effective students focus on just one thing at a time. So don’t try to study while also intermittently replying to text messages, watching TV, and checking your Twitter feed.
Here are some suggestions to improve your concentration:
- Turn off notifications on your phone
- Put your phone away, or turn it to airplane mode
- Log out of all instant messaging programs
- Turn off the Internet access on your computer
- Close all of your Internet browser windows that aren’t related to the assignment you’re working on
- Clear the clutter from your study area
3. Learn the same information in a variety of ways.
The research shows that different media stimulate different parts of the brain. The more areas of the brain that are activated, the more likely it is that you’ll understand and retain the information.
So to learn a specific topic, you could do the following:
- Read the class notes
- Read the textbook
- Watch a video
- Look up other online resources
- Create a mind map
- Teach someone what you’ve learned
- Do practice problems from a variety of sources
Of course, you won’t be able to do all of these things in one sitting. But each time you review the topic, use a different resource or method – you’ll learn faster this way.
4. Sit at the front of the class.
If you get to choose where you sit during class, grab a seat at the front. Studies show that students who sit at the front tend to get higher exam scores.
By sitting at the front, you’ll be able to see the board and hear the teacher more clearly, and your concentration will improve too.
5. Review the information periodically, instead of cramming.
Periodic review is essential if you want to move information from your short-term memory to your long-term memory. This will help you get better exam grades.
The optimal review interval varies, depending on how long you want to retain the information. But experience – both my own and through working with students – tells me that the following review intervals work well.
- 1st review: 1 day after learning the new information
- 2nd review: 3 days after the 1st review
- 3rd review: 7 days after the 2nd review
- 4th review: 21 days after the 3rd review
- 5th review: 30 days after the 4th review
- 6th review: 45 days after the 5th review
- 7th review: 60 days after the 6th review
6. Test yourself frequently.
So don’t just passively read your textbook or your class notes. Study smart by quizzing yourself on the key concepts and equations. And as you prepare for a test, do as many practice questions as you can from different sources.
7. Take regular study breaks.
That’s why it isn’t a good idea to hole yourself up in your room for six hours straight to study for an exam. You might feel like you get a lot done this way, but the research proves otherwise. So take a 5 to 10 minute break for every 40 minutes of work.
I recommend that you use a timer or stopwatch to remind you when to take a break and when to get back to studying.
During your break, refrain from using your phone or computer, because these devices prevent your mind from fully relaxing.
8. Take notes by hand, instead of using your laptop.
Because students who take notes by hand tend to process and reframe the information.
In contrast, laptop note-takers tend to write down what the teacher says word-for-word, without first processing the information.
As such, students who take notes by hand perform better in tests and exams.
9. Read key information out loud.
What’s the reason for this?
When you read information out loud, you both see and hear it. On the other hand, when you read information silently, you only see it.
It isn’t practical to read every single word of every single set of notes out loud. That would take way too much time.
So here’s the process I recommend:
Step 1: As you read your notes, underline the key concepts/equations. Don’t stop to memorize these key concepts/equations; underline them and move on.
Step 2: After you’ve completed Step 1 for the entire set of notes, go back to the underlined parts and read each key concept/equation out loud as many times as you deem necessary. Read each concept/equation slowly.
Step 3: After you’ve done this for each of the underlined key concepts/equations, take a three-minute break.
Step 4: When your three-minute break is over, go to each underlined concept/equation one at a time, and cover it (either with your hand or a piece of paper). Test yourself to see if you’ve actually memorized it.
Step 5: For the concepts/equations that you haven’t successfully memorized, repeat Steps
10. Connect what you’re learning with something you already know.
For example, if you’re learning about electricity, you could relate it to the flow of water. Voltage is akin to water pressure, current is akin to the flow rate of water, a battery is akin to a pump, and so on.
Another example: You can think of white blood cells as “soldiers” that defend our body against diseases, which are the “enemies.”
It takes time and effort to think about how to connect new information to what you already know, but the investment is worth it.
11. Focus on the process, not the outcome.
Successful students concentrate on learning the information, not on trying to get a certain grade.
- Focus on effort, not the end result
- Focus on the process, not on achievement
- Believe they can improve – even in their weak subjects – as long as they put in the time and hard work
- Embrace challenges
- Define success as pushing themselves to learn something new, not as getting straight A’s
Not-so-successful students tend to set performance goals, while successful students tend to set learning goals.
What’s the difference between these two types of goals?
Performance goals (e.g. getting 90% on the next math test, getting into a top-ranked school) are about looking intelligent and proving yourself to others.
In contrast, learning goals (e.g. doing three algebra problems every other day, learning five new French words a day) are about mastery and growth.
Most schools emphasize the importance of getting a certain exam score or passing a certain number of subjects. Ironically, if you want to meet – and surpass – these standards, you’d be better off ignoring the desired outcome and concentrating on the learning process instead.
12. Sleep at least eight hours a night, and don’t pull all-nighters.
The research shows that if you get enough sleep, you’ll be more focused, you’ll learn faster, and your memory will improve. You’ll also deal with stress more effectively.
This is a recipe for excellent grades.
So sleep at least eight hours a night. This way, your study sessions will be more productive and you won’t need to spend as much time hitting the books.
In addition, sleep expert Dan Taylor says that learning the most difficult material immediately before going to bed makes it easier to recall the next day. So whenever possible, arrange your schedule such that you study the hardest topic right before you sleep.
13. Reward yourself at the end of each study session.
The reward could be something as simple as:
- Going for a short walk
- Eating a healthy snack
- Listening to your favorite music
- Doing a couple of sets of exercise
- Playing a musical instrument
- Taking a shower
Reward yourself at the end of every session – you’ll study smarter and learn faster.
14. Exercise at least three times a week.
Exercise is good for your body. It’s also very good for your brain.
Various studies have shown that exercise …
- Improves your memory
- Improves your brain function
- Reduces the occurrence of depression
- Helps to prevent diseases like diabetes, cancer, and osteoporosis
- Enhances your sleep quality
- Reduces stress
- Improves your mood
Exercise is quite the miracle drug!
So to study smarter, exercise at least three times a week for 30 to 45 minutes each time. You’ll be healthier and more energetic, and you’ll remember information better too.
15. Drink at least eight glasses of water a day.
You probably think you drink enough water.
Dehydration is bad for your brain – and your exam grades too.
University of East London researchers have found that your brain’s overall mental processing power decreases when you’re dehydrated. Further research has shown that dehydration even causes the grey matter in your brain to shrink.
The simple solution?
Drink at least eight glasses of water a day. Bring a water bottle wherever you go, and drink water before you start to feel thirsty.
And if you’re taking an exam, bring a water bottle with you. Every 40 minutes or so, drink some water. This will help you stay hydrated and improve your exam performance. Plus, this also acts as a short break to refresh your mind.