My Top Approaches & Tips on Efficient Studying
Remember the times just before finishing school? Where you thought you would never have to study ever again and you were actually happy about that? My mindset is so different today: what a sad life it would be, when you would stop learning at some point. Isn’t it the greatest gift that we are able to learn something new every day?
I am currently on educational leave at my full-time job and have been hesitant at first if I should really do it because the last time I had to study thousands of pages was years ago. To be more precise, I graduated 4 years ago and hold a Master’s degree in business with a special focus on international health. During school, I never really understood that there are different ways of studying and there is not a one size fits all plan for everyone. I wish somebody would have told me earlier. During my bachelor studies, I developed my own style on how to approach things and perfected it during my masters. I have always been pretty good at learning things by heart, but during my studies I realized, it is way more important to understand the subject matter to actually apply it in real life. In this blog, I want to share my experience and tips on how to organize, structure, and study as efficiently as possible. Welcome to my Blog on my top tips on how to study efficiently.
1. Task Management: Starting point, steps, and deadlines!
I know it might seem easier to put everything off, until you panic 3 days before the exam or the submission and you have to go through nights to catch up. But I can tell you it’s not worth it. You can’t really enjoy the time you don’t study because you know that you should be studying and the last days before, you can’t really put the material into your long term memory and the time is actually wasted because you can’t store the information properly.
Develop a semester overview of all exams, papers, and presentations and schedule start and end dates for all topics or subjects. In my case, there are 4 modules and I have 4 months’ time. Each module is divided into hours of work. So I know exactly when I should finish each module at the latest to stay on schedule. By setting deadlines, you save yourself a lot of psychological stress.
2. Work ethic: Put yourself in the right mindset!
One of the most effective changes in your studying behavior is putting yourself into the right mindset. Your mindset is your own choice and not a given. A positive approach to studying will lead to an effective and efficient work ethic.
On the one hand, you could get annoyed and see studying as a waste of time, on the other hand, you could be grateful for the opportunity to learn new things and invest in your future. Innumerable and only you decide! Studying for the right reasons can change so much. The day you realize that the only person you do that for is you, everything will be so much easier. University/ school can be a competitive environment and we all tend to compare ourselves to others, however focusing on your own growth and only competing with yourself, is the direct way to success. You don’t have to convince anyone else but yourself. Always keep in mind: Be Process-oriented not grade-oriented!
3. Study environment: What works best for you?
“Schools’ open space and noise, inappropriate temperature, insufficient light, overcrowded classes, misplaced boards, and inappropriate classroom layout all make up factors that could be confounding variables distracting students in class.” (Gilavand, Abdolreza. (2016). Investigating the Impact of Environmental Factors on Learning and Academic Achievement of Elementary Students: Review. International Journal of Medical Research & Health Sciences)
Research has shown that environmental factors have a high impact on the outcome of your studying. You don’t have to go into deep research to find out which light and temperature will help you achieve better grades, but you have to ask yourself, what is best for you. I myself, cannot work nor study in a cluttered space. I prefer to work in a clean room, on a clean desk, freshly showered, and dressed preferably after my morning workout. However, you might be totally different, find out what works best for you. You might enjoy daylight, or a darker dimmed room, totally quiet or some music in the background, fresh air or stuffy air.. okay come on nobody likes that, am I right? Well, the good thing is: nobody will judge! Do whatever helps you to get the best results and make the process as enjoyable as possible.
4. Studying material: Bring order to the chaos!
This is my number one tip to all pupils, students, and other willing learners! Structuring and aligning the flood of learning materials is crucial for an efficient way of proceeding. Let’s assume a university lecture: you go to class, most likely you will get a script, PowerPoint slides, one or two books, additional sources like youtube videos, or applied examples on websites, and additionally, you will have your own notes from class. This results in 7 different types of learning materials. Where to start and where to end? If I wouldn´t have the opportunity to summarize all of this in one document, then I would make a big bonfire so everything could burn in hell. Not even joking!
Okay… back to constructive suggestions:
Identify your main studying material
For me, this has always been the PowerPoint slides and my own notes. Books, videos, and other sources I usually used as additional help, when I hadn’t understood something just based on the slides and my notes.
Simplify and summarize the material
Use the materials that you have identified as the main materials and summarize them in one document. I strongly advise you to write this summary by hand. This strengthens the connection between information and the brain and can help to store the information sustainably. Create a document that you like to learn from. Clearly structured, highlighted with colors, and with an inner logic.
Work with common sense here. Not every piece of information is needed. It is important to understand the cornerstones and connections. In memorizing minimal details I personally see no sense. This depends of course also strongly on your subject.
Find additional sources, examples and make connections
If you are particularly interested in a topic I can only suggest that you take a deeper look at it. Because remember, you’re studying for yourself and not for the exam. Search current examples on the topic, watch YouTube videos on the topic, the possibilities are almost limitless nowadays. It is also important to understand the connections between the topics. SImple memorizing of separate chapters without understanding the big picture will not help you in your professional career.
5. Studying techniques: Etch it into the brain!
Change into a teachers role or read the information out loud
Either explain the subject matter to somebody else or read it out loud to yourself. “A recent study (2017) found that speaking text aloud helps to get words into long-term memory. Dubbed the “production effect,” the study determined that it is the dual action of speaking and hearing oneself that has the most beneficial impact on memory.” (Noah D. Forrin, Colin M. MacLeod. This time it’s personal: the memory benefit of hearing oneself. Memory, 2017)
Use active recall and review information periodically
What does active recall and repetition mean? This studying technique is explained very fast. Most people go through the whole material and then try to test themselves. However, it has been proven that actively testing yourself and recalling all the information you can remember in smaller defined intervals during the revision process, strengthens the ability to keep and retain the information.
Make the right connections
Solely learning sentences by heart won’t stick. It might help for the exam, you might even get a good grade, and for some subjects it probably makes sense. However, in most cases, I would strongly suggest trying to understand the big picture and how the different topics go together.
6. Other factors and lifestyle
Keep it simple! Put away everything you don’t need for studying, especially your phone. Don’t study in front of the television or open a social media website on your laptop. Trust me, you underestimate the time you would spend on your phone, watching that series or mindlessly scrolling through Instagram. At the end of the day, you might think you studied for hours, but in the end, you spend half of the time or more doing something else.
Breaks are essential and will positively influence your attention ability. A study (2011) conducted in Illinois has shown a progressive decline in attention after studying for too long without taking a break. (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “Brief diversions vastly improve focus, researchers find.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 8 February 2011) In my opinion, the time interval after you should take a break is individual from Person to Person. For some people, it might be an hour for some people it might be 3 hours. Keep an eye on your attentiveness, if you feel you are losing it, get up and do something else for a couple of minutes, take a nap, go outside for some fresh air, drink a glass of water or move your body.
“Increased drinking water quantity may also improve educational outcomes through the effect of hydration on attention, concentration, and short-term memory.” (Chard, Anna N et al. (2019) “The impact of water consumption on hydration and cognition among schoolchildren: Methods and results from a crossover trial in rural Mali.” )
No matter where you are on your personal journey: school, bachelor’s, masters, online classes, courses, I hope you found this blog post helpful. If you have any further questions or if you are interested in any kind of exchange or a conversation, please leave a comment down below. I´m always happy to have a little chat.