More amazing study tips

As somebody who has completed many courses (and will be completing many more in the future) I’m always on the lookout for study tips and hints that can help me streamline my study, improve my results and make the best use of my time. Luckily, there’s always plenty of people writing and talking about how to do just that, so here are a few more pearls of wisdom for students, and even better, these are all science-backed tips too!

Study just before bed – As long as it doesn’t interfere with your sleep cycle, studying just before you fall asleep can strengthen the brain’s ability to recall the info you’ve learned. This is because your brain uses sleep to file recent memories and lock them into long-term memory, which is exactly where you want it.

Learn in chunks – We do say this a lot, but that’s because it’s true. When you break your study up into manageable sections, your brain doesn’t get overwhelmed with the information and will retain it better. So, just say you needed to remember a set of concepts – the names of bones in the human body, for instance. Instead of trying to learn all of them in one hit, learn all the bones in the head or hand, then take a break before learning about the bones in the foot etc. This method is called ‘Spaced Repetition’ and has been proven to work.

Try Mnemonics – Mnemonics are an effective method of learning where you turn the concepts into a story, song or abbreviation in order to remember it. You likely used mnemonics in school to learn things like the color of the rainbow (ROY.G.BIV = Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet) or the musical notes (Every Good Boy Does Fine, to represent the notes of EGBDF on a sheet music scale). Mnemonics are great for things like learning languages. In fact, I personally remember the first phrase my Italian teacher taught us in 7th grade to remember the Italian phrase ‘What’s your name?’. She said ‘Come ti chiami?’ is pronounced like ‘Coming to the army’ and – even though ‘coming to the army’ has nothing to do with asking somebody their name – this method stuck with me and has allowed me to learn and become almost fluent in two languages other than English. Thanks Mrs. Bottrell!

Study on the move – When we study in different places each time, we are forcing our memory to create new associations with the material we are learning, so the memory is reinforced. Again, this is backed by science, so it’s definitely worth a try.

Change the Subject – By learning concepts from multiple subjects in one sitting, rather than just the one topic, you actually make your brain work a bit harder to learn them, because you’ll be activating different sections, meaning your memory will stick. The further apart each subject is in concepts, the better, so – sticking to our earlier examples – learning about human bones, then switching to learning about music notes is more effective than learning about bones, then switching to learning about tendons.

Read or write it yourself – studies show that the more ways we use to learn a concept, the more we reinforce it in our memories. When we read something, we are activating the parts of our brain used for reading, but when we also write and speak something, we also activate those parts of the brain, meaning we can store it as memory more effectively. By writing things down in our own way (i.e., not just by copying it directly), we also force ourselves to understand the concept, because you can’t write it in your own way if you don’t understand it. As a writer, I can personally confirm this is very effective. In fact, it’s a little too effective because my brain is so full of useless information from writing on a multitude of topics I’m not interested in, such as the methods of bamboo cloth making in Thailand or the intricacies of Russian tax laws.

Put yourself to the test – This is really a no-brainer. If you practice for assessments and tests by doing your own quizzes and mock tests, you’re going to do better when you’re faced with the real thing.

Stay healthy but don’t skip the coffee – Being the healthiest you can be by eating right and exercising will give you the energy you need to get through those long study sessions. Using caffeine responsibly can also help you stay focused and recent studies have shown that caffeine is actually much more beneficial than previously thought. Also, scientists have recently discovered that regular aerobic exercise improves blood flow to the brain and makes it’s processing speed and other cognitive abilities more effective.

Then eat the right foods – Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids have been found to boost your learning ability and reduce anxiety. You’ll find these fatty acids in oily fish, olive and flax seed oils, nuts and in capsule form, among other sources.

Don’t sacrifice everything – you’re going to have to sacrifice a lot when you study, but you need to reward yourself regularly to stay motivated, so whether that involves indulging in your favorite treat, going for a run, going out with friends or relaxing with a good book, ensure you add some spare time into your study schedule as ‘me time’.

Meditate – Meditation and mindfulness has been shown to increase the attention span, reduce stress, make sleep more effective and improve cognitive ability. The best way to meditate to get the full range of benefits is to wind down with a yoga session, then take an hour or so to tune out of life and into meditative bliss.

Sleep sound, but only when you want to – Ok, so we’ve written about the importance of plenty of sleep so many times now, you’ll probably fall asleep if we go on about it again. Having said that, it is so important to get your full eight hours, even if you think it makes more sense to pull an all-nighter to study.

The thing is though, if you find that you study better during the night than you do during the day (like me), then by all means, study during the night! Just make sure you have the chance to sleep in the next day, so you’re still getting enough sleep to stay healthy and recharge. Just a note though – there’s no way to effectively make up for a sleep debt (science says so), so don’t skip sleep for a couple of nights, then expect to be able to catch up on the weekend. It just doesn’t work that way.

The CFS Team
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