Students are probably the busiest demographic in the world. Not only do they have to attend classes, complete homework, and commute to and from their schools, but many also have jobs. At the very least, students have a home and social lives to balance with school work. Studying for exams demands more time than many students have to give.
The truth is, studying doesn’t require as much time as you may think. There are faster, better ways to study. Preparing for exams is nerve-wracking, so first take a moment to calm down. A panicked mind won’t retain anything, anyway. The trick to learning more in less time is planning ahead. The list below outlines the most time-efficient study habits that will help you master your course material in the least amount of time.
Save Time with a Post-It Study Guide
The best way to save study time is to transform your textbook into the ultimate studying tool. You can make a personalized study guide with a few Post-it notes and a pen. If you’re familiar with the material your teacher plans to go over in class, you can write class notes on Post-its and apply them to the correct segment of text during class. This combines class notes and text summaries into one study guide, and you can use class time to do it.
There’s another benefit from writing your own study guide. The physical act of writing forces your brain to process information in different ways than reading does. Going over the same information in different ways helps you retain the most information.
Flash cards have a bad reputation because they’re overused. Used in moderation, however, they can make all the difference. Students don’t always have time to sit down and study with a heavy textbook. If you write down a few key points on index cards, a stack of Post-it notes, or even pieces of scrap paper, you can review them when you’re at work, between classes, or waiting for events to start.
The trick is to limit yourself to only three or four cards. Figure out what your weakest points are in a class’s subject material and put those few summaries on your flash cards. The rest of the text should be easy to review, especially if you use the Post-it note study guide discussed above. Flash cards should be reserved for the tough facts and concepts you struggle with the most.
Set an Alarm
Cramming is hands-down the worst way to study. The information doesn’t stick well in your memory, and you’re exhausted when it’s time to take the exam. It’s much better to break up your study time over the days leading up to your exam. Intense study for fifteen minutes at a time is much more productive than cramming for hours on end. Set alarms on your phone to remind you to start and stop studying twice a day for the week leading up to an exam and you will save a lot of study time.
Make Time for Breaks
No matter how you study or when you study, make time for breaks, and make sure those breaks support your study habits. This seems like a high demand for your relaxation time, but it’s simpler than you think. There’s a reason why people have so many great ideas in the shower. If you take a break from studying, you allow your mind to digest what you’ve read. Your brain will develop connections and tie the information into the broader subject matter.
The best breaks for studying have nothing to do with textbooks, flashcards, or notes. Use the time to take a walk, lift some weights, and enjoy a nice long bath or shower. Physical activity stimulates your brain, and you can focus on nature, a conversation with a friend, or anything besides studying. Meanwhile, your mind will continue processing the data in the background.
If you’re preparing for an exam, don’t compromise your body. Pumping yourself full of energy drinks may give you more time with your books, but you won’t remember as much of what you read when you’re buzzed on caffeine. The same is true of alcohol. Junk food will hamper your focus, too, and you’ll pay in attention span for every minute you save by cooking ramen.
Eat your fruits and vegetables. Your mother was right. These foods may not make you smarter, but the natural balance of sugars, fiber, vitamins, and minerals will make a huge difference in your physical ability to focus. They say to put in what you want to get out. If you want to spend less time studying, spend a little more time preparing healthy food.
Turn Off the Distractions
Multitasking is praised in our culture, but the truth is that it’s dramatically less efficient than focusing on a single task. It may not seem like it, but music can distract you while you work. Your cell phone can definitely derail you. Keeping multiple tabs open in your browser is a sure path to lost time. There are tons of apps available to help you turn off distractions, and some are probably already built into your web browser.
If you need music to study, choose something that will blend into the background. Study music is, after all, supposed to drown out other distractions by serving as pleasant white noise. If you use an online streaming service, make sure you only keep one tab open. Don’t give yourself the opportunity to go on a wild Google hunt.
Cramming is the biggest time-waster in the studying world, and planning ahead is the absolute best way to save precious hours. Studying can fit surprisingly well into your life so long as you know how to schedule it in. Take the time to read your text before class, and use your class notes to make a Post-it note study guide. Study in bursts, take breaks and eat healthy. With a few flash cards and the distractions tucked away, you’ll be amazed how much you retain.