“Be sure to study hard for that test!”
How many times have you heard that? But what does it even mean to study hard? Do you have to study until your head hurts? It sounds like it！
The whole idea of studying harder suggests that you really don’t try very hard as a normal practice, and that is probably not true. So instead of studying harder for better results, you can study smarter, and there is good news: it won’t give you a headache.
How to Study Smarter
There are a few adjustments you can make to your normal study routine to make the most of your time and effort. These adjustments are based on a few scientific discoveries about learning.
We learn over time with repetition.
We learn from active experience.
We learn through comparison.
We learn by testing ourselves.
Time and Repetition
Some studies on brain science have shown that the practice of revisiting information enhances learning. In other words, it is a good idea to study material more than one time, over a period of days.
To study smarter, then, you should start your study session a few days ahead of time and study a few hours, walk away from the material, and study the same material again a few days later.
Learn Through Experience
There are indications that our brains love to make associations or “connections” when we read or observe something new. It seems that the more we enhance the experience as we read, the more we may retain.
As you study, you should incorporate active study strategies like drawing images, writing outlines, and repeating what you’ve learned from memory.
(FYI: highlighting is not an active study strategy!)
It is also a good idea to study in a variety of places and environments to stimulate more associations. For example, you could study once in a quiet library and again in a very different environment, like a park or your own room.
Comparing As We Study
We understand new things by comparing them to things we already know.
To demonstrate this, try to describe a lime to someone who has never encountered one. Your depiction might go something like this:
“It’s like a lemon, but it’s green. It tastes and smells like a mix between a lemon and a tomato vine.”
That person would most likely be able to identify a lime easily, because he or she will be able to consult stored knowledge to conjure new information.
Any time you study new material, your brain consults stored knowledge to make sense of the new things you’re encountering. For example, if you live in the United States and you are required to learn about communism, you will most likely learn by comparing that system to a system you already know, like capitalism.
When you study terms to prepare for a test, you should always select two terms at the same time and describe the differences between them.
Learning By Testing
Recent studies tell us that learning is enhanced through trial and error. When it comes to studying effectively, it turns out that testing is one of the best ways to prepare for testing!
There is good evidence that the very best way for you to learn is to take a series of practice tests. This means that the process of trying to answer questions, getting questions wrong, discovering why you were wrong, and correcting yourself—is the smartest study strategy of all.
Of course, if you want to do this right, you should have someone else prepare a few practice tests for you. This can be easy: just find a partner (or a group) and write questions for each other.
In summary, the science says this: if you want to study harder and smarter, you should start early, find a study partner, get active, and test yourself.