Study : It’s not about the number of hours that will determine your success. In fact, forget about quantity — don’t isolate yourself in a room for 8, 10, or 12 hours every single day.
Instead, focus on quality — maximize each day by helping your brain absorb study material more effectively.
I still remember the way I studied during the month of exams when I was getting my undergraduate degree. Spending all day at my desk memorizing and re-reading my textbooks felt like torture! In retrospect, I realized how unnecessarily miserable it made me feel. That’s why I feel compelled to provide a better solution to students like you who find themselves in similar situations.
So how can you change your strategy and focus on quality instead of quantity when it comes to studying?
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Commit to reaching one study goal a day.
The best way to get your mind focused on what’s important to successfully pass your exams is to start the day with a question, “What is the ONE thing I am committed to completing today?”
- Here’s why. This question will encourage you to think strategically about the day, keep you focused on your top study goal, and force you to prioritize the one goal that you want to reach by the end of the day. This doesn’t mean that you don’t have many study goals, but it does means that you can finish one today (read a certain number of chapters or practice exam questions, for example), so that you can concentrate better on your other goals in the days that follow.
- Here’s how to practice studying. Write the question in big bold letters on a sheet of paper and hang it on a wall. Pick a location where you can easily see the question as soon as you wake up (next to your bed or the bathroom mirror, for example). Then, read it out loud as you start your day. Take a few moments to think what you want to prioritize, and then come up with an answer and say it out loud too. Later, as you go through the day, make sure you’re working on completing what you’ve identified as your study goal for that day.
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Do the most challenging cognitive task first.
Timing is everything! Doing complex cognitive tasks first means taking advantage of your circadian rhythm — your biological clock that dictates which activities you’re more likely to do best at certain times of the day.
- Here’s what happens. For most people, your brain’s peak performance happens 2-4 hours after you wake up. This is the time when your brain can focus on analytical thinking that requires the most concentration. For studying, this can be reading, writing, critical thinking, or problem solving.
- Here’s when study should happen. If you wake up at 8, your peak times are between 10 and 12. And just because it’s noon, it doesn’t mean you have to stop; extend this time for another hour or so to maximize your peak performance and wrap up an important section, chapter, or lecture.
- Here are the benefits. Doing your hard work early in the day allows your brain to focus fully on the problem at hand, with fewer distractions, less inputs from your environment, and with a lot of energy that you’ve gained from a restful night. That’s a much better strategy than leaving your toughest studying for nighttime, when you are mentally exhausted.
Use a timer to divide your day into short study periods.
For most efficient studying, you don’t need to be sitting at your desk for hours. Use a timer to better manage your study session. That way you allow your brain to focus in a more targeted and effective way. Here are some examples.
- Review study material. Set the timer to 30 or 60 minute increments to maximize concentration; or, for really short bursts of study, try the Pomodoro technique which consists of 25 minute blocks of time, followed by 5 minute breaks.
- Practice exam questions. Use the review questions from your textbook or you can create your own questions based on the most important concepts from each chapter. Write the questions down on a sheet of paper. Then, use the Pomodoro technique to rehearse for the exam. Give yourself only a short time to answer each question.
- Take frequent breaks. When you’re done with one timed segment, step away from your desk and do something completely unrelated to work: get some fresh air, stretch, have a snack, grab a cup of coffee or tea.
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Eliminate distractions that stand in your way.
If you’ve ever found yourself checking Twitter or Instagram on your phone for a few minutes and then you realized that two hours flew by, you know what distractions can do to your day. No wonder you feel overwhelmed! Here’s what can help.
- Check email and social media apps only 2–3 times a day. For example, you can catch up around lunchtime, later in the afternoon, and in the evening.
- Set your phone to Airplane mode. You can also turn off the volume and put the phone away for a few hours so it’s not within easy reach.
- Avoid browsing the Internet or reading the daily news. Leave these activities for later after you’ve completed all the tasks you need to cover.
- Set expectations with other people. Humans can distract us too. Let your friends and family members know you won’t be available in the next few hours. You can catch up and chat over lunch or in the afternoon.
TAKE NOTES: Write stuff down.
Don’t just sit and read the textbook passively. Taking notes as you’re reading improves your brain’s cognitive skills, makes retention of information easier, and boosts memory.
- Write down what’s relevant. This includes key concepts, ideas, and topics. Don’t waste time writing every single word from a lecture. Instead, boost your critical thinking skills by identifying what is relevant to the topic. Don’t know what’s the best way? Try the Cornell Method.
- Write in a list format. This saves time, enables you to skim the material when you need it, helps you locate information faster, and makes the review process easier.
- Organize with color. Get notes more organized with multi-colored pens, markers, or highlighters to emphasize the most important sections. Use one specific color to highlight top priority concepts, then pick other colors to identify second level priority items such as examples and additional information. That way, all your notes will have a colorful structure which will be helpful as you’re reviewing for your exams.