Benjamin Franklin famously said “…in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” I would like to add “studying” to the end of that quote. The reality is that anyone who does well in college must study, without exception. There is no avoiding it, and the truth is studying can be painful. There is nothing worse than the dread of knowing that the days preceding a test you are going to have to lock yourself in the library and study for hours upon hours. Many people say that in order to avoid the “pre final blitz” you should study in increments throughout the semester, as we have all heard “review what you have done at the end of every class so you don’t have to cram everything before finals week.” This is true, but for many people, myself included, they forget the material even when studying under a low stress environment. Additionally, if we are all being honest, everyone crams to some extent or another. Therefore, the million dollar question is when one is studying, be it preparing in advance or cramming the day before, how do you remember the information and maximize your productivity while studying?
There are three types of people in terms of their ability to learn; visual, auditory and kinesthetic. If someone is a visual learner, they can read the material and fully understand and comprehend it. If someone is an auditory learner they would benefit from listening to an audiobook and from listening to music while studying. Someone who is a kinesthetic learner learns best when they re-write the notes and converting the material into real life tangible examples.
The key to knowing material and remembering the material is finding out what learning style suits you best. However, this is harder than it sounds. Personally, I think auditory learning is the most enjoyable. But, this mode of learning is completely ineffective for me. I can study for 12 hours straight and I will not remember one thing. My brain works kinesthetically, which means when I study I rewrite my notes and then I know the material well. Although it is tedious, it is the most effective and reliable. Studying is about finding what works for you, even if it isn’t the most enjoyable. This is only a recent discovery for me. I remember I would get to a test after studying for hours upon hours and be shocked that I didn’t recognize anything. I was studying the wrong way. The moment I discovered that if I rewrite my notes I will know the material well, it changed my life.
This being said there are universal studying and test taking tips that can help anyone, no matter what kind of learning suits you best.
- Sleep: In my second semester of college I stayed up really late studying for my final. I recall knowing all the material cold when I finished studying. I got to my test the following day and I was staring at the paper in shock. I did not know the material. I realized it was because I did not have a good night’s sleep. It may be hard to accept, but sometimes it may be worth it to go to bed early and study less rather than go to bed later and study more.
- Phone: I am a very easily distracted person. When I study the cap of a water bottle can distract me for at least 25 minutes without even realizing it. However, there are some distractions that are avoidable. When your friend texts you whether you want pizza or Chinese food for dinner, it is a text that can wait. Try putting your phone on “do not disturb” and as reward for yourself for every hour of straight studying you get to check it and respond to all those urgent requests.
- Lighting: Have you ever been in a class and the teacher turns off the light to show a video on the smartboard and then forgets to turn them on again? The rest of the class the mood is always dry and the sleepiness is high. When you study make sure you are seated in a well-lit area. It may help to have the room lights on with an additional desk lamp as a focus. I’m not a scientist, but I’m pretty sure it’s self-explanatory why the darker the room is the sleepier you get.
- Breaks: This is a simple one – studying for 10 hours straight sounds more daunting than 5 increments of 2 hours. And the truth is, it’s also less effective. Many times when you sit still too long, you get in this zone and forget where you are. That’s good but the problem is when you get to a test, it’s very hard to get into that same zone you were when you studied. Therefore, it’s good to train yourself to study in increments for as long as your test will be. It will train your body to work the way you will on the test.
Bottom Line: The bottom line is there is no easy way out. Any good test taker knows that he or she will have to put in the work in order to do well. That simple. So next time you have a test coming up or you’re reviewing that day’s notes, try a different method of learning or try one of these tricks. Who knows – you might do very well by trying something new.