Studying for exams can be difficult, and it’s easy to get discouraged or feel like you’re not getting anywhere when you’re studying and your notes aren’t making sense. But if you don’t figure out how to study, you won’t have time to do anything else with your life besides study, which will make you feel even worse about not being able to understand the material.

Figure out your strengths

Brainstorming your strengths is an important step in understanding where you are going as a student. Take time to write down all of your strong suits, whether it’s something general like your intelligence or a specific skill like playing a musical instrument. Next, think about how you can use these strengths to study more effectively. For example, if one of your strengths is creativity, you might use that to create flash cards with pictures on them instead of just words.

Alternatively, if one of your strengths is organization, try setting up a filing system for notes or class handouts so that everything has its place when exam time rolls around. By identifying and using your talents wisely, studying will be much easier—and so will getting good grades!

Stick to your plan

Make a study schedule and then stick to it. If you’re using technology, try setting an alarm or calendar alert so you don’t miss your daily goal. Try not to pull all-nighters; they mess with your sleep cycle, leaving you groggy and unable to focus on studying. And make sure you understand why each exam question is being asked in order to eliminate unnecessary information from your brain when studying. In other words, don’t memorize—understand. (Read more about how to create good habits here.)

Our bodies are meant to be active: When we move around, our brains get into gear too. Exercise increases blood flow throughout our bodies which helps us think better.

Become an active reader

If you want to get good grades in school, it’s a good idea to become an active reader. Actively reading means not just skimming your course materials or clicking through a PowerPoint slide presentation—it’s a more-hands-on approach that gives you more control over what you’re learning. Try these tips Write down key terms as you read them; underline important points; highlight examples; make connections between concepts. You might even find yourself taking notes on something you previously considered common knowledge.

Set short-term goals

In order to study effectively, it’s important that you break down your work into short-term goals. For example, if you want to ace a history test on World War II next Tuesday, focus your studying efforts on that area over just general review—it’ll be easier to retain information about one particular topic than a mishmash of concepts you might have learned in previous classes.

Work collaboratively

Collaborating with peers can help reduce stress levels as well as provide a sounding board for new ideas. When working with others, it’s easy to focus on getting through assignments or tasks in order to finish a particular job. To take things a step further, turn your attention inward when you’re studying: Try thinking about what you are learning and how it relates to other concepts, rather than just rehashing facts. This will help you truly learn instead of just memorizing information for exams.

Use mnemonics and repetitions

There are so many different mnemonic devices out there—you can use songs, acronyms, sentences, visual cues, or whatever else you can come up with. What’s most important is repetition: The more you reinforce new information with old information, the more your brain will be able to recall it later. To make sure you don’t forget anything on an exam, try writing down key points and facts on a blank sheet of paper as soon as they occur to you. Then, when it comes time to study for that test, pull out that sheet of paper and go over each point until it sticks in your memory. You may have written down five things at first; after going over them five times, you might only need one sentence to remember all five points.

Take breaks

It’s easy to study all day, every day, but it’s important not to burn yourself out. Achieving a good grade is about more than just knowing facts; in fact, many students do better when they study infrequently. The key is learning how much time you need per subject: In other words, how many days or hours does each exam require? Then schedule your studying accordingly—for example, if you have two exams on one day, make sure that at least 24 hours separate them. This way, you can keep up your momentum and avoid becoming overwhelmed by information overload.

Watch educational YouTube videos

Once you find a topic, begin watching videos about it. Take notes as you watch and write down any questions that are answered in a later video or what you’d like to research further. If there is an event or meet-up associated with your topic, try attending it yourself—it’s often a good opportunity to speak with others in your community who share similar interests. Also, look up local educational classes offered by universities or associations related to your topic of interest. You can also create your own YouTube channel if you want to show off how much you know on a certain subject.

Celebrate your wins

It’s so easy to focus on what’s going wrong, but that can be all-consuming. Make a concerted effort to celebrate your successes. It will keep you motivated and give you something positive to focus on (rather than constantly being frustrated). Celebrating your wins is also likely to help motivate others around you too. After all, who wants to work with someone who is always negative? Be sure to share your success stories and show gratitude for everyone who helped you along the way. The best part of celebrating: it’s free! So take advantage of it! #CelebrateYourWins!

Study in groups

You don’t have to go it alone! If you share your notes, study guides, or flashcards with a classmate, you can effectively double (or triple) your studying time. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with asking questions during class or reviewing each other’s work—you just want to make sure that you set aside time specifically designed for note-taking and study. A good rule of thumb is to devote one hour of study time for every hour spent in lecture. It may seem like a lot, but keep in mind that you’ll be able to review everything later on.


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