Struggling to Study? 5 Science-Backed Tips You Should Know

June 12, 2023
Student studying

There’s no doubt that studying is difficult. Sometimes you’re not in the mood for a study session, or you may have a job that makes setting aside time for a study guide challenging.

After more than a decade of school, you were likely told that the best way to study is to review material you’ve already learned, use a highlighter to help you remember important information and quiz yourself before you’re done. 

: Struggling to Study? 5 Science-Backed Tips You Should Know

But you may be surprised to learn that, according to science, these methods don’t always work as well as people think (or at least they don’t work for everyone). If you want to study more effectively the next time you are getting ready for a test, check out these five science-backed tips to help you ace your next exam:

1. Mind the Gap

Professors are all too familiar with the concept of pre-assessments. You know what we’re talking about—pop quiz time! They give these evaluations to determine knowledge gaps so they know what to focus on during a lecture. But as a college student, you can use this same concept to improve your study time. 

If you can, take a practice test on the subject you’re studying, note your wrong answers and see if you can spot similarities in the questions you got wrong. Then, deliberately choose study topics and methods based on that information.

When you do this, you’re employing a scientific technique known as metacognition (thinking about your thinking). It helps you avoid being overconfident about your knowledge and focus your study time on areas of weakness. 

2. Space It Out

Waiting until the night before the test is a bad idea. Your teachers and professors believe cramming is terrible, but scientists have actually discovered why it doesn’t work well.

Distributed learning, or studying information over an extended period, allows your mind to forget what you’ve learned and only recall it when needed. That’s how you can remember all the lyrics to a One Direction song, even though you haven’t listened to it in ages. At one point in time, you heard it every day. So, your brain stored those lyrics for later.

When you have to work to recall the information, it’s like learning it all over again. The more you repeat the studying process, the better your brain will become at retrieval.

3. Mix It Up

Most people have heard that studying one topic until you master it is the best way to retain information. While this method has some merit, some science shows that learning different but related topics in each study session is the way to go. 

If you study the same topic repeatedly, it’s easy to trick your brain into thinking you understand a concept. You won’t know if you do until you think about something else and return to that topic. When you do this, you force your brain to retrieve information, which helps with retention. 

4. Process Periodically

You may be tempted to memorize facts or formulas when studying for a test. While this can be helpful, it isn’t the best way to master a topic or ensure long-lasting learning. According to science, it’s better to process the information you’re reviewing as you go along. Asking yourself why something makes (or doesn’t make) sense, recounting what you’ve learned, and creating a list of questions to answer after reading are forms of metacognition that can go a long way in helping you remember concepts.

5. Make It Meaningful

Even if you’ve set a goal to study harder this semester, retaining information can feel impossible when you genuinely don’t care about the material. Creating a personal connection to each concept gives it meaning and makes studying much less repetitive. 

Connecting to a concept can be as simple as remembering your “why” for studying and working hard in college. If you’re a visual learner, try creating a drawing from your notes. You can also try teaching the concept to someone else and asking them questions about what they’ve learned (if they mess it up, you can figure out where you may have gone wrong). 

Studying Is Not A Cookie-Cutter Activity

Studying, just like your living space, isn’t a one-size-fits-all experience. What works for one person may not work for another. However, using a combination of science and personal experience, it’s likely that you’ll be able to find a process that works.

Changing your surroundings can also help you clear your mind and become a better learner. If you want to get out of your dorm and into a more vibrant, open living space, contact us today to discover our living options and see what we have available.