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7 Ways: How to Study Effectively

I wish knew how to study effectively since my high school days. I felt like I was doing okay in school until I had to go to boarding school, that is. I only learned how to study effectively once I started studying at the University of Wisconsin Madison.

As I will be embarking on my PhD journey and might need to take some classes soon, I really aim to use these effective study methods. Being a mom to two small active kids, time is very limited. So yes, I think everyone can benefit from learning how to study effectively.

7 ways how to study effectively

1. News alert: Reading is not studying

What?! Reading is not studying? This was one mistake I made during high school and in my early university days. I thought reading and re-reading the material is studying. No, it’s NOT an effective way of studying.

Having said that, you should read the materials for the class before you actually start the class – so you could roughly understand what your lecturer / Professor is teaching. But that does mean that you would need to remember all the details at this stage.

2. Actively engaging in the material

Effective studying does not just require reading, but it requires you to actively engage or immerse yourself in the material. Actively engaging does not mean passive reading or memorising but it means synthesising what you’ve learned.

There are several ways to do this:

  • Create concept/mind maps – this will allow you to connect the different issues which will increase your understanding
  • Figure out major concepts, compare and contrast, and re-evaluate them
  • Three things that you can remember especially when reading academic articles: question, evidence and conclusion. What was the author trying to convey? What was his evidence/methods used? What were the findings?
  • From the concepts/materials that you study, try to relate them to your own experiences
  • Become a tutor: you can try to teach yourself or others about the subject or material. That’s why conducting study groups can be an effective form of studying because you’d be actively engaging in the material.

Other posts that are related are:

7 Steps How You Can Be a Critical Reader

6 Things You Need to Know About Academic Writing

How to Do a Literature Review  

3. Distributed learning

Conducting several learning sessions over time. In this case, distributed learning would mean that you would read, revisit and re-read something once every few days/week using the active recall method (which will be explained more below).

It also means YOU CANNOT CRAM EVERYTHING. So don’t study at the last minute for an exam. Some people may say it may work for them, but they might not be able to retain that information for long. Avoid studying for long hours the entire day with the hopes that you’ll understand and remember what you’re learning.

4. “Divide and conquer”

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Instead of studying everything, study/go over a subset of materials each session. That way, you can focus on integrating and processing fundamental concepts from your learning material. By re-visiting or actively recalling important concepts, you’ll be able to understand and retain the information in your memory much more effectively. If you don’t know where to start, you can use the syllabus as a guide.

5. Active recall: retrieval practice

When we say re-reading or re-studying, we don’t mean passive re-reading. When you are studying, an effective way to do that is by actively recalling what you’ve learned.

What is an active recall or retrieval practice? It means after you have read the book, notes or slides, put them away. And try to remember/recall what you have learned. That way, you will truly find out whether you have remembered and understood what you’ve learned. This is also a form of retrieval practice, retrieving the information from your memory.

After you have recalled what you can remember, you should check your notes or study guide. You can determine if the things you recalled was correct and which parts you have not understood. You can repeat the process until you’re confident.

Apart from actively recalling what you’ve learned, there are also other ways to study/remember what you’ve learned to increase your understanding and memory.

Practice test

One obvious method is by using a practice test. You can do so by making your own questions or discuss with your friends. At times, there are also practice questions provided by your lecturer, teaching assistant on the syllabus which to be honest, are very helpful in guiding your understanding. You could also use the practice questions provided in the textbook.


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Flashcards for effective studying seems pretty old school, right? But to be honest, this is one of the most effective ways to study or actively recalling what you’ve learned. You can use cardboard, index card, or make your flashcards by cutting pieces of paper.

The cover-and-check method

This technique is probably less time consuming because all you’d need to do is read, cover the notes, recall and check whether your thoughts/understanding s correct. This is another form of active recall.

6. Limit distractions such as social media

For most people, including myself, I find this very hard to do especially when I’m running low on motivation. When I feel like I don’t want to do something, that’s when I keep scrolling. But putting your phone on silent and determining how long you should be focused on your task does help me be more productive.

7. Pomodoro technique

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This is a new technique that I came across quite recently. On my IG, I follow other postgraduate students from other countries and many of them have been talking about this Pomodoro technique.

The Pomodoro technique is not just applicable for studying but for work too. You time yourself for 25 minutes and focus on that one task without any distractions before taking a break or doing admin work like replying to emails etc.

I started using this technique especially whenever I needed to write my article and I do think it helps. It kind of forces me to focus when I am unmotivated. You know what they say, you can’t wait to get motivated to do something.

So now do you know how to study effectively?

Studying smart seems like a long process. To be completely honest, I don’t think there is a shortcut to how one can study effectively. Studying and understanding something takes time and repetition because we humans, often forget because it’s a normal process.

So study early and prevent last-minute studying to avoid stress. You’ll thank yourself later.

(This post was adapted from the UCSC Department of Psychology and the UNC and other sources I’ve read).

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