Tips on how to study

Whether in high school, college or university, we all have our preferred way to study. What we’ve aimed to do in this blog post is to collate as many methods for studying for you to have a look at when you are needing study inspiration. The best practice would be to read over the different study methods and see if you can’t incorporate one or two into your specific study regime.

There’s a couple of general themes that should flow through any platform of study/learning.

Time, scheduling, setting, organisation, study material, and practice.

All of these things are relevant when studying and should be acknowledged when you are preparing for your exam, test or grading. Whether you work nights or days, 9-5 or only just a few hours a day, there’s only a certain amount of time available for you to study in effectively. You should make sure that you make time in your busy schedule as regularly as possible.

In my experience I’ve found it more effective to study 2 hours a day 4 days a week than to study 8 hours on one day and then not study again for 2 weeks!

Just remember that you should take into account how tired you will be during your scheduled study sessions and also the area you will be studying in. It’s all well and good trying to study in between working, cleaning, exercising but it’ll be all for naught if you haven’t been able to remember any of what you’ve gone over because you were too pre-occupied mentally and physically.

Find some place that is quiet and calming for you to focus on your studies. Make sure that you are relaxed and well rested; you should find that you will retain the knowledge a lot easier this way. Some people find studying with music helps them concentrate, but it’s really all down to your personal preference.

Having a place where all your study material is together is a good place to start. This way you won’t need to waste time trying to find all your notes, or maybe forgotten some as they’ll all be in the same place.

Well that’s the basics all summed up, but now lets skim over some study methods in a little more detail for you. Hopefully there will be some interesting techniques or tips that will help you in your future studies, good luck!

  • Mind Maps

    A great method of study is to put what you’ve recently learned into a mind map. This is a visual representation of the information and of the links and references that can be made between the main ideas on a certain topic. Generally a mind map will start with either a single keyword or phrase in the centre of a page and then will have related notes with keywords or phrases related to the main topic and branch out appropriately.


  • Study Plan

    A great technique to help you get through your work is to create a study plan. This entails breaking up your main body of work into separate sections which you will focus on as separate units over a certain period of time, i.e. break up your course work into 12 related units since your particular course runs over the period of a year.

  • Summaries – bullet points/paragraphs

    Summaries are generally a condensing of a large amount of information such as a page of information into a more concise amount of information such as a paragraph. You can use them to test your knowledge and understanding of information that you have recently been learning. Once you’ve either summarised your knowledge of the subject in a list of bullet points or a paragraph you can then go back and compare what you have understood of the section to what your learning material has to offer.

  • Flashcards

    Flashcards are a fun way to study and can be incorporated into group study events. You can make your own flashcards by writing out important keywords or phrases onto squares of paper or card and then writing out the definition on the other side of the square. As you go through the cards you read the single keyword or phrase and then you have to then recall the definition behind it. Once you have given your rendition of the definition you may turn the card around compare your answers. This is a form of summary as well.

  • Watch videos

    With the internet readily accessible in most parts of the world, learning material of all forms is at our fingertips. Study videos such as tutorials or recorded lectures or concept videos are a great way to go over a lot of information in a relatively quick time. By being able to pause the videos at any given time you will not miss any important information as well as be able to make concise and appropriate notes without being left behind. There are many websites that offer access study videos.

  • Interaction

    Available platforms amoung others – study groups/Skype/in person/webinars/Google hangouts/forums/instant message/Facebook/Mxit/Whatsapp

    Group study although a challenge to coordinate can be a very successful study method. With internet access study groups of like minded individuals are not reserved to those in close proximity to each other. You can create online study groups with the use of various social platforms, and message boards. Questions can be asked and answered in a timely fashion and generally the more you engage the more you learn.

  • Ask Questions

    Rather look like a fool for five seconds, than look like a fool for the rest of your life.

    When in class or taking part in an online forum or discussion, ask questions! If there is something you don’t know or aren’t sure about then it’s best you put the question out there than go without finding an answer. Waiting for someone else to ask your question is leaving it to chance that you won’t get the answer you are looking for. Teachers, lecturers and forum posters are generally there to answer any questions they can, and if they can’t they will definitely point you in the right direction to find the appropriate answer.

  • Practice exercise questions – quiz questions

    Textbooks generally come with practice/quiz/example questions. These questions are there for you to help test your knowledge of certain study topics and help you to apply the knowledge you have gained. By doing these questions and other study examples that you can find, you will be testing your knowledge and learning from your mistakes by references the given answers with your own. Practice makes perfect!

  • Time Management – question times etc

    Time management is probably one of the most underrated aspects of studying, at least from the point of view of my friend circle. Time management is the process that will enable you to study on time and not have to panic at the last minute and cram as much knowledge into your brain as you can. Try to take the total time that you have in your day and identify when the most appropriate time for you to study is and then book that hour or hours into your daily planner. Studying a little bit every day can help diminish the total amount of work that you will need to cover and make the whole learning process seem less daunting.

    Another aspect of time management is the actual question times in the exam setting. When practicing with past exam papers try and set yourself timed goals for each question so that you can get used to answering your questions in enough time to finish a full exam paper. That way when you sit the actual exam you won’t be taken by surprise at the length of some questions and you will know when you have spent enough time on one question and need to move onto the next.

  • Reading

    This sounds simple but it requires a little more effort than you would think.

    Reading out aloud can be distracting, and reading in a distracting environment can be a real setback to what knowledge you will be able to retain. In my experience reading textbooks and other learning material can get quite monotonous and boring. I’ve found that if there are too many distractors around me then I lose focus a lot quicker than sitting in a peaceful environment without any of my usual social comforts. Reading for knowledge takes a lot more focus than reading for pleasure, try not to drift off into a coma when reading your material, if you find yourself not grasping a certain concept on a page that you’ve been going over for a hour or so, then take a break and refresh your brain. When you come back to the reading material, you may find you can now grasp the concept a bit easier.

  • Revision

    Before an exam or test date it is a good idea to get a refresher study session in. Although you may have covered all the work necessary to write the test a while back, you may find there are some things that didn’t quite stick in your mind. Going over your previously made notes should bring this previously learned knowledge from your long term memory back into your short term memory in a little more detail and as such remembering answers for your exam will be a sinch.

  • Note Taking – keeping notes/organisation/platform

    Note taking is as some would say, an essential life skill. Whether you are taking notes for a business meeting or a lecture or writing down what you should be buying for your groceries, note taking is in almost every aspect of our lives. Making neat and orderly notes is probably a good place to start. In my experience making rushed notes with single words and laying out my notes on the page in an unorderly fashion can leave me confused and disorientated when trying to remember what was discussed in a meeting. I may have understood the single word references and been able to follow the information during the meeting but afterwards it was very difficult to follow what I recorded once the information was not current. So when making notes, think about your page layout and flow, also think about how much information you should be putting on the page – keep asking yourself: “Will I be able to read this and know what it was I was thinking about?”

  • Read the questions thoroughly

    A change in word order could have similar looking questions asking for completely different answers/question keywords

    When studying from past exam papers be very wary of the questions that seem familiar to you. The question might have similar words and phrases as you’ve had in previous questions but it might have a subtle difference that changes the whole outcome that the question is looking for. You should be doubly wary when sitting the actual exam, it’s a better idea not to jump straight into the questions that you think you know. Don’t get caught out!

  • Practice Essay questions

    As with practice exercises and quiz questions, past exam questions are generally formatted in the same way as any questions you will be receiving in your exam. They provide a better test-condition example of what you might be facing during your exam as opposed to a quiz question that is designed to check one aspect of your knowledge.

  • SQ3R method – survey/question/read/recite/review

    Survey – Try to understand and get to grips with the main concept of what you are trying to learn. This general overview will help guide you to the sections of work that you will need to focus on. This can be considered your study plan.

    Question – Instead of simply reading the learning material, ask yourself questions to promote further thinking about the subject material you are covering. This will lead you to engage your brain on an extra level with the subject matter and help you to understand the work better.

    Read – Read to understand not just to scan over information for important highlights. Using associated diagrams in your learning material can help you better understand the text of a particular section.

    Recite – After each section of work put the learning material aside and try and tell yourself verbally what you’ve just learned. This is a technique to engage your brain on another level and allow you to test yourself and see exactly how much of the work you’ve just read over, you actually understood. The easiest thing I find is to try and teach yourself from memory what you have just learned, that way you will make the necessary connections in your mind to make understanding the work more effective.

    Review – Once you have completed a particular section of work and have followed the previous steps, it is now time to review your work! Don’t wait too long to do this as it is more of an understanding check than anything else. You should be going over your notes that you’ve made and ascertaining whether or not you understand everything detailed in your notes. You should also be looking at the whole concept that you’ve just been trying to learn and checking off whether you’ve covered all the relevant points successfully.

  • Reward Yourself/Take Study Breaks

    Positive reinforcement is a good thing, and if you apply it in the right way it can help the learning process. If you have been studying for a good 45-60 minutes and you’ve been making good progress on the work that you understand, then you should reward yourself with a short break. Allow yourself time to relax in between study sessions, this will keep your mind from cognitive overload .

  • Review Goals

    When you created your study plan you should have set out learning goals, specific things that you wanted to understand from studying a certain section of your study material. You should keep referring back to these goals while studying the section and then again afterwards. Ask yourself whether or not you have achieved those goals to a sufficient level and decide then whether or not you can move on to the next section of work or go back and cover certain things again in more detail.

  • Short, sharp bursts

    As you might have seen in the Reward Yourself section, the Wikipedia link to the page about Cognitive Load shows that your ability to learn complex information effectively decreases over an extended period of time. Thus the more your brain has to work to understand something the shorter the span it can effectively process that information. Just like school lessons in South Africa that are broken up into 45 min periods, you should also limit your study sessions to a similar time frame and have a break in between to reset your cognitive load capability.

  • Motivation is key

    You can lose track of the reasons behind why you should study when you are laboring through the process. Try and stay motivated, keep it in mind that the more you study now, the less you will have to do later.

  • Set realistic study goals

    It’s unrealistic to say that you will learn an entire textbook in an hour, a week… maybe. Realistic goals are what will help you to keep on track with your study plan. Studying for 8 hours a day and doing a part-time job is possible for some people but is it for you? Realistic goals such as studying for an hour a day for a busy person is realistic and can be achieved with relative ease as opposed to say 3 hours of study. The more you are able to achieve the more you will feel that you are achieving your study goals and you will find incorporating your study time into your day a bit easier than if you are feeling down about having neglected several previous study sessions.

  • Eating Right

    So this topic can be taken quite in-depth, but I’ll just go over the premise of it. We all know that foods that are rich in processed sugar can really hamper your concentration abilities. So best to keep the sugar sweets down to a minimum while studying. The main thing is to eat healthy; vitamins, minerals and proteins are the way to go. They help your body run smoother, better, faster and should have your body in running order to study effectively. Proteins especially help with the neural pathways in your brain run effectively. Fruit is a good snack item to have with you, apples are easily eaten and not as messy as oranges, but then again what healthy snacks you chose are entirely based on your preferences. Eat a balanced diet of fruits, veggies and other sustaining meals in regular intervals during the day. Doing so will help you to stave off from losing concentration in your studies because of hunger or feeling tired because your body is processing a big meal. Keeping hydrated is a must. Don’t however, overdo your caffeine intake as that can also have you lose concentration. Drink water or healthy fruit juices instead of just a coffee diet. Here’s a great blog on Brain Food for you to look at.

  • Relaxation Techniques

    It’s important to note that studying while relaxed is a better way to keep your concentration up as opposed to studying in a very stressed and uncomfortable manner. There are several methods you can employ to relax yourself before studying. Physical activity is a great way to relieve stress, a short run or a brisk walk is a great way for you to expend excess energy and get your blood flowing. After your exercise session your brain should be in a more relaxed state and learning will come a little easier. Meditation techniques are also a good way to relax, although hard to do at first. Try meditative breathing exercises and mind clearing techniques, these will help reset your cognitive load and enable you to be more receptive to retaining information. As for relaxing environments… I suggest not studying while in bed, as I have found sleep becomes more and more appealing as I lose interest in my study material. Maybe use a comfy chair instead.

  • Music or Silence?

    Although it is generally thought that a quiet environment is more conducive to learning, Studies Studies have been showing that music actually does have an effect on cognitive load, learning retention and attention span. I personally listen to a variety of Classical and Celtic music when working and I find it really does help me zone into my work and become less distracted by my environment. I would think music with lyrics my become distracting as you might find yourself focussing on the lyrics instead of fully tuning into what learning you are trying to accomplish, again it’s what works for you best. So try it and see if it helps.