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Creative Study Techniques That Actually Work

S-T-U-D-Y. This time of year, those five letters are looming over every college student’s head. With so much emphasis placed on final exams and projects, it’s easy to let that daunting task make you totally crazy. But there is a way to fight back. Whether you’ve got senioritis or just can’t stop daydreaming about summer plans, we’ve got some equally crazy and innovative tips to help you make the grade.

Savvy Study Tip #1: Reward yourself.

While good grades are a great reward, sometimes you need something more immediate to keep you going.  “Sometimes, if I finish a chapter of a textbook I’m studying from, I’ll reward myself with a piece of chocolate or an improv dance session,” says Her Campus writer Aylin Erman. “It keeps things exciting and keeps me motivated.”

Why it works: Colleen Roberts, a tutor at Kumon Learning Center, says that rewards are a great way to keep you going. The idea of indulging after a job well done works for all ages. At Kumon, kids get “money” to spend on prizes if they answer practice questions correctly. And few would argue that chocolate is a pretty sweet reward.

Savvy Study Tip #2: Get hypnotized.

Most people think of hypnosis as a form of entertainment — most hypnosis performances involve making people moo like a cow or act out a scenario for an audience. But hypnosis can actually help boost your GPA.

Why it works: Eileen Strong, a teacher and public speaker trained in clinical-therapeutic hypnosis, explains the science behind it all. Put simply, hypnosis helps your conscious and subconscious mind work together, making it possible to retain information up to six times faster. To get similar effects when you’re short on time, Strong suggests repeating this phrase to yourself: “I choose to be in control. Remembering what I studied is okay with me.” This is essentially a practice of positive affirmation.  Often, believing you’re going to ace a test is all it takes.

Savvy Study Tip #3: Type up your notes.

An entire notebook full of written notes is overwhelming. A little simplifying can go a long way.  “I’ll type all of my notes into one long outline, and print it out for a crunch-time condensed reading,” says Her Campus writer Kathleen Corlett. “Typing it all together refreshes my memory on earlier lectures and it’s great to have everything I need to know stapled together in a single packet.”

Why it works: It seems like a waste of time to type notes you already have, but repetition is great for memorization.  The time you spend typing them actually counts as studying, because you absorb information without even realizing it.

Savvy Study Tip #4: Take breaks.

Seriously. A lot of breaks. Every 25 minutes, walk away from the material for 3-5 minutes. Grab a snack, chat with a roommate, or walk around the dorms. Note that texting and Facebook aren’t included because they’re more about distractions than relaxing breaks. Besides, who spends only five minutes at a time on Facebook?

Why it works: “The number one mistake that students make is studying for several hours in a row,” says Strong. A professor actually tested this 25-minute technique on his students and saw grades improve almost instantly. “It’s like wringing out a sponge,” says Strong. “You know how much water you can pick up with a soaked sponge versus a slightly damp sponge?”

 Savvy Study Tip #5: Laugh a little.

Roberts says that creating funny acronyms is the perfect way to jog her memory during a test. “Sometimes, if it’s a really difficult fact, I’ll read it with a funny emphasis,” she says. “Or I’ll remember that I read it during Seinfeld and be like ‘oh the election of 1896? Seinfeld.”

Why it works: With so much stress attached to getting good grades, we often walk into testing situations feeling pretty unhappy. By connecting the material to something positive or funny, you have a better chance of relaxing and remembering all those facts and figures.

Savvy Study Tip #6: To see the grade is to get the grade.

Literally picture yourself filling in all the right answers or imagine your teacher handing back an A+ paper.

Why it works: Okay, so that sounds a bit cheesy, but visualization is an incredibly effective study technique.  Studies show that professional athletes who visualized a game for the length of the actual game did just as well or better than those who practiced. You’re already a master at convincing yourself to put off homework, so why not use that brainpower for good?

Finally, it’s important to remember that cramming may be okay in moderation, but should still be avoided at all costs. “Not only do you stress about learning everything in one night and most likely forget most of it, you also miss out on sleep, which a lot of people underestimate,” says Roberts.

Some Final Tips:

Ramón Campayo, world record holder for speed memorization and long-term memorization has a new book called “Maximize Your Memory,” and Her Campus shares some of his best advice below.

  • If you worry about forgetting the information, you probably will. Relax!
  • Shut your mouth! Your reading speed actually gets slower when you speak the words or move your lips.
  • Eat, sleep, exercise, and take your vitamins. All of these help your brain and body work together for the best possible grade.

To all you HC readers out there, happy studying and good luck on finals… however you plan to study.


Colleen Roberts, Tutor, Kumon Learning Center
Eileen Strong, Strong Incentives
Ramón Campayo, Author, “Maximize Your Memory”
Kathleen Corlett, student at Syracuse University
Aylin Erman, student at Harvard University

Alyssa Grossman is a Jersey girl who sacrificed warmer winters to study Magazine Journalism at Syracuse University. When she isn’t writing, you can probably find her tap dancing, baking, or laughing uncontrollably with friends. She loves going on spontaneous road trips, then coming back and recording every detail in her journal. She’s also obsessed with pumpkin spice lattes and sushi, though not together. Last summer, she interned at M Magazine and as a result, is now a teen pop culture whiz. She is Features Editor at Zipped Magazine, Syracuse University’s fashion publication, and is a contributing writer for the online magazine, bizme.biz. After graduation, she plans to follow her love of Magazine Journalism wherever it takes her. Because, frankly, she couldn’t see herself doing anything else.