Over the past few weeks, it seems like the majority of my time has been spent watching lectures, reviewing Anki decks and completing homework assignments. Although it is not unusual to spend long days at the library in preparation for classes, it was not until I came to college that I began to realize how much of my life centers around classes and studying. This was a big change from high school, and it certainly took a learning curve to be able to study efficiently and balance several rigorous classes at the same time. Over the past two and a half years, however, I have learned many valuable study tips that have helped me perform well in my classes and still allow me to make time for the things outside of school that I enjoy doing. So, if you are struggling with productivity regarding studying, read on!
- Implement the Pomodoro method into your study routine.
If you are unfamiliar with the Pomodoro method, it is a technique that aims to improve time management, increase efficiency and maintain focus while completing tasks. While it can be used for essentially anything, I have found it especially beneficial in studying. First, you will set a timer for an interval of around 25-30 minutes. Once this timer has ended, you will take a 5 minute break. Once you have completed this four times, you will take a longer break, usually around 25-30 minutes. For someone like me, who has a harder time sitting in place for long periods of time, this technique was life-changing. I have been so amazed with how much I can get done in a day, and breaking studying up into manageable chunks has made the process so much easier.
- Aim for spaced repetition.
If you were anything like me in high school, you may have been the type of person to cram for exams the night or two before they were scheduled. While this might have worked in high school, this strategy oftentimes does not fly in college. With most classes, there is just too much to learn, and even if cramming works for one exam, in the long term, it will lead to poor retention. This is concerning because the information presented in college classes is not only important to know for the final exam, but it is likely also important to know for future careers. As a student pursuing a career in medicine, for example, it would have done me no good to cram for every anatomy exam, only to forget the information a few days later. This is why the method of spaced repetition is much more beneficial in college life than cramming. By spaced repetition, I mean reviewing the content once, preferably after class, then putting it away for a couple of days. After a couple of days, revisit the material, and repeat this process until test time. You will be amazed by how much easier it becomes to remember information, and you will not burn yourself out trying to cram the night before a test. If you have trouble remembering when you need to review your class materials, I would recommend using Anki to make flashcards. Anki is programmed with pre-set intervals that are meant to maximize long-term retention. If you spend just a little bit of time reviewing your flashcards each day, you will have nothing to worry about come exam time!
- Implement brain-dumping into your study routine.
I understand that while I might be a flashcard person, this is not how everyone learns best. If the latter sounds like you, I would recommend introducing brain-dumping into your study routine. If you are unfamiliar with brain-dumping, it is basically just taking a large piece of paper and writing down everything you can recall about a topic. Once you cannot recall any more information, you can then refer back to your notes or lecture slides, filling in the information that you missed. I like to do this using a different color of pen so I know which areas I am weaker in, which allows me to better focus my studying. (Bonus: you can use the spaced repetition method with brain-dumping to maximize long-term retention). The only downside to this study technique is that it takes a lot of time, so I would recommend using this strategy when you are already pretty comfortable with the material.
While this list is not comprehensive of all valuable study strategies, I believe that these tips are a good start if you have been struggling with productivity and long-term retention. Studying is not the most enjoyable thing to do, but if you have a solid game-plan going into each study session, it can be much more manageable. My final piece of advice would be to focus on learning the material, not on a letter grade. When you enter the workforce, the people you serve will not care as much about your GPA, but rather how well you know how to do your job. If you focus on learning for the sake of learning, the grades will come and the studying will be much more enjoyable.