How to learn effectively
Who doesn't find assignments and exams a challenge! Even the most confident students can get stressed in the process! When you're under pressure with many subjects demanding your time, when you spend long hours trying to remember information or articulate your ideas in an essay, you might well struggle to perform to your desired standard.
But don't despair! It's not impossible. We have some tips and tricks for you to help you achieve to your best potential. Check out the tabs in this box.
Monash Uni has some great study guides you can download, and you can adapt these to the high school setting.
You might feel self-conscious, but reading aloud increases your ability to remember things.By saying your material aloud, you’re giving the brain another way of remembering it. If you want to check your understanding, why not explain what you've learned to someone. This is the best way to learn something really well.
A mnemonic device, or memory device, is any learning technique that aids information retention or retrieval (remembering) in the human memory. Mnemonic devices – fun acronyms that form a list of information – are terrific for memory retention. You only need to remember a trigger word or letter, and you’ll remember a whole concept! (Wikipedia) See this list of mnemonics!
Infographics condense often complicated subjects down to an easily digestible visual form. Even just taking notes in the form of graphic illustrations helps you remember more. Visual note-taking is worth investigating. It combines images, text, charts, diagrams, breaking out of a linear format to make connections more visible.
Everyone needs a reward for hard work. Allow yourself some time out to watch your favourite show or a special tasty treat after a designated period of study.Whatever motivates you to keep on track will work, unless it's too difficult to tear yourself away from it to go back to study.
Feeling distracted? You're not alone. Don't beat yourself up, but make a resolution to do something about it. Create a schedule that will work for you, and motivate yourself to stick to it. If you fail, don't dwell on the failure, just pick yourself and keep trying. You're only human! Think about what kinds of things distract you, and make the changes you need to focus. You don't need to be a victim to distraction when you take control and create the conditions that help you get things done.
Minimise access to any technology that lures you away from your task! Music only if it helps your sustained focus, but not if it disrupts your thinking. If you don't need the internet, turn off your WIFI, and definitely turn off the TV and your phone.
People can be distracting. If possible, move away from them or negotiate solo time in quiet spaces. Find some creative solutions for your quiet spaces.
It’s been found that changing your study surroundings forces your brain into reforming new memories, meaning that you’re more likely to retain information when it’s collected in a fresh setting.This may not be easy when you're sharing a house with your family, but you might be able to reconfigure the furniture in your room to create a new setting. Studying in the same place can day after day can drive you crazy! Could you find a temporary space in a different part of the house? Mix it up a little.
Let's face it, you need sleep! Your body and brain need to rest and recuperate so that you can do your best during the day. When you're tempted to pull an all-nighter, remember that while you sleep, your brain strengthens what you've learned during the day, so you're not doing yourself a favour thinking that studying more and longer hours will make you more successful. Read this article to understand why this happens.
You might get away with it occasionally, but cramming in the last minute is not going to be the most effective way to learn! Plan to digest it over time, ensuring that you stay with each section until you understand it thoroughly before moving on to the next section. A planner and sticking to your schedule will help you feel confident about managing your tasks and avoid unwanted stress.
Did you know that active revision is more effective than passive revision?
Just reading your notes is passive revision, and it is unlikely that you will retain your information this way. Active methods include:
- explain to your friends, testing each other, swapping notes
- annotate your notes, eg make spider diagrams from them, highlighting and rewriting, connecting with arrows, etc.
When you do practice essays, rather than writing out a full essay (which takes time), spend time brainstorming ideas, then grouping ideas thematically to allocate to paragraphs, and finally write the introduction (the most challenging!) Listen to this video which talks about the introduction as well as other parts of the essay.
There is no one-size-fits-all magic formula for effective study. You need to think about the tips and techniques, then try to understand how you learn, and adapt what suits you. Experiment with different techniques, and find your own study style.
You might like to take a quiz to find your learning style, but don't take this too seriously, because often you have a mix of learning styles. You may be the best judge of this but the quiz results are interesting to read.
People react differently to study schedules or planning in general. Whether you are a schedule follower or a hater, you do need to devise a schedule that works for you, then allow yourself some wriggle room. If you understand that a schedule will sometimes need to be disrupted, then you may not feel as resistant to it. Make sure you balance it out with breaks and add things in that you will look forward to. It's important to stick to reasonable bed times so you get enough sleep. You may think you are superman and can power through assignments and study into the wee hours of the morning, but you would be wrong, and you will pay for it.
Use the kind of planner that suits you, experiment with paper and online, or use a mixture of both. If you make lists, give yourself the satisfaction of crossing off completed tasks! Put due dates in as soon as you know them, then work backwards from there to work out available times for study.
This video about making a term planner is designed for university students, but is equally as helpful for you.
Taking notes is much more powerful than most people realise!
There's no single formula for breaks in your study schedule. It would be reasonable to take an active break after an hour, but some research recommends working for no longer than 20 minutes at a time. Tell that to someone who's on a roll! And how long the break should be is also negotiable. Ten minutes is a good amount of time for short breaks, but long breaks that include a walk, snack, push-ups or some fresh air, would probably need at least half an hour. Watching an episode of Netflix as a reward may work for you unless you end up bingeing on the whole series! In any case, your brain needs regular breaks to rest and recharge, and your body will thank you for getting up and moving around every 20 minutes.
Which time-management strategy works for you? Some people love the Pomodoro technique. The Pomodoro technique gives you a strategy for measuring your productivity. When you use it you record how many Pomodoros a task takes, how many Pomodoros you do in a day, and how frequently you have internal or external interruptions. But for some this technique stresses them out for several reasons.
And what happens if you're on a roll, and feel energized to work on? You might prefer the Flow-Time technique. This technique also helps you track time, uni-tasking (working on one task at a time) and take breaks, but is more flexible than the Pomodoro technique.
During remote learning, many of you realised how important it was to continue to connect with others. Keeping in touch with your friend/classmates continues to be important even when we're back onsite. Studying with your classmates can keep you all motivated. You might arrange to study together in the library at school, or you might study virtually on the weekend. We've watched some of you use the whiteboard to teach things to each other in the library study rooms. A great way to learn!
Few people genuinely enjoy exams. It's always anxiety-provoking when you feel you're being assessed, and can be worse if you don't know what success might look like, or how to best prepare. Feeling confident about these aspects will make the exam itself a less daunting experience. Read more about preparing for exams in this guide from The University of Reading.
If you want your brain to perform to its best for study and exams, you also need to look after your body. It is recommended that you:
Sleep for 8-10 hours an day. Sleep deprivation reduces your ability to learn and may lead to mental health issues. Want to find out more?
Exercise for at least 30 minutes a day. Want to find out how this improves learning?
Make sure you get all the essential nutrients in your diet. Find out more.
If you find yourself overwhelmed by nerves or anxiety, you may want to contact our Wellbeing team.