To prepare for the rigors of university-level coursework, as well as building a transcript that will impress college admissions committees, it's important to develop strong study habits during your middle and high school years. Unfortunately, much of the conventional wisdom about hitting the books, like finding a quiet spot and repeatedly reviewing your notes, are ineffective at best and counterproductive at worst.
To build strong study habits that will lay the foundation for your educational future, try adding the following methods to your repertoire.
Alternate Your Study Environment
Whether you realize it or not, your brain makes associations between where you study and what you study. If you always study in the same place, it can be more difficult to recall the information for a test in another classroom. On the other hand, if you study in many different places, your brain has created more cues to the material in your memory. You don't need to study in a new place every time you crack a textbook. Just pick three or four places and rotate them.
Mix Up Your Content
Think of this as cross-training for your brain. Just as you build more muscle by tasking your body with different exercises, you need to challenge your brain by varying your study routines. This encourages your brain to be more flexible by shuffling the manner in which you study. Instead of hammering on the same type of math problem or vocabulary list for an hour, shift gears frequently. Studies suggest that students who practice mixed problem sets are better able to recall the information when they need it later.
Space Out Your Study Sessions
Researchers call this study technique "distributed practice." Rather than cramming all of the information you need to know for a test into an all-nighter, try spreading out the material into smaller, more manageable chunks over a longer period of time. For example, instead of studying for a final exam the night before, break the material down over a week or more and study one or two sections every day or so leading up to the big test.
Try Some Practice Tests
Another highly effective study technique turns you into the teacher as you ask yourself the types of questions you think will be on the test. This helps you prepare in two ways. First, you'll begin thinking about the format, structure and content of the test, which will boost your confidence and prepare you for the demands of the exam. Second, you'll quickly see which areas you need to focus on to shore up any weaknesses in your understanding. Flash card quizzes, practice essays and answering end-of-chapter review questions in your textbook are all smart ways to practice.
Additional Study Tips
Along with making the major changes to your habits suggested above, try these quick tips to make the most of your study sessions:
- Study a little every day.
- Review and revisit information on a consistent schedule (a monthly science topic review, for example).
- Take a walk or do some light exercise to boost your energy before study sessions.
- Maintain a healthy sleep schedule.