I recently reflected about how efficient my time management and the time management of my close friends were. It isn’t with the quantity of time put into studying, as anyone who has crammed the night before a test they subsequently failed will tell you. Some students have a lot to balance on their plate between school, work and other endeavors. Clearly, it’s important to develop good and efficient study skills early-on in your college career. So, if the secret to academic success isn’t to study more, then what is the key to doing well? It’s just as important, if not more important, to structure your study in an intelligent way that works best for you. I recommend watching this talk on the subject as well for more of an insight into the topic.

Put the Concept in your Own Words

Make sure that you know a concept in a way that makes sense to you. If a tidbit of information is told to you in a matter-of-fact way, it’s important that you contextualize what is being said and fully understand it. If you don’t know exactly how to put the concept into your own words, that should indicate to you that there is a gap in your knowledge. Furthermore, this will help you actually remember information for an exam.

Don’t Force Yourself

Motivation is important, but at some point there needs to be a cost-benefit analysis made. Can your time be better spent on exercise or socializing? Be honest with yourself and take breaks when you need to do so. If you don’t take breaks you’ll risk burning out, and even worse forcing yourself to study can make you absolutely miserable. This doesn’t mean that you should never study for something if it is challenging or if it makes you fork out time to understand. Rather, it’s important to recognize when the information isn’t sinking in so that you can readjust your planning and studying. Is there a pattern to the environment you study in that is ineffective?

Organize your Thoughts

It’s really important to organize your thoughts on a subject especially on anything that is an interconnected topic. For a lot of classes you’ll be receiving information from lectures, a textbook, study materials and other sources. All this information is great except for when it ends up becoming daunting and confusing. Again, it’s crucial to track your progress and understanding along the way. Some ways to organize could be to consolidate your notes into a study guide format.

Don’t Conflate Recognition with Recollection

You will get the illusion of understanding and remembering concepts by flipping through a textbook and lecture. Do not conflate recognizing a concept that you have heard mentioned with actually remembering what it meant and stood for. Fundamentally, these are two very different skill sets. It’s important to be able to recall : “this was a concept that came up”. But, it is much more important to recall what that concept meant and entailed.

Get Adequate Rest and Food

It’s really important for your memory to be able to consolidate all the information that you’ve learned. If you’ve taken a psych class, you’ve come across how REM sleep is a crucial part of memory storage and consolidation. If you want to be able to remember something, it might be good advice to “sleep on it” and come back to it the next day as well.

Spaced Repetition

I first heard about this when trying to study for some of my pre-med courses. A lot of students utilize Anki software because it preforms spaced repetition of concepts. What that means is that concepts will come up again and again after a period of time, and this is what helps to solidify a concept in your memory. Consider some facts you know right now. For example, the famous “mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell.” Why do you remember that so well and so vividly besides the fact that memes spark joy? That’s because you’ve heard it, over and over, in a variety of settings which reinforced the phrase in your memory. Similarly, lyrics of songs can get recalled years later for a similiar reason.

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