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Help Students Study Smarter: Top Nine Ways

EducationWorld is pleased to present this article contributed by Kenya McCullum, a freelance writer and contributor to

All students think about studying in order to pass tests, but they probably don’t think much about the way they’re studying. Not all study methods are created equal, and if they don’t use their time wisely, kids may not be getting the most out of it. Share these study tips to help young people master—and better retain—course material.

  1. Figure out what environment works best for you … then change it.

    Many environmental factors can influence learning—the temperature and lighting in a room, whether there is music playing in the background, and even the position of the student’s body. Knowing what kind of environment works best for them allows kids to stage the room to maximize learning. However, that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t mix it up from time to time. Research shows that studying the same material in different environments actually enhances memory.
  2. Mix up the subjects.

    Just as studying the same material in different environments can enhance learning, changing the material reviewed in one study session can boost retention. According to research published in Psychology and Aging and Applied Cognitive Psychology, studying more than one subject in the same sitting can help the information become more deeply ingrained in memory.
  3. Put the highlighter down.

    Highlighting and underlining is a common strategy, but according to the Association for Psychological Science, it’s one of the least effective ways to study. This practice may actually decrease students’ ability to learn, because it’s a passive activity that keeps the focus on discrete pieces of information, rather than larger concepts. Instead, suggest that students try these more active processes:

    --Relate new information to something that’s already familiar.
    --Rewrite things in their own words or elaborate on their notes.
    --Create a “map” to highlight connections between terms and concepts.
  4. No cramming allowed.

    There probably isn’t a student on the planet who hasn’t crammed for a test the night before. But do kids actually remember anything they studied a few days later? Probably not. It’s more effective to study the same material in short intervals over time, which helps them better encode the information in long-term memory.
  5. And no all-nighters, either.

    Although students may be able to cover a lot of material in late-night study binges, their brains lose the break they need to fully process the information. By reducing the rapid-eye movement, or REM, stage of sleep, they’re actually inhibiting their ability to recall what they’ve learned. In addition, sleep experts have found that when students study the most challenging material before hitting the hay, they increase their ability to remember it.
  6. Test yourself repeatedly.

    If students find study questions in their textbook, they’re there for good reason. The more they test themselves on the material, the easier it becomes for them to retrieve that information later.
  7. Look it up.

    If they’re struggling to remember a piece of information when studying, students shouldn’t try to tough it out until their brains hurt—they should look it up right away. Research shows that trying to remember something that just isn’t coming to the surface can train students’ brains to always struggle when answering a particular question.
  8. Avoid distractions.

    Although many people believe they are cognitive jugglers who can study while listening to music, surfing the Internet, texting friends or watching television, this lack of focus actually makes it more difficult to learn. The more multi-tasking students do, the slower their brains process information.
  9. Share your knowledge.

    One of the most effective ways to learn course material is by teaching it to someone else. By giving a presentation in class, having a discussion in a study group, spreading their knowledge on the Internet through a blog post or podcast episode, or even explaining the content to a pet, kids put what they’ve learned in their own words, which helps them remember it.

Armed with these tips, student study sessions should be much more productive. But remind young people that everyone learns differently. The above strategies can be a starting point, but kids should also create study methods that fit their personal learning styles.

Related resources

Study Tips for the New School Year
Top 5 Tips for Improving Student Study Skills


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