How to Improve One's Study Skills

Updated: Nov 1, 2016

This relatively short list of proven study techniques really helps to acquire and retain information better.

When it comes to excelling at the college/university level, students must focus on developing their study skills. It’s often called the “great equalizer” – because it guarantees good grades, regardless of one’s intelligence, aptitude or any other skills students have developed in their academic career.

But too many students are not taught how to study effectively. For example, students are told note-taking helps them prepare for a test, though few are taught exactly how to do so. It comes down to them learning what works best for them over time.

Here are 8 proven study tips to help students prepare for tests:

• Study for no longer than an hour at a time without taking a break. Not only does this make better use of one’s time while studying, psychologists have learned that people learn best in short takes. Also, even when someone is not studying, their mind subconsciously works to absorb what they have previously studied, learned or been exposed to.

• Separate the study of subjects that are similar in nature. The student can avoid interference and confusion if they, for example, were to study Spanish or history after studying math – and not Chemistry, with includes mathematics.

• Avoid studying when tired. This has proven to be counter-productive; the student doesn’t accomplish anything when their brain is not fresh. In this case, when they are tired, physical activity and taking part in recreation is advised. 

• Memorize actively, not passively. The worst way to memorize is simply reading something over and over again. Instead, the student should use their senses. They can try to visualize the material they’re learning in concrete terms; they can say certain words aloud, listening as they are saying them. They can also use association – or relating the fact to be learned to something personally significant, or find a logical tie-in. Also, use mnemonic devices: ROYGBIV, for the colors of the rainbow. 

• Study while reading. Follow the OK4R method devised by Dr. Walter Pauk: O = Overview. Read a book or passage’s title, intro and summarizing paragraphs and headings to get a general idea of what’s being discussed; K = Key Ideas. Skim the text for key ideas, usually found in the first sentences of each paragraph; read italics and bold type, bulleted sections, itemizations, pictures, tables; R1 = Read assignments from beginning to end; R2 = Recall. Put aside the text and recall, whether mentally, verbally or in writing, the major points put forth in the text; R3 = Reflect. This helps fix the material in the student’s mind, to cement it there for long-term use, through finding relationships and significance; R4 = Review, but not right away. This comes with studying, either for a short quiz, a test, or exam at a later date.

• Decide what to study and for how long. Studying the wrong thing for any period of time is, well, a waste of time.

• Do difficult tasks first. To avoid procrastinating on studying for the hardest subjects, it helps to end a study session by focusing on the simpler and more interesting ones.

• Use longer time/study periods for organizing relationships and concepts, as well as for outlining and writing papers, if necessary. Use shorter study periods for “rote” memorization (mechanical or habitual repetition of something to be learned), to review content, and for self-testing one’s knowledge on a given subject.

Following these simple steps will ensure a significant boost in your academic performance. Don't try to follow each of them at once, it's best to take one step at a time. Pick one technique and work with it until you understand if it works for you and how effective it is. Eventually you will learn to combine these steps and acquiring new information will become a piece of cake for you. Good luck with your studies, and remember - should you need any academic assistance, PrivateWriting is always happy to help!

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