Bitter cold temperatures, gray overcast skies and the pain of realizing spring break is no longer here to save anyone (R.I.P); March in State College is a dreary and stressful time, especially with midterms rapidly approaching. Motivation is gradually crumbling for many, making it especially difficult to stay focused and maximize study time. Luckily, VALLEY is here to help you grind out your work with five effective study strategies.
1. Switch up your environment.
Psychological research shows that the simple act of rotating your study location helps to enhance recall. According to psychologist Dr. Robert Bjork, whether they’re aware of it or not, people form small connections between their surroundings and the material they’re studying. Dr. Bjork explains to The New York Times, “when the outside context is varied, the information is enriched, and this slows down forgetting.” You don’t have to go far, as long as you aren’t staying in the same place for your entire study session.
2. Use the Feynman Technique.
The Feynman Technique, coined by very influential scholar and physicist Richard Feynman, has proven to be very successful, and primarily consists of four steps. First, recognize the topic and jot down what you know about it. Then, summarize that information in basic terms as if you’re teaching it to a child. Next, pinpoint the gaps in your understanding and use class notes, textbooks, or other resources to find information to fill in these gaps. Finally, arrange the information into a simple story, read it aloud, and wherever you find yourself struggling, study those subtopics more.
3. Space out your work.
As tempting as it may be, resist the urge to cram. Seriously. Substantial research shows that spacing out your studying across multiple days in shorter increments (one to two hours per increment, for example) is significantly more effective for improving retention than is cramming many hours of studying into one or two nights before your exam. The act of spacing out your work is also known as distributed practice, and in each study session, you can focus on different subtopics. The advantage of distributed practice is known as the spacing effect, which has been found in hundreds of research studies.
4. Take notes by hand (or hand-write a summary of your typed notes).
Many students prefer typing their notes rather than writing because it’s often much quicker. However, research has shown that hand-writing notes is more beneficial than typing, as students are forced to summarize what their professor is saying in order to keep up with the lecture. Thus, they’re processing the information at a deeper level, whereas if they type the notes, they can type word-for-word what their professor is saying without fully processing and comprehending it.
5. Follow the Leitner System.
The Leitner System, created by German journalist Sebastian Leitner, is a great way to maximize the benefit of flashcards. Flashcard repetition can be very useful, but mere memorization may not be enough for students to grasp more complicated topics. The Leitner System uses spaced repetition. To start, create a set of flashcards. Find three to five boxes (or bags, containers, etc. – be creative) and label one with the number one, another with the number two, the next with the number three, and so on. Assign a study period to each box. For example:
- Box 1 – study every day
- Box 2 – study every other day
- Box 3 – study every week
All of the flashcards will start in Box 1. When you get a card correct, move it to Box 2. If you get a card in Box 2 wrong, move it back to Box 1. Every time you get a card correct, you move it to the next box, and every time you get one wrong, you move it back to the previous box. This method involves spending more time on the concepts that you struggle with, which is very beneficial.
The Bottom Line
It has come to the point in the semester where many students are feeling overloaded with stress. Using these strategies is a great way to help you maximize your study time to be as prepared as possible for upcoming exams. Keep in mind that while it’s obviously important to study and stay on top of your academics, your health is more important. Check in with yourself and recognize when your mind and body need a break, and don’t work yourself too hard.