8 Jun 2015

Cramming it in: Study tips

8:49 am on 8 June 2015

About this time of year, everyone is getting down to it as Semester one finishes up – so here are our top ten tips for making the most of what little study time you have left.

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1. Give yourself enough time.

OK, so this one is boring but it’s also true – cramming might work for some people, for most of us, repetition over time is better. A caffeine-fuelled all-nighter might be your only option left, but one study found that while 72 per cent of participants thought their cramming had been effective, spacing the study out was better for 90 per cent of them. Not sure? Take a quiz.

2. Make a plan

How much time do you have to study around work, sports, actually having a life etc.? What courses do you need to focus on more? How are you going to fit it all in? Make a study schedule. Schedule short blocks – to revise.

Stick it up on the wall, and try to stick to about 50 per cent of it. Just bear in mind that if you take more than about an hour to do this, or it involves a complicated colour scheme and several pieces of paper, it’s possible you’re not studying, you’re procrastinating.

A gif of Hermione Granger opening a book

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3. Set up your environment

Again, this isn’t a suggestion that you re-arrange your bedroom, clean your flat, or arrange your bookshelf by spine colour. But good light, a comfortable chair, a quiet place, minimal distraction, and easy access to water and snacks will help. If you have to leave your desk to get a pink highlighter, you’re much more likely to get distracted. The less clutter the better, but don’t waste a crucial hour tidying up.

If you’re at the library, headphones are crucial, as is a water bottle, and all your notes on hand. And try to mix up where you’re studying – basically, this forces your brain to associate what you’re studying with lots of different places, making the memory stronger. The right music will also help to focus your mind.

4. Make notes/flashcards/study aids

There’s any number of different ways to get your brain to actually retain information, and different things will work for different people.

You could try studying just before bed (not in bed) since during sleep, the brain helps to strengthen new memories. Organise your study notes so that you can get the information from them really fast.

There are any number of online tools to help you out, creating mindmaps and flashcards and mnemonics. You could try the Feynman technique, or the “method of loci”. Writing things out by hand makes it easier to remember. Also, try studying more than one thing in a session – helping your brain to make connections means you’re more likely to retain it.

5. Take regular breaks.

Your ability to concentrate fades over time. If you’re reading the same notes over and over again for three hours, the odds are pretty good you’re not actually retaining it. Try an hour block – 50 minutes of study with a ten minute break. Cook yourself a proper meal, walk around the block, or read something not related to what you’re studying. Try not to get sucked into a hole filled with You Tube.

6. Practice on old exams.

This is a good way to see what an exam might look like, how long it might take you to get all you’ve learned out of your head and onto paper, and what the questions might look like. Most universities hold past exam papers in the library. Testing yourself is a really good way to learn.

7. Minimise the distractions.

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Shut down Facebook, log off twitter, and put your phone into airplane mode. Mashable has a bunch of apps that can turn off your social media for 8 hours at a time. Try to study in a quiet place – and ask your flatmates to keep it down.

8. Bore other people

More brains make for lighter work. Join a study group, and help each other out with notes, revision and testing. Just try to choose the right people(PDF).


Another great way to learn is to teach other people. Your flatmates are desperate to know about physics, right?

9. Reward yourself!

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You started from the bottom and now you’re here. Time for a treat. (You do still have to get through the exam.).

Cover Image: Flickr