How to Improve Your Study Habits and Set Yourself Up for Success
Want to study better? What is your PLAN for attacking your studies deliberately?
How much time will you spend going over material you learn in class? Will you study every week or, like most students, wait and shove it all in your brain the day before that big test?
What is your study “strategy”?
Taking notes? Making outlines? Creating flash cards?
Most students take a pretty lazy attitude towards studying, simply revisiting material before an important test or exam and crossing their fingers, hoping the right tidbits will stick.
As a result they get lazy results…
Better Study Habits Can Guarantee a Successful College Career
Learn how to learn first.
Yes, make a conscious effort to learn how to study better now.
In fact, one of the best things any student can do at the beginning of their college career is take a class on study skills and college success. Because once you know the secrets top students use to get it done, academic success becomes very predictable.
This article will not substitute such a class.
But these 26 tips will make your study time much more useful, focused, and productive if you take them seriously.
1. First, Know Your Learning Style
We all have our own natural tendency for retaining new information, and there are four main learning styles:
- Visual learners learn best by seeing. They respond well to diagrams, color-coding, video, and patterns.
- Auditory learners learn best by listening. They respond well to audio cues like speech, music, rhymes, and other sounds.
- Reading / Writing learners learn best by reading and writing the material they need to study.
- Kinesthetic learners retain information best by doing. They enjoy role playing, building models, drawing diagrams, and making flash cards. They need to put concepts into practice in the real world.
2. Put Your Learning Style to Conscious Use
Obviously it’s not enough to just recognize your own learning style.
Yet this raises an interesting point. A lot of us know HOW to study better, but like with most things in life we don’t apply the information to make things happen.
So make a conscious effort to adapt your methods of studying to what suits you best and you’ll exponentially speed up your learning curve.
- If you respond well to visual cues, draw up mind maps, use color extensively in your note-taking, and watch relevant YouTube videos.
- If you’re an auditory learner, try creating rhymes to remember facts, or listen to podcasts about your topics.
- A reading / writing learner will find traditional study a lot easier than other learners – spend extra time just reading the relevant textbooks and making study notes.
- Again, kinesthetic learners find traditional study the most difficult and are likely to excel at more practical subjects with the opportunity to put learning directly into practice.
3. Study In a Variety of Environments
Experts used to preach studying in the same room every time so your brain could click into focus mode as soon as you sat down.
But in recent years, an alternative view has gained a lot of support. Research actually shows you can focus better by regularly changing your study location.
The theory is that studying material in a variety of places helps your brain build up different associations in relation to the material you study.
Leading to stronger memories and better recall.
4. Try Studying in Dynamic Environments as Well
You also might feel you need to find somewhere to study where you won’t be interrupted. This, too, depends on your learning style.
For instance, music may enhance focused study for auditory learners while it may distract from it for others. These same auditory learners may easily be distracted by a television in the background while others may simply tune it out.
Some students may find a busy coffee shop is an ideal study spot for their personality. If this sounds like you, check out our cool Rainy Cafe app, which replicates the ambient background noise of a mellow coffee shop.
Of course, others may prefer to lock themselves away in a totally quiet environment, free of any distractions.
Bottom line: go with what works for you!
5. Set Regular Study Times and Stick With Them
This is super helpful in the lead-up to an exam or major test, but it can make your general study plan a lot more manageable too.
Plan your study time in advance instead of hoping it will “happen” somewhere in between your social life and classes.
By creating a set studying timetable and putting it into your calendar, you create a commitment and routine. Honor it as faithfully as you do showing up to class.
It also helps ensure your study is organized and split intelligently between subjects as necessary.
6. Eliminate Potential Distractions Before Your Study Session Starts
Sure, working in a noisy coffee shop or productive library may help some people, but trying to watch a movie or carry on a conversation while studying is doubtful to help anyone.
Before you start, eliminate anything that might cause your mind to wander.
First, gather everything you need. Having to wander somewhere else to collect your notes or important textbooks is an easy way to get sidetracked.
And if other people are in the house watching television or music, you might want to move to a spot where you can’t hear.
7. Go Instantly Into Your Study Zone With Music or Ambient Noise
Never leave home without your headphones!
The previously mentioned Rainy Cafe tool can be great if you need some ambient noise from a cafe, a gentle rainfall, or both at once! It’s 100% free to use here.
Some people prefer music. I always carry an mp3 player in my backpack so I can pop it in and turn on my favorite work music whenever I need to knuckle down. (Pro-tip: Listen to the same songs or binural beats every time you sit down to work and your mind will easily slip into the zone on command.)
Not only does it drown out the noise but pointing at your headphones is a super convenient way to cut off a conversation.
8. Get a Handle On Destructive Digital Distractions Too
We all know how easy it is to become distracted online – just a quick peek at Facebook can easily become a 20-minute detour into your study time.
This is where a product like FocusMe is ideal.
You can use it to block any digital distractions likely to steal your attention when you should be focusing on your studies. You can even use it to shut off the entire internet or lock yourself out of tempting websites or games.
Also, don’t forget to silence all the little alerts on your phone!
Note: Check this out – we actually offer a 30% discount on FocusMe for students and educators.
9. Break the Destructive “Cram Session” Cycles
Marathon cram sessions have almost become synonymous with college.
You don’t need me to tell you how inefficient they are – nothing you stuff in your brain that way ever sticks for long and the crash and burn doesn’t do you any favors either.
Commit to spreading your study over a prolonged period and be one of the few college students who lives with healthy balance and a normal life. You are far more likely to retain the information you study if you allow some time for daily exercise and socialization too.
Also, when it comes to studying, quality is far more important than quantity.
Long stretches are counter-productive – after a while, your mind fatigues and wanders, and you start to feel sleepy. You get bored and easily distracted.
Instead, keep study sessions short. You’ll retain more information studying in short bursts, fitting those bursts around your other daily activities.
10. Maintain a Study Planner With Deadlines and Prioritized Assignments
Mark down deadlines for every assignment you know will come up throughout the semester, across all of your subjects, and set advance reminders so you don’t lose track.
Then sort out the best sequence for working on all projects.
It is easy to procrastinate on work you find difficult or boring, so you might want to tackle those ones first and save your more “pleasurable” assignments for last. Even on a daily basis it makes sense to tackle your harder subjects first, while your mind is still fresh.
Keep your planner with you at all times, and whenever you are given a new assignment, or any work with a deadline, put it down. Record your deadlines and prioritize your work rather than making a mental note you’re bound to keep putting off.
Of course, things change, so be prepared to adapt your entire schedule as needed.
11. Bait Yourself With Enticing Treats for Study Goals
Don’t just reward yourself for the bigger achievements – small rewards for small wins can also be a great way to build up better study habits.
When you complete a successful study session, for example, reward yourself by doing something fun or buying something you’ve been wanting. It’s about creating extra incentives and more motivation for doing what’s necessary.
The anticipation of your reward should give you extra energy to help you achieve your study goal.
As your habits develop, you can raise the bar on treats. You might reward yourself for putting in more hours than normal one week, or getting a project done ahead of time.
12. Take More Useful Notes in Class
Everybody has their own notation method, and what works best for you will usually be influenced by your learning style. Visual learners, for instance, find using color and different sized headlines more useful than auditory or kinesthetic learners do.
Some general suggestions for creating better notes include:
- Sit in the center front row taking notes and it becomes almost impossible to not pay attention.
- Be fully prepared when you arrive in class, with all the pens, paper, and highlighters you need.
- If you’re an auditory learner, would it be possible to record the lesson or download it online? If not, are there other supporting materials you can get your hands on?
- “Concentrate on concentrating,” or in other words, make a conscious effort to pay attention to the lesson and completely absorb what’s being communicated. Ask questions to engage when you’re lost.
- Start each lesson on a new page, with a clear heading showing what the lesson is about and its date.
- Develop a note-taking technique that best suits your style. If you are a visual learner, draw diagrams that help you understand the material covered. If you are an audio listener, try writing down what you hear.
- Avoid writing in full sentences. Use bullet points, abbreviations, and symbols for quicker note-taking.
- When possible, convert ideas into your own words when writing them down.
13. Review Notes While the Info is Still Fresh In Your Mind
Take time after class or before study sessions to review, edit and organize your notes.
When I was in college, I even scheduled large blocks of free time between classes and used that time to study in the library right after lectures. I’d jump right into the homework immediately or go through my notes.
Libraries are a perfect blend of dynamic activity and busy students, so the mood is just right. And this “college hack” allowed me to arrive home every night homework-free and still get straight A’s.
If you’re a kinesthetic learner look for practical opportunities to “practice” the material if possible.
14. Condense or Rewrite Notes to Maximize Learning
Take note reviews one step further and start organizing and condensing what you’ve got down. I would often completely rewrite them in my library sessions.
Whether it’s a simple outline or a set of flashcards, redoing or prettying up your notes will save you a ton of time and headache when exam day arrives.
Instead of frantically flipping through your textbook, your personal cliffNotes will make for a lighter bag and a much more relaxed mind.
And rewriting everything a second time really sinks it in.
15. Practice Active Recall While Studying
Reviewing something when you’ve got the luxury of looking down at your notes is not the same thing as remembering.
When you’re on the spot without your materials, you need a whole other level of familiarity, and you don’t want to leave it to chance.
Try deliberately working on your active recall.
When learning something new, just close your eyes and try to recall a fact or concept from memory. Carry around flash cards and constantly test yourself during free moments.
Your goal is to test yourself on it again and again until it sticks in your long-term memory.
16. Tap Into the Power of Mnemonics (Memory Tricks)
Mnemonic devices are a fancy word for memory techniques designed to simplify things and link them in the brain for easy retrieval.
These work exceptionally well for auditory learners.
For example, acronyms.
Just take the first letter of each word in a list and string them together. “Roy G. Biv” becomes a neat little acronym to help remember the colors of the rainbow (Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, and Violet).
You can also use an acrostic, a catchy sentence with the same first letters as the words you need to remember.
Example: one famous acrostic people used to use to remember the order of the planets was “My Very Eager Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas” (Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto).
We’ll do an entire article on mnemonic devices later – learning just a few that work for you can help you plow through any test that comes up in your college career.
17. Hack Your Brain Through Your Nose
Sounds silly but your brain already has built-in mechanisms for triggering recall through your sense of smell.
Have you ever smelled something and instantly drifted down memory lane? The smell of your favorite meal. An ex’s perfume. We’ve all experienced how these scents can bring up very visceral memories out of the blue.
You can use these sensory triggers to your advantage, especially if you’re a kinesthetic learner.
Every time you sit down to study, put on a specific perfume or even spray hand sanitizer. Once it’s time for a test, spritz a bit of that scent and you’ll go right into the zone.
You can even try chewing gum repeatedly every time you study, and then do the same on exam day.
Minty breath, top-notch results!
18. Work More Efficiently With the Pomodoro Technique
Pomodoro, the Italian word for tomato, was the shape of the kitchen timer used by Francesco Cirillo, who invented this popular technique for getting things done.
He would do one task for 25 minutes, and once the timer buzzed, he would take a 5-minute break. Rinse and repeat.
This technique is superb for getting in the zone when studying.
It’s much easier to tell yourself to study for 25 minutes than an entire hour. The little break you get in between will also serve to refresh your brain before taking on the next chapter.
One task, one tomato at a time.
By the way, FocusMe’s web blocking and productivity software has a pomodoro feature built right in.
19. Break the Horrible Habit of Multitasking
When studying, it’s very tempting to play around in a chat or watch TV while doing homework. The problem is that when attention is spread out, your brain does not fully engage on anything…
And the quality of work you produce starts to drop.
Even when it seems like you’re doing two things at the same time, what your brain actually does is shift from one to the other repeatedly. And this “context change” is a recipe for mental fatigue.
Kick the multi-tasking habit and you’ll find yourself with much more energy to hit the books the right way.
You can always get back to your memes later on.
20. Batch Similar Study Topics
Though focus is a great skill to help you study, it’s easy to get burned out if you concentrate on one subject for too long. On the other hand, jumping around between completely different topics is an inefficient use of the brain.
Try batching topics and activities that are loosely related, such as vocabulary and reading, or algebra and finance. You may even want to organize a semester schedule around the same core topics.
When you switch between related subjects, your brain effectively makes use of the same set of skills, avoiding mental fatigue. Once you start hitting a wall with one subject, take a break and focus on the other, and you’ll be able to go further than you expected.
You’ll also find your brain draws interesting connections between different topics when they’re related, speeding up your understanding.
21. Take a “Coffee Nap”
What’s better than both a coffee or a nap?
A coffee nap!
Feeling sleepy midday?
Have a cup of coffee, ideally black, and hit the hay for a maximum of 20 minutes, and oddly enough, you’ll wake up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.
A Japanese study showed people who take a coffee nap performed better on memory tests than those who took a regular nap. This was the same result of a UK study that put people behind a driving simulator. Those who had a coffee nap committed significantly less errors than those without – even though they had trouble falling asleep right away.
Though coffee and a nap may seem at odds with each other, put them together and they’re a great fix for the tired student.
22. Expand on Class Lessons With Videos
This one is especially for the visual learners out there.
Sometimes reading the same line over and over again just isn’t going to get you anywhere. Thanks to the internet, there are plenty of other resources at your disposal, and arguably the best one is video.
No matter what field you’re studying, the chances of there being an online video resource that explains the concept are fairly high. Watching a video also mimics being in a classroom and will likely sink in faster than reading text.
Of course, it’s more challenging to find video resources for really specific subjects, but this works great for general stuff like college algebra or accounting principles.
23. Feed Your Brain Study-Friendly Nutrition
Your brain is like any other organ in your body, and responds well to nourishment.
Eat “brain foods” known to improve energy levels and focus for more effective study sessions. Examples of these include fatty fish, broccoli, and leafy greens.
For those averse to vegetables, you’ll be happy to note that dark chocolate is also considered brain food!
On the flip side, avoid “brain poison” like sugary snacks or junk food. These foods spike your energy, which is great at first but not so much when the sugar crash hits.
Fuel your body well and it will keep your most important engine running.
24. Test Yourself With Mock Exams
Giving yourself mock exams is one of the best ways to sink in the material and prepare for a big day. Not only will this sharpen up what you already know, it will pinpoint which areas you need to go back and review (while you still can!).
There are various ways to develop tests for yourself – scan through your books for practice problems. Look for practice tests online. Ask friends who took the class if they still have copies of their old exams.
Even compiling the questions yourself can be a great exercise in breaking a subject down.
I’ve taught myself entire subjects just by perfecting my understanding of what was in the practice exams!
25. Learn by Teaching Your Class Material
Einstein said, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”
Putting yourself in the role of teacher, whether with a friend or in a study group, will force you to structure and clarify the subject not only in your student’s mind but in your own as well.
If your audience asks a question that you find difficult to answer, even better. This will help pinpoint weak areas that you need to brush up on.
If you haven’t got a classroom full of people to teach, just explain the subject to an imaginary friend. I won’t tell anyone. 😉
Or heck, create a website about the topic so you can regurgitate the information to others in an organized format. Pat Flynn of Smart Passive Income started his first website while preparing for an exam, and today he’s worth millions.
26. You Snooze, You Win (How More Sleep Improves Studying)
Never underestimate the importance of rest.
Ever notice how all-nighters make you so fatigued and forgetful?
Sleep is a critical step for converting short-term memory into long-term memory.
As with life, studying is a marathon, not a sprint. Your goal is to understand and retain the information so that it serves you well, both on exam day and in the practical world.
So don’t neglect your rest. And sometimes when you’re behind on a project, it makes more sense to catch some sleep and get up early to go at it again with a fresh mind.
Remember, Studying Better is NOT Just About Success in College
“The big secret in life is that there is no big secret. Whatever your goal, you can get there if you’re willing to work.” – Oprah Winfrey
Sure, organizing your time spent studying and staying consistent across an academic year goes a long way towards avoiding the stress and difficulties of trying to cram study at the end. You get better grades and you get to live a normal life while you’re at it.
But what a lot of students miss is that college is a training ground for life.
And teaching yourself to study smart rather than study more creates a pattern of work you can ride to success in your career after school.
It’s about learning to make sure academic pursuits never get excessive or dominate your life. About getting a handle on procrastination and time-wasting distractions before they can start interfering with a paycheck.
So focus on your ability to retain information now…
And you’ll be well set to progress faster towards meeting your goals not just in school but far beyond.
Or go here to find out all the ways FocusMe can help keep you lasered in on what matters most.