Study Habits for Effective Learning

By Moksha Agarwal 2021-08-22

You don’t have to be holed up in a room, buried under a mountain of books, to have a flawless (well, almost flawless) academic record. As it turns out, “studying hard” is not the best way to understand, retain, and recall information. “Studying smart” is. 


Studying smart can refer to a bunch of things. It includes strategies for organization, note-making, time-management, even techniques for taking exams. Today, we will discuss the ‘What,’ ‘When,’ ‘Where,’ and ‘How’ of studying.   


What to study?


You’ve got an economics exam in a week and you can’t figure where to begin. Should you go by the chapters, should you work on the parts you’re weak at, should you attempt hard topics or should you grab the low-hanging fruit? Here’s what we suggest:


Make a list of all the topics that you have to study and divide them into ‘Green,’ ‘Amber,’ and ‘Red’ categories.


Green: topics to be studied first; important and simple

Amber: topics to be studied next; important but complex

Red: topics to be studied last; not vital but time-consuming


When to study?


Is there a right time to study? Nope. Your ability to learn depends less on whether you study in the morning, afternoon, evening, or night and more on how you choose to space it. Let’s say you’ve allocated four hours for study each day. Instead of hounding at your desk from 5-9 PM, schedule four study sessions of one hour each and spread them across the day. While the number of hours spent studying will remain the same, retention and recall will increase exponentially.


Where to study?


At a desk, ideally with a straight back? Not necessarily. You can study at any place that has a minimal amount of distraction—music, chitter-chatter, the smell of freshly-baked cookies. As long as your distraction doesn’t occupy too much of your attention, it will help your brain create vivid memories, making it easier for your to remember things. Studies also suggest that studying the same content in different locations creates multiple pathways for accessing information, thereby improving retrieval strength by a whopping 40%. 


How to study?


That really depends on what your goal is. If you’re studying to ace an exam, follow the PQRST method. Preview the content and make a list of topics that need to be covered. Thoroughly examine the content to formulate relevant Questions. Read through the study materials to find information that best relates to the questions. Summarize your understanding of various topics by using written notes, mind maps, diagrams, or mnemonics. Test your learning by answering questions that were formulated earlier. 


If you’re focused on enhancing your understanding of the text by practising critical thinking, you can adopt the REAP method. Read a section to discern the author’s ideas. Encode information by paraphrasing the text in your own words. Annotate the section with critical notes. Ponder what you read by actively thinking about it, engaging in conversation, and reading reference material.