Hello, learners!

If you’re here, you probably want to ace your studies, right?

Let me guess, you’re putting in hours and hours, sweating over your textbooks, notes, and laptop until your eyes blur. But you feel like you’re running on a treadmill, and the results aren’t showing up, correct?

That’s okay and completely understandable! The traditional equation of ‘more hours equals better results’ is a myth many of us believe. But, let me tell you a secret: it’s not about working harder; it’s about working smarter!

Today, we’re going to tackle this conundrum together! We’re about to kick to the curb some of those conventional, often unhelpful, study habits and replace them with methods backed by research and proven to be more effective. Excited? You should be!

Ready to start? Let’s jump right in!

1. Set specific goals

You’ve probably heard this advice a gazillion times, but let me ask you this, have you actually tried it?

Did you know there’s a fascinating psychological effect named after an affable letter of the alphabet – the ‘Zeigarnik effect’? It’s named after its discoverer, Russian psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik. In her studies conducted in the early 20th century, she found that people have a better memory for incomplete or interrupted tasks than for complete tasks. Basically, our brains have a natural urge to finish what we’ve started and achieve our goals.

When you set a specific goal, like ‘I will understand and summarize this chapter in two hours,’ you give your brain a clear target to aim for. It’s like you’re programming your brain to focus on that objective, and trust me, your brain is a pro at hitting targets when it knows what the target is!

Isn’t it time we stop vaguely flipping pages and start mastering topics? Let’s try it out!

2. Embrace the power of short study sessions

‘But wait,’ you may think, ‘shouldn’t I spend as much time as possible studying?’

No, my friends. Not only is that exhausting, it’s also not the most effective method. Time to introduce you to a game-changer – the Pomodoro Technique!

Developed in the late 80s by Francesco Cirillo (hence the fancy Italian name), the Pomodoro Technique works by breaking down your study time into manageable chunks separated by short breaks. Usually, it’s 25 minutes of work followed by a 5-minute break. Every fourth break is longer, typically about 15 to 30 minutes.

What’s the science behind this? Well, research has shown that our brains have a limited attention span. When we try to push beyond this limit, our ability to retain information drops significantly. However, by breaking our study time into manageable, focused bursts, we can optimize our learning and fight off fatigue and distraction.

3. Have a designated study spot

Imagine this: every time you sit down at your favorite café, the barista immediately starts preparing your regular order. It’s as if your very presence signals ‘coffee time!’ to everyone around. Now, wouldn’t it be great if your brain got the same signal for ‘study time!’ each time you sat down in a particular spot?

This is the premise behind having a designated study spot. Having a specific location for studying has been shown to significantly enhance focus and information retention. Research by Robert Bjork, a research professor of psychology at UCLA, suggests that environmental cues play a huge role in cognitive processes, including memory and learning.

So, make a pact with yourself: choose a spot in your home, library, or even a quiet coffee shop, and make it your official study spot. This should be a place where distractions are at a minimum, and it’s used solely (or mostly) for studying. Over time, your brain will begin to associate this location with focused learning, making it easier for you to switch into study mode.

And no, your bed is not an ideal study spot (sorry!). Despite its comfort, studies have shown that working or studying in bed can interfere with sleep quality. And since good sleep is crucial for memory consolidation, this is a no-go!

Find that special place, make it yours, and watch as your study sessions become more productive!

4. Use flashcards

Let’s be honest. We all have those concepts or terminologies that just refuse to stick in our minds, no matter how many times we go over them. That’s where the beauty of flashcards comes into play! According to a 2018 study led by Dr. Jeffrey Karpicke from Purdue University, using flashcards helps to enhance retention and efficient recall through a cognitive strategy known as ‘active recall.’

This process encourages your brain to actively reconstruct your knowledge about a topic, instead of just passively reviewing the information. As a result, the learning sticks.

So, let’s break this down. Flashcards are essentially bite-sized pieces of information that you can quickly flip through. They have a question or a prompt on one side and the corresponding answer on the other. The act of recalling the answer reinforces the neural pathways that connect the cue to the response, making it easier for you to remember it in the future.

Here’s how to make the most of flashcards. On one side of the card, write a key term or question. On the other side, jot down the definition or answer. Go through the deck of cards and each time you get a card right, place it in a separate pile. Keep going through the cards you got wrong until all the cards are in the ‘right’ pile.

And, here’s a fun twist – you can use flashcards to break down complex ideas into simpler ones, too. Who said they’re only for memorizing formulas or vocabulary?

5. Teach what you learn

Have you ever heard of Richard Feynman?

He was a famous physicist, a Nobel Laureate, and…. A fantastic teacher! He could take the most complex of concepts and break them down so anyone could understand. This ability of his has given birth to a method of study that’s known as the ‘Feynman Technique’.

The principle behind the Feynman Technique is straightforward – if you want to understand something deeply, try to teach it to someone else. It’s simple, but incredibly effective!

When we anticipate having to teach the material, we process the information more deeply, seek out key points, and organize it in a coherent structure. All these steps contribute to better understanding and recall!

So, grab your family member, a friend, or even your pet, and start explaining the concepts you’ve just learned! You don’t have to treat this as a lecture, simply treat it as a normal conversation! Feel free to use your own words, analogies, and examples.

Remember, if you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough. Or at least, that’s what Feynman would probably say! So, take a leaf out of Feynman’s book and start teaching to learn!

6. Choose your study playlist wisely

Hey, music lovers out there! Did you know that your beloved playlist could be the secret weapon for your study sessions?

Yes, you heard it right! But let’s be clear – not just any music. We’re talking about a well-crafted study playlist!

Research from Stanford University shows that music with a slow tempo, such as classical music, can enhance concentration and focus while studying. The reason? This type of music can induce a state of relaxation of the mind, allowing for better absorption of information. So, next time you’re studying, consider adding some Mozart or Beethoven to your playlist.

But don’t worry if classical music isn’t your cup of tea. Other genres can also be effective as long as they have the same qualities – calm, steady, and preferably instrumental. So, jazz, ambient, or even lo-fi beats can be your companions in this learning journey!

Now, I must give a word of caution – steer clear of your favorite hits! Our brain has a funny way of prioritizing fun over work, and you might find yourself singing along rather than focusing on the task at hand!

Also, songs with lyrics can interfere with your brain’s language processing, making studying languages difficult.

Ultimately, what works best can vary from person to person. Don’t hesitate to try different genres and find the perfect harmony for your study rhythm!

7. No Phone

I bet most of you can’t even recall a time without the ever-so-handy, ever-so-addictive little gadget we call a smartphone. I get it. It’s practically a mini universe, full of messages, apps, and distractions. But let’s face it, it’s time for some tough love, isn’t it?

According to a study published in the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research, the mere presence of your smartphone, even when it’s not in use, can reduce your cognitive capacity. That’s right, your ability to concentrate and understand new information takes a hit simply by your phone’s presence!

And if that’s not enough, think about all the times your study sessions were interrupted by notifications. Each ding, buzz, or flash of your screen is a potential threat to your focus. And every time you attend to it, your brain has to play catch up to refocus on the study material.

So, what’s the solution? Simple. Show your phone the door. You might feel a tad bit anxious initially. That’s just withdrawal, perfectly normal.

Think of this no-phone time as a date with your books. You wouldn’t constantly check your phone in the middle of a date, would you? So, why not show the same courtesy to your studies?

8. Do practice test and active recall

As it turns out, simply reading a textbook or going through lecture notes multiple times is not the most effective way to learn. Shocking, right?

Let me introduce you to ‘practice testing’ and ‘active recall’ – these are the actual keys to mastering any subject!

First up, practice testing. This is pretty self-explanatory: it involves testing yourself on the material you’ve learned. This could be through flashcards, quizzes, or full-length practice exams. Research shows that practice testing improves long-term retention and is more effective than simply revising your notes.

The real beauty of practice testing is that it allows you to understand where your strengths and weaknesses lie in the subject matter. Then, you can adjust your study plan accordingly. It’s like being your own personal tutor!

Next, let’s talk about active recall. This involves actively trying to remember information from memory, without looking at your notes or textbook. For instance, after reading a chapter, close your book and write down everything you can remember about the topic. It’s not easy, but it’s super effective.

A study led by Professor Jeffrey Karpicke from Purdue University found that students who used active recall had much better long-term recall of the material. They could still remember 80% of the material after a month, compared to only 36% for students who didn’t use active recall. Mind-blowing, isn’t it?


Now it’s time for you to put these techniques into practice. Start small, be consistent, and don’t be too hard on yourself. The most important thing is to keep evolving and to be better than you were yesterday. Every little step counts.

So, get out there, set your specific goals, master the art of time management, designate your study spot, use flashcards, explain the concept to others, choose your study playlist wisely, say a temporary goodbye to your phone, and incorporate practice tests and active recall.

Remember, everyone’s journey is unique, and there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach. Find what works best for you, stick to it, refine it, and you’re on your path to success!

Next steps

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IELC Academic Director