When you sit down to study, how do you transfer that massive amount of information from the books and notes in front of you to a reliable spot inside your head? The best way to facilitate that kind of "file transfer" is to develop good study habits, as outlined below. At first, it'll take a good deal of conscious effort to change your studying ways, but after a while, it'll become second nature, and studying will be easier to do.
1. Manage your time. Make a weekly schedule and devote a certain amount of time per day to studying. This will improve your grades also. That amount will vary depending on whether you're in high school or college, and also varies by field of study.
2. Study in 20-50 minute chunks. It takes time for your brain to form new long-term memories, and you can't just keep studying flat out. Take 5-10 minute breaks (no more!) and do something physically active to get your blood flowing and make you more alert. Do a few jumping jacks, run around your house, play with the dog, whatever it takes. Do just enough to get yourself pumped, but not worn out.
* Make enough time in your schedule to get enough sleep. Think of it this way: If you sleep only 4-5 hours, you'll probably need to double your study time in order to be as effective as if you'd gotten 7-9 hours of sleep. Study more and sleep less? That doesn't sound like a very good deal. Get a good night's sleep every night and you'll be making the best of your study time. If you end up a little sleep deprived despite your best efforts, take a short nap (20 minutes) before studying. Then do some physical activity (like you would do during a break) right before you start.
3. Find a good study spot. You should feel comfortable, but not so comfortable that you risk falling asleep--a bed isn't a very good study spot when you're tired! The place where you study should be relatively quiet (traffic outside your window and quiet library conversations are fine, but interrupting siblings and music blasting in the next room are not).
* As far as music is concerned, that's up to you. Some people prefer silence, others prefer music in the background. If you belong to the latter group, stick to instrumental music (music that has no words like classical, soundtrack, trance, or some celtic) and that you're already familiar with (not something that's bound to distract you)--otherwise, your brain will "multi-task" and not be able to retain information as well.
* Having the television on while you study is generally a bad idea.
4. Clear your mind.If you’ve got a lot on your mind take a moment to write yourself some notes about what you're thinking about before you start studying. This will help to clear your mind you focus all your thoughts on your work.
5. Snack smart while you study. Have your snacks prepared when you begin a study session--don't wait till you get hungry and go rummaging for food. Avoid any snacks or drinks that will give you a rush of energy, because with every rush comes a crash in which all the information you studied is lost to an intense desire to sleep. Focus on "slow release" carbohydrates, which not only give you a steady stream of energy, but they also boost serotonin, a brain chemical that makes you feel good:
6. Rewrite your notes at home. When you're in class, emphasize recording over understanding or neatness when you take notes. That doesn't mean you shouldn't try to understand or organize your notes at all; just don't waste time doing something in class that you can figure out or neaten up at home. Consider your in-class notes a "rough draft" of sorts. Rewrite your notes as soon after the class as possible, while the material is fresh in your mind and so you can fill in any gaps from memory. The process of rewriting your notes is a more active approach to studying--it engages your mind in a way that just reading the notes doesn't.
* You may find it easier to keep two notebooks--one for your "rough draft" notes, and another for your rewritten notes.
* Some people type their notes, but others find that handwriting enhances their ability to remember the notes.
* The more paraphrasing you do, the better. Same goes for drawing. If you're studying anatomy, for example, "re-draw" the system you're studying from memory.
7. Learn the most important facts first. Don't just read the material from beginning to end, stopping to memorize each new fact as you come to it. New information is acquired much more easily when you can relate it to material that you already know.
* When you are beginning to study a new chapter, it will make the information it contains much more meaningful and easier to learn if you first take a few minutes to read the introduction, the headings, the first sentence of every paragraph, and the chapter summary to get a good idea of what the chapter is about before going on to read the chapter as a whole. (Word for word, these portions also contain more information that is likely to be asked about on a test!)
* If you can, use a highlighter, or underline the most important points in the body of the text, so that you can spot them more easily when you review the material. It also helps to make notes in pencil in the margin in your own words to summarize or comment on important points. (These practices may make your textbook worth less when you sell it back to the bookstore, but it may make it worth a great deal more to you at test time!)
* You can also read just these portions in order to quickly review the material you have learned while it is still fresh in your memory, and help the main points to sink in.
* This is also a great way to review the most important ideas just before a test, when your time is especially limited.
* It's also a good way to periodically review in this manner to keep the main points of what you have already learned fresh in your mind if you need to remember a large amount of material for a longer period -- for a final examination, for a comprehensive exam in your major, for a graduate oral, or for entry into a profession.
* If you have enough privacy, it also helps to recite your summaries aloud in order to involve more senses in the activity of learning, like listening to music over several channels at once. Incorporate your summaries into your notes, if there is a connection.
* If you're having trouble summarizing the material so that it "sticks" in your head, try teaching it to someone else. Pretend you're teaching it to someone who doesn't know anything about the topic, or create a wikiHow page about it! For example, Memorize the Canadian Territories & Provinces was made as a study guide for an 8th grade student.
8. Make flash cards. Traditionally, this is done with index cards, but you can also download computer programs that cut down on space and the cost of index cards. You can also just use a regular piece of paper folded (vertically) in half. Put the questions on the side you can see when the paper is folded; unfold it to see the answers inside. Keep quizzing yourself until you get all the answers right reliably. Remember: "Repetition is the mother of skill."
* You can also turn your notes into flash cards using the Cornell note-taking system, which involves writing grouping your notes around keywords that you can quiz yourself on later by covering the notes and trying to remember what you wrote based on seeing only the keyword.
9. If your textbook has a vocabulary section, a glossary, or a list of terms, make sure that you understand these completely. You don't have to memorize them, but whenever there is an important concept in a particular field, there is usually a special term to refer to it. Learn these terms, and be able to use them easily, and you will have gone a long way towards mastering the subject itself. (Besides, teachers frequently draw from these lists as a quick and easy way to make up test questions!)
10. Make associations. The most effective way to retain information is to "tie" it to existing information that's already lodged in your mind.
* Take advantage of your learning style. Think about what you already learn and remember easily--song lyrics? choreography? pictures? Work that into your study habits. If you're having trouble memorizing a concept, write a catchy jingle about it (or write lyrics to the tune of your favorite song); choreograph a representative dance; draw a comic. The sillier and more outrageous, the better--we tend to remember silly things more than we remember boring things!
* Use mnemonics (memory aids). Rearrange the information is a sequence that's meaningful to you. For example, if one wants to remember the notes of the treble clef lines in music, remember the mnemonic Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge = E, G, B, D, F. It's much easier to remember a sentence than a series of random letters. You can also build a memory palace or Roman room to memorize lists like the thirteen original colonies in America, in chronological order. If the list is short, link the items together using an image in your mind.
* Organize the information with a mind map. The end result of mapping should be a web-like structure of words and ideas that are somehow related in the writer's mind.
* Use visualization skills. Construct a movie in your mind that illustrates the concept you're trying to remember, and play it several times over. Imagine every little detail. Use your senses--how does it smell? look? feel? sound? taste?
* Make a study sheet. Try and condense the information you will need into one sheet, or two if absolutely necessary. Bring it around with you and look at it whenever you have downtime during the days leading up to the test. If you type it up onto the computer, you can get a lot more control over your layout by changing font sizes, margin spaces, etc.
11. Make it a group effort. Get some friends together--friends who are actually interested in studying, that is--and have everyone bring over their flash cards. Pass them around and quiz each other. If anyone is unclear on a concept, take turns explaining them to each other. Better yet, turn your study session into a game like Trivial Pursuit.