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Study Smarter, Not Harder

When it comes to studying, it’s always about quality over quantity. This is rule number one, and probably the most important of them all. In this post we have created a complete guide on how to study effectively, to save you time and effort on mastering your chosen subject. 

When it comes to studying there is no “one size fits all” approach. Some students find it easy and straightforward, others can’t stand the thought of reading and writing constantly for a given amount of time. Finding the motivation can be difficult, however, with these hints and tips, we hope this will give you the motivation you need to get stuck in! 

1. Set The Scene

It goes without saying that your environment has a huge impact on your ability to focus and retain information. For example, studying on a train isn’t as effective as studying in a classroom. Finding places or going to places where your brain is conditioned to think, will ultimately lead to better results. 

Make sure your study environment is free from distractions, such as TVs, games consoles, phones etc. Ensure that you are comfy but not too comfy i.e. in your bed. This is a big no-no! Your bed is a place to rest not a place to expand your mind. 

Try to have a desk that can comfortably fit all your essentials, such as laptop/tablet, notebooks, study guides and anything else you may need. It’s important to not let a lack of information be a cause for distraction. 

Places that I would recommend to study are, in a home office/computer room or a classroom within your school or university. I would say if possible, especially at university, staying after class is a much better use of your time, than going home to study (that’s just based on my experience). 

Set the scene to study

2. Get Organised

There is nothing more frustrating than not being able to find a question or section of notes in your gigantic vortex of entropy. While I have seen “organised chaos” work, I would not recommend it. 

First of all the organisation begins in the classroom. Have one book for notes, and another for questions. Make sure you date everything, and give each topic its own title, to make it easier to find later on. 

Optimise your working space. As I mentioned earlier, making sure your desk or workspace is sufficient is very important when it comes to studying effectively. Make sure you have all your books categorised in an order that suits your needs, and think of perhaps colour coding certain parts of your notes. 

Let’s get to the 21st century. For me, there is nothing more annoying than a desktop or USB full of unorganised folders and files. Categorising your folders into each subject or module is essential to keep organised. Now let’s go a step further… Within each subject create more folders with lessons/lectures then another with questions/tutorials, that way you can easily find any file you need, quickly! 

get organised to study

3. Understand The Study Cycle

The Study Cycle breaks down the different parts of studying: previewing, attending class, reviewing, studying, and checking your understanding. Although each step may seem obvious at a glance, all too often students try to take shortcuts and miss opportunities for good learning.

For example, you may skip a reading before class because the professor covers the same material in class; doing so misses a key opportunity to learn in different modes (reading and listening) and to benefit from the repetition and distributed practise that you’ll get from both reading ahead and attending class.

Understanding the importance of all stages of this cycle will help make sure you don’t miss opportunities to learn effectively. It’s easy to cut corners when studying as it can become a tedious and often boring time, however, consistency and precision is key to the study cycle process. 

what is a study circle

4. It's About Quality, Not Quantity

This is something I have come across a lot over the years. Students thinking that studying 5 hours a day means they will be almost guaranteed an A, is ludicrous. My answer is always “did you have any breaks”? if not then you’ve just wasted 4 hours of your day. 

Studying difficult subjects like science and mathematics can take its toll on your cognitive function, and your brain can only take so much before it switches onto autopilot. That’s why it is always best to study for an hour, take a break, the come back to it in half an hour. 

One of the most impactful study strategies is distributing studying over multiple sessions. Intensive study sessions can last 30 or 45-minute sessions and include active studying strategies.

For example, self-testing is an active study strategy that improves the intensity of studying and the efficiency of learning. However, planning to spend hours on end self-testing is likely to cause you to become distracted and lose your attention, resulting in a poor quality study session. 

However, if you plan to quiz yourself on the course material for 45 minutes and then take a break, you are much more likely to maintain your attention and retain the information. Furthermore, the shorter, more intense sessions will likely put the pressure on that is needed to prevent procrastination.

quality over quantity to study

5. Don't Study What You Are Good At

It’s always a great feeling to get the correct answer to a problem. This happiness is caused by your brain being flushed with the hormone dopamine. The euphoric sensation of getting question after question correct simulates you are studying well, however, you might be fooling yourself. 

It’s very easy to resort to answering questions that you know the answer to, or are comfortable with the solving process. Studying these questions is pointless! You already know how to do it, so any more time doing them is wasted. 

Focus on the questions and topics you don’t get correct. yes it will be frustrating, yes you will get annoyed, but that is part of the learning process. For example, I struggled with a particular concept in mass transfer, I simply couldn’t get it and for almost 2 months I struggled, until one day it finally clicked! Now because I had spent so long challenging myself, when I finally understood it, I never forgot how to do it again. 

So in a nutshell, focus on the stuff you get wrong, the difficult questions, and steer clear of the topics you are good at. You will discover that your study sessions are far more productive, even if you don’t get a single question correct without looking up the solution. 

dont study what you are good at

6. Consider Teaching

It’s well established that if you can teach something you obviously know what you’re talking about (to a certain extent). When I started teaching 8 years ago I didn’t know the in-depth techniques as I do now, and surprisingly the best way I learned to solve extremely difficult problems was teaching, as I was teaching myself and my student simultaneously. 

 Now I am not suggesting you become a teacher, but it would be a good idea to either teach a member of your family or even one of your fellow students. The latter probably is best, since you can bounce ideas off each other. 

It doesn’t matter if the person you are “teaching” hasn’t got a clue, the important thing is you try to explain the concept as clearly and as simple as possible. 

You can also teach yourself. Creating quizzes based on your lecture notes and have the solutions kept separately. You can then at a later stage, take the quiz and check if your answers are the same. This will let you identify areas you can remember and areas you need to work on. 

From my experience working with a small group of your fellow students, and taking turns teaching each other is one of the best methods of studying. Challenge each other, force them to justify their answers, that way you talk yourself into learning while educating your fellow students. Trust me, this is what got me my 1st class Honours and Masters degree! 

teach when studying

7. Have Some Time Off

Time off is an important factor when it comes to studying effectively. No one can study full time, 7 days a week. However, this is where self-discipline comes into play. Knowing when to stop and knowing when to start is crucial to the success of studying.

Be sure to look after yourself when studying, and don’t forget to have fun and enjoy yourself. Whether you enjoy meeting up with friends or have a particular hobby you enjoy, make time for those things and give yourself a reward for the hard work. 

Your mental health is more important than anything, so if things become too much, take some time away from studying, and speak to someone. It doesn’t have to be a family member, speak to friends, teachers, or even a professional counsellor.

Here at The ChemEng Student, we actively encourage all our students and non-student to get in touch for help and support in all aspects of education, not just chemical engineering. So please get in touch if you need any help or advice! 

take a break from studying