Unconventional Study Tips


image by We Heart It {link to http://weheartit.com/entry/92169413}

Most of my midterms are done (insert relieved sigh), but I still have a few left. At the moment I am home for spring break, and no exams can dampen my spirits. There isn’t a cinder-block dorm wall in sight, the cat is snoozing in some secluded corner because she hates humankind, and all is right with the world.

I must be honest, I love studying; I’m truly a nerd. So far, being a shameless bookworm has worked out pretty well, so I don’t see any reason to stop. Studying can be monotonous and frustrating at times, but there are lots of clever ways to simplify it while gaining just as much, if not more, from the time you put it.

General Tips

  • Concentrate: Do you have the strength to resist Facebook, Netflix, and those silly Buzzfeed quizzes? If you want to get the most from your studies, you will need to find a way to channel your brain power. How can you rid yourself of distractions?
    • Check out anti-distraction apps. These apps can block your access to other apps or websites for a period of time, which you set. For example, you set the app to keep you distraction free for two hours, and for two hours you cannot get onto Facebook, Twitter, or other sites that tug at your much needed attention. It is a rather intense discipline, but if you just can’t focus, it could be worth a try.
    • Music: Listen to light classical, instrumental, or atmospheric music while you study to block out surrounding noise. Spotify has lots of great focus playlists, and you can always make your own!
  • Start Early: If you wait long enough, your exams will not give up and leave you alone, they will keep knocking and then just rudely break-and-enter whether or not you are prepared. Do yourself a favor and begin reviewing at least a week before a test.
  • Take Breaks: Go for a stroll, put in a load of laundry, call your family or a friend, do something to get you away from the books for a couple of minutes every 30 to 60 minutes.
  • Caffeine≠Rest: You need sleep! Human beings weren’t created to stay up all night and subsist on chemical stimulants. A cup of coffee or tea can help wake you up, but a cup of caffeine every two hours will just zombify you.


  • Repetition: This is that advice you always hate to hear: “Practice makes perfect.” Yes, repeatedly rewriting the same list of scientific names or flipping through Spanish flashcards dozens of times will help you commit them to memory. How can you reap the benefit of repetition without driving yourself mad doing the same thing for hours on end? Start reviewing the material as early as possible. What is more inconvenient: spending an hour and a half staring at the same list two nights in a row or spending only 5 or 10 minutes looking over it for 5 to 7 days? The second option takes less time, is less draining, and produces even better results!
  • Timelines: Will the dates be on the test? Yes? Then, try a timeline! I recently had to memorize dozens of dates for an art history exam, so I created a timeline and re-drew it everyday for a couple of days before the exam. It takes some patience, but using a timeline allows you to see progressions and relationships between events. If you have a visual memory, like me, then while taking a test you can picture the timeline and locate the dates by their position on the timeline and neighboring events. There are also some nice timeline makers available online:
  • Memory or Mnemonic Devices: As a Sherlockian, I love a good memory device. From “King Henry Died Monday Drinking Chocolate Milk” (metric prefixes) to a full-out memory palace, there are so many clever ways to etch information into your head!
    • Word Mnemonics: The classic “King Henry” example above is one of these, in which the beginning letters of one list are used to make an amusing or memorable phrase. You can also create a single word or name from the letters, as in the colorful “Roy G. Biv.” Not feeling very creative? Plug your list into a mnemonic generator and instantaneously get a nice absurd phrase!
      • Mnemonic Generator: Beware, the sentences can be quite ridiculous, I plugged in the names of the last four Tudor monarchs and got “Helpful Elephants Manipulated Eclairs.”
    • Sing it: Have a song stuck in your head? It may drive you crazy, but it could help you study. Put lists or names to a tune, and you are sure to remember them, but make sure it is something catchy. I love doing this; I even devised a couple of waltz-like bars to memorize my student ID number. Yes, I have to stop and sing it in my head every time someone asks me for it, but it works!
    •  Look for Patterns: If something is repeated throughout the material or is mirrored within it, it can be easy to remember that the same things appear multiple times. An example of this is the classic rhyme of the wives of Henry VIII: “Divorced, Beheaded, Died, Divorced, Beheaded, Survived.”
    • Loci or the “Memory Palace”: This is the coolest one on the list. If you can master this, you can rule the world, if you really want to. Though it has recently gained popularity from the show Sherlock (as much as I love his mind palace, it isn’t quite the same method), this is an ancient technique of attaching mental images representing ideas to mental recreations of places you know very well, like your house or school. After placing those images or objects into the mental landscape, you can remember them by “walking through” the place in your mind. I have tried it on a small scale a couple of times, but the trick is to constantly return to your mental place to review it. It is very complicated, so here is an article if you want to learn more!
  • Flashcards: If you use flashcards, Quizlet is the best way to go!


Sometimes you just don’t understand material, it happens to all of us. What can you do?

  • Google (wisely!): Shrewdness is key here, because you need to make sure that the resources you find have accurate information. However, if you need to clear up some facts or get an overview of a concept, Wikipedia and other sites can be tremendously helpful.
  • Video Lectures: Re-learn the material with a video lesson. There are loads of classroom videos on Youtube, but here are some other resources to try:
  • Talk About It: You can gain comprehension of material by asking your professor or classmates about it or by explaining it to others. The best way to learn is to teach, as they say.
  • Outlines: In case you haven’t noticed from the fact that 90% of my posts are outlines, I like outlines. They are one of the best ways to categorize information and break it down into the most important points. If you are confused by muddled notes or complex readings, try reorganizing the information into an outline.

There are myriad ways to study, so try a bunch and find what works for you!

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