Girl studying in a library

By: Bradley Furgerson

Developing efficient and effective study habits is crucial to student success.  When students enter high school, it is assumed that they have developed a studying regimen that keeps them up-to-date with the course material and primed to make the connections necessary to remember it all.  Given the fast-paced nature of high school classes, most schools aren’t able to educate their students on how to develop and maintain good study habits.  As such, it’s even more crucial to assess how effective your studying is and what steps you can take to improve it.  

Studying isn’t a one-size-fits-all, and that’s part of why your high school doesn’t offer a class to develop such skills.  How you choose to review depends on the subject, what learning styles you’re most receptive to, and the timing and frequency of review that works best for you.  Some people choose to lightly review content every day, while others will do a more in-depth review once every few days. Regardless of what schedule works best for you, there are a couple of things to consider to get the most out of your review:

  1. Evaluate your study routine.

Start by taking stock of your current habits. There are several things to ask yourself:

Are you reviewing your notes each day or doing a long-form review once every few days? Do you go through old assessments to see where you missed points? Are there additional materials you could incorporate into your routine? And (perhaps most importantly), what is the outcome of your current study habits like?

  1. Stay current and be proactive!

Review can be tedious, and it’s hard sometimes to get home from a long day of school only to revisit what you learned that day all over again. Unfortunately, continuous spaced repetition is the best method for staying up-to-date in your classes. You don’t have to spend too much time reviewing for each class, but it’s a critical component of staying current. Ensure you’re budgeting time each evening to examine what was discussed in class that day. 

Additionally, you should be committed to staying current with course readings, classwork, and homework. If you miss a day of instruction, contact your teachers to make up that day’s content and assignments. If you receive a bad grade on an assessment or homework, be steadfast in reviewing your mistakes and relearning the concept if needed. 

  1. Your studying environment matters much more than you think.

Where you choose to study can be a significant variable in determining how productive a study session is. Make sure you’re in a quiet spot where you can adequately focus on the material. Some potential locations include the library, your favorite coffee shop, or a nice spot outside—experiment with studying in a few different places to see where works best for you. 

  1. Limit distractions

This point goes hand in hand with the previous tip. Wherever you choose to study, it should be a quiet place to focus without distractions. Loud chatter in the background can upend your thinking and complicate committing concepts to memory. 

Your #1 distraction will always be your phone. Make sure it’s tucked away and silenced before starting your session. If you need to use technology for studying, find ways to limit other tabs or messages from your screen so you can focus on your studies. 

  1. Slow and steady wins the race

Many students may find it challenging to study with intentionality. Trying to cram the last month of content into a thirty-minute study session is hopeful, at best. Instead, recognize that learning takes time. Going through the material slowly helps your brain commit the content to memory. Starting every review session with a concrete list of actions you can undertake to study the content is a great way to guide your studying. 

  1. Set realistic goals for studying, and keep track of your progress.

While establishing academic objectives might be intimidating, it provides a benchmark for assessing your accomplishments. Setting goals for your semester has been shown to improve student success, and it may be that creating a set goal gives you something to work toward. Goals should be defined, measurable, and realistic. Bigger intents (such as getting a semester grade of “A”) should be broken up into smaller, bite-sized tasks (for example, committing to turning in every homework assignment on time and studying for an ample amount of time before an assessment). 

As you work towards your target grade, continue to self-assess your progress. Have your study habits paid off, or did a few concepts slip through the cracks? Have the topics discussed in class make sense? Are you spending enough time working on homework and making diligent attempts at deriving an answer for each question? These are just a few examples of questions you should be asking yourself.

  1. Take breaks and space out your study sessions. 

Your brain can only handle so much information— that’s why cramming last minute for a test rarely works out in your favor. Numerous neuropsychology studies now endorse the idea that incorporating breaks into your study routine aids in consolidating the connections formed during your recent learning sessions. Many students discover the effectiveness of dividing their sessions into thirty-minute intervals, with a five-minute break between every block.

  1. Practice— especially in the same format as the assessment 

Practice makes perfect. This is especially true for your studies; you should incorporate practice problems similar to what will appear on assessments into your routine. Be sure that practice questions are in the same format and difficulty as an exam question. By completing practice questions, you allow yourself to apply what you’ve learned and strengthen the recall of that knowledge.

  1. Make review more fun: form a study group and reward yourself. 

Studying by yourself gets old. That’s why it can be helpful to change up your routine and review with some friends. Not only does it add variety to your studying, but your study group members are also people you can ask for help. If something isn’t making sense to you, perhaps someone in your group can explain it to you in a way that makes sense. This same goes for if they have questions: explaining a concept to your friends is a great way to solidify your understanding of a concept. 

Rewarding yourself for progressing in your studies is another central aspect of a productive routine. Studying can be challenging because there’s no immediate payoff, so give yourself rewards to encourage you to learn. Rewards can be anything from a walk outside to a silly little drink to the shoes you want. Make sure that the size of the perk correlates with the difficulty of the task: set up smaller inducements for shorter-term goals (like studying for an hour) and substantial bounties for longer-term targets (such as earning an “A” on your report card in the class).

  1. Know when to ask for help, and ensure you make the most of all the available resources. 

Many students can be timid when it comes to asking questions in class. However, speaking up when something is discussed in class isn’t making sense is a quick way to keep current. Additionally, pay attention to the support systems embedded within each class you’re taking (these tend to be listed on the syllabus). Consider if your teacher holds office hours or if extra review sessions are offered. Identify if online supports, such as Khan Academy, exist for your class, and ensure you’re using these as you study. Feel free to contact us at Great Expectations anytime. Our tutors are fully equipped to assist you with any classes you're enrolled in.

  1. Don’t be too hard on yourself!

As a dynamic student of the 21st century, you likely have several things going on besides school. Though we may not like to admit it, extracurriculars can harm your grades. You must reach (or try to attain) a fruitful balance between your classes and sports, classes, volunteering, and work. If you observe yourself slacking off in classes or studying because of other commitments, assess how you may budget your time better moving forward. 

A bad grade isn’t the end of the world, though it can seem like it sometimes. Instead, recognize the grade as an opportunity to improve your understanding. Take time to evaluate what went wrong, and commit to taking steps to remedy these shortcomings. Also, remember: one bad grade doesn’t define you. A sub-par grade in a class will not hinder your odds of getting into your dream college or scoring an out-of-this-world internship. But it may be a sign that it’s time to change your studying.