Get the most out of your time: How to Study Effectively – Top 5 Study Strategies

Finals, midterms, SAT, ACT, Accuplacer, the list of tests we have to prepare for is seemingly endless, and the studying that is required for each one appears to be a long and arduous process. Yet it doesn’t have to be that way. By organizing your time and your workspace, using effective study and review methods, and sticking to a study cycle, you can navigate through the process of studying as painlessly and as quickly as possible. 

How to Study Effectively: Top 5 Study Strategies – Study Smarter, not Harder

Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko on

1. Effective Study Strategy: Figure out how you learn

Before you begin, determine what strategies work for you best. Different people will prefer different types of learning; if you don’t learn with flashcards and find concept maps very useful, then stop using flashcards and use concept maps more. Furthermore, how you learn will also largely depend on the subject you are attempting to learn. 

Although not all people fit into one category, most people will fall under one of these learning styles:

Visual learners: visual learners have a spatial understanding and prefer observing pictures, images, diagrams, and lists.

Auditory learners: auditory learners like to listen to lectures and might use their own voices to remember information better.

Kinesthetic learners: kinesthetic learners prefer to experience things and might prefer to act certain scenes, play learning games, and pace to memorize information.

Reading/writing learners: reading/writing learners rather read and write the information they are trying to learn.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on

2. Effective Study Strategy: Organizing your time

Don’t cram!

Before getting into the specifics of studying methods, it is necessary to address the way you should use your time when studying. The best way to learn the material is through distributed practice, which consists of spacing out your study in order to have several short practice sessions over days or weeks. However, distributed practice refers to spacing the review of the same material, and not spacing out the study of  different material. So once you have learned the information in class or by yourself, the best way to retain the information into your long term memory is by reviewing the information in short bouts of practice over a long period of time. 

There are different theories that explain why distributed practice is advantageous. One of them, the study-phase retrieval theory, explains that each time you encounter the same term during a review, your brain attempts to retrieve that information, and if this retrieval is successful then the term becomes harder to forget. This contrasts with cramming, where the term is still fresh in your mind, meaning that there is no need to retrieve the information. Another theory explains the importance of distributed practice through contextual variability, and it explains that when you distribute practice over a wide period of time, you are likely studying the information in different contexts (e.g: your thoughts, your mood, the place you are at) which are also encoded and can serve as a cue for later retrieving the information. Finally, another theory suggests that massed practice is less advantageous because studying the same term back-to-back will cause you to become habituated, which means your response to the stimulus decreases after prolonged exposure to it. 

Don’t multitask

Multitasking causes you to take longer studying and decreases the quality of your learning. Eliminate distractions such as social media, games, texting

3. Effective Study Strategy: Maximize Your Workspace:


Determine the noise environment that works for you. You might prefer the silence of the library, the sound of classical music, or the noise of an office building.

Your setting

Know when you can study best andwhere to do this. Find several optimal study areas and change your setting when you feel like you can no longer concentrate in a specific area. 

Photo by Zen Chung on

4. Effective Study Strategy: Study and review methods

Re-reading your notes is ineffective and leads to quick forgetting. On the other hand, active engagement involves getting meaning from the information and the reading. 


Mnemonics are strategies that allow you to more easily remember complex material by making associations to prior knowledge or by making patterns of letters or numbers. Mnemonics can include rhymes, acronyms, songs, etc.

Some types of Mnemonics are:

Connection Mnemonics:

They involve making connections between already known information and information that you are attempting to memorize.


Say you want to remember that John Adams was a president before Thomas Jefferson. You can connect this to the fact that in the alphabet the A (in Adams) comes before the J (in Jefferson).

Image / Model Mnemonics

Images and models can help visual learners remember information.


Say you want to remember the name Robert Sternberg (who proposed that there are three types of intelligence: practical, distinct, analytical). You can picture Robert Downey Jr. (iron man actor) or any other Robert you know, with a stern face (Sternberg) standing on an iceberg (Sternberg).

Music mnemonics:

Create a song or listen to a song related to the concepts you want to learn.


You might have learned the alphabet using the “ABC” song.

Expression or Word Mnemonics:

Get the first letters of a list of words to create a new word or a phrase.


PEMDAS indicates Parenthesis, Exponents, Multiply, Divide, Add, Subtract

Alternatively, you can use the expression Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally to indicate Parenthesis, Exponents, Multiply, Divide, Add, Subtract

Note Organization / Outline Mnemonics

Organizing your notes in specific ways can allow you to better remember information


Make flashcards with the term on one side and the definition of the term on the other side

Use outlines with the broader terms encapsulating more specific terms

Photo by Julia M Cameron on

Become a teacher:

Explain the material in your own words either to a study group, a partner, or to yourself. This allows you to make connections between concepts, gives you an idea of which concepts you are confused about and helps you retain the information. At first, you can use your notes to do this, but later on, try to teach it without relying on notes.  

Create concept maps

Concept maps allow you to organize and connect information, and to represent information visually. They are useful because they help you see the big picture and chunk information. Some examples of concept maps are T-charts, timelines, tables, graphic organizers, Venn diagrams, etc. 

Once you have created your concept map, you can elaborate each part to make sure you know and understand the information, and re-create from memory your concept-map while talking through each term.

Test yourself

Before going into the test, summon your knowledge, and check your understanding of it. Some methods of achieving this have already been discussed: creating concept-maps from memory and explaining the information to yourself. But you should also identify questions that you commonly miss and quiz yourself on them. You can use flashcards to help you achieve this. Furthermore, take practice tests of the material, and try to make it as realistic as possible (e.g is you are taking an AP exam, take practice tests released by the College Board.)

Photo by Startup Stock Photos on

5. Effective Study Strategy: Perfect The Study Cycle

Frank Christ, one of the founders of the College Reading and Learning Association, developed a Study Cycle that helps you effectively study and integrate distributed practice and active learning techniques. It consists of the following.

Step 1: Preview

Take a look at what you will be covering in class. This will give you a sense of how all the individual pieces fit together. It will also allow you to think about questions that you can ask in class.

Step 2: Attend Class

Pay attention to the lecture or the activity and be engaged. This will allow you to gain insight from your instructor and understand what he or she expects you to know. Take notes of the relevant things that are said.

Step 3: Review

Sometimes after class, soon enough that the material is still fresh, go over your notes in order to fill in the gaps and know what is still unclear and what you might need help with. Be engaged with it: explain it to yourself, summarize it and think about the big picture.

Step 4: Study

Schedule brief study sessions throughout the week for each of your classes. Have a plan for what you are going to do in the session and use active learning techniques. Take refreshing breaks in between sessions and reward yourself after a productive one.

Step 5: Check

Take a step back regularly and ask yourself whether what you are doing is working. Test yourself on a regular basis and have discussions with your classmates about what you are learning. 

You should adapt this system depending on what you are studying for. For example, if you are self-studying for the SAT and thus don’t have a class to attend (step 2) you can instead watch a YouTube video explaining SAT concepts that you are unfamiliar with.

Conclusion: Study Smarter, Not Harder

Oftentimes, people will resort to studying methods such as cramming and re-reading information, and get frustrated when this doesn’t work. Yet researchers have identified studying techniques that can be beneficial. So start using studying techniques, organize your time and our workplace, and follow a study cycle in order to ace that test.

Photo by Max Fischer on

Works Cited:

  • “Ask the Cognitive Scientist: Distributed Practice.” Digital Promise, 9 May 2019,
  • “Concept Maps.” Learning Center,
  • Elrick, Lauren. “4 Types of Learning Styles: How to Accommodate a Diverse Group of Students.” 4 Types of Learning Styles: How to Accommodate a Diverse Group of Students | Rasmussen College, 9 Aug. 2018,
  • “Metacognitive Study Strategies.” Learning Center,
  • “Mnemonic: Definition and Examples.” Literary Terms, 16 Sept. 2017,
  • “Studying 101: Study Smarter Not Harder.”,

2 replies »

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s