Study Smarter with These 4 Unconventional Tips

Think the biggest binge this season was Stranger Things on Netflix? Think again. For students all over Utah, an 8-hour study marathon is on the horizon for finals week. But as many of us know (and don’t want to admit), cramming is not the most effective way to retain knowledge. Here are four helpful ways you can study smarter—not harder!

Organize Your Notes Visually

Studies show that up to 65% of people are visual thinkers. Rather than skimming screens of text, visual thinkers connect carefully chosen words and meaningful images to help them learn. These types of learners love brainstorming sessions, making presentations, and building a team vision.



If you’re a visual thinker, how you take notes might make all the difference in helping you retain information.  Some students find that visual notetaking (also called notesketching) helps them to make learning personal.

The Picture Superiority Effect refers to the phenomenon that we remember pictures better (and longer) than words or text. The study found that if students read only text, three days later they only remember 10% of the information—but adding a picture to the text increases recall to 65%!

Our brains also process visual information differently than verbal or text-based information. Using text and images together gives our brains two different ways to recall info, doubling our chances of retention.

Test Yourself Before Studying


Before you sit down to study, try pre-testing yourself on your current knowledge. Take the quiz at the end of each chapter before studying; this will give you an idea of the concepts you’ve picked up during class and areas you’ll need to study more.

But I don’t remember anything…

Don’t be discouraged if you can’t recall much. An article in Scientific American explored the science of “getting it wrong.” Experiments found that “if students make an unsuccessful attempt to retrieve information before receiving an answer, they remember the information better than simply studying the information.” Trying and failing to retrieve the answer is actually helpful!

Take Some Breaks


Stretch those legs and step away for a bit! Long and focused study sessions might seem productive, but chances are you’re spending a lot of brainpower trying to maintain focus for a long time. Instead of pushing yourself for hours, remove yourself from studying and take a periodic break.

The brain loves variation. Taking 5-minute study breaks every 25 minutes actually helps promote better assimilation of information. Your brain needs time to process and make relevant associations that can help you understand things on a deeper level.

Teach It to Learn It


The Roman philosopher Seneca declared “docendo discimus” (“by teaching, we learn”). Understanding an idea well enough to convey it to others is the most effective way to internalize information over the long haul.

So assemble a study group with your classmates and discuss the material that’ll be on your final. After that, call in a favor from a friend and ask them if you can teach them what you’ve learned. You’ll be surprised how much talking about the subject can help!


Just a couple more hurdles before that relaxing winter break. By applying these study tips, you can ensure a strong finish this semester.